Jay Allen’s Broken Spoke Saloon bartenders never fail to impress. Not only are they easy on the eye, they entertain the thirsty crowds atop the bar in between and during shows.
The smell of burning oil and spent exhaust fills the air and viewers feel the walls shake each time rider and bike hurtle by beneath you. Wahl E. Walker and Charlie Ransom ride side-by-side pulling almost four G’s with pinpoint focus and if you look close it appears that both are smiling as they fly by. The crowd enthusiastically roars as the cast of the American Motor Drome Co. pays homage to the daredevils of sideshows past as they perform their courageous acts within the confines of The Wall of Death. Better yet, attendees of Bike Week New Orleans 2010 are taking in the show for free at the Riverwalk Festival thanks to the magnanimity of the Broken Spoke Saloon’s Jay Allen.
Walker, who has been performing similar acts of motorcycle stunt riding since the 80s, rides a 1975 Harley-Davidson SX250 for the show. And yes, it is an AMF Harley, but Walker is quick to defend the company during the AMF years. An old 1928 Indian is also sometimes used in the act, one with no recirculating oil system that has a baking pan fashioned underneath to catch the oil drippings. This is where the specific type of wood the motor drome is made of comes in to play, as tongue-in-groove Douglas Fir actually helps blot the oil to avoid a potentially fatal oil slick. Walker tells me that the whole operation, including motorcycles, fits in the back of a 45-foot flatbed and takes eight hours to set up and six hours to break down. Then it’s time to hit the road for the next show in another town. The show is a big hit with the crowd.
Look ma, no hands! Kids, don’t try this at home. Yes, the wheels of this motorcycle were spinning underneath this young daredevil on a dyno-like contraption.
My Bike Week New Orleans experience started the night before when I stepped out of the cab from the airport to floodlights lighting up the sky not two blocks down from my hotel. I barely had my bags in the hotel room before I was out the door to find out what the lights were all about. A row of motorcycles was parked on the sidewalk as I sought out the source of the rockabilly music filling the air that mixed with the smell of the spicy paprika and pepper boil floating out of a huge pot of crawfish cooking nearby. No doubt about it, I could only be in New Orleans and the party had already started. Go-Go girls in burlesque costumes and a big-sideburned singer had the crowd swinging as the band called Clockwork Elvis played on a makeshift stage on a blocked-off street.
The next morning started with a hearty breakfast at Mother’s Restaurant and a healthy slab of the ‘World’s Best Baked Ham’ to go along with my grits and eggs. Grits on my breakfast plate was another reminder that I was a long way from my home in Oregon. With a belly full of home-style grub, I put on my riding gear, grabbed my helmet and jacket, and headed out.
The air was already thick and warm at ten in the morning. Hopping on the historic streetcar that runs up and down Canal Street through the heart of the city feels like a step back in time. These streetcars have been making this run for as long as I can remember. I’m headed to EagleRider New Orleans to pick up my wheels for the week, a fully-dressed 2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. General Manager Joe Burgess has made it easy for me to fly across the country in half-a-day and be riding the very next without hassle thanks to his courteous and professional service.
The bike was perfect for my needs. It’s got the storage I need for my collection of cameras and a big backpack and fortunately runs with the new Harley chassis because the roads in the Big Easy are so pockmarked and brutal that they’ll rattle the teeth out of your head. Drivers come shooting out from every direction so I ride with my head on a swivel.
The sky was clear and it’s in the mid-80s and I know vendors are just finishing setting up so pounding pavement doesn’t sound fun at the moment and I opt to take a spin through the city instead. Movement helps cool me down so I headed up Magazine Street through the Garden District. Sidewalk cafes were bustling and the smell of coffee smacked me in the face every time I passed a Community Coffee shop. The trendy shops of the Garden District cater to everything from bohemian glass blowers to ritzy shops straight out of a scene from Sex in the City. With a full-face helmet and black leather jacket I was starting to steam like an oyster in its shell at Emeril’s
This little guy is going to be a handful when he grows up. He’s already filled with the biker spirit.
Delmonico so I pulled up under a huge oak at Audubon Park and lay back in some shade to cool down. After my body temperature dropped back down to a safe level I charted a course back to the Ambassador Hotel via St. Charles Avenue between the rows of multi-million dollar mansions with large-pillared porches that line the thoroughfare.
I headed over to the Riverwalk Festival venue where the thrust of Bike Week New Orleans festivities were being held. A motorcycle Mardi Gras Parade was gearing up for a ride through the French Quarter. Sirens from the motorcycle-mounted New Orleans Police lead the procession, blocking off intersections as the rumble of V-Twins filled the narrow channel of tightly-packed buildings of Decatur Street. People stuck in their cars at signals watched bewildered as the stream of bikes rolled by. Bikers reveled in their preferential treatment on this day.
The bra-a-ap of a motocross bike broke through the cacophony of V-Twins, bringing the crowds’ focus to the giant steel ball set up in the middle of the festival. A young rider was warming up his bike with wheelies and stoppies as he made high-speed passes in between two ramps set up to the side of the Ball of Steel. Scott Hamlin revved hard and hits the ramp, soaring through the blue sky as he catches big air before landing with precision almost a 100 feet away on the opposite ramp. He pulls off a repertoire of
The Ives Bros watch as Scott Hamlin rips off a wheelie before he starts launching himself through the air off the ramp.
tricks, defying gravity while eliciting oohs and aahs from the crowd.
The Ives Bros take center stage next as they enter the Ball of Steel. The young brothers from Thomasville, Georgia demonstrate more death-defying skill as they whirred around the inside of the steel cage, the dirt bikes dancing dangerously close to colliding. The margin of error is slim to none, but the boys executed their tricks with precision that belies their age. During the show, a squad of helicopters flying in formation passed overhead, and the show’s announcer claims it’s President Obama and his entourage heading toward the Gulf to see the damage of the oil spill first-hand.
As the sun goes down and the air cools, former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle, Kyle Turley, took to the stage with his band. Turley proves that he can pick a guitar almost as mean as he can knock people on their ass. Considering I didn’t even know he had any musical talent, he and his band were surprisingly entertaining. Of course, his song about his love of the black and gold in tribute to his former team that currently flies the banner of Super Bowl champions was a big hit with the crowd. The Kyle Turley Band was also a good finish to the first memorable day of Bike Week New Orleans 2010.