Big easy on the rebound
Cajun party town opens for business
New Orleans, La., May 6–10—I love riding over the Mississippi River. And no matter where I cross, the thrill is just as great and on a par with crossing the Continental Divide, it’s that special. But I have to admit that it was never as pretty or satisfying as when I crossed in Baton Rouge this May headed to the inaugural Bike Week New Orleans. This is the first major motorcycle event to be held in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. That storm occurred in the fall of 2005 and proved to be not only the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but was one of the five deadliest and the sixth strongest overall. It not only devastated New Orleans but also wiped out the Steel Pony Express, an annual bike rally that was gaining national acclaim at the time.
I came in late on Thursday and as I rode the long bridge on the west side of Lake Ponchatrain, I looked up and saw a small cloud cross the face of the moon, a full moon. Oh crap—by myself for the entire full-moon weekend with the French Quarter within tempting distance of my digs. This could get ugly.
The Broken Spoke Saloon has become synonymous with quality biker entertainment. With half a dozen locations strategically placed at mega-rally hot spots, the latest site is the revamped Sugar Mill in the Central Business District. The Sugar Mill was originally an actual sugar mill that was transformed years ago into a premier private-event venue. Jay Allen, owner of the Broken Spoke family, recently acquired the Sugar Mill with the goal of luring bikers back to the Big Easy, reestablishing the city as a biker destination. Working in conjunction with the Easyriders V-Twin Bike Show Tour, Allen hit upon the ideal opportunity to advertise his latest Saloon—build a Bike Week rally around its grand opening with the Spoke being the “hub” of the event. And although the crowds were not nearly as large as what the Spoke entertains during Sturgis, Daytona, Myrtle Beach or Laconia, Bike Week New Orleans has great potential to evolve into a major event in the coming years.
One thing Bike Week N’awlins has going for it is the location. Nestled in a gentle bend of the Mississippi, the Spoke is within walking distance of the Riverwalk and the cruise ships, and only about five blocks from the casino at Harrah’s. Across the street is the Morial Convention Center, a mammoth installation claiming to be the largest contiguous exhibit hall in America, consisting of over 1.1 million square feet. That’s where the Easyriders Bike Show was held, and although they didn’t need nearly that much space this year, it’s nice to know that there’s room for expansion.
Bike Week NO began just as Jazz-Fest was ending, so the City was still on a high with a lively party atmosphere remaining just as heavy in the air as the pungent saltiness of the Gulf sea breeze. Bike Week was also held in conjunction with the New Orleans Experience at Heritage Park, located right next door to the Spoke. And while the Experience had absolutely nothing to do with bikes, it was free to the public and the vendors that were set up there for four days offered some interesting alternatives to the shopping fare normally found at a bike rally. And for a new rally, the promoter seemed to have done his research and surprised most everyone with a variety of uncommon events. On Friday morning, the Coca-Cola Plantation Poker Run departed from the Basin Street Station Welcome Center at 9 and made its rounds, visiting several historic plantation sites. The Southern Comfort Plantation Ride was offered on Saturday morning for anyone who might have missed the one on Friday. During the day inside the Spoke, the Lucky Daredevils Thrillshow featured Tyler Fyre and Thrill Kill Jill in acts of sword swallowing, fire eating, python wrangling and amusing feats of sleight of hand.
There was also non-stop music from an array of tribute bands during the weekend. Outside, the Budweiser Burnout Bike was busy exploding tires while the Wall of Death was rattling the wooden tub as stunt riders went round ’n’ round. And while a parade is nothing new to bike rallies, the one on Friday evening featured a ride from the Basin Street Station to the Broken Spoke with over 200 riders led by the Budweiser Clydesdales. (A scheduled side trip down Bourbon Street was nixed at the very last moment.) A new manufacturer, Deep South Choppers from Baton Rouge, was on hand at the Broken Spoke that evening for the unveiling of their first production bike. Owners Dennis and Brad Mannino were beaming as they displayed their first branded motorcycle, the DSC Shocker, that features Carrera racing shocks in the rear. A concert by Edgar Winter later at the Spoke rounded out Friday night, with Blackfoot taking to the stage to end Saturday night’s party.
Across the street at the Easyriders show, the Centerfold Tour Builders were on hand including Tempest Cycles, Skunkworx, Road-Hawgs, the Chopp Shop and Gangster Choppers. The Seminole Hard Rock Roadhouse was also open for business, featuring several builders along with a collection of customized Fender guitars that had first debuted during Daytona Bike Week back in March. But one of the most unusual events featured during N’awlins was the Chrome Kitchen. The Chrome Kitchen was an interactive cooking competition featuring famous area chefs teamed up with well-known motorcycle builders. It was a lively time with the builders mostly chopping and stirring whatever the chefs asked for. It was easy to tell that the builders were much more at ease with a wrench and torch than a cutting board and garlic press. Celebrity tasting judges included Marilyn Stemp (Iron Works magazine), and bike builders Paul Yaffee and Cyril Huze. Frenchman Huze later told me, “I am zee only wuan qualified to be a proper judge of deez type of cooking. Only I have zee proper taste buuds.” Cyril, I hate to disagree with you but… that ain’t French—that’s bayou Cajun.
Sunday a ride-in chopper show was presented by Cycle Source magazine. It was a decent showing that was pushed over the top when Sly Stallone showed up. He’d been seen several times throughout the weekend and had been inspecting several bikes at the Easyriders Show with the hope of buying a dozen for use in his upcoming film The Expendables—an action feature about a bunch of friends riding custom bikes to a foreign country and overthrowing its dictator (based on a true story? Uhhh… no). Supposedly the film will star Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin and Jet Li along with Stallone. Before leaving, Sly purchased the bike belonging to Jeremy Smith of Scooter Lube and Accessories in Gretna, Louisiana, that Smith had entered into the Cycle Source Show.
As with any new event, there were a few hiccups along the way, but that’s to be expected. One thing to be aware of is the parking situation. N’awlins is advertised as a very “walking friendly” city. That’s because the parking is very limited and very expensive. One of my contributors was charged an atrocious $30 per day per vehicle (his wife had brought their truck). So beware. But other than that little hitch, I can see Bike Week New Orleans becoming a stable addition to the biking calendar in the future. And it’s about time. So as the natives say, “Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez”—Let the Good Times Roll, finally.