Arizona Bike Week 2014

Arizona Bike Week Sets Attendance Record Amid Worst Winter Ever

Photos and story by J. JOSHUA PLACA

Motorcyclists across the nation found refuge from the relentless abominable winter weather, escaping at least for awhile to the balmy days of sunny Arizona Bike Week. The 18th edition of the event has evolved into one of America’s finest motorcycle rallies, safe from hooligans and county revenuers (police), and designed to offer the most fun for the buck.

While most of us were still stuck in the cold, cruel grip of a particularly stormy and prolonged winter, enduring record late-season snowfall, frigid temps, ice storms, hundred-year floods, and other signs of the apocalypse, some 90,000 weather-beaten but brave souls motored in from unfriendly climes and parts undesired. According to rally officials, attendance was up roughly 25% over last year, smashing last year’s record of 70,000 event goers despite unseasonable cool temps, a smattering of rain and windy conditions the first day or two.

The weather turned perfect by Day 3 and the crowds poured in. More than 200 vendors offered their wares, most everything a biker could desire from leathers to cigars, go-fast or look-cool parts and accessories to traditional accoutrements of silver and steel. The real bling came in the form of music, ABW’s signature concert series. This year, organizers knocked it out of the park, somehow putting together a headliner lineup that included Aaron Lewis, Big & Rich, Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. Capacity crowds packed the new RockYard stage area, the great throng cheering their favorite biker anthems. Local bands joined the live fusillade, with music playing day and night somewhere in the Vendor Village.

ABW kicked off with five days of Pre-Rally parties, contests, giveaways, and charity rides, then topped it off with the Cyclefest, ABW’s official opening day. The event is held in Scottsdale’s mammoth equestrian venue, WestWorld. This has grown into a premier event, rivaling older and—for now—larger rallies in measures of fun, live music, vendors, activities, food, and even an unobtrusive law enforcement attitude. It outdistances all major rallies in scenic rides, charity runs, and perhaps most importantly, an upbeat vibe.

Riding into the Valley of the Sun from the colder, wetter, meaner outer-lands feels like taking a soft sweeper into a exultant biker paradise, a land of milk and beer, ideal temperatures, soft breezes, otherworldly scenery and nearly nude, already tanned hot bodies with provocative tattoos. First stop, Cave Creek, a place seemingly built for bikers, boasting more biker-friendly establishments per block than anywhere on planet Earth, or any other planet. Cave Creek is a kind of party sister to Cyclefest some 20 miles to the southeast. We scooted from one music, vendor, beer girl and bike show place to the next, winding our way to the main event. After passing through the Cyclefest gates, we could soon see that fun feeling is contagious.

Ten full days of stunning signature rides in and around Scottsdale, the greater Phoenix metro area, and up to the biker haven of Cave Creek; Miss Arizona Bike Week; barbecues, Western cookouts, best bike builds; bike games; factory demo rides, bikini washes; bike outfitters; and at least two kinds of death defying, gravity denying, impossible stunt shows are followed by concert nights and other activities best suited for cover of darkness. This year marked the inaugural BadAZ Bike Show, which featured metric and domestic bikes competing in eight categories: sport, cruise, modified, builder, vintage, classic, trikes and sidecars, and rat bike.

Also featured is the best of Christie’s Cabaret gentlemen club’s World Famous Saturday Night Contest; naughtier bike games and other biker-appropriate evening shenanigans; custom bagger shows, and other fun found in most corners of town.

The Pre-Rally Days, held this year March 28  to April 1, are free except for donations to the various good-cause rides. During the five days of Cyclefest starting April 2, charity ride participation is also good for admission, including ABW’s evening concert series. These rides all offered a number of amenities, such as breakfast, lunch, prizes, T-shirts or pins.

No fewer than 12 charity rides, galloping through a surprisingly bohemian metro area, raised tens of thousands of dollars, according to officials. Organizations for MDA, autism, various cancers, children’s health and education, families of law enforcement, breast awareness, the Special Olympics, the Children's Care Hospital and the Humane Society, among others, presented a true sense of what bikers are about. Sons of Anarchy stars Kim Coates (“Tig”) and Tommy Flanagan (“Chibs”) led the concluding Child Empowerment Ride, later signing autographs and posing for photos.

Four major self-guided and mapped rides headed off, as the local Apache and Navajo might say, in the direction of the four winds. The stunning day trips ranged from 235 to 367 miles, riding into the heart of Arizona's breathtaking Martian landscapes and long-dead volcanic ranges, exploring ghost towns, skirting Indian ruins, visiting red rock wonderlands, cool desert rivers and lakes, and slicing through hundreds of millions of years of geologic time. If you know how to look, remnants of shallow oceans that invaded and retreated over eons of deep time are evident, depositing the sand and mud that later formed the colorful stone sentinels towering above what was once Jurassic sea beds. 

Cyclefest admission cost $50 pp for a five-day pass, or $20 pp Wednesday and Thursday; $25 Friday and Saturday, and $15 Sunday. Children 12 and under were free. All tickets included the evening headliner concert series.

While all makes and models of bike and biker are welcome, like any motorcycle rally there isn’t a lot to entertain children. A fair number of baby carriages and kids in tow, however, were seen moseying around, especially Sunday afternoon. This is probably more a reflection of how secure the event is, and how safe and comfortable moms and dads feel bringing their young children through the gate to behold the leather and tat-clad spectacle.

This also appeared true of single women, showing up day and night alone, in pairs or packs and dressed in Scottsdale finery, posh leathers or swanky saloon fashion. Once almost the exclusive domain of savage and crazed men, motorcycle rallies have seen an steady influx of women riding or walking in, adding balance and clean faces and nice smelling hair to what used to be a grizzly gathering.

Arizona Bike Week will reconvene next year around the same dates, but the schedule is yet to be determined. Ticket prices have not yet been set but are not expected to vary much.

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