MOUNT GREENWOOD — Ron Roach noticed something was out of place in a funeral procession for one of his fellow bikers about 12 years ago.
Nearly a quarter mile of motorcycles were lined up behind the casket — a Cadillac hearse leading the way.
At the funeral luncheon, Roach, 59, sketched a drawing of a hearse designed to be towed by a motorcycle. His napkin drawing was inspired by horse-drawn hearses from long ago.
Last Ride Funeral Services was founded two years later in 2005. Roach, a retired Chicago firefighter from Mount Greenwood, estimates he's led the way in more than 100 funerals since starting the business.
"We just thought it was a better way to bury bikers," said Roach, who worked as a firefighter in Roseland and Archer Heights.
Howard Ludwig says Roach felt a hearse didn't quite fit:
It costs $700 for Last Ride to transport a body to the funeral home and cemetery. Roach allows for a five-hour block of time for each "run," which has more than once called for a stop at a favorite tavern of the deceased.
Roach has his own truck and trailer, too. This set-up allows him to tow his motorcycle and attached hearse to customers as far away as Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Downstate Springfield.
Roach built the hearse with the help of some fellow biker buddies. It took four full days to weld the hearse together at a friend's shop in suburban Oak Forest. Then, Paul Kuba of Monee worked on the interior. Kuba is also part owner of the business.
The hearse is built to ride behind Roach's 2002 Harley-Davidson. A pair of wheels attached to the rear of the bike add stability and make the motorcycle look like a "trike."
But the additional rear wheels can be removed along with the trailer hook-up. This allows Roach to continue to ride his motorcycle in the traditional fashion, though he also has a 1962 and a 2013 Harley for cruising.
Roach said his motorcycle hearse draws plenty of attention at funerals and elsewhere. More often than not, families of the deceased simply thank him for building it.
"It changes the mood. It's not a sad, somber day anymore. It becomes more of a celebration of a life," said Roach, who wears a tuxedo shirt, a bolo tie, black vest, black jeans, black hat and sunglasses while driving the hearse.
Of course, there have been some bumps in the road. Once, Roach needed a push from the pallbearers to make his way into an icy funeral home parking lot. Another cold weather day, his battery died and the bike needed a jump-start.
"The joke was he wasn't ready to go yet," Roach said of the starting problems that occurred at nearby St. Christina Catholic Church in Mount Greenwood.
There have been rare times when Roach's hearse has drawn a negative reaction. For example, he's helped bury a few bikers who have died after motorcycle accidents. Some family members blame the vehicle for the fatality, he said.
Perhaps that's why Roach's next endeavor will be made for more festive occasions. The biker wants to build a motorcycle limousine this winter.
He anticipates the stretch bike will seat four people in the back — two passengers facing each other — along with a driver. Roach hopes to use the motorcycle limo for weddings, proms and other celebratory gatherings.
Unlike the hearse, which relies on a trailer, the limo will have to be one vehicle, as it's illegal to transport people in a trailer, Roach said.
The innovative biker says he doesn't make much money driving the hearse, nor does he expect to get rich with the motorcycle limo. Roach looks at the whole thing as more of a retirement hobby, allowing him to earn a few bucks along the way.
"We have a lot of fun," he said.
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