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A motorcycle crew with a heart of gold


From a distance, the Rip City Riders look like other motorcycle clubs: They ride Harleys, wear leather and some members sport tattoos. But the group is also a registered nonprofit, with a mission of supporting worthy causes in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Whatever misconceptions people have about motorcycle clubs — often born from the notoriety of outlaw groups like Hells Angels and others — Rip City Riders is working to change that.

The motorcycle group is all about helping the community. Its latest effort was the Oct. 4 iteration of its annual “Chilly Billy Poker Run, Hot Rod & Motorcycle Run,” an event the group puts on free of charge at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds to get involved with the community, join people in a love for motorcycles and hot rods, and raise money by way of its auction for a particular charity.

This year’s recipient was Gilead House, an organization in Novato that provides transitional housing and life skills for families seeking a stable life and permanent housing. Rip City Riders raised $25,000 for the organization at the event. Past recipients have included Hospice By The Bay and Mentor Me Petaluma.

Rip City Riders throw their support behind charities that don’t spend a lot of money on administration, so that as much money as possible goes directly to helping those in need, said the group’s founder, Rob Anello. That was the case with Gilead House, where the motorcycle group learned that $12,000 could support an entire family at the center and decided to help at least two with the money from the event, which drew roughly 12,000 people to the fairgrounds to see the car show, eat food from local vendors and talk motorcycles.

Anello is proud of the impact his club has.

“We made that possible,” Anello said of supporting two families in need through the donation this year to Gilead House.

Now 60, Anello started riding motorcycles when he was just 16 and founded the club more than two decades ago. When he and a friend used to commute daily to San Francisco on their bikes, they earned the phrase, “the guys who ripped to the city.” The “rip” and “city” words stuck, and as Anello formed a ride of about 40 people to Santa Cruz, the initial phase of Rip City Riders was formed.

The philanthropic part began shortly after, when a friend passed away and Anello helped raise money throughout the club to pay for the funeral and set up a fund for the fallen rider’s daughter.

As time passed and many riders came and went, the group sort of fell by the wayside and splintered, but when another friend passed away nine years ago, Anello was urged to get the group going again. And the Rip City Riders have been spreading their mission statement — an effort to “establish a positive image for motorcycle enthusiasts” and to “to benefit Marin and Sonoma … throughout charitable events … and help the less fortunate in our communities” — ever since.

About 130 riders are in the member ranks today, and other, smaller Rip City Riders chapters have opened in Klamath Falls, Ore. and in Reno, Nev.

Anello said his group is often approached by nonprofits and charities seeking to work with the Rip City Riders.

Other motorcycle clubs do charitable work, such as the Good Old Boys’ events for veterans, Anello explained, but the Rip City Riders’ status as a nonprofit organization and sole mission to do charitable work makes it unique.

“We’re trying to change people’s minds, one event at a time,” Anello said.

For more information on the Rip City Riders, or to contact them directly, go to the website at ripcityriders.wordpress.com.

(Contact Annie Sciacca at argus@arguscourier.com)