Arizona Bike Week 2014: Navigating the Sonoran Desert Sprawl

By Felicia Morgan

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ., APR. 2–6 — For a lot of riders, cruising into the Valley of the Sun for a springtime traipse through the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert is a welcome respite from the winter doldrums, and folks headed to the warmth of the Arizona sunshine this year were more than ready for a seasonal thaw. Despite the deep freeze that ravaged the nation elsewhere, riders packed up their duds and rolled out for what they knew would be pristine conditions. Once they hit the desert floor, they weren’t disappointed.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Concert
Lynyrd Skynyrd pulled in thousands at the Friday night concert at Cyclefest

Through prior announcements, attendees were already aware of an anticipated change-up in the state’s signature event that would include a new layout for the official five-day Arizona Bike Week bash at WestWorld. Additionally, a fun little inaugural event called Phoenix Bike Fest was set to launch in Chandler, while north of that an expanded blowout to everyone’s favorite badass day-ride destination called the Cave Creek Rally was packing the streets. The pre-parties have stretched the festivities into 10 days’ worth of frivolities that included a touch of typical spring wind as well as a little rain here and there, but none of that did anything to dampen anyone’s party groove. If you were in the valley, you were deep in the heart of biker Mecca and riders were hell bent on soaking it all up, with or without the benefit of ol’ Sol. Fortunately, by week’s end, we’d all managed to thoroughly shake off any remnants of Old Man Winter.

ZZ Top at Arizona Bike Week
ZZ Top ended Saturday’s ABW festivities with a rockin’ performance at WestWorld

Arizona Bike Week, the epicenter located at Scottsdale’s WestWorld, got a facelift and attendees embraced the layout with gusto. Besides revamping the grounds that included doing away with the canopy over the stage, and an actual relocation of said stage to an area now called the Rock Yard, there was also a convenience store in operation onsite in addition to a new restaurant outside the gates that offered cool afternoon shade as well as happy-hour prices. The Kickstand Bar & Grill served up great grub for those who wanted that little “something extra” in dining options, and it also provided a view from the patio that was a great place to escape the wind and rain that delayed opening festivities during the Wednesday afternoon Cyclefest kickoff.

Puttin’ on the dog

By the time the storm passed, partiers were more than ready to rock out and the 74th Street Band was more than happy to provide the tunes. Dancers were tearing up the blacktop by the time the Miss Arizona Bike Week contest kicked off. In between the layers of interviews and fashion shows where contestants strutted their stuff, the Arizona Bike Week Hero presentation was made to this year’s recipient, Jack Estes. Riding a ’91 Fat Boy since it was new, Estes doesn’t have a car and is owner of the popular biker bar The Dirty Dogg Saloon. Known as a devoted humanitarian with a big heart, Jack supports a variety of causes, spreads the word about dogs who need saving, and shares his home with three of his own rescue dogs. A gaggle of his employees cheered from the crowd and illustrated the love, respect and sense of family the popular Arizona Bike Week Hero is surrounded by.

As the crowds continued to grow in anticipation of the Aaron Lewis concert later, Miss Arizona Bike Week 2014 was chosen onstage amid the high-decibel cheers of the gathered masses. A diminutive young lady with a million-dollar smile was elated when she was awarded the sparkly tiara that would be her crown for the next year. Staci Wilson is a California transplant who spends her days attending medical classes at Arizona State University. Taking her title duties seriously, the enthusiastic and cheerful lass hit the ground running and spent the remainder of the week being very visible, making appearances and smiling sweetly for the hordes of fans who wished her well, even in the hot afternoon sun.

Hatred Customs wins Baddest Bagger_I7D8641
Miss Arizona Bike Week, Staci Wilson, presented Hatred Customs with the Baddest Bagger award for the American Bagger bike show on Saturday at ABW

Seasoned and savvy attendees know the best option for convenient partying during Arizona Bike Week is to utilize the WestWorld onsite campgrounds, and bookings were sold out early so organizers added an additional 100 sites. They got creative and set up temporary spots with power and water in addition to allowing dry camping at various locations scattered throughout the property. There’s always room for one more when you’re talking about throwing a party, after all.
This year’s concert lineup was the main topic of rider conversations everywhere. With an opportunity to see Big & Rich, Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top all for one low ticket price that included admission to smaller-stage acts with even more killer music, the Busted Knuckles Stunt Tour with Jason Pullen and his gal-pal “Smashley” and the rest of the stunt crew, Extreme Stunts Motocross maniacs in addition to the 200 assorted vendors and two huge bike shows, you can imagine why the fun-o-meter was pegged. The place was packed each night and attendance numbers blew the roof off past records. A whopping 90,000 people tromped through the gates of WestWorld and promoters are attributing it to the great concert lineup.

Harley-Davidson of Scottsdale
More than just two-wheeled eye candy at Harley-Davidson of Scottsdale

“We were absolutely stunned with the number of people that came out. We have been working on getting these performers for years and it all just came together this year,” Arizona Bike Week promoter Lisa Cyr told us. “We could never put it together due to scheduling conflicts or whatever, but to get everyone here at the same time? It was incredible. I mean, what’s the likelihood of Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top all being available in the same week? Pretty slim, actually, but look, it all came together and people loved it. What we learned was that we need to redo our layout again. We just want more people to be able to get closer to the stage, so we’re looking at that. We’re working on a new tracking system so we can get people through the gate faster, too. People aren’t used to having to wait in line at Arizona Bike Week so they don’t arrange to come early. That makes it pretty tough when 20,000 people all show up at the same time for a concert, so we’re preparing for that and working on more parking.”

Helping hands

Cyr continued, “Our charities did well with their rides this year, especially the [inaugural] Hand in Hand ride that benefitted the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. They had a great concept, too. Each registered rider was given a cutout hand with the name of a child who is in the hospital, so the child was, in essence, along for the ride. It was very moving. When we were in the planning stages the hospital asked what kind of attendance to expect and asked if 200 was a good estimate. We ended up with around 750 registered riders, but there were around 900 bikes.” This begged the question, what kind of biker would rip off a kid by going on a ride and not buying a ticket? Seriously?

Child Empowerment Ride
Tommy Flanagan and Kim Coates, a.k.a. “Chibs” and “Tig” from Sons of Anarchy, get read to lead the Child Empowerment Ride.

Riders who wanted to get the most out of their Arizona experience took advantage of the area’s incredible scenery and hit the roads to places like Wickenburg, Sedona, Tombstone and all points in between. Some folks just tripped on out to the quaint little burg of Cave Creek, which has long been its own destination point for fun-seeking riders. Mark Bradshaw and his partners rolled out the welcome mat in a huge way with a block party that included parking in the streets and partying in the parking lots at both the Hideaway Grill and the Tap Haus.

Yarnell, Arizona, motorcycle
No matter what else was going on, there was always time to hit the road for some of Arizona’s signature sunshine

Meanwhile, out in Chandler at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, the three-day inaugural Phoenix Bike Fest was going on. The big five Harley-Davidson dealers in the valley—Buddy Stubbs, Arrowhead, Chandler, Chester’s and Superstition—joined up with RideNow Powersports and Barry Caraway of Cyclerides.com to welcome valley visitors to a completely different, free experience. Vendors set up in an unpaved area to flank a ride-through bar in the parking lot outside the casino. Attendees lined the narrow driveway with drinks in hand and cheered arriving bikers as they paraded through what was billed as the state’s first-ever drive-through bar. A band played in the shade and the occasional burnout drowned out the musicians as crowds encouraged the showoffs. On Saturday night everybody’s favorite party animal, Sammy Hagar, rocked the big stage. If you wanted to watch the show up close you could buy a concert ticket, otherwise the entire event was free to the public. Our crew overnighted at the hotel and was curious about how the guests from the golf tournament felt about sharing their experience with a rowdy bunch of bikers. Everyone played nice, though, and, as far as we could tell, folks were loving the party atmosphere. The matter of the dusty vendor area was the one thing folks didn’t love so much and promoters took note.

Chandler H-D
Chandler H-D service techs kept busy during Phoenix Bike Fest

“We plan to address that very issue before next year,” Anthem Harley-Davidson dealership’s Jack Stubbs told us. “The area will be topped with an environmentally friendly component. We have several changes planned for next year, actually. Attendees gave us some great feedback and we’re working on improvements, but overall, we’re pretty pleased with the way things went. Considering we put this whole event together in such a short time, about 90 days actually, and for a first-time event, we think it turned out OK. People had fun. The hotel was sold out, vendors were enthusiastic and excited to be here, and they say they’ll be back next year. We’ll add more demo trucks—people loved the demo rides—and we’ll probably make the drive-through bigger. We’re in this for the long haul as an annual event; we want it to grow, and so we’re looking at how to make that happen. The 2015 dates are set and we’re getting started.” Besides the parking lot party, there is casino action inside, an onsite hotel and camping with power will be within a half-mile of the event. Talks are under way to see about drag racing, and the shopping mall next to the property is discussing how they can get involved.

By week’s end we’d logged some miles, shared some smiles and generally enjoyed the great Arizona hospitality. Promoters from all camps seem to agree that the expansion is a good thing, but Lisa Cyr summed it up best. “It’s good to grow. We’re being compared to Daytona or Sturgis as a destination, which is a good thing. Between all the events, there’s a lot to do and everybody seems happy. It’s positive for everybody. It is, after all, just about having a big ol’ party.”

(This article Sashaying Through the Saguaros was published in the June 2014 issue of Thunder Press, West edition.)

 

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