Their motorcycles parked throughout lower Manhattan, hundreds of bikers entered the Sept. 11 memorial early Sunday on the last leg of their journey to the sites of the terrorist plane crashes nearly 11 years ago.
The biker armada, reinforced by a few fire trucks, is the work of the American 9/11 Foundation, a diverse group of motorcycle enthusiasts who established a yearly pilgrimage to pay their respects to the fallen while celebrating biker culture.
Bikers arrived from the Pentagon after riding from Shanksville, Pa., where a hijacked plane -- United Airlines Flight 93 -- was presumably forced down by the passengers. In New York, they were allowed to attend the memorial an hour before anyone else.
"When you see it on the news, it's not the same as coming here and seeing those pools and understanding what's going on," said Bill Bailey, 49, of Pennsylvania, outside the memorial's exit doors with Navy friend Wendell Champagne, 58, of Maryland.
Champagne said the open-air freedom of the bike reflects the American ideal of liberty. "It's another way of expressing freedom," he said. "On a motorcycle, you have a 360-degree panoramic view; you're present in what's happening."
"Every town we went through, we saw people on roadsides, overpasses and in the streets, cheering us on," Bailey said.
"It hits your emotions," Hollis said. "It's nice to see that they have a memorial built."