LAS VEGAS, NEV., SEP. 27–30—It’s around 4:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, the opening day of Las Vegas BikeFest. Having made the turn off I-15 north and onto Route 515 south, I’m on the Casino Center Drive off-ramp headed for downtown—the original casino district of the city—and the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, where I’ll be billeted for the weekend. Starting with my first sighting of the Vegas skyline and continuing right through this moment, I’ve experienced an elevated heart rate, intermittent bouts of goose flesh and a heightened sense of anticipation. What can I say? For me the Vegas experience is truly visceral. Yeah, like you’re any different. If you find yourself daydreaming about gaming floors and nonstop nightlife every time you see an ad on TV or when the topic comes up in conversation, you may also be a “Vegasphile”—if you’ll pardon my portmanteau. I don’t know; maybe it has something to do with the idea that in a place where the proliferation of the sex industry has prompted the moniker, “Sin City,” we feel empowered to ignore the uptight social mores we must appear to adhere to in our hum-drum lives.
No, in Glitter Gulch we’re not just work-a-day stiffs; we’re encouraged to use our imaginations to reinvent ourselves. An excursion through the neon canyons formed by the mega-casinos located on “The Strip,” or the visual and auditory assault on the senses to be experienced downtown at the Fremont Street Experience inspire hedonism and serve to lower inhibitions as effectively as a double shot of Jack Daniel’s chased by a PBR draft. It was inevitable that the ad campaign slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” would become the motto for pretty much any activity that promises undiluted sensual reward. When you consider that most philosophers agree it’s our right, and in fact our duty, as humans to experience happiness and pleasure, maybe the Vegas mindset should be the norm as opposed to the exception.
For a multitude of bikers, Las Vegas BikeFest has become a part of that mindset over the last dozen years, despite the fact that the historical timeline for the rally is as convoluted as a stretch of canyon two-lane. In 2001, organizers astutely determined that the old downtown district—segregated, as it is, from the glitzy and touristy Strip a mile south—would be the best location for the brand-new extravaganza and the influx of tens of thousands of bikers. And prior to the 2009 iteration of BikeFest, when the Fremont Street Experience people withdrew their financial support for the over-the-top security expenses imposed by city officials, the event enjoyed a booming run. Suddenly homeless, BikeFest was eagerly courted by the Sahara Hotel & Casino at the north end of The Strip, who thereupon accommodated the 2009 festival. It also served as the main venue for the 2010 rally. Unfortunately, because events were scheduled at a number of different locations, the thing lacked cohesiveness. Then last year city officials were prevailed upon to dial back their security requirements. The management at the Golden Nugget found the other Fremont Street Experience participants more than willing to invite BikeFest back to downtown and so the rally returned to the original “scene of the crime.” (Good timing there, as well, as the Sahara closed their doors shortly thereafter.)
And what a return it was! BikeFest regulars returned in droves. Newcomers could not help but get caught up in the enthusiastic vibe. Rally officials did a masterful job of scheduling and coordinating an ambitious agenda of events. The accommodating attitude and the level of service displayed by employees at the Golden Nugget and all the hotels in the downtown area inspired a sense of well-being and comfort among attendees. Of course the electrified canopy of the Fremont Street Experience turned evenings, already filled with nearly limitless entertainment options, into extravagant spectacles. And I haven’t even mentioned the alcohol-fueled, exhibitionist-driven debauchery to be enjoyed at Hogs & Heifers, located on 3rd Street, a mere half block off Fremont Street, and perennially a major supporter and party zone of the event.
Event officials in conjunction with the LVPD are estimating that nearly 30,000 people showed up for this year’s BikeFest. One of the reasons for the consistently large turnouts is that attendees have the chance to participate in a seemingly perpetual series of events each day. Once again this year planners scheduled a full slate of attractions that ran all day long over the course of the rally. These events included the prestigious Artistry in Iron custom builder competition and exhibition, the Powersport Institute Bike Build/Display, the Available Bike Display of machines for sale, the bikini bike wash in Parking Lot “A,” Victory demo rides, the Hot Rod Display, and the Sport Bike Freestyle Stunt Show (several performances each day). Interspersed within that agenda, a rallygoer could participate in a number of distractions like poker walks through the vendor village as well as through the casinos within the Fremont Street Experience. What makes all these attractions so accessible is the shuttle service between the Golden Nugget and the Cashman Center. Except for a few events that you’d need to fire up the hawg to attend, you could conceivably park your two-wheeler when you hit town and not see it again until you packed up to head out.
Day in, day out
Once again this year organizers added a number of attractions to the schedule. New this year to the Thursday lineup was the Ride The Strip for Wounded Warriors Charity Run, which took off from The Cashman Center’s Parking Lot “A” at 7:15 p.m. Riders ponied up a registration fee, which organizers applied to the donation package. Corey Harrison from the hit show Pawn Stars acted as VIP grand marshal and with the help of local radio personality Stephanie MacKenzie from FM 97.1, led the procession of over 500 bikes down Las Vegas Boulevard and then on to the Hard Rock Café where Stephanie made a presentation to wounded warrior Joseph D. Perez, USMC Ret. The Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists public aid for the needs of injured service members. Joe donates his time as a Wounded Warrior peer mentor. When I got a chance to speak with Corey, he told me about the performance upgrades he’s done to his black 2012 Wide Glide. Can you say “bat out of hell”? Stephanie related a sad story about her green ’98 Heritage Softail replete with 20″ apes. It seems her husband wrecked her pride and joy a while back. He’s doing fine, but unfortunately for the loquacious lass, it may be some time before she can afford to replace her beloved Softail.
Also new to the Thursday lineup was the Poker Walk through the Vendor Village from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. High hand was worth $300 and low hand was worth $100.
The traditional Thursday lineup included the Welcome Party at the Cashman Center from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. A performance by popular local band Franky Perez and the Truth, along with free beer and snacks all sponsored by Budweiser and The Harley-Davidson Café, proved to be too much of an incentive for a sizable number of bikers to resist.
New additions to Friday’s lineup included the Custom Bike Show awards ceremony, which was moved from its former Saturday slot to 5:30 Friday evening. The title of Best in Show went to a builder from nearby Henderson, Nevada, Paul Ponkow of Bones Legacy Customs. Paul has created significant buzz at several bike shows this year over his radical 1964 Triumph chopper, which features dual six-foot-long helixed chrome pipes topped off by a six-and-a-half-foot-long chrome sissy bar. I really enjoyed myself when I got the chance to hang out with Paul and his crew at the L.A. Calendar Show earlier this year. Congratulations, Paul, for being acknowledged at such a prestigious competition.
The traditional Friday lineup featured a Poker Walk around the casinos on Fremont Street. The program at the Cashman Center included the Strongest Biker Competition and the Mr. Las Vegas BikeFest Competition, as well as the Bikini Contest held in the Cashman Theatre. Veteran biker journalist and personality Beau Pacheco served as the Bikini Contest emcee and managed to convincingly play the prurient schoolboy, as the contestants displayed their assets in a particularly lascivious manner. The prize money traditionally draws a number of sex industry pros, but it was charming to see a few fresh-faced entrants in this year’s crop. We had a substitute teacher—yeah, you read that right—as well as a lady who not only wrenches on bikes, but also participates in their fabrication. Angela Tardiff works at Jim Giuffra’s award-winning ATF Customs as a model and a mechanic/builder. Teacher and Las Vegas resident Jackie Savitt took first-place money, Miss Tardiff from Olivehurst, California, was awarded second place, and sassy local model Kristina Falco finished third. I couldn’t help but notice that lately, there seems to be a trend away from the two-cup-sizes-too-big augmentation jobs. Many of the ladies who competed in the beauty contests during the rally were definitely cosmetically enhanced, but that over-the-top, bigger-is-better look was not in evidence. I, for one, enjoy the return to something like mammalian sanity.
If you just couldn’t get your fill of hot babes parading on a stage in various forms of undress, on that Friday afternoon you could have roared on over to Las Vegas Harley-Davidson located on Eastern Avenue and enjoyed their annual Wet T-shirt Contest. Before the competition got started, John Earl and the Boogieman Band tore up their repertoire of classic blues tunes to the delight of the overflow throng in the parking area. The aforementioned Stephanie MacKenzie performed emcee duties. She didn’t really need to coax the contestants to display their attributes inasmuch as, to a girl, they seemed to have the drill down pat. After repeated dousings and reintroductions, a familiar face emerged as first-place winner. Apparently Kristina Falco had entered the Wet T-shirt Contest as well as the Bikini Contest. Her sassy attitude combined with her ability to feature her primary asset (her shapely derrière) drew sufficient crowd support for her to garner top honors. Sheena St. Vincent placed second and Naoka Foreman finished third.
Adding to Saturday’s slate of attractions was the Baddest Bagger Competition that held its award ceremony at the Cashman Center’s outdoor stage at 5:00 p.m. Classes included Stock, Modified and Radical with a trophy and $4,000 going to each winner. Rey Maldonado walked off with the special Best-in-Show award for his ’09 Road Glide built by Sean Belitsos from Las Vegas. It features a 30″ front wheel designed by Wendell Smith of Rampage Wheels just before he died, an air-ride suspension by Matt Hotch and a BDL dry clutch, to mention a few of the many performance, as well as cosmetic and structural, upgrades.
Also new to the Saturday agenda was the tattoo contest, sponsored by Hart & Huntington Tattoo Parlors, which took place on a stage located in front of the Hart & Huntington pavilion at 5:00 p.m. Each winner received $100 cash and a $300 credit with Hart & Huntington. Prize winners in the four categories were Erik Kruis for Single Black/Gray, Wayne Andreola for Multiple Black/Gray, Paul Kuvelis for Single Color and Fred Gioveitt for his Multiple Color tat done by Tatlantis.
This year’s Saturday schedule of events also included the addition of the Harley-Davidson Café Hog Out Competition, which held its qualifier rounds at the Cashman Center on Friday afternoon and the finals at the Harley-Davidson Café on Saturday evening.
Over the course of each day, in a boxing ring set up between the vendor village and the Artistry in Iron display, a local boxing club staged exhibition bouts between pugilists, both boys and girls, ranging in age from eight up to the mid-teens. I caught a bout in which two of the older boys went toe-to-toe. And last, but not least, Sin City Speedway’s Harley Bike Night, featured speedway racing on Saturday night starting at 8:00 p.m.
The traditional Saturday lineup included the Miss Las Vegas BikeFest Pageant held in the Cashman Theater. The ubiquitous Stephanie MacKenzie drew emcee duties this year. Although I may be accused of being somewhat biased inasmuch as I happen to be a fan of the lady’s work, I’m sure everyone in attendance would back me up when I tell you the way she put the contestants at ease, combined with her personality and ability to think on her feet, helped kick up the entertainment quotient of the proceedings significantly.
Hey, wait a minute; am I having a bout of déjà vu? I’d have sworn I’d seen two of the contestants on this very stage not 24 hours earlier. Sure enough, Angela Tardiff and Kristina Falco from the bikini contest were indeed vying for the title of Miss Las Vegas BikeFest. Even though Kristina stripped down to pasties with tassels and the most minimal of G-strings, she could only manage a second-place finish. This time the judges awarded our model/mechanic Angela Tardiff top money. Jenny Huebener, a kick-boxer from Costa Mesa, California, took third place. Jeff Bradock and Jim Dobrynski, two members of the four-judge panel seated first row center, happen to be uniquely qualified to judge feminine pulchritude. You see, they’re both affiliated with Vivid Entertainment. If that title rings a bell, it might be because Vivid produces adult films. Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that.
Of the three builder competitions held at this year’s BikeFest the most prestigious of the lot was the 9th annual Artistry in Iron Master Builders Championship. This competition is by invitation only, and annually brings together a mix of 18 of the finest in the field, both veterans and rising stars. One such rising star, Yaniv Evan of Power Plant Custom Choppers in Los Angeles, won the title for 2012, thus ending the two-year reign of Chris Richardson of L.A. Speed Shop. What makes this win so exclusive and unique is that each of the other world-class builders in the competition decides the winner. Talk about peer approval.
This is not the first time I’ve seen Yaniv’s work. His almost exclusively hand-crafted creations feature imaginatively fabricated components, reworked mismatched parts and odd bits and pieces from essentially every conceivable source imaginable. Mr. Evan’s handiwork has figured prominently in several bike shows this year. Congratulations, Yaniv! I’ve got the feeling that once you’ve spent some of the $10,000 prize money celebrating, you’ll dedicate a goodly portion of what remains to turning out more prize-winning builds. Keep the good stuff comin’.
If the poker runs and walks, beauty contests, tattoo competition, bike shows, vendor village, gambling, boxing, stunt riding and the Fremont Street Experience weren’t enough to keep you occupied, for an additional $20 you could have upgraded your ticket to include “Rock Vegas” at the Mandalay Bay concert facility. Billed as “Sin City’s loudest two-day rock festival,” the list of headliners included Rob Zombie, Godsmack, Marilyn Manson, Shinedown, Staind, Buckcherry, Corey Taylor, Hell Yeah and more.
If you had a little extra time and chose to begin the extended weekend a day early, you could have dropped by the Victorville Motorcycle Center from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening for food and musical entertainment.
If you had a hankerin’ to cruise on out to Vegas while participating in a poker run, both Harley-Davidson of Victorville in California and the Gold Nugget Restaurant (no affiliation) in Wickenburg Arizona, invited you to pay a nominal fee and participate in the “Run to BikeFest Poker Runs” departing at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday. A total of $1,500 in prize money was up for grabs.
When I had some time between events at the Cashman Center I hung out at the THUNDER PRESS booth, located in the vendor area inside. THUNDER PRESS publisher Jeff Patterson handed out copies and did a great job of connecting with the thousands of people who stopped by with questions and comments, almost exclusively positive, about the magazine. He stressed that he was always open to suggestions that will make THUNDER PRESS more responsive, more informative and more accessible to the American V-twin riding public. It was great to hook up with THUNDER PRESS correspondent Jon DeMaria from San Diego, who stopped by the booth on a few occasions.
To the delight of my palate the food pavilion, located smack dab in the middle of the Vendor Village inside the comfortably air-conditioned Cashman Center Exhibition Hall, featured two or three gourmet chefs at any given time, preparing and serving a variety of otherwise familiar rally offerings (pulled pork, meatballs, sliced turkey, etc.) with flair and flavor. There were also sufficient beer purveyors onsite, so lines were kept to a minimum.
Though Harry and Pam Schwartz, the brother-sister combination who had served as the directors of the event from the beginning under the banner of their Full Throttle Production Company, are no longer officially in charge, they remain involved in their new capacity as support troops for their sister Mindi Cherry, who took on the role of event director last year. Of course Chuck Schwartz, the family patriarch and co-owner of ConvExx Productions, makes his experience-driven knowledge available to Mindi during the course of the event. The keep-it-in-the-family paradigm probably explains why Las Vegas BikeFest doesn’t merely survive; it thrives.
Exploring the BikeFest hinterlands
With high temperatures in the low-to-mid 90s—down nearly 10 degrees from last year and considered a cold snap by the locals—many riders took advantage of the temperate conditions and ventured forth onto area roadways. While the day-ride options available in the Las Vegas region are somewhat limited, there are nonetheless several scenic and entertaining routes within 40 miles of downtown. If you take I-15 north for 35 miles and exit at Route 169, you can head east through the Moapa Indian Reservation to the Valley of Fire State Park. Pay the $10 fee (you won’t begrudge the outlay), then cruise casually through the easy sweepers that deliver views of the classic red sandstone formations that typify the Southwest, as well as several soul-sating valley vistas over the course of a dozen or so miles. There’s a visitors center chock full of informative photos and illustrations. Then rather than returning the way you came, head south on Route 167 (North Shore Road), which takes you through the Lake Mead National Recreational Area before it becomes Lake Mead Boulevard and returns you to Las Vegas Boulevard a mile north of the Chapman Center. You’ll encounter some choppy road conditions as you approach civilization on Lake Mead Boulevard, but in general the road surface is well maintained. If you don’t happen to have a National Parks pass, there’s a $10 fee for a day pass to access the beaches and marinas in the park. If you happen to reverse this route, make sure to bring your National Parks Pass or you’ll need to pay a $10 fee for a day pass at the Lake Mead Parkway entrance to the park.
Red Rock Canyon is located 15 miles west of The Strip. You can take Charleston Boulevard all the way or get on Route 95 north to Summerline Parkway to Route 215 south where you’ll exit on Charleston Boulevard, which becomes the 159 Loop. Head west to the Red Rock Canyon entrance located on the right side of the road. There’s a $3 admission fee to those who don’t have a National Parks pass. The serpentine 13-mile loop serves up some challenging peg-scraping opportunities for the intrepid rider as it proceeds through the canyon, which features multi-colored rock formations.
A local bar-hop itinerary will have you continuing south from Red Rock Canyon on the 159 Loop towards the town of Blue Diamond. Just before Blue Diamond, enter Bonnie Springs Ranch where you’ll find good food in an Old West town setting. Then continue on the 159 Loop and turn right (west) on Highway 160. Go approximately 10 miles to Mountain Springs where you’ll want to stop at the Mountain Springs Saloon, a renowned biker-friendly establishment. Then head back out Route 160 to Interstate 15 where you’ll go south. Take the Jean exit (12) and head west on Highway 161 to the ghost town of Good Springs. The Pioneer Saloon, built in 1913 in that once-booming little mining town, is allegedly haunted. It served as a stop on this year’s $10,000 Poker Run.
One of the stops on last year’s $10,000 Poker Run took riders out Route 95 to scenic Route 157 and on up to the Mount Charleston Resort in the Spring Mountains. If you continue to follow the road it goes up to the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, as Route 157 meanders through scenic foothills. Bring warm gear, though, as the Mount Charles Resort is situated 6,500 feet above sea level!