A mass of leather-clad motorcyclists from across the Southeast gathered at the Tennessee Riverpark on Saturday to receive prayers of protection and good fortune at the annual Blessing of the Bikes.
In spite of the chilly, windy weather, organizers said that the attendance was quite high.
"We probably brought in around 1,000 (people) here today," said Tony Daniel, a member of the Chattanooga chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, which held Saturday's event.
"Last year we had a little over 1,000. I think the weather (on Friday) scared some people, but we'll probably have 800 to 1,000 bikes here today," Mr. Daniel said.
As attendees caught up with old friends, they listened to live gospel music, ate free barbecue and hot dogs and ogled over the many different makes and models of motorcycles.
In the morning, there was a group prayer for all the bikers.
"It's a good fellowship for bikers," said Debbie Henson, treasurer of the CMA who spent the morning serving food. "We have Christian bikers that come out (and) we have just all kinds of bikers that come. Not everybody here is a Christian biker, but everybody wants to be safe."
Throughout the day, bikers gathered in small groups to pray as well.
"The Blessing of the Bikes is a ceremonial thing these guys do, and since it is the Christian Motorcyclists Association, they just pray over bikes and pray over the riders and each and every one of us to have safe travels when we go places," said Ron Tinker, a resident of Cleveland, Tenn.
Although he is not a member of CMA, Mr. Tinker said he has been to many of the organization's prayer ceremonies in the Southeast. Above all, he said the event provides bikers with an opportunity to form friendships and become aware of the dangers that come with riding a motorcycle.
"Motorcycles a lot of times are run over by other cars or whatever, so it's just more or less a spiritual thing to try to have the good Lord watch over us while we're riding," he said. "My biggest thing is just to ride safe, be aware of anybody and always expect the unexpected when somebody is going to do something in front of you."
Ritchie Dye, leader of Rugged-one Ministries and a member of CMA, helped provide the music for the event, which included performances from award-winning gospel groups like New Paved Road.
Mr. Dye said the bikers participating Saturday come from all walks of life.
"Bikers have a bad reputation," he said. "It's always dirty, low-down, no-good people, but you got people that are on bikes that work all kinds of occupations. You got doctors and lawyers, police officers and all things."
CMA is a nonprofit, interdenominational outreach ministry that has over 120,000 members and over 800 chapters in the United States. The Chattanooga Chapter, Choo-Choo Wheels of Worship, has more than 50 members.