William Bagwell knows he is fortunate to have three healthy children, but the Harley-Davidson rider has friends who have faced the struggles of premature births.
To combine his longtime passion for riding motorcycles and to help families ensure their babies are born healthy, he'll be cruising along with more than 8,000 riders Sunday for the 14th annual March of Dimes Bikers for Babies.
"I thought this is a way I can help out, and it's fun," he said.
Bagwell, 48, who lives in Lawrence and is a carpenter for Kansas University, has raised an average of $1,000 every year for the past six years. Every dollar helps the March of Dimes Foundation support local research grants, which are focused on preventing premature births, birth defects and infant mortality. According to the nonprofit organization, more than 500,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the United States.
The 14th annual motorcycle benefit is the largest in the U.S. and has raised $3.1 million. The event began in 1995 with just 130 participants. Last year, more than 6,500 riders raised $723,000.
If there is a cause, the biking community will unite, said Eli Geiger, general manager of Riverfront Harley-Davidson, 608 N. Second St.
"It's just what we do," he said.
The business is in its third year of helping riders register for the event.
The 79-mile route begins and ends at the Kansas Speedway.
"It's pretty neat, especially when we go inside the speedway and just see all the bikes sitting there," Bagwell said. "The place is packed. Then when you start riding (you can) see bikes for miles."
For the rest of the route, bikers will be rumbling through parts of Kansas Highway 32, U.S. Highway 24-40, U.S. 24-59 and Wellman Road. Riders will pass the Lawrence Municipal Airport and go through McLouth, Tonganoxie and Kansas City, Kan. The ride is expected to last until noon.
Bagwell said he looks forward to seeing crowds of people lined up along the downtown strips of surrounding communities such as McLouth and Eudora, "especially the little kids," he said.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. Opening ceremonies begin at 9:15 a.m. The fee is $35 in advance and $40 that day.