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Travel & Tourism

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by Shellie Jones

When one thinks of 6,000 to 8,000 motorcyclists hitting the streets of Springfield, it's hard not to conjure up images of black leather, tattoos and long, pony-tailed hair. But, come June 30-July 3, 1999, those stereotypes are sure to fade as the Gold Wing Road Riders arrive to celebrate their annual "Wing Ding."

Drivers and riders typically professional, mature couples will head to the Ozarks sporting decked-out motorcycles and color-coordinated outfits. For them, this gathering provides an opportunity to tour the area, take part in riding safety courses, view the latest in bike accessories and, most importantly, relax and unwind.

"A lot of people use this event as the centerpiece of their vacation," said Springfield Police Chief Lynn Rowe, a former Gold Wing motorcycle owner and "Wing Ding" participant.

More than 11,000 riders and family members are expected to attend, making this the largest convention ever booked by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. More than half of the city's 5,300 rooms will be filled during this time period.

That's great news, not only for hotels and motels, but also for area retailers, restaurants and gas station owners.

Gold Wing motorcycles are top-of-the-line touring bikes, known for their high level of comfort and hefty price tags, typically $15,000 to $30,000. But, for those who own them, many agree there is no comparison.

"After a long ride, you get off and don't feel like you've been beaten to death," said Gene Dove, emcee and male vocalist for the Baldknobbers Jamboree in Branson.

The plush comfort appeals to him and his wife, Debbie, who on occasion have been known to travel several hundred miles at a stretch just to eat dinner at a particular restaurant. "Hands down, it's the best bike I've ever owned," he said.

Dove should know. He has been riding various models practically all his life. As a child, he pieced together his first motorbike with a chainsaw engine and a pulley from an old combine. "It was an ugly thing," Dove said with a laugh, recalling that the top speed was a whopping 5 mph.

Last year, he purchased his first Gold Wing, "pearl white, with all the bells and whistles," from a 73-year-old gentleman. It seems as if the owner was looking to downgrade a bit ... to a scooter, which he now rides across the country. "We made some great friends through the purchase of that motorcycle," Dove said.

And that's what being a part of Gold Wing Riders is all about friendship and comradery. "We're all like family," he added.

(Shellie Jones is communications coordinator for the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.)

PHOTO CAPTION:

Honda Gold Wing Motorcycle Owner Gene Dove (center) hams it up with Droopy Drawers Jr. (left) and Stub Meadows at the Baldknobbers Jamboree in Branson.

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