Stretford , Urmston , Trafford Photographer

Sarah Palin: From ‘Mama Grizzly’ to motorcycle mama

A Harley-Davidson-riding Sarah Palin, outfitted in black leather and heels, joined a massive annual motorcycle rally Sunday, in a high-profile appearance amid speculation she will make a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Palin was at the “Rolling Thunder” Memorial Day holiday weekend rally, in which tens of thousands of motorcyclists ride through the nation’s capital to honor US war veterans, for the launch of her “One Nation” tour up the east coast.

“There’s no better way to see DC than on the back of a Harley!” Palin said in comments posted on her website.

But her presence was not greeted with universal approval.

Rolling Thunder’s national legislative director Ted Shpak told the Washington Post he was unhappy with the commotion surrounding her appearance, at what has been a traditionally non-political event.

“I’m very not appreciative of the way she came in here,” he said.

But some veterans said Palin was welcome, provided she was not attending the rally for political reasons.

“That’s fine if she wants to come here and join in the festivities as a citizen of this country, not running for office or any political gain,” Sheldon Wagner, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, told AFP.

The former Alaska governor and failed Republican vice presidential candidate drew a crowd of photographers and well-wishers as she rode on the back of the Harley, amid a crush of motorbikes filling the streets of the US capital city.

“Riding with these patriots today reinforced that we must do all we can to remind all Americans that we owe our freedom to our vets and to those missing and to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to make this the greatest country on earth,” Palin said on her website.

Palin’s statement, which included a quote from 1960s civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, also said she met with families of soldiers killed in action.

“My family may be used to snowmachines more so than motorcycles… but whether you’re riding the open road or the frozen tundra, you’re celebrating a free spirit. What could be more American than that?” she said in her statement.

According to Palin’s PAC website, the “One Nation” tour “is part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation’s founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.”

Asked if her upcoming events would be as loud as the eardrum splitting Rolling Thunder rally, Palin responded: “It would be a blast if they were this loud — if they smelled this good. I love that smell of the emissions!”

Vietnam War veterans began Rolling Thunder in 1987 to bring awareness to prisoners of war and those missing in action. It has since evolved, its website said, into an event to show “respect for soldiers and veterans from all wars.”

Middle-aged bikers, many carrying POW and US flags, gathered in the parking lot of the Pentagon and their route brings them to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

“These politicians need to find out what the American families and the veterans are all about. It’s a good thing for her to do,” said 62-year-old Ray King, a retired law enforcement officer from New Jersey who has joined the rally for the past 23 years.

Palin, who was Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s surprise running mate in 2008, joined the rally as she launched her bus tour, which is being funded through contributions to her political action committee (PAC).

Palin has not announced whether she will seek the Republican nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in next year’s election, but her website includes campaign hallmarks such as links to make donations, videos, and patriotic slogans and images.

According to Palin’s PAC website, she “will begin a trip through our nation’s rich historical sites, starting from Washington, DC, and going up through New England,” home to New Hampshire and the nation’s first primary election.

Palin also plans to debut a film documentary about her political career next month in Iowa, another key early presidential contest state.

McCain told Fox News Sunday that his former running mate can win the nomination and unseat Obama.

“Of course she can,” he said.

“Whether she’ll even run or not, I don’t know. A lot of things happen in campaigns. I was written off a few times and we were able to come back so it’s going to be a roller coaster ride for all of them before we arrive at our nominee.”

Recent polls suggest no great enthusiasm for any of the announced or potential Republican candidates, with even leading figures like Mitt Romney garnering less than 20 percent support.

Others like Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, libertarian congressman Ron Paul and former House speaker Newt Gingrich have so far inspired even less excitement.