GALVESTON, TEXAS, OCT. 31-NOV. 3–Known at one time as the Free State of Galveston, the unique positioning of Galveston Island in the Gulf of Mexico allowed a somewhat riotous culture to flourish since first being discovered. A noted gathering spot for colorful characters ever since the pirate Jean Lafitte landed ashore almost 200 years ago, its history has included prohibition-era gangsters, licensed ladies of the evening, Hollywood celebrities, Mardi Gras revelers and now… thousands of bikers each fall during the Lone Star Rally. And despite dustups from disgruntled residents and friction with local city officials in earlier years, the Lone Star Rally is now fully entrenched and considered a vital element in the Island’s economic stability. Amazing what 400,000 motorcyclists can accomplish.
At least that was the estimated number of participants this year. And that’s been pretty much the estimated attendance for the last several years. How that number is divined is a mystery since there is no admission; no gate fee. If it’s anywhere close to being accurate, that places Lone Star in the big leagues with heavy hitters in Florida, South Dakota and New Hampshire. But at only 27 miles long and three miles at its widest point, it may have hit the saturation limit.
But just like the Island, the rally is resilient, enduring a devastating hurricane in 2008, a dusting of snow one year and perennially unpredictable weather due to the warm Gulf waters and the event being scheduled at the tail end of hurricane season. This year the rally started on Thursday, October 31, and included a number of Halloween festivities. Halloween Havoc was a new addition to the rally with riders meeting at the Home Depot and participating in a scenic parade that ended at Seawall Park. Once there, a Chopper Show that highlighted Shovelheads, Pans, Knuckles and antiques was to be held. But heavy downpours from a fast-moving front that swept across Texas earlier that day forced a quick end to any scheduled activities with flooding reported across the Island. The parade and show had to be postponed to the following day with riders having to be content sheltered in their rooms, hoping for a respite from the rain. It was not a good start to the last major motorcycle event of the season in Texas.
But by Friday morning the sun was out, drying out all fears of a soggy weekend. Soon the Strand Historic District was once again packed and massive foot traffic resulted in major sidewalk congestion. But the Strand wasn’t the only packed venue during this year’s event. While coordinators have made several attempts to spread the rally across the Island (most notably along Seawall Boulevard), up until last year it was met with limited success along with a buttload of bitching from area residents. Last year promoters reorganized their efforts along the shoreline, effectively squeezing traffic into a single, northbound lane between 25th and 21st Streets and strategically placing hundreds of vendors along the Seawall and spilling onto Beach Central Park. It was their best effort to date to utilize this scenic section of the Island. This year they repeated and elevated the operation and it was the highlight of the entire rally.
The downtown Strand District is party central, with thousands of scooters crammed into its narrow cobblestone streets and stuffed into every available back alley. Bikes end up double parked, blocking in early arrivals. People crowd the access trying to snap a photo of a bike as it weaves a zigzag course through a maze of human obstacles. It is nothing short of a nightmare. But those participating seem to love it, enjoying the party atmosphere with little concern. Seawall Boulevard is a completely different breed. This year the former grassy field adjacent to the Fish Tales restaurant (corner of Seawall and 25th ) had been completely renovated. Sometime during the previous 365 days, the city apparently invested a huge sum of money in the lot, pouring concrete and installing curbs and drainage. This was the designated location for all the custom builders and the demo trucks. Whatever the expense, it was a wise investment and added a crowning touch to the entire Seawall experience. In this new lot, both Indian and Victory Motorcycles had brought in a shipment of their new 2014 models, signing up riders for demo rides down the boulevard skirting the Gulf waters. And as soon as the rain abated, they remained slammed all weekend. Custom builders included Rick Fairless with Strokers Dallas, Desperado Motorcycles and Southern Metal Choppers.
The single, motorcycle-only lane began at 25th Street and continued all the way to 21st Street with vendor tents all along this strip. Beginning at 21st and extending for two long blocks, free bike parking was allowed for the first time ever with literally thousands taking advantage of this offer. It was another great move by the organizers, long overdue and one that will hopefully become a staple in years to come. In previous years, all the bike shows during Lone Star have been held alongside the docks at Harborside Drive. It was a good venue with a cool breeze off the water and the background making for ideal photo ops. But this year included yet another first—the relocation of all bike shows to the Seawall. And although I miss the prime photo location of Harborside, this new venue seemed to draw in a much larger crowd. Friday’s offering was the Pro Builders Competition with cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 for the top three winners. At the same time, the Ultimate Bagger Show was presented by noted builder John Shope and Len Edmondson and offered four classes plus an award for Best in Show. On Saturday a Ride-In Bike Show presented by Cycle Source had 33 entries lined up and competing in nine classes. For 2013 the Lone Star Rally partnered with the International Master Builders Association (IMBBA) to handle the judging responsibilities for Friday’s Pro Builders Competition and Saturday’s Ride-In Show (yet another first).
The Seawall venue also included live entertainment on the Jägermeister Stage, a chance to rub elbows with custom builder Jesse James, a car show with more than two dozen entries and the opportunity to take a spin on one of the many carnival rides located on Pleasure Pier (free admittance was provided for the entire weekend).
Downtown on overdrive
Saturday morning saw the arrival of Outlaw Dave’s Ranch Ride that began at Stubbs Harley-Davidson with a free breakfast and ended on The Strand. A yearly event, the Ranch Ride benefits the Stevens & Pruett Ranch for Abused Children and Animals. From there, Outlaw Dave took over the difficult job of hosting this year’s Miss Lone Star Rally on the Sangerfest Stage. That’s where 15 lovely ladies provided a tough decision for the judges. Afterwards Jay Allen took to the stage to lead the S&S Circle of Honor, a salute to our military. With everyone aware that the year was coming to a close and knowing that soon the holidays would place some restraints on a the riding calendar, the crowds continued to swell, packing the already jammed streets, with the party not leveling off until the last bar closed.
Unfortunately all that partying resulted in many not paying close enough attention to the road with four motorcycle-related fatalities and more than 30 others being taken to the hospital for injuries sustained while riding. Not all were the rider’s fault, of course, but no matter the cause, that is a tragic number of deaths.
The Lone Star Rally presented us with a number of new and innovative twists this year and all were well received. After many years of hard work, it seems the owners of the event have just about perfected the formula for success in Galveston. What they have planned for next year is still unknown. Let’s only hope it can match or best number 13.