Spring means it’s time we “Start Seeing Motorcycles,” as the slogan goes. It’s also time we started seeing motorcyclists for who they really are.

I’ve never seen a segment of society that has such an undeserved negative image. On the big and small screen, cyclists are portrayed as two-wheeled terrorists, or beer-swigging barbarians. It’s true that about 1 percent of bikers live up to this lifestyle.

Most cyclists, though, are like Jim Brooks. The Forest Parker has been riding motorcycles for over 40 years. He’s a member of the Oak Park H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group). Speaking of image, picturing Oak Park’s staid citizens on cycles is kind of refreshing.

H.O.G. headquarters is the Harley-Davidson dealership at Harlem Avenue & 13th Street. As salesman Kenn Heartmann explained, Harley-Davidson has been promoting a communal spirit among cyclists since its founding in 1903. The company also made supporting charities a crucial component of motorcycle culture.

The Oak Park group has 150 members and holds countless get-togethers at the dealership. The H.O.G. officers also meet monthly in the snug at Molly Malone’s. A typical meeting involves planning their season of rides to support various charities. Among their causes are rides for breast cancer research, another for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a trip to Manteno to cheer up veterans.

Every H.O.G. event has a social and charitable purpose, plus a healthy dose of excitement. Jim joined the group because he found them to be “selfless, phenomenal people” and thought he could mentor the younger riders. He loves the sensation of riding down a two-lane highway.

“It’s really like therapy,” Jim said. “It frees up the mind and becomes meditative. You have to focus on riding. You can’t worry about the mortgage and the kids.” He put on about 7,000 miles last year, which included a spin around Lake Michigan with his wife, Brigid.

Several cyclists echoed Jim’s thoughts about riding. Self-preservation heightens their senses, and smells are more intense. Jimmy Dyers, a senior member of the Oak Park group, described the beauty of watching a sunrise in the Smokies, a sunset in the Rockies and riding through the Shenandoah Valley on a crisp morning.

Oak Park H.O.G. members normally meet on Sunday mornings at area restaurants and follow breakfast with a ride. They’re also a regular presence at their Berwyn headquarters. That will change on May 5, when the dealership moves to its spacious new quarters in Countryside. The group will drop their Oak Park name and become Illinois H.O.G.

As for seeing those motorcycles, chapter President Robert Baren noted that the vast majority of accidents occur when cars turn left directly in front of cycles, with catastrophic consequences for the rider. The motorist typically says they never saw the motorcycle.

What a tragedy – we need all the selfless, phenomenal motorcyclists we can get.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.