In only its 18th year, Arizona Bike Week has emerged as one of the nation’s premier motorcycle rallies. A beguiling mix of smashing headliner music, idyllic weather, varied showcased works of master builders, an astonishing number of real world customs, parties spread the length and breadth of the central Sonoran Desert, a wide diversity of vendors, and laid back law enforcement presence arguably puts ABW in the top 3 of grand slam motorcycle rallies.
Organizers knocked it out of the park this year, bringing in the likes of ZZ Top, Big & Rich, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joan Jett and Aaron Lewis. Some 90,000 bikers poured through the Cyclefest gates, smashing last year’s attendance record. Although only about a fifth the size of Sturgis or Daytona in sheer numbers, organizers have created an event of mass appeal.
Motorcyclists across the nation found refuge from the relentless, abominable winter, escaping at least for awhile to the balmy days of sunny Scottsdale. While most of us were still stuck in the cold, cruel grip of a particularly prolonged winter, enduring record late-season snowfall, frigid temps, ice storms, hundred-year floods, and other signs of the apocalypse, brave souls rode in from unfriendly climes and parts undesired. They came from as far north as still-frozen Canada, storm-savaged parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, California, Colorado and beyond. According to rally officials, attendance was up roughly 25% over last year, despite unseasonably cool temps, a smattering of rain and windy conditions the first day or 2.
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. Capacity crowds packed the new RockYard stage area, the great throng cheering their favorite bands and biker anthems. Local bands joined the live fusillade, with music playing day and night somewhere in the Vendor Village.
ABW kicked off with 5 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, Wes2rld. 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 venue, product vendor, beer girl and bike show place to the next, winding our way to the main event. After passing through the Cyclefest gates, we soon saw how fun is contagious.
Enthusiasts enjoyed 10 full days of stunning signature rides in and around Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix metro area. The Bike Week venues stretch from Cave Creek to the north to some 30 miles south to Mesa, where civilization meets the stark desert, and the concurrent Phoenix Bike Fest sprang out of the dirt for its premier year. The list of events is long and varied from Miss Arizona Bike Week to barbecues and Western cookouts. There are numerous best bike builds (now with multiple categories) and biker games. The OEMs get in on the action too with factory demo rides from Harley-Davidson, Yamaha and Kawasaki. And, of course, there are bikini bike washes, bike outfitters and at least 2 kinds of death-defying, gravity-denying, impossible stunt shows. As night fell, the daytime activities were followed by headlining concert acts 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 8 categories: Sport, Cruise, Modified, Builder, Vintage, Classic, Trikes and Sidecars, and Rat Bike. Master builder, Paul Yaffe, debuted his new-look bagger, the SRT (Steam Rolling Touring). The bike has flipped the big wheel trend on its tail, featuring a 220 front tire, Twin Cam–based 124 cubic-inch motor making a claimed 150 horsepower, and electro-luminescent paint, which glows when electrically charged. How this worked was not explained. “I like to call it the Muscle Bagger,” said Yaffe. “It’s a big middle finger to all the trailer queen, big wheel bikes.”
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 5 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 cancer 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.
4 major self-guided and mapped rides headed off, as the local Apache and Navajo might say, in the direction of the 4 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 were once Jurassic sea beds.
Cyclefest admission cost $ 50 per person for a 5-day pass, (up $ 5 from last year) or $ 20 per person 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 a 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.
For more information, call 480-644-8191or visit www.azbikeweek.com.