Bikesure Blog

The top three biker events in the USA

In the third and final part of our look at the other side of USA biker culture, here’s where to go if you’re lucky enough to be taking a trip Stateside any time soon.

Motorcycling can be a pretty solitary pursuit. But, like most solitary pursuits, it’s more fun with other people around. If you want to completely immerse yourself in motorcycle culture, there is no better way than attending one of the many rallies held each year in the US. While one is held in almost every state, often attracting many thousands of visitors, a few have become legendary.

 

DaytonaBeachBikeWeek2008 copy

 

Laconia motorcycle week

With roots dating back to 1916, Laconia is America’s oldest running rally. Based on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, it started off as a spontaneous “Gypsy tour”, where bikers would converge on a location to race and party. Since then it has evolved into a nine-day celebration of all things motorcycle, with a huge array of activities including rides, exhibitions, live music, races and much more besides.

 

Daytona Beach, Florida

Daytona Beach is one of the most important cities for motorsport in America. The naturally hard-packed sand of the beach make a perfect racing surface, and it has been used as a track since the 1930s. NASCAR, the organisation that runs the bafflingly popular motorsport, was founded there in the 1940s, which cemented the town’s reputation as America’s home of racing.

Bikers have the choice of attending the nine-day bike week in February or the positively dinky four-day Biketoberfest in October. The centrepiece of the spring week is the Daytona 200, an endurance race of 200 miles, or 57 laps.

 

The crowds at Daytona

The crowds at Daytona

 

Sturgis Rally

Of the 48 contiguous states in the US, South Dakota is ranked 46 in terms of population density. Home of the Rushmore monument and the largest concentration of Mammoth remains in the world, it is also something of a Mecca for bikers. Normally, the town of Sturgis has a population of a little over 6500. In August, things get a tad more hectic as the motorcycle rally, currently in its 76th year, attracts an average of half a million visitors to the area. It has evolved beyond its original blueprint to become an all-encompassing celebration of biker culture, and has become the major generator of income for the town. The town has been changed by the presence of the rally, with many new businesses opening to take advantage of the seasonal invasion. In 2015 Harley Davidson built a permanent rally point to act as the focus for their official activities in town.

 

Sturgis Rally

Sturgis Rally

 

Sturgis is also home to the Full Throttle Saloon, which advertises itself as the largest biker bar in the world. During the rally it puts on a staggering range of entertainment, including concerts, stunt shows and various activities which are basically opportunities to get women’s clothes all wet and see-through. They know their customers, for sure.

For the last five years the bar has been the subject of a reality TV show, which has certainly not harmed the Full Throttle Saloon’s fame or finances. What did harm it was the fire that destroyed it just three weeks after the 2015 rally. While this is a huge blow the owners have since decided to rebuild.

Over its lifetime Sturgis has become the bikers rally, and will doubtless continue to get larger with time.

 

Bonneville: Speedland – the home of record-breakers

Week two of our trilogy of articles looking at alternative biker culture in the USA focuses on the speed kings of Utah.

 

For over a century when people have wanted to break land speed records they go to the salt flats of Lake Bonneville in north western Utah. A beautifully desolate landscape, during the summer months the lake evaporates leaving a thick, perfectly flat crust of salt. This makes the ideal surface for racing vehicles, and the size of the lake allows for staggering speeds to be reached in relative safety.

September is bike month, and teams of all sizes and technical advancement arrive. Whether it’s vintage mopeds or state of the art custom streamliners, Bonneville has seen people set new records on them.

Its reputation was assured when Malcolm Campbell broke the 300mph barrier in Bluebird in 1935, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became the place where motorcycle records were smashed. This wasn’t accidental.

Until then, motorcycle speed records had been dominated by the Germans. When Wilhelm Herz broke 180mph in 1951, a small group of Texans decided to bring the record to America for the first time since 1920. The bike built by Stormy Mangham and his friends was a revolutionary cigar-shaped streamliner, which took the record to a staggering 193mph in 1956.

 

1956 landspeed motorcycle

Cigar-shaped 1956 record-holder

From that point onwards, the motorcycle speed records were dominated by American teams and builders, as improving technology saw record after record fall. By 1966 it had risen to 245mph, by 1976 it had reached 300mph. The 1978 record of 318mph wasn’t beaten until 1990, but has been rising steadily since 2006, with 376mph the current benchmark. Modern technological advances make the 1950s speed demons look like stone age prams, with carbon Kevlar monocoque chassis, computer controlled engines and finely tuned designs being an absolute must for anybody serious about breaking the next big target, the 400mph barrier.

So far the 21st century has been dominated by two teams – BUB seven and Ack Attack. In early 2015 Triumph, whose engines powered the majority of the record holders in the 50s and 60s, announced a new attempt on the record driven by the charismatic daredevil Guy Martin. Sadly Guy suffered an accident which put the attempt on hold until 2016, so it remains to be seen whether the record will break.

Castrol Rocket Triumph Guy Martin

The Triumph-powered Castrol Rocket, Guy Martin’s intended ride

Sadly the salt flats face a greater threat than accident prone drivers. Races were called off entirely for the 2014 and 2015 seasons after it was discovered that the salt crust was too thin to provide a safe racing surface. For many decades, the salt lakes have been mined for potash. The company doing this has attempted to replace salts removed in order to preserve the environment. Despite this, there has been a worrying decline in the thickness of the salt, and the total area of the salt flats has shrunk considerably in the past 30 years. An alliance of interested parties is working to attempt to save the salt flats, but despite the efforts of the mining industry to limit the damage they cause to the place it is likely that unless they are stopped the destruction of this unique natural habitat will continue.

The hidden world of Scooterville USA

Bikesure is taking a three-part look at the alternative motorbike scene in the USA. Here’s part one – Americans ride scooters too. Who knew?

 

Historically, America hasn’t been hugely convinced by scooters. Cheap petrol and the vast distances between cities helped cement the popularity of giant cars and bikes with the turning circle of a cow glued to an iceberg, and there was always the sneaking suspicion that small vehicles with good fuel economy were one of the ways commies dilute the purity of your precious bodily fluids.

That said, there have always been pockets of scooter fans, usually to be found in the larger cities where they make sense as nippy, easy-to-park runabouts. These groups reflect the style and energy of their home cities, with each having a quality that could only ever really occur in that place.

 

Scooters in Brooklyn, New York

Scooters in Brooklyn, New York

New York, with its sensory overload approach to life, has several thriving communities of scooterists, including the Italian lifestyle connoisseurs of the Vespa Club of NYC or I Scoot NY, which attracts a more Anglophile/Mod crowd.

Meanwhile on the west coast, in the hipster zoo that is Portland, the Twist and Play Scooter Club are coolly ironic groovy young people, which fits with the dominant image of the city.

 

Poster Portland Spring Scoot

Poster for Portland’s Spring Scoot. Artwork by Noah Patrick Pfarr.

Further down the coast in tech-savvy San Francisco, it should come as no surprise that a start up is using scooters to disrupt the urban traffic paradigm. Scoot is basically Boris Bikes with electric scooters. As they are rated as less powerful than a 50cc engine and the rentals are for less than 48 hours, you don’t need a licence to use them. Simply book one via an app, which directs you to the closest garage as well as tracking you to make sure you don’t nick it. It’s a very neat solution to transport for a city with a large population and an interesting transport infrastructure. Whether it would work anywhere other than San Francisco is debateable, relying as it does on the vagaries of local laws, but it’s possible that in a few years renting electric scooters could become a common sight in more places.

 

Scoot scooters in San Francisco

Scoot scooters in San Francisco

One of the less likely strongholds of American scooterdom is Texas. While you might think anybody willingly riding a scooter would be escorted to the state border at gunpoint, there’s a surprisingly high proportion of active scooter clubs there. From the Ready Steady Gos and Blue Meanies in Dallas, the United Scooter Riders in Houston and the Austin Scooter Club in, er… *rustles papers*… somewhere, the Lone Star State turns out to be something of a stronghold of scooters and scooter fans. The Austin scooter club even organises an annual Clint Eastwood themed rally.

 

Austin scooter rally

Clint Eastwood themed Austin scooter rally

 

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