PHOENIX AREA, ARIZ., Apr. 8—There isn’t a state in the Union that compares with Arizona’s scenic cactus-strewn vistas and blazing sunsets, and there isn’t a motorcycle event in the country that quite compares to Arizona Bike Week (ABW). As grandiose a statement as that might appear to be, it’s simply a matter of fact that there’s just nothing like riding in Arizona—and it seems an estimated 70,000 bikers from across the country have figured that out.
With plenty of intrinsic reasons to ride the scenic highways and byways of our 48th state, ABW promoters certainly chose well by inviting riders to tour the wide-open spaces of their home turf each spring. Ranked as the sixth-largest state in the nation, there are 113,998 square miles within the borders of Arizona and most of that is devoid of urban sprawl. The state is approximately 400 miles long, 310 miles wide, and its 22.3 million acres of landscape are comprised of the picturesque Sonoran Desert. Orabi, located about 90 miles northeast of Flagstaff, is the oldest documented settlement in the United States having been occupied since 500 A.D., and the list of official ghost towns to visit while touring the Copper State is as long as your arm.
The highest elevation, 12,634 feet, is found atop the typically snow-capped Humphries Peak in Flagstaff, and the lowest, at 70 feet above sea level, is the Colorado River that flows through the base of Parker Dam. Annual rainfall can be as scant as seven inches a year in the desert areas, and the highest temperature was a whopping 128 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on June 29, 1994, in Lake Havasu.
For the 17th iteration of Arizona Bike Week, however, riders could not have asked for more beautiful skies. While residents in other states all across the nation were digging themselves out of snowbanks or huddling up waiting for the next squall to pass, ABW attendees were merrily wending their way through the Grand Canyon State, checking out old mining towns and cowboy lore while soaking up the warm spring weather. If there’s a negative to be shared about riding in Arizona, other than the aforementioned flesh-searing summer temperatures, it would probably be that one must be keenly aware of where you step. Snakes are coming out of hibernation and are most dangerous in the spring since they’re pretty hungry and they have really bad eyesight. Your pale, flip-flop-shod foot might just be mistaken for a tasty treat. However, out of the 150-200 bites reported each year, less than one percent result in death. Still, a snakebite would pretty much screw up your dance plans.
Unlike some of the bigger rallies, ABW is a riding event. Bikers ship, tow, ride and rent bikes for the opportunity to cruise the Valley of the Sun for the myriad of rides that are organized by local charities. While the five-day heart of the event and official wild times are technically under the big top at WestWorld in Scottsdale, the excitement of Bike “Week” has stretched into a full week-and-a-half of motorcycle mania and is spread out over much of the state. The party pulse was already being felt out at The Hideaway during their typical Friday night Bike Night before the gates even opened at Cyclefest. Likewise, every little bar, restaurant and bike shop offered their own motorcycle-themed hoopla alongside the H-D dealerships that invited revelers to come out early and get the party started.
The days designated as pre-rally, April 5-9, proved to be a festival frenzy on its own with Chester’s H-D in Mesa offering concerts with a cover charge featuring Great White, Slaughter and Night Ranger, Buddy Stubbs H-D had a free event with a two-acre beer garden while bands played all day before they gave away a Sportster, and Scottsdale H-D invited riders to celebrate the shop’s second anniversary for free simply by showing their motorcycle endorsement, otherwise a $20 donation for a concert by Reckless Kelly topped off by Steppenwolf was requested at the door. Funds raised by Scottsdale were donated to the Arizona children’s burn camp, Camp Courage.
If all that sounded like just too much excitement, the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute offered a nice open house and garage party during the day on Saturday with displays from builders like Knucklehead Cycles, Jim Nasi Customs and Matt Risley Innovations, as well as tours of the facility and vendors. The hospitality was genuine and warm.
The fun just down the road and across the freeway at the famed Greasewood Flat in Scottsdale took on a different flavor with a music festival going on throughout Bike Week. Billed as being the “oldest, quirkiest, and most classic of bars,” where a complete cowboy experience came with dancing, food and drink under the twinkling desert stars, this was also where the Hamsters rolled into for their lunch stop during their notorious “Dry Heat” charity run. The Dirty Dogg, a favorite biker watering hole in Scottsdale, tipped out on the wilder side of the party scale at any time during the 10-day deal with tattoo contests, biker games and wildman master of ceremonies Jack Schit at the helm.
Needless to say, by the time Arizona Bike Week officially kicked off on April 10, our band of party animals was well primed. The rockin’ Wednesday night festivities started off with a few rounds of voting on a bevy of scantily-clad biker babes to determine who would wear the crown for Miss Arizona Bike Week 2013, which was followed by an award presentation to the 2013 ABW Hero before the band Tonic took over the stage.
Each year promoters pay tribute by spotlighting an individual they feel contributes to the motorcycle lifestyle in a way that sets them apart. Past “Heroes” have included Mark Bradshaw from The Hideaway Grill, Barry Caraway from Cyclerides.com, as well as Buddy Stubbs from Buddy Stubbs H-D, among others. This year’s recipient of the Hero award went to native New Zealander Nick Trask from Trask Performance. Having made a name for himself by souping up cars in his homeland, Nick transitioned to motorcycles by flying out and graduating from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix and then setting up a performance center offering enhancements like dyno tuning and turbo systems. In business for over a decade in Arizona, Trask’s reputation for performance work has spread worldwide through the Trask Turbo Systems. His Trask Performance Dealer Network has over 40 shops in six countries, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, as well as the United States.
As with most rallies, there’s something for everyone at ABW. If you chose to cheat yourself by skipping all the rides, you could still walk away with
a complete biker experience just by hanging out at Cyclefest since there was something going on constantly. Dealerships offered test rides for bike browsers all week. Bands like Rock Dolls, Pat Roberts and the Haymakers, and 5-Shots Down played throughout the day on the smaller stages, while other bands took to the main stage in the Handlebar Saloon where bartenders slung cocktails in the cool shade. If you felt like blowing up your rubber, there were occasional invitations to take your bike out to the burnout pit. Meanwhile, tattoo artists slung plenty of ink at their booths.
Stunt riders were not only doing their thing in the center arena at scheduled intervals, but along the back of the massive WestWorld compound other stunt guys were also defying gravity, flipping and flying through the air on their bikes. Friendly vendors chatted with shoppers while hiding from the sun under their canopies as bikes lined the blacktop during the bike show that had almost 100 entries on Saturday. In the evenings, concerts from bands like Tonic, Blues Traveler, Doobie Brothers and Third Eye Blind kept crowds on their feet. After-hours activities got a bit more adult in theme with things like wet T-shirt contests and games where the ladies from Christie’s Cabarets participated alongside audience members. No matter how you chose to spend your time, there was no conceivable way to do it all. Trust me; we tried.
There’s plenty of room to spread out at Cyclefest, which makes it hard to get a read on attendance since it never feels crowded, but in the late evening on Saturday night we chatted with the folks at Up In Smoke BBQ who told us that they’d ordered three tons of meat and had sold it all. Yep, that’s 6,000 pounds of tasty tidbits, twice as much as last year’s total, that were smoked up and fed to the famished foodies that figured out the guys behind the grill knew what they were doing. Our favorite was the Mexican food booth, which was reasonably priced, tasty and, best of all, open late.
There are two happenings that have proven themselves consistent during ABW: Consummate party guy Paul Yaffe hosts a great happy hour party–this year on Thursday night just before the Blues Traveler concert–and Buddy Stubbs sponsors the best concerts on Friday night. Only thing was that Paul was conspicuously missing from his own drink-fest. Turns out he and his lovely bride Suzy Q had just taken delivery of the newest Yaffe. Cash Yaffe’s entrance into the world took precedence so the bike builder/daddy sent over a photo of the baby boy to share via the big screen, thereby giving the masses one more reason to slug down Jäger shots.
The Friday night funfest kicked off with the annual “Tribute to Excellence” presentation that was awarded to Minnesota custom builder Donnie Smith. The very personable 70-year-old Smith is as well known for his innovatively-fabricated motorcycles as he is for his personal charm. His good friend and fellow Hamster MC rider, Dave Perewitz, presented the award to the Army veteran. The two then honored fellow Hamster member and ABW promoter Brad Bennett with a custom trophy fabricated from an air cleaner in appreciation for his assistance with the club’s fundraising efforts.
The evening’s concert proved to be the usual blowout success when Buddy Stubbs invited the Doobie Brothers to ABW. Appreciative fans packed the tent, spilled across the lawns and onto the blacktop as the band fed off the energy of the multitudes to deliver a truly fantastic performance. As we cruised the packed party it struck us that nobody was bitching or bickering; folks were cheerful and elated to get to party with a band that was equally happy to be there.
Sunday’s final ride again experienced a setback when Sons of Anarchy cast member Charlie “Jax” Hunnam cancelled, just as he did last year. Promoter Lisa Cyr had a philosophic attitude about what could have been a catastrophe. “You know, it was challenging, but at the end of the day, the run by Crusaders for the Children is about the kids and fortunately people seemed to respect that. There were very few cancellations, but there were costs incurred that cannot be recouped. Here it was three weeks before and we had to pay for two guys instead of one and that was more expensive. We had ordered T-shirts that had Jax on them and those had to all be reprinted, but you know, I’d like to give a good shout out here to Hot Leathers who really helped us out. They took back all the shirts they had printed and donated in the first place. They had to go back and reprint them all, then they donated the new shirts, too. They donated not only once, but twice! Now how great is that? It all worked out and we think people enjoyed the run. I know Ryan (Hurst) and Mark (Boone) enjoyed the ride and really liked meeting everyone. This is their fan base so they had a good time.”
She continued on with, “Attendance was only up a little bit, but we continue to grow. We had almost twice as many charity rides and it was good to have the Torch Ride back with about 1,200 riders. It’s nice to see the community benefitting from very worthy organizations, and we had 42 more vendors than last year. You know, we really do try to do the right thing, try to work with all the suppliers, sponsors and vendors, but ultimately, our priority is our attendees. We just want everyone to be happy and have a good time–and we work hard for that.”