The Laughlin River Run has seen its share of natural phenomena over the course of its 29 years. Oppressive triple digit heat is de riguer, but one year it snowed. Another year was marked by a biblical-style invasion of grasshoppers. Thunderstorms and hail have happened in the past, but this year’s Laughlin River Run will be remembered for the wind. The tempest came in Thursday and continued to blow all weekend long, swirling sand across roads, kicking up trash on Casino Drive and howling through the night outside hotel windows.
This didn’t stop thousands of riders from making their way to this oasis in the Mojave Desert on the Colorado River. MJ Smith of the Laughlin Tourism Commission said that all 10,000 hotel rooms were booked for the weekend and estimates put attendance in the 30,000 people range. But a news channel out of nearby Las Vegas claimed the event peaked Friday at 26,000. Regardless, attendance was definitely down in comparison to the 50-60,000 people that filled the area not five years ago. There are numerous reasons which have led to the decline in attendance, the economy foremost, but a heavy police presence is one of the
rumored reasons riders aren’t coming like they used to. Motorcycle rallies are about the freedom to cut loose and a tri-state contingency of police don’t exactly promote a party atmosphere. Curiously, despite the heavy police presence and a no colors policy, one motorcycle club had quite a few patch-wearing members in attendance while another prominent club was said to be deliberately absent.
The organizations that did attend were on good behavior. Officer Marcus Martin of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police said there weren’t any major problems for the casinos or the police this year. In Bullhead City, Laughlin’s sister city on the other side of the river, police made 27 arrests compared to 38 in 2010. Surprisingly, there was only one DUI arrest compared to seven last year and Bullhead City PD reported only one narcotics bust.
One interesting footnote to the 2011 Laughlin River Run was provided by the Aquarius Casino Resort which decided to turn everybody but registered guests away on Saturday night. Local news reports stated Aquarius General Manager Sean Hammond “made the call to restrict casino access to registered guests only from about 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday.” The decision reportedly was made because the casino determined the sheer volume of visitors was making it difficult for guests to access games and restaurants while denying rumors that it had anything to do with motorcycle gangs. But I’ve seen the Aquarius way more packed in the past and it never shut its doors before, so the reason the casino gave for making that call is suspect.
A bright note from this year’s rally is a lack of fatal accidents. An incident report provided by the Bullhead City PD listed ten accidents. Probably the most serious one occurred when a 47-year-old man crashed his motorcycle Friday on Marina Boulevard and was flown to a Las Vegas hospital. In separate incidents, another rider suffered an apparent concussion in an accident near Oatman. It seems like a few riders fall victim to that strip of Route 66 outside of Oatman each year. A second motorcyclist suffered a broken wrist in an accident near the Interstate 40 exit in Topock.
On the commercial side of things, we’d estimate vendor numbers to be down at least one-third. The Pioneer’s parking lot, once filled with tents and booths, was practically empty compared to years past. The thrust of the vendors were congregated around the Edgewater, Aquarius and the Riverside. At one time, the rigs of Harley-Davidson, Big Dog and Big Bear Choppers filled the lots in front of the casinos. No more.
It still felt good to escape the spring rains of Oregon for the sun of Laughlin. We got a little riding in on the 2011 Star Raider, starting with a few cruises up and down Casino Drive and finishing up with a 100-mile jaunt through the Mojave Desert for the Early Bird Poker Run. With winds strong enough to blow caps of heads, we set out early Saturday morning from the Colorado Belle for our first destination, Mother Road Harley-Davidson in Kingman, Arizona. The 27-mile route started with a long climb on Arizona 68 past stoic stone pillars and red-rocked strata. Yellow wildflowers danced in the wind. The road climbed and climbed, but the 1854cc air-cooled V-Twin of the Raider powered us up the incline. The pass topped out at over 4000 feet and the air at altitude was ten degrees colder than the valley floor.
(L) Cruisin’ Casino Drive on an old school chopper. (C) The unofficial winner of the crazy hat competition. (R) Big Dog lives!
Mother Road Harley-Davidson was holding its own 10th Annual Laughlin River Run party. Bikes filled the parking lot and street as live music filled the air. Vendors like Drag Specialties and Memphis Shades hawked their wares and the Budweiser taps at the beer garden were already flowing. Register workers busily rung up sales and Mother Road Harley t-shirts were in high demand. We picked our next number, got our card stamped and set out for the next stop, the living ghost town known as Chloride.
According to the town’s website, in Chloride “there are ghosts of buildings that used to be lived in, ghosts of mines that used to be producing minerals, and ghosts of people that used to live there.” Our stop is the Chloride VFW where the locals had big pots of hot chili bubbling and hot dogs boiling. A big bowl of chili helped warm me up on the inside and the townfolk were friendly. We took a ride to check out some of the ghost buildings mentioned and stop for a photo op in front of an old Arizona Central Bank. Fortunately there were no sign of the miner’s ghost who’s said to haunt the streets of the town.
Our poker hand must have been a bust because we didn’t win any money. I say must because you never got a chance to see your hand. Participants were handed an envelope with 52 numbers on it. At each stop, you’d draw a number that was punched out on the envelope which was then stamped as well. At the last stop back at the Colorado Belle, envelopes were turned in to event organizers but they didn’t open them up so participants never saw what hand they’d drawn. Different and disappointing. I have a word of advice for next year. Let people see their hand when they turn in their envelope. It’s part of the fun of a poker run. I do know one person who won’t be complaining, though. That’d be Lance Hibbler out of North Las Vegas, who won the $750 first prize for his three Aces with a 10-6 high, which barely edged out Janet Herrera from Chino, California, who also had three Aces with a 9-2 high. She still won $350 for second place, though.
The 2011 Laughlin River Run did feature a few new wrinkles this year. The Edgewater Casino and Hotel built a new Events Center for concerts. In fact, it was right just below the window of my hotel room, so Saturday night I could hear Eric Burdon and the Animals set without leaving my room. And while old school rockers like Bachman & Turner and Eric Burdon headlined, we opted to take in the free concerts on outdoor stages. The all-girl AC/DC tribute band ThunderHerStruck was rockin’ the Pioneer stage Saturday night as the guitarist jumped around stage like Angus Young while the energetic lead singer belted it out with Brian Johnson zeal. We also caught a mid-afternoon set of the Garage Boys doing ‘80s covers like Van Halen and Bon Jovi at the Golden Nugget and took in some good blues action by John Earl and the Boogie Man Band at the Colorado Belle’s Center Circle. Another popular new hang-out was the outdoor Hogs & Heifers Saloon with bartenders who did the boot-scootin’ boogie on bartops.
Paul Binford of Binford’s Custom Cycles won ‘Best of Show’ and $750 for his hopped-up baby blue Road King while Lance Hibbler was the lucky winner of the Laughlin Early Bird Poker Run.
Of course, checking out cool custom motorcycles is always high on our priority list, so we made sure to catch the Laughlin River Run Custom Bike Show. A baby blue Harley Road King with one of the best engraving jobs we’ve encountered took laurels as “Best of Show.” Paul Binford’s “Que Paso?” has won numerous awards, from first place in the Harley-Davidson Ride-In Show in Sturgis to winning the Sacramento Easyriders gig and is now headed to retirement from the bike show circuit to start its new career as a drag bike. Binford intends on taking “Que Paso?” to the Sacramento Speedway to see what its 131 cubic-inch engine with a claimed 200+horsepower can do. Twenty-seven bikes competed for the $1500 prize money, but it was Binford who claimed the lion’s share for first place.
Hitting vendors’ row, we got the opportunity to interview custom bike builder Jim Nasi. His medieval-themed creation called Sangre Azul, with its low stance, beefy fenders and black chrome was a real crowd-pleasure, but his latest build, a silver bagger with a giant front hoop, angular front fairing and all steel and aluminum construction was the show-stopper. We also ran into our friend Chris Hagest of Low and Mean, a leader in aftermarket parts and accessories for metric cruisers. Low and Mean rode up from Lake Havasu on its custom Honda Fury along with a stock one to showcase the dramatic changes a few Low and Mean parts can make. The sweeping, tapered L&M Reaper fenders are a big improvement over stock and I like the way the L&M lowering kit eliminates the space between the wheel and fender on the rear. The cheap, oversized plastic stock intake looks much better with the L&M dual intake
The bartenders of the Hogs & Heifers Saloon knew how to cut a rug! The outdoor bar was one of the more popular attractions at the 2011 Laughlin River Run.
and Spike air filters. Little touches like braided brake lines and a lower chin scoop dress it up nicely, too. Another vendor who caught our attention was The USA Trailer Store with its Solace motorcycle camper trailer. This thing was slick. Plenty high to stand up inside, wide enough to squeeze a small table in, it has an area in the front big enough for a full-size Coleman air mattress. There are plenty of screened-off windows for ventilation and it’s got an area on the front of the trailer to hold a cooler. It all collapses down to an easy towing size and comes with a Thule Cargo Bag, air mattress, and table. This thing would be perfect for rallies or road trips.
In between strolling down vendors’ row and listening to live music, we watched everything from girls getting tossed around on the mechanical bull ride to people screaming their heads off on the fair-style attraction the Slingshot. Just chillin’ on Casino Drive watching bikes ride by was a popularity activity. At night, it was cool to see how many people were just kickin’ it with the homeys in parking lots cranking up oldies on their motorcycle stereos. Despite the dip in attendance, the desert around Laughlin is still a beautiful place to ride, the action inside the casinos was hot and there were still plenty of opportunities to catch up with old friends or to make new ones.