Laughlin River Run Reflections 2008

May 2, 2008
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

With a river gambler-style steamboat casino providing its backdrop and historic Route 66 close by  the Laughlin River Run has all the ambience of an old spaghetti western.
With a river gambler-style steamboat casino providing its backdrop and historic Route 66 close by, the Laughlin River Run has all the ambience of an old spaghetti western.

The lyrics to ‘Dirty White Boy’ have finally stopped bouncing off the inside of my skull. The sound from Foreigner’s two gigs on Friday and Saturday night at the Aquarius Resort’s outdoor amphitheater penetrated the walls of my hotel room and I could feel every time Jason Bonham pedaled his bass drum during the show. The vibrations from V-Twins no longer serve as my early morning wake-up call as the exodus of motorcyclists that converged on this small stretch of real estate on the shores of the Colorado River called Laughlin, Nevada have filtered east and west across I-40 and rumbled home up and down Highway 95. Alas, the 26th Annual Laughlin River Run has drawn to a close.

On a high note, this year’s event was relatively incident free in comparison to past rallies. The only reported fatalities happened on Saturday, April 26 when two motorcyclists heading in opposite directions on County Route 1 clipped handlebars and crashed. According to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, one rider died at the scene while the other perished the following day. It was further reported by the Mohave Valley Daily News that the rider that died at the scene wasn’t wearing a helmet.

We report this fact just as a reminder, folks. Motorcycling is already dangerous enough. Do what you can to increase your odds in an accident, and strap those buckets down tight on your freakin’ domes.

There were also fewer arrests than in years past. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reported 46 arrests during the four-day event, which was about half the 93 arrests made at the Run in 2007. The majority of citations issued were simple speeding tickets. Additionally, only six people were said to have been injured in the 16 reported crashes.

Increased police presence played a major part in keeping the rally orderly. Besides Las Vegas Metro, officers from California and Arizona were on hand. Patrols flooded Casino Drive and officers were stationed at almost every street corner. Their bright yellow shirts could be seen buzzing vendor’s row on bicycles, and I saw more types of unmarked police vehicles at Laughlin than I’ve ever seen before. DUI checkpoints also were a strong deterrent against firing the bike after spending the night bellied up to your favorite bar. Was the police presence overkill? Hard to say. It’s difficult to put a price on a sense of security, though.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officials also estimated this year’s attendance to be in the range of 60,000 to 65,000 people. This is down from 2007 numbers, said to be approximately 70,000 people. Foot traffic through the midway was still heavy, and crossing into Nevada over the Laughlin Bridge on Saturday still took me an hour to go a quarter-mile, so it didn’t feel like there was much difference in attendance between ’07 and ’08.

The winner of Miss Hawaiian Tropic River Run was Kristy Dennis from Reno  Nevada.
Nineteen girls from throughout the country competed for the title of Miss Hawaiian Tropic River Run 2008, but it was Reno, Nevada’s Kristy Dennis who was all smiles after winning the crown.

One characteristic that continues to define the River Run is in its appeal to the V-Twin crowd. More so than Daytona, which I covered back in March, it continues to be a predominantly cruiser-oriented affair. To be even more specific, it draws more Harley-Davidson fans than the average rally. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more Heritage Softails with high ape hangers and chrome highway bars. Fat Boys with wide, swept-back handlebars were also in abundance, the type of bike that looks like you ride by grabbing a bull by the horns. There was a minor representation by adventure-tourers on their dual-sport bikes, and a handful of sport-touring and sportbike riders could be seen buzzing around if you looked hard, but for the most part this is Harley country. Unlike what I saw at Daytona, stretched, slammed Hayabusas with fat backsides were almost non-existent. There were also only a handful of three-wheelers in attendance, a far cry from the bounty of Boss Hoss trikes and the like that flooded Florida’s A1A.

The Laughlin River Run is also an event that a majority of motorcyclists still ride to. Bikes headed for the Custom Show could still be seen being trailered in, but with its proximity to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, the River Run is an event that a large percentage of bikers still pack up the saddlebags for. And being on the back of a motorcycle comes in handy when you hit the inevitable traffic jam on I-40 West while trying to get back home on Sunday. While I sat idling in the company truck with midday desert heat beating down overhead for an hour waiting for the accident up ahead to be cleared, I watched the stream of lane splitters making headway in the makeshift center lane between the cars stuck in traffic. Admittedly, not the safest of practices, but sitting going nowhere with a hot engine burning between your legs isn’t fun either, so I sympathized with their plight and wished that I could join them since I was getting nowhere fast.

Speaking of getting nowhere fast, I caught a classic husband vs. wife dual at the Teresi Dyno-Drags, whose motto is “Racing Nowhere at Top Speed.” For those unfamiliar with the Dyno-Drags, it gives riders a chance to do their best Ricky Gadson impersonation on their own bike. What they do is load two motorcycles side-by-side on a makeshift drag strip with their rear wheels on a dyno. When the Christmas tree starting light flips to green, they roll on the throttle and rip through the gears. The dyno reads off their quarter-mile time, top speed and peak horsepower and displays it on an electronic scoreboard.

Bragging rights and dish duty for a month were on the line for Chuck and Kathy as the Teresi crew strapped the front tires of Chuck’s Harley-Davidson Road King and Kathy’s Heritage Softail into the wheel chocks and carefully lined up the rear wheel in the center of the dyno. A crowd formed as the Teresi emcee stirred the pot between husband and wife. AC/DC was cranking out of large amplifiers, attracting even more people to the spectacle and adding to the party atmosphere.


Second place in the Custom Show was a bike built by Arlen Ness.
Second place in the Custom Show was a bike built by Arlen Ness.

he lights on the tree dropped and the V-Twins on the big Harleys roared to life. The spouses ran through the first couple of gears dead even. Chuck continued to wind out third and fourth gear, getting every bit out of the powerband that he could while Kathy elected to upshift early. When the smoke from the rubber cleared, it was Chuck who was victorious, with his 12.2-second finish good enough to beat out Kathy’s 13.3-second time. But it wasn’t over yet. Riders get three runs, so Kathy got two more chances. Unfortunately, it was not her day, as she defaulted in the second race and Chuck ripped off his best run of the day in the third race with a time of 11.7.

Our next stop was the swimming pool on the third floor of the Aquarius Resort for the Miss Hawaiian Tropic River Run contest. Nineteen girls from as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio competed for $3500 in cash and prizes and a chance to land an illustrious gig as a full-time model for Hawaiian Tropic. The girls were introduced one by one, and as they said their names and hometowns, crowd favorites quickly formed. The girls then turned up the heat with the bikini contest. Each girl had to answer one question, pageant style, giving clues to their personalities and aspirations. The girls then disappeared off-stage and returned once more in full biker attire. When the judge’s votes were tallied, it was Kristy Dennis, a curvaceous brunette with skin tanned deep bronze from Reno, Nevada that took home the spoils as Miss Hawaiian Tropic River Run and a cool grand in her pocket.

After taking in the visually entertaining Hawaiian Tropic contest, our trip through vendor’s row in front of the Colorado Belle ended at the booth of Zero Engineering. We’ve been intrigued with Koichi Kojima’s work since we saw him at Cincy’s V-Twin Expo. Zero Engineering customs are big in Japan, but they have only started to receive recognition for their work in the States here recently. They didn’t start production here until 2002 when they opened up a manufacturing facility in Las Vegas.

I like the fact that Zero Choppers keeps it simple. They produce a vintage-styled motorcycle without a bunch of fluff. You’ve got a small peanut tank and a sprung solo seat on a Zero Engineering-produced gooseneck frame. The engine on the Samurai Chopper Type 6 model is an S&S 93″ shovelhead-style engine. It runs a Baker 6 and has sweet dual shot exhausts. A kick starter ties in with the old school theme. The most distinguishing trait, though, has to be the bold front end. Zero Engineering uses a 74 Springer-style front fork manufactured by PLOT Inc. with a burly 500-16 tire, the same dimensions as the back. The front tire is fenderless, making its ample girth stand out even more. Small accents like the brass foot and shifter pegs are the finer details that help make the bike stand out.

It seems like we’re not the only ones taking notice of Kojima’s work. A custom version of the Samurai Chopper Type 6 is featured in the recently released “Ironman” movie. The film is the latest adaptation of a Marvel Comics character featuring Robert Downey, Jr. as Ironman. Now I’m going to have to go see it just because I want to see the scene with Zero Engineering’s chop.

I could feel the history of historic Route 66 with every bump on the road.
I could feel the history of historic Route 66 with every bump on the road.

One of my favorite things to do at the River Run is cruising vendor’s row. You’ve got to give the people who run the booths credit. They’re up bright and early to set up, they sit there for long hours in the heat of the day bartering and selling their wares, and are always the last ones to close up shop. They also are very skillful at presenting their pitch. I know that Brother Jawbone of Nightrider Jewelry almost had me. I wanted to buy one of his Eternity Crosses so bad, but reconsidered when I thought about the repercussions from my wife for dropping $350 bills on a custom silver pendant. But it would have been worth it. Jawbone does great work. Each piece is handcrafted using sterling silver and the designs are incredible. Maybe next time, Jawbone.

As I started the 1000 mile journey back home Sunday, memories of the 26th Annual River Run are a whirl. It started out on a rocking note as we met Molly Hatchet’s lead singer Phil McCormack while we took in the free show at the Pioneer Hotel. We got a glimpse into the future of custom building with Custom Cycle Control Systems rear-facing camera system and electronically-controlled foot controls. Between the Purrfect Angelz, Hawaiian Tropic models, and the Miss Laughlin River Run contest, our head was on a swivel. Besides Koichi and his Zero Engineering group, we got to inspect the work of Matt Hotch, Chica, and V-Force Customs Vinnie and Cody up close and personal. We topped it all off with a 140-mile Poker Run through the Mojave Desert and historic Route 66 on the back of a 2008 Big Dog Pitbull, an adventure that will soon be receiving its own story. I rode home, sunburnt but sated as I sing ‘Dirty White Boy’ one more time and think about what next year’s Run has in store.

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