LAS VEGAS, NEV., OCT 2-6–Did you ever notice as you were headed east towards Las Vegas that when the 15 Freeway crosses the California state line into Nevada it acquires an additional lane and the road surface becomes smooth and even? It’s as if the state highway authority, most likely financed by taxes on casino profits, wants to do everything possible to expedite your deliverance to the gaming centers located in Sin City and assure that you’re in a good mood when arriving for the 13th annual Las Vegas BikeFest.
Of course, few among us need to have our mood enhanced as we approach Vegas. The anticipation of sensory overload and the possibility of jackpot financial gain is more than sufficient motivation to keep us focused on the matter of dealing with the minor logistical details before we can find a casino floor ASAP. As surely as it promotes bipolar behavior in its residents, and especially its visitors, Las Vegas embodies that same mental disorder regarding its own economy. Vegas is, after all, essentially a 19th century boomtown. Back in the early portion of the millennium I can remember watching contractors build residential housing units as if the entire population of the country was about to pull up stakes and migrate to Glitter Gulch. Then, when certain reactionary politicians driven by ideology as opposed to practicality fell in league with unusually unscrupulous capitalists to send the country into recession, I remember noticing that construction had stopped dead in its tracks on the residential communities. This year as I passed those developments I noticed that construction had resumed with a purpose. I felt a mild wave of encouragement because the local economy was showing demonstrable signs of recovery.
An unusually benevolent Mother Nature chose to bestow mild weather conditions upon the Mojave Desert throughout the duration of BikeFest. Even the temperatures in the convection oven known as Baker, California, located some 90 miles west of Sin City, never seriously threatened to breach the 90-degree mark. High temperatures in the downtown area remained in the mid-70s all weekend.
Once again this year I had the pleasure of sharing a room with Terry Roorda, the editor-in-chief of this esteemed publication. We enjoyed our stay in the recently renovated Gold Tower at the Golden Nugget, which serves as the center of activity for BikeFest in downtown (North) Las Vegas. Mindy Cherry and her staff provided the usual abundance of distractions for BikeFest attendees, and it was good to meet her dad, Chuck Schwartz, while he was dealing with an issue in the administration area. Mindy’s siblings, Harry and Pam Schwartz, retired from producing the extravaganza a few years ago, but still make their services available to Miss Cherry in an advisory capacity when needed.
On Wednesday evening, early-arriving attendees got the chance to drop by the Hogs & Heifers Saloon to help bawdy (and proud of it) owner Michelle Dell celebrate that establishment’s 8th anniversary—a perfect kickoff party to the next four days of events.
If you decided to participate in the “Run to Vegas” poker run on Thursday, you had the choice to take off from Victorville Harley-Davidson in California or the Gold Nugget Restaurant in Wickenburg, Arizona. Then, after checking in to register at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, you, along with the other participants, proceeded on over to the theater lobby at the Cashman Center to show your hand and hopefully claim your prize money: $1,000 for the high hand and $500 for the low hand. Whether or not you won anything in the poker run, you could still enjoy the Rev-it-Up Kick Off Party from 6:00 to 8:00 at the Cashman Center Thursday night featuring live music provided by The Garage Boys and free beer and snacks.
A little after 8:00 on Thursday night around 800 riders and passengers registered to participate in the 2nd annual Strip Ride, this year benefitting the Boot Campaign. Producer/director and media personality Erik Gloege, the Boot Campaign rep in Vegas, held down the fort at the registration desk. The non-escorted ride departed from lot “A” at the Cashman Center and after a brief jaunt down the Strip it doubled back and wound up at the Sapphire Pool and Day Club adjacent to the Sapphire Gentleman’s Club, which is generally considered to be the largest such establishment in the world. As you may have surmised, the pool area is populated by dozens of strippers dressed in bikini bottoms and pasties. The price of admission grants a patron the privilege to order cocktails, go for a swim and gawk at the ladies. There are also hosted cabanas available for rental. Unfortunately, due to chilly temperatures that evening, the ladies needed to cover up.
Before I rode down to join the Strip Ride, I spent about an hour at the invitation-only Artistry in Iron reception held at the display area within Vendor Village at the Cashman Center. It was great to see a number of builders I knew from previous bike shows and marvel at their handiwork. I also got the opportunity to speak with several builders I’d heard about but never met, and had them point out some of the highlights of their entries.
Prior to Friday’s events getting underway, I headed over to the Indian demo ride area and, because it was early and the crowds were light, I was able to go right out with the next group. When I asked one of the operatives for a recommendation he told me that the Indian Motorcycle Red Chief Classic I happened to be standing next to had a stage-1 performance upgrade package. I informed the escort rider serving as the tail gunner that I would appreciate his cooperation when I dropped back from the pack to execute my performance and handling tests. He graciously accommodated my protocol. What a ride! Polaris also brought the Victory models to the Cashman Center and I got to demo the Judge on Saturday morning. It packs some low-end torque and handles very well.
Just before noon on Friday the World’s Strongest Biker competition was held in Vendor Village, and Nick Pierson from RideNow Powersports in Las Vegas took the title again this year. Kyle Lewellen, Nick’s co-worker, took second, and the guys favored me with a pose with the Budweiser models propped up on their shoulders. DJ Stephanie Mackenzie from 97.1 FM in Las Vegas performed as “mistress of ceremonies” for the competition.
Vendor Village was packed with action all afternoon. At 2:00, to the delight of the crowd, the Las Vegas Metro Police Motor Unit performed their skilled maneuvers over a challenging course set up in the performance area. And at 3:00 the Tattoo Contest sponsored by Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company drew a huge group of contestants. The winners were Steve Dunn of Las Vegas (Single Black/Gray), Oz Garcia from Simi Valley (Multi Black/Gray), Rachael Fernandez (Single Color) and I failed to get the Multi Color winner as he took off before I could get his name.
The biker games were also in full swing at Vendor Village with “Boogieman” and “Tequila Rose” teaming up to take first place overall with high-placed finishes in the Safety Cone Ball Grab, Slow Race, Wienie Bite, Ball Toss and the Board Balance. They won $300 worth of gear from Hot Leathers and $200 cash.
At 5:00 Saturday evening the Custom Bike Show Editor’s Choice Awards were presented during the Custom Bike Show at Vendor Village. Editors from various motorcycle publications were on hand to choose their favorite scoots that will be featured in upcoming print issues. THUNDER PRESS Editor-in-Chief Terry Roorda selected Bryce Cole of Squaw Valley, California, and his 1948 Panhead digger.
Vendor Village wasn’t the only venue that saw packed crowds. The Wet T-shirt Contest at Las Vegas Harley-Davidson saw so many entrants that there was barely enough room onstage for the contestants to line up side by side. A dealership staff member wielded a decibel meter and reported the results to Stephanie Mackenzie who took care of the emcee duties. After numerous reappearances by each of the final five contestants, the crew was able to determine a winner. The hottest babe of the bunch, in this reporter’s opinion, was a lady named Megan Kitty. (You read that right. That’s the name she gave me). Unfortunately for the winsome blonde, she only managed a third-place finish. Another blonde, a statuesque beauty and Hustler model from North Carolina named Amber Williams, took second. A chiropractic assistant from Phoenix named Sheena St. Vincent used her girl-next-door appeal to induce an overwhelming response from the crowd and win the competition. The Boogieman Band kept the mob grooving along before, during and after the mammalian extravaganza.
Back at Vendor Village Sam Baldi’s custom bobber “Lost Angel,” built by Jimmy Todorovitch of Profile Cycle in L.A. and painted by Alberto Ahumada of Onextreme custom paint, won Best Radical bike. This win gets Jimmy Todorovitch an invitation to Artistry in Iron at next year’s BikeFest. Lost Angel has won best-of-show honors at a number of prestigious competitions this year, so it was only a matter of time before Jimmy got to present his work at Artistry in Iron.
Country singer Joe Nichols was slated to perform a set of hits from the stage set up on the west side of the parking area across from the Cashman Center to close things out Friday night. Joe and his band are consummate musicians, but the 7:30 p.m. scheduled show time came and went with no sign of either. A little after 8:00 the P.A. system started playing Joe’s hits, but still no Joe. However, a little before 9:00 Joe and the band came onstage and began playing along as the sound engineer mixed out the track until you could only hear Joe and the band. At the end of the song the audience, which seemed to appear out of nowhere, went wild.
Saturday’s $10,000 Poker Run participants started early by registering in the Grotto Atrium at the Golden Nugget. With $5,000 going to the high hand, this run draws huge numbers. This year’s most attractive poker stop was the Resort on Mount Charleston, 6,500 feet up in the Spring Mountains to the northwest of downtown.
Also on Saturday was the Miss Las Vegas BikeFest competition sponsored by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys, which took place on the Cashman Center auditorium stage. Last year’s Miss Las Vegas BikeFest winner, Angela Tardiff from Olivehurst, California, who is also a mechanic/builder working for Jim Giuffra’s AFT Customs, came in third this year, and Christina Falco, a Las Vegas-based model, took second place for the second year running. I met Kalia Nelson, a fetching blonde who asked me what would help her win the competition when I spoke to her the day before while she was working as a model at the RideNow Powersports exhibit. I really didn’t have much in the way of advice for the beauty, except to tell her to be coy and act a little shy in a suggestive way when she answered the inevitable biker-related leading question that the emcee would ask. I guess maybe I should become a consultant for biker beauty contests, because Kalia managed to charm the judges and garner the title of Miss Las Vegas BikeFest 2013. When I interviewed her after the contest, she rewarded me for my advice with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Female BikeFest attendees got to enjoy their own skin show, as the Mr. Las Vegas BikeFest Competition was up next at the Cashman Center. It was obvious to everyone in attendance that a couple of the contestants were in need of immediate mental therapy, or possibly just some strait jackets. Emcee Stephanie Mackenzie wound up having to pry the microphone from the hands of two of these egomaniacal exhibitionists. That was the only part of the program that was the least bit entertaining. The winner, Bruce Kramer from Huntington Beach, California, who was far and away the best physical specimen of the lot, stripped down to black leather chaps with a black leather thong and had the ladies in attendance in heat.
If you can dream it up, there’s probably a builder out there that can fabricate the look you want for your bagger. The proof lies in the display of audacious, eye-popping examples of the imaginations displayed at the Baddest Bagger in Vegas competition. Maverick Publications owner Dave Withrow presented the award to Randy Galahan for his blue 2010 Road Glide. The bodywork had been done by Paul Tracy from Black Label Baggers in Phoenix, and Glen Dine fabricated the front wheel. With the addition of a turbo kit, its 103-inch Twin Cam will deliver 180 ponies and 170 ft/lbs of torque.
This year the Harley-Davidson Café Hog Out Competition was held on the covered patio at the Cashman Center. James Wright of Anaheim, California, was able to eat more pulled pork sliders in two minutes than anyone else at the table. He happily accepted his award, and then went back to finish the rest of the sandwiches on his plate before reaching for more. The poor guy was still hungry.
The big show on tap at Vendor Village for Saturday night was the Artistry in Iron Awards Ceremony. Rick Bray of RKB Kustom Speed took top honors and $10,000 in prize money for his intricate, yet clean, Shovelhead. Ron Harris from Waterford, Michigan, with mechanical help from his buddy Brandon Tagert, won the People’s Choice award for his white, highly-modified Panhead.
Saturday night’s concert lineup at the Cashman Center featured Foghat who rocked the crowd playing 70’s hits “Slow Ride,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and more before Blue Oyster Cult took the stage and played dynamic renditions of their hits. What a great way to top off a Saturday night during a weekend of nearly nonstop activity at the Cashman Center.
Sunday’s schedule was pretty low-key as Vendor Village and the Artistry in Iron exhibits stayed open until 3:00 p.m. An autograph session with the Artistry in Iron builders was also held for fans wanting to meet the men behind the crazy custom builds.
I don’t mind tellin’ you that after the demanding schedule during Las Vegas BikeFest I was pretty whipped. I managed to rally to the point where I was able to hang out in the bars at the Golden Nugget for a couple of beers with some people I’d met earlier at the Cashman Center before I headed up to the room where I found it very easy to drop off to sleep. Another successful Las Vegas BikeFest in the books.
Las Vegas BikeFest Bike Show Results
Artistry in Iron
1st Place: Rick Bray, RKB Kustom Speed, Hanford, CA
People’s Choice: Ron Harris, Chop Doc Choppers, Waterford, MI
Custom Bike Show
1st Place: Sam Baldi, Cherry Valley, CA
2nd Place: Troy Letwak, Oracle, AZ
3rd Place: Les Covington, Hubbard, OR
1st Place: Mark Daniel, Albuquerque, NM
2nd Place: John Manser, Hinkley, CA
3rd Place: Ricardo Herrera, Albuquerque, NM
1st Place: Bruce Boldon, Campbell, CA
2nd Place: Paul Ponkow, Henderson, NV
3rd Place: Gary Hummel, Corona, CA
Yaniv Evan, Los Angeles, CA
Bruce Boldon, Campbell CA
Best Metric Cruiser
Brian Schenk, Edmonton, AB, Canada
William Nethercott, Surprise, AZ
Best Sport Bike
Ryan Cantwell, Las Vegas, NV
THUNDER PRESS Editor’s Choice
Bryce Cole, Squaw Valley, CA
1st Place: Gary Donohoe, Las Vegas, NV
2nd Place: Michael Strong, Peoria, AZ
1st Place: James Patience, Ammon, ID
2nd Place: Bruce Bolden, Campbell, AZ
3rd Place: Francine Castellanos, Vail, AZ
1st Place: William Nethercutt, Surprise, AZ
2nd Place: Ron Stack, Canyon Lake, CA
3rd Place: Derek Taylor, Mentone, CA
1st Place: Paul Tracy, Scottsdale, AZ
2nd Place: Kody McNew, Glendale, AZ
3rd Place: Brian Jenkins, Phoenix, AZ
Baddest Bagger of Las Vegas
Randy Galahan, Las Vegas, NV
Baddest American Bagger
Chris Harris, Bremerton, WA
Baddest Urban Bagger
Bruce Boldon, Campbell, CA