A pair of Burlesque dancers take a break to pose on my 1933 Harley-Davidson VL while handing out flyers during the Bull City Rumble

Bull City Rumble

By Panhead Jim

Main Street matchup

Durham, N.C., Aug. 31–Sept. 1—For the last 14 years, the Ton Up NC club out of Durham, North Carolina, has put on an event known as the Bull City Rumble. Held on the Saturday before Labor Day in downtown Durham, the event centers around a large motorcycle show which caters to just about anyone who has even a passing interest in two-wheeled machines. Instead of focusing on just one style or make of motorcycle, the Bull City Rumble encompasses a wide variety with marques from Europe, Japan and America as well as customs, race machines and scooters. It is the kind of motorcycle show where you come across motorcycles you’ve only seen in photos or ones you may not have known existed at all.

A pair of Burlesque dancers take a break to pose on my 1933 Harley-Davidson VL while handing out flyers during the Bull City Rumble
A pair of Burlesque dancers take a break to pose on my 1933 Harley-Davidson VL while handing out flyers during the Bull City Rumble

As is the “new normal” with most motorcycle events, things got started the night before with a pre-party at the Green Room in downtown Durham. Now you may be thinking that a place called the Green Room is some kind of eco-friendly bar made out of recycled compost that only serves wheat germ smoothies, which luckily could not be any further from the truth. Instead, the Green Room is a more-than-50-year-old pool hall with one of the best beer selections on the east coast, loaded with enough nostalgia to make you feel like you just stepped back in time. This made the perfect backdrop for a bunch of bikers to swap stories, drink beers and talk motorcycles well into the night.

The main event mercifully started the next morning at 10:00 a.m., giving everyone time to sleep in and even run a clean rag over their motorcycles before riding down to Parker and Otis for a late breakfast. Registration opened at 10:30 a.m., so there wasn’t much time to mull over omelets and pancakes before riding over to West Main Street to line up for the show. As in years past, the event covered about two city blocks, with parking designated for each class of motorcycle spread out down the middle of the street. That is to say every class except for American motorcycles. Instead of being on the main drag with the Japanese, European and race bikes, the American motorcycles were relegated to a side street. Even the scooters got better parking! Initially it seemed like American bikes were getting the snub, but when the sun started to climb and the shadows from the buildings were providing a bit of shade on that side street, I realized it was exactly where I wanted to be.

Ryan Tickle listening to this old timer describe his AJS powered race bike
Ryan Tickle listening to this old timer describe his AJS powered race bike

Registration for the motorcycle show was a very reasonable $20 which included a T-shirt, patch and raffle ticket. The show officially lasted six hours and during that time, the public came out in droves to check out all the cool machines. It is estimated that over 3,500 people attended the event and with such a broad spectrum of motorcycles, there was really something for everyone, whether you were interested in late-model Triumphs, Depression-era Harleys or Honda choppers straight out of the 1970s. Interspersed throughout the afternoon were several tech sessions explaining some of the intricacies of how various motorcycle systems work as well as presentations on the histories of noteworthy machines. Since these were all held inside, I think a lot of people came for the AC, but stayed for the talk.

At 5:00 p.m., the bike show wrapped up with the much-anticipated awards presentation. Personally I thought I had an easy win lined up in the Vintage American class with my 1933 Harley-Davidson VL, but unfortunately a Knucklehead (motorcycle, not a person; the owner was actually very nice) showed up and took the prize. Plaques were given out to the winners of each category and the judges did a great job of finding some real amazing machines in the sea of motorcycles that filled the street. Along with the awards, there was also a raffle for a Honda CM400T provided by Combustion Cycles. I didn’t win that either, but that was OK since I didn’t have room for it on my luggage rack anyway.

I didn’t win Best Vintage American, but I did park next to the winner…
I didn’t win Best Vintage American, but I did park next to the winner…

At 6:00 p.m., the show was officially over and things shifted gears to the after party at Social Games and Brews. Front and center on the main stage was next year’s raffle bike, a Norton Commando. While it was pretty entertaining to look at on its own, the host of burlesque dancers that came out next really got the crowd pumping. Sure, I might have preferred them dancing around an old Panhead, but it’s hard to complain when you have beautiful women dancing around just about anything.

Before the dust had settled from Bull City Rumble 14, the guys at Ton Up NC were already back to work getting ready for next year’s event. Besides raffling off the aforementioned Norton Commando, the bike show has been expanded with a few new categories like Best Vintage Bobber, Best Vintage Brat and Best Café Racer. Also on the ticket will be the Wall of Death and some yet-to-be-announced live bands. Make sure you go ahead and mark your calendars for August 31, 2019. You won’t want to miss this one!

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