Byron Lee King, 53, was northbound on Yates Mill Pond Road at about 5:30 a.m. when he hit a deer in the road and was thrown from his motorcycle, authorities said.
No other vehicles were involved in the incident, and it remains unclear what happened to the deer.
"He's going to be missed greatly by a lot of people, not just us in the biker community," friend Jean Dasnoit said, noting King was supposed to join his friends Friday at a Harley-Davidson festival in downtown Raleigh.
"He would do anything for anyone," Dasnoit said. "He's kind of a scary-looking guy when you first meet him, but (he had) a heart of gold. Looks tough on the outside, but a big teddy bear on the inside."
King was a 6-foot-5, 320-pound joker, friends said. Yet, he was very involved in motorcycle safety education and worked with the Concerned Bikers Association, a lobbying group for motorcyclists.
He also was a regular volunteer for the Triangle chapter of the American Red Cross.
"(He would) start up our generators to make sure we have power when the power goes out. He was a faithful member of that team every month," said Tracie Brown, associate director of disaster services programs for the Red Cross.
Friends said King knew that every time he got on his motorcycle could be his last ride.
"Someone told me that, (Thursday) night, he was saying again that, if he went while riding his bike, he wouldn't mind," Dasnoit said. "When I talked to his wife (Friday) morning, she said he died doing what he loved."
King is survived by his wife, two adult daughters and three grandchildren.
The wreck happened near Yates Mill Elementary School, at 5993 Yates Mill Pond Road, and the road was blocked south of the school entrance while the Highway Patrol investigated the crash, creating significant delays as parents tried to drop their children off.