Here, there and everywhere
Flurry of events blankets the Valley of the Sun
Phoenix, Ariz., Apr. 9–18—Looking back over the past 14 years, Arizona Bike Week has risen from several hundred bikers gathered in a field near Avondale in 1997 to a massive event with tens of thousands of motorcyclists in 2010, requiring an area as large as West World in Scottsdale to accommodate Cyclefest, the week’s party central. The event has changed its name, and changed the month from February to March and now to mid-April. The venue has changed from the small field to Raw Hide and now West World. Promoters of the event have changed from Cruise America in the first years to Rich Dillman and Kelly Kofakis, and now for the past five years to Brad Bennett, Dennis Schaeffer, Doc Hammet, Ralph Wilson (no longer an owner) and associate Ed LeClere. There have been good years with beautiful weather and not-so-good years with too much wind and rain. However, no matter who has been behind the event, the goal has always been to bring a first-class motorcycle event to the Phoenix area and that goal has been reached. The exquisite riding in Arizona is no longer a secret to bikers in other states because this year hundreds of motorcyclists with out-of-state licenses took to the roads alongside thousands of Arizonans and discovered the beauty of our state.
This writer’s first challenge was to sit down with Arizona Bike Week President Brad Bennett to get an idea of what had changed at Cyclefest, the central rally of the spread-out Arizona Bike Week. It was evident that much effort had been made to bring in great entertainment, this year headlined by George Thorogood and the Destroyers. “We worked really hard on making this an affordable event,” said Bennett. “We talked to hotels—we worked out deals with them. Our premium RV spots for the five days were only $250 and that included two tickets and passes for the concerts. Fifty bucks for an individual who rides down to West World to attend all four big-name concerts and Cyclefest is very affordable—you couldn’t see even one of these concerts for that money at another type of venue.” People who only wanted to come down for a day paid $20 and that’s not bad when you realize that it covered the concert for the evening. “I think we have the strongest entertainment lineup that we have ever had. In-advance online ticket sales have more than doubled what we have sold in the past. There’s lots of excitement this year for the event and I think people are letting the economy go by and realizing there is time to have some fun.”
One of the benefits of actually staying at the event grounds this year was the fact that people who drove RVs or people who tented could actually camp right up close and personal to the activities. “When people can come and stay here, they don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. We are a riding event, but we encourage people to ride during the day in the various charity rides and then participate in what we have down here in the evenings.” They also tried to make the vendor areas more open and available, giving people and vendors more action.
Riding for Kids Charity Run
Phoenix, Ariz., Apr. 14—For several years, I have been able to take off work and attend this ride. Neighbors Doug Wall, Nick Subotich and I started the morning with a trip to Buddy Stubbs H-D on Cave Creek Road to pick up our packets. The day was going to be beautiful with temperatures in the mid-50s to start and probably close to 80 by the end of the day. But we were actually going into the mountains for most of the riding, and weren’t we surprised when we came through Camp Verde and found snowbanks alongside the road! So it was cold enough up there to keep the snow, but the sun was out and the sky was blue and the riding was exquisite. Stubbs H.O.G. Chapter 93, the host of the ride, doesn’t make this a poker run; rather, at each stop you pick up a numbered ticket which goes into a big box at the end of the day back at Cyclefest. This year the 234-mile ride had its second stop at Stubbs’ dealership in Anthem. Then it was on to Cordes Junction, Cottonwood and Payson, where lunch was being offered at Macky’s Grill. Mayor Greg Kary greeted the bikers. I didn’t really know who he was at first; I thought some of the townfolks had dressed up and were there to greet the bikers. Macky’s was ready with two choices of lunch items for under $10. They even had someone playing live music for the bikers. Last stop was down the mountain at the Ft. McDowell Chevron Gas station. By this time all of us were shedding our coats and chaps. It was hot. By the time we returned to Cyclefest and the Stubbs tent, it was nearing the drawing time for the winners. We had 15 tickets between us, but not one winner. Out of the approximately 700 riders, there were three big money winners—John Sharp of Phoenix, Rennie Sahoon of Glendale, and Lee Poling of Phoenix. The cash doled out amounted to a total of $900, with first getting $500, second $250, and third $150. After the cash prizes there were tons of donated raffle prizes and the tickets were drawn and numbers written on a large whiteboard until everything was gone.
In the early days, the ride was dedicated to Make-A-Wish; one little boy, Braedon Peltier, who had developed brain cancer, wished for a little motorcycle. At the time, the chapter members had donated an entire motorcycle outfit as well as a little chopper for the child. Though the charity has changed, Braedon has always attended the closing activities and been involved with drawing the winning raffle tickets. This year Braedon, now 15 years old, was unable to attend and he was missed. For three years the charity of Chapter 93 has been the Arizona Children’s Burn Camp (Camp Courage). This year 100 percent of the proceeds went to this camp, which is run by the Phoenix Fire Department and manned by volunteers.
Chester’s 11th annual Torch Ride
Mesa, Ariz., Apr. 17—Bikers began lining up on the side street next to Chester’s in Mesa as early as 7:30 a.m. Though the ride didn’t officially begin until 10:30, Chester’s volunteers had their hands full trying to keep the riders moving and lining up safely. At one point, I estimated the count was well on to reaching a thousand bikes, and that was just in the side street. Hundreds more bikers were waiting down the street to enter into the Torch Ride section. At last count I heard the man on the loudspeaker say there were 2,400 bikes carrying 3,000 riders. Everyone seemed to dismount and head up to the dealership at the same time, where a huge breakfast of waffles, bacon, and more was being cooked. According to Craig Chester, the breakfast was donated by Walmart and bikers were taking advantage of the food and beverages.
I walked the front lines of bikes and found some people hanging around just waiting for the parade to begin. Wesley Byrne, who sat on the ground polishing his bike, rode from California and had pitched his tent at Cyclefest. He was the first tenter I had found and he was very pleased with the new setup this year. “Since they moved us from the dirt to the grassy area, I think it is a whole lot better and it’s worth it to be right there.” This is the fourth year he has attended this ride.
Lying across his blue trike, Dalton Taft said he was an old rogue trucker who ran all over the western U.S. His truck was loaded with goods to take to Miami, Arizona, but he parked the truck at his sister’s house and borrowed her old blue trike to ride the Torch event. It turned out that on the new gold trike right behind Dalton was his sister Stacey Dawson and her daughter Christina Duwel. The mom and daughter team had driven 1,982 miles in 69 hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to pick up the gold trike, whose name is Cheyenne. The team took turns driving the Hummer and the trike to get back in time to do Chester’s event.
Sarah Lamb of Phoenix was really excited to ride in her first Torch Ride with her friend Bryan Smitherman from Mesa. Bryan was riding his 2003 Heritage Softail and has attended Cyclefest for three years. “I love it; the people I meet are incredible.”
The entire Chester family was milling throughout the throngs of people. The escorted ride with E.B. Chester and the first 500 bikes headed to Cyclefest at 10:30, and at intervals each group of 500 followed. At the end of the day the Torch Ride raised $55,325 for Special Olympics of Arizona. The money will benefit the local Special Olympians. One hundred percent of the money raised went straight to the charity. According to Andreanne Depape, marketing manager for Chester’s, the dealership does not take a dime to pay for expenses like ride insurance, commemorative pins and many more expenses. “It’s our charitable contribution. Putting on these events costs a lot of money but with the generous help from Wal-Mart this year, we were happy they provided hot breakfast for the riders.”
Scottsdale, Ariz., Apr. 18—Logan Roberts of Logan’s Valley Motorcycles has been involved with Arizona Bike Week since the beginning. His ride, Logan’s Run, is the last ride of the week and one of this writer’s favorites. His continued support of children’s charities makes him tops in my book. On Saturday, April 17, Logan sponsors a charity auction and donates the proceeds to the Crusaders for the Children and Arizona Bike Week Charities. His ride is $25 but it is the best deal of all if you register online or prior to the deadline. Each rider gets a T-shirt, pin and lunch at Iguana Macks in Chandler, and a chance at a lot of raffle prizes back at Cyclefest. He also has one of the best bands, Mogollon, waiting to entertain riders for the end of Bike Week. Normally, more than 500 riders take Logan’s Run; however, this year there was a filming of the Wish Riders for Make-A-Wish leaving from several of the Harley-Davidson dealerships and going to Cyclefest. The time difference prevented many riders from taking Logan’s Run, which was unfortunate.
Probably because it is the last ride of the 10-day event and probably because I have my dear riding friends Susie Golden, her daughter Janessa, Billie Diaz, Doug Wall and Nick Subotich as riding companions, I look forward to the 110 miles of desert riding. Standing in the registration line waiting to pick up our packets, we struck up a conversation with the guy behind us named Hal Mondrow. It’s the kind of thing most bikers do—they chat with other riders and sometimes something special happens to help you remember that particular name. This was the case with Hal, but you’ll have to wait to find out what!
It seems that all kinds of mishaps can take place while riding a motorcycle. On this particular day we had a few, like at one point a Big Lots bag floating through the air almost covered me but I ducked. Then Susie had a plastic storage box lid fly off from somewhere and almost clobber her, but she was able to stick her foot out and deflect it. Riding along I suddenly realized I was heading into a swarm of bees but before I could do anything—splat, splat, splat—they hit my windshield and my helmet visor, but poor Billie, riding behind me without a windshield or a helmet, got splattered by 40 to 50 bees, all over his face mask and goggles! They were honeybees, too, so it was a sticky mess! Luckily, everyone was safe.
First card is at Logan’s tent in Cyclefest. From there the ride heads out on Dynamite Road east towards Fountain Hills. The desert during this time of the year is spectacular with color, mostly yellow and orange wild flowers. Second stop and card is at the Alamo Saloon, and then it’s on to the Bush Highway through Saguaro Lake and Apache Junction for card number three at the Spirits Bar and Grill. Stop number four this year was a new place, Famous Sam’s in Chandler. A few miles down the road it’s Iguana Macks for lunch. Last stop is back at Cyclefest. None of us had a winning hand but there were some surprises. Low hand went to Mike Parker of Mesa; third place went to Margarita Streicher, second place went to Melissa Hughes, who heads up the Liberty Wildlife Ride, and the $500 for first place went to Harlan Mondrow, a.k.a. Hal, the guy I met standing in the registration line. Hal was a very happy guy. This was his first time to ride in Arizona Bike Week, and the first time he has ever won anything.
Arizona Bike Week was a gratifying success this year. I had a chance to talk with Brad Bennett a few weeks after all the numbers were in. “With so many rallies being down in numbers this past year, we here in Arizona were ecstatic with our outcome. Overall, our attendance shattered last year’s record by 7,000 people—we couldn’t be happier.” Bennett also was pleased that with the newly rejuvenated area for RV parking, 30 percent more people decided to stay right on the grounds to be near the activities and not be in a position to drink and drive. “We hope to increase that another 30 percent next year.” There are some new ideas being discussed to increase the entertainment budget for next year as well. “Because Arizonans tends to be a ‘live by day, party by night’ crowd, we want to bring more variety in activities and rides in order to give them more of what they want to assure future success.” For now, the dates for next year’s events are March 25 to April 3. Check the website www.azbikeweek.com for updates.