Motorcycle Santa brings yuletide cheer
The holidays started early in the Inland Valley this year thanks to Lew Gleason. This local took on the role of Father Christmas for the seniors of REAL Connections, a Community Senior Services program that connects seniors with volunteer members to create a network of support for those who remain in their homes.
But this Kris Kringle is no jolly giant in a velvety red suit and his ride is slightly smaller than a sleigh. This year, Santa Claus came to town on a Harley.
Mr. Gleason, a recent retiree and new volunteer with REAL Connections, has spent the past two weeks with his alternative red sleigh in tow, taking seniors on a free open-air ride around town in an effort to spread holiday cheer and share his love for the open road.
“You are so much out in the elements you feel like you’re one with nature. That’s the big attraction,” Mr. Gleason said. “There is so much freedom. There is no other feeling in the whole world.”
Nothing brings joy to this recent retiree like the throttle of an engine underfoot and the wide expanse of the world around him. A motorcyclist for the past 40 years, Mr. Gleason caught the cycling bug early. As a young boy, he was known to search through the family newspaper to extract the Sears advertisements, clad with shiny two-wheelers.
“I would circle them and put it on the dresser in my father’s room. He never bought me one,” Mr. Gleason laughed.
By mowing lawns and other side jobs, the motorcycle enthusiast finally saved enough to buy his own. At age 15 he became the proud new owner of a blue 1971 Yamaha 175.
“I fell in love from the day I swung my leg over,” he said. “It was in my blood.”
Over the years and through countless bikes, Mr. Gleason has been able to share his passion with others, joining a local motorcycle group and enjoying cross-country outings with his wife. The couple plan to hit the road again this coming January.
“Harley Christmas Rides” began brewing years ago inspired by a Discovery segment on a retiree who had attached a sidecar to his Harley for the holidays. Mr. Gleason was so inspired he vowed to do the same.
Retirement has finally afforded Mr. Gleason the chance to execute his plan with the help of friend Brandi Orton, REAL Connections’ director of member services. Ms. Orton was eager to make the concept a reality along with program members like Candace Schipul, who jumped at the chance to hop back on a bike for the first time in about 40 years. It was a shared love of motorcycling that connected her to her husband, Mark, more than 44 years ago. Mr. Schipul won her heart scooting about their college campus, his wife’s attention caught by how his long legs curled up past the handlebars of his bike.
In recent years the Claremont couple has ditched their two-wheelers for more solid ground, but Ms. Schipul seemed right at home on the back seat of Mr. Gleason’s Harley, the wind blowing and the Christmas tunes flowing freely.
While Mr. Gleason welcomes any reason to hop on his bike, the enthusiasm of his recent yuletide passengers gives him an extra boost.
“They grip you around the waist until you can hardly breath,” he joked. “But after 20 minutes or so they are laughing and having a blast.”
Mr. Gleason hopes to keep the spirit of the Harley holidays alive for years to come.
“If I can bring some happiness to someone then I’m doing it right,” he said.