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Sky Valley Motorcycle Show: The ultimate setting

By beryl nitrate

SNOHOMISH, WASH., MAY 18—Take a sleepy downtown historic district north of Seattle, add a determined and dedicated group of motorcycle riders, throw in some sunshine, specialty vendors and close off 10 blocks for motorcycle access only and what do you get? One of Washington’s finest traditions: the Sky Valley Motorcycle Show, formerly known as the Old Snohomish Antique & Classic Motorcycle Show. The formula worked again this year to bring out a crowd of more than 10,000 guests for the day.

Staff began placing barricades and showing vendors the new floor plan around 6:00 a.m. while most of us were still snoozing. Angel Towing processed and towed the cars that ignored the “No Parking” signs, each car duly photographed with the warning signs for evidence to back up the tickets. Pop-up canopies sprouted on 1st Street like mushrooms along a fairy ring as vendors began setting out their wares to entice shoppers throughout the day. Bikes began claiming the streets well before the official opening of the registration desk at 9:00 a.m.

Rod “Red Dog” Hobleman and his band of volunteers from Sky Valley Chapter ABATE of Washington were prepared to handle anything. The years of practice with working with vendors, the city, bands, show judges and motorcycle stunt teams make it all routine, and yet each show is different. The grim forecast of 50 percent chance of rain did not deter the staff from moving ahead boldly in defiance. After all, that’s also a 50 percent chance of sun.

Vendors were placed on 1st Street for the first time this year, blending motorcycle wares with the historic backdrop of turn-of-the-20th-century buildings, antique stores and unique gift shops. Most people welcomed the change. Shoppers were just one block away from the show bikes, and the vendors liked being closer too. Another block of vendors remained along Avenue A in the cul-de-sac with the gazebo by the river.

Sky Valley Motorcycle Show

Father and son enjoy the show by the American Legion Post 96 building

There were plenty of favorites to choose from. Mary’s Leathers was repairing vests, chaps and jackets, and sewing on patches all day as the 1910 Singer sewing machine barely got a break. Zackys Backroad Adventures was offering planned runs for the summer and displayed one of Keith Wong’s 26″ front wheel custom baggers. Emerald City Harley-Davidson covered half a block with their display of accessories and new 2014 bikes, and new Indians, Hondas and Victories sparkled in the sun, tempting attendees to start a new adventure. Trasky’s Cycle had several 2014 all-wheel-drive Rokons to inspire your need for a ride in the dirt, while Bent Bike had goggles, gloves, helmets and accessories. Of course, Sky Valley ABATE had souvenir T-shirts, pins and key chains to remind you of the day, and they now take credit cards to make shopping as simple as signing your name.

Old School demonstrated a new mirror, the Broadview. With just a flick of the right or left thumb lever, you can quickly rotate the mirror just enough to scan a couple of degrees slightly outside your normal viewing position, and the mirror instantly returns when you release the lever. It’s an ingenious way to keep an eye on that riding partner just out of sight, or check traffic on the on ramp or before you start to pass.

Bob with Tilting Motor Works showed off the latest in three-wheel technology: a tilting front end that fits a Harley-Davidson or a Gold Wing. Unlike the snowmobile technology of the Can-Am Spyder, the front wheels actually tilt in unison, creating the same sensation of leaning into a turn as a two-wheeled bike. The trike steers, counter steers, leans and handles just like a motorcycle.

Another new feature this year was the beer garden in the street in front of Stewart’s Tavern. According to Rod, that change was proposed by the City of Snohomish. That’s quite a change from the days when the city fought ABATE every year on issues of event footprint, crowd control and the number of law enforcement officers for the event. It seems that the three-year absence of the event from town softened the city manager’s attitude quite a bit. Whatever the reason, the new beer garden was a big hit and should become a regular feature at the show.

This Count's Kustoms FXR leaves out what you don't need

This Count’s Kustoms FXR leaves out what you don’t need

There were also two blocks filled with show bikes. With 23 categories, it takes some space to stage all the entries. With so many bikes on display, it’s not easy to pick your favorite for the People’s Choice vote.

Mike Weldon was proud of his entry in the Rat class, named “Bull.” He found the 1979 Yamaha SX 100SF in a barn six years ago, and painstakingly set out to carve and engrave almost every piece of metal himself. The bike was a daily rider until an accident left Mike with titanium hardware in his hip. It will do 160 mph, but Mike says it runs best between 80 and 100 mph. Like many old-school riders, Mike does all the work on the bike himself and he was proud to share his ride with the crowd today.

Just like Sturgis, a big part of the attraction is parking your bike downtown and then walking around to see what others rode in. There is no other feeling like parking on the centerline of historic 1st Street amid a sea of bikes. The historic buildings are the perfect backdrop for period machines and shining new ones.

Some local merchants were closed for the day, not realizing just how much they were missing out on the foot traffic. According to Rock City Café, the crowd was just the right size; people arrived in a steady stream, not overwhelming the staff. Last year’s show was rainy, and people wanted to stay indoors instead of wandering around town. This year, the sunshine kept the arrivals more evenly spaced out.

Seattle Cossacks perform The Waterfall—8 riders on 2 bikes

Seattle Cossacks perform The Waterfall—8 riders on 2 bikes

The historic district is also the perfect venue for one of America’s living treasures—the Seattle Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team. Perfectly matched maroon and white-uniformed riders on maroon and white Knuckleheads and Panheads, all pre-1948, dazzled the crowds with their amazing feats. Who else can turn a bike into a four-pointed flower with riders lying out like petals, almost scraping their heads on the street? Precision timing and daredevil skills make these guys the perfect ambassadors for motorcycle enthusiasts. The Seattle Cossacks are as much of a tradition as this annual event; it just would not the same without this troupe.

Stay tuned for the 19th annual Sky Valley Motorcycle Show next May, back where it all started—downtown on 1st Street in historic old Snohomish.

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