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Many of us have attended some type of motorcycle rally.  They are a gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts who come together for the camaraderie and socialization.  It doesn’t matter if you ride ‘slick back’, are part of a riding association or MC.  The rallies can range from the mild corporate-sponsored Honda Hoot to Sturgis or the infamous Hollister.

Rallies can be large or small, and one-time or recurring. Notable annual rallies with attendance in the thousands from all over the country include the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Laconia Motorcycle Week, and Daytona Beach Bike Week. There are many smaller, regional rallies including the annual BMW MOA international rally, the Oyster Run in the Pacific Northwest, the Golden Aspen Rally (formerly Aspencade) in the Southwest, the Laughlin River Run and Street Vibrations in the West, and Americade in the Northeast.  There is also the Harley-Davidson anniversary rally in Milwaukee every five years.  Some rallies are ride-in events, whereas some like the Iron Butt rally involve days of riding and an actual gathering only at the end of the ride.

But my friends, the motorcycle winds of change are blowing and it’s not a nice smell.  As the song states… “For The Times They Are A-Changing…” – Bob Dylan.  After attending one major and 3 regional rallies this year I can report they are rumbling a lot less louder these days and here’s my extremely broad and completely unscientific, yet infinitely wise reasons:

1. Economy: in case you haven’t noticed it’s down.

a. Market investor gloom persists… see above charts with a 500-point loss brings the Dow’s two-day slump to nearly 900 points.

b. Harley shipments are down and the company has laid off workers

c. Japan’s four major power sports vehicle manufactures (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha) are down 26.8% this year compared to the same 8 months of 2007.

d. Gas prices. Escort rigs or trucks hauling trailers consume lots of fuel.

e. DealerNews reports that the Sturgis attendance was down 18% this year. Turnout was reported at 414,917 which compares to 507,234 in 2007 or down from the 633,000 in 2000. It’s been a steady decline pretty much the past eight years.

f. Laughlin River Run was down approx 10,000 from 2007. Attendance estimated at 60,000.

2. Demographics:

a. Repeat attendees which is not officially tracked is down. Fewer people going consistently year over year.

b. Aging population are making the most of their free time and have other forms of entertainment.

c. New riders don’t ride the same cruiser bikes or value the heritage of these events and don’t attend. No fun riding a sport bike when the Black Hills are full of motorcycles.

d. Competition for the major vs. local rallies have people making closer to home priorities. We’ve seen this with all the local Indian Casinos who have taken a bite out of Las Vegas.

3. Legislation:

a. The new Denver sound ordinance for motorcycles prevents rally attendance unless you have stock motorcycle exhaust.

b. Don’t drive to a rally in New York City’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. They banned motorcycles from HOV lanes and are ticketing. Never mind that Federal law stipulates that HOV lanes must allow motorcycles.

c. Myrtle Beach will never be the same…they approved a property tax increase earlier this year to fund efforts aimed specifically at eliminating motorcycle rallies. There are now 3 independent lawsuits filed against the city in hopes to limit the city counsel.

4. Policing: large numbers and aggressive preemptive measures being taken.

a. LEOs stop bikers heading up the Adirondack Northway before the start of the Americade motorcycle rally at Lake George.

b. Breath check stops outside Oatman, AZ during Laughlin River Run.

c. Street Vibrations ’08 SWAT teams highly visible, armed w/ para-military gear in show of force.

5. Greed: in search of the big $$

a. Rallies have been artificially expanded in length by vendors to capture more customer $$. 3-day events are now 5-day and many of the big rallies are 10-days or longer.

b. Motel’s often triple room rates and have instituted longer minimum night stays. Try to find a motel in Sturgis for a couple nights. Same for Laughlin River Run or Street Vibrations. The motels have forced earlier arrivals which up’s the ante for any event.

c. High prices for vendor space, basically merchants rent space for as much as they can get/gouge people.

6. 1%er Clubs: make city officials nervous and they over react with a lot of police presence at events.

a. Laughlin River Run feud/shooting (HAMC and Mongols) at Harrah’s.

b. First Sturgis shooting (Iron Pig and HAMC) in 20 years at a downtown pub.

c. Street Vibrations (HAMC and Mongols) had numerous citizens calling police concerned about a biker war given the killing of Mark “Papa” Guardado.

7. Repo Rates:

a. Little dark secret of the industry and hardly ever reported on is that repo rates have ballooned due to the mortgage/credit crisis. Go to the Spokane auctions and see all the bikes. A lot of folks used home equity loans to buy toys. When the interest rate skyrocketed so did the payments for the toys and the number of loan defaults has increased.

Just a few examples and any one of these wouldn’t be an issue in of itself, but the combination of problems are having a profound impact on the industry.

So are Rallies as we’ve known them over?  I believe so.  I can remember a few years ago being able to walk casino-to-casino in Reno during Street Vibrations with a beer in hand.  No more, the RPD stopped numerous folks this year.  I can remember 5 years ago staying at the Pink Flamingo (now Aquarius) at the Laughlin River Run watching HAMC prospects do bagger wheelie’s in the valet parking area.  Not these days.  All you’ll see is 20+ motorcycle police.

The real problem is that many of the “industry’s customers” won’t demand attention or seek corrective action to the problems. They have no will or united voice on the issue.  And we all know what happens to the squeaky wheel.  HD and so many other companies at these rallies are simply a corporation that makes money selling motorcycles and motorcycle accessories. The corporate officers want you to believe they are biker’s best friend, but at the end of the day it’s all about business and what will bring them the best return on their investment.  I get the capitalism gig, but where does it end?

Maybe when we’re all sitting around the motorcycle lift watching TV in the garage and toasting the “good-ol-days” when people ACTUALLY went to a rally rather than just watch them on the Discovery Channel?  Maybe it ends when more states do what Montana has done…tourism officials actually target motorcyclist as a demographic they WANT in the state and doing things (special web site, special MDT road reports, and suggested rides) to court us rather than legislate ways to ban us, limit noise, curtail events and hold public relation meetings evangelizing the negative media coverage against bikers.  It will change when state tourism officials recognize that clinging to the overturned lifeboat in a storm and hoping that somebody (the customer) finds them is inadequate.

So, slip off those steel-toed boots or $520 Ferragamo loafers and plan your next rally!  Besides, who cares what the destination is, as long as the route is awesome.

Photo courtesy CNN and Motorcycle Dairies web sites.

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It was a sunny and brisk 46 degrees for our early morning departure out of Sandpoint.  We planned to head out the Pend Oreille scenic byway which spends its entire length next to water, whether the massive Lake Pend Oreille or one of the rivers that feed it.  This lake in the northern Idaho Panhandle, is 65 miles long, and 1,150 feet deep in some places, making it the fifth deepest in the U.S.  Only locals know that the lake is still used by the Navy’s Acoustic Research Detachment to test large-scale submarine prototypes.  View the Navy dock HERE.

We grabbed a drive-thru breakfast in Ponderay, a small community north of Sandpoint then headed eastward.  Highway 200 passes through the towns of Kootenai, Hope, and Clark Fork prior to hitting the westernmost portion of “Highway 200” which extends east through Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.

About 30 minutes into the ride if you blink you’ll pass by the Cabinet Gorge Dam.  It’s located about 10 minutes prior to hitting the Montana border.  Located on a cliff directly over the dam there is a road which looks like a forest road to the right, but it’s just worn out pavement.  My grandfather worked at this Dam which was built in the early ‘50s.  It took only 21 months to complete with 1700 men working 24 hours a day.  Avista Utilities operates the dam which is one of several on the Clark Fork River which has caused issues with Bull Trout migrating to Lake Pend Oreille for years.

We connected with Montana’s Highway 56 which runs in a northerly direction from an intersection between Noxon and Heron, about 10 miles east of the Idaho state line. The highway runs approximately 35 miles and meets up with U.S. Route 2 about 3 miles east of the town of Troy, MT.  This highway passes through a forested and mountainous landscape.  It travels along the eastern shore of Bull Lake; the Cabinet Mountains are to the east. The entire route is within the boundary of the Kootenai National Forest. Highway 56 is known locally as the “Bull Lake Road” and you’ll often find “deer smear” laying on the side of the road.

We fueled up in Troy and headed east for the 100+ miles to Kalispell and West Glacier Park.  Glacier National Park is known as the “Switzerland of North America” and is enhanced by the historic Swiss style lodges and chalets located throughout the Park. There are over a thousand miles of hiking trails.  When Glacier National Park opened in 1910 it was a time when preserves were opening all over the West as railroads made mountain travel easier. The Great Northern Railroad had just built Belton Chalet, where well-to-do tourists could unload their trunks and servants to experience the wonders of the West in comfort.  This is just one of many hundreds of such stories that you can find about this rich in history area.

We rolled through the park and made tracks to East Glacier.  When we arrived in Cut Bank it was 95+ degrees.  By the time we passed the Camp Disappointment sign on the Blackfeet Reservation (near Browning, MT) we were ready for a swimming pool, but we needed to make some more miles.  Camp Disappointment is the northernmost campsite of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

It was somewhere near this area out on the plain that Santiago encountered a “suicide bird” attack on the chrome Harley wheel.  Sort of a “Wild Hog” moment, but not quite as funny.  We extricated the remaining bird feathers from the fender and proceeded across the plain to overnight in Havre, MT.  We accomplished ~450 miles thru bugs, heat and Montana wind.  We truly looked forward to dinner and some cool refreshments.

Interested to know more about our “Ride Home”?  Read the road blogs for: Day 1HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE, Day 4 HERE and Day 5 HERE

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