Though it’s been a week since we rode to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally, my waving arm is just now getting back to normal. Fellow riders are friendly in these parts. Southern charm is not a myth, as demonstrated by the many friendly folk I met while riding through Arkansas, from inquisitive bright-eyed boys at gas station stops to the host of riders who asked if I was all right when I’d park roadside to shoot photos. The city of Fayetteville was equally accommodating, from the restaurants and pubs to the hotels. There were more activities that catered to children and families than any other event I’ve attended and finding a patch of grass on Dickson Street to watch the parade of motorcycles cruising by was a popular family event. Even the police presence, though elevated, wasn’t oppressive or heavy-handed like some rallies have become. The city of Fayetteville was a generous host to the thousands of motorcyclists which called the place home for a few days last weekend for the biggest Bikes, Blues & BBQ blowout to date.
Dickson Street was wall-to-wall motorcycles for Saturday’s Parade of Power, which attracted all sorts of characters.
We kicked off our Friday with a trip to the Washington County Fairgrounds for the lawn mower pulls. From stock tractors with names like “Little Red Hog” and “Blue Mule II” to the V-Twin-powered “Pit Bull” there were some serious rigs entered in the competition, engines with high flow carbs and performance intakes and jacked up rear ends mounted with big chunks of earth-scooping rubber. We confess our ignorance on the fine art of lawn mower pulling, so a local brought us up to speed and informed us the competition is divided into categories depending on engine size and contestants are judged by how far they can tow a sled claimed to weigh over 8000 pounds at its max down a dirt runway. Given the signal, drivers punched gas pedals to the floor, front ends popped up while back ends dug in. A plume of brown dust soon filled the air as lawn mowers pulled the mighty sled as far as their horsepower would carry them, much to the delight of the crowd which lined the runway.
Best part is, it’s a true family affair. Often you’d find three generations huddled around an engine making last second preparations. “Little Johnny,” a fresh-faced farm boy wearing a Booger County Mini Hot Rod Pulls t-shirt who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, was a crowd favorite and received the loudest ovation after one of the longest pulls in his class. His run almost didn’t happen at all as his “Little Red Hog” ran too rich and they had to wheel him to the pits to let the flooded engine clear out before he ripped off his crowd-pleasing run. The lawn mower pulls brought people together for some good ol’ down-home fun.
The Washington County Fairgrounds were also home to the People’s Choice BBQ Competition. Forty-one teams stoked their fires to compete for cash, prestige and prizes. The coveted winning trophies were fabricated in the shape of Arkansas and included the Bikes, Blues & BBQ emblem. For the People’s Choice Competition, six bucks got you in the door where you were handed a red and white paper tray for contestants to pile samples of their good eats in. The gates opened at 6 p.m. and everybody headed for a line in front of one of the booths. Bad part is they didn’t start dishing out the grub until 6:30 so you have to stand there for a half hour whiffing BBQ smoke and drooling all over yourself.
(L) Laramie works the crowd at the Stokes Air Battle of the Bikes as he holds up the ultimate prize, the Battle Belt. (M) Faith, Hope & Love. The owner of this ’77 Honda chopper is a minister who travels with his bike to prisons to spread words of inspiration. (R) Darren Davis of Rogers, AK, holds up the Battle Belt as the winner of the 2011 BBB Bike Show.
We started out at Team Panhead where we were treated to a sweet and spicy rib with homemade mac & cheese (topped with a little homemade hot sauce, at their suggestion). We then made the rounds, filling up our tray before jumping into the next line where we’d eat while we waited patiently for our next sample. Team InIt2WinIt dished up some mean Ghost Pepper chili, while the Missouri I-35 BBQ Boyz hooked up some fiery hot wings. Two angel-faced little girls walked by while waiting in line handing out some devilishly hot Cajun peanuts. I think they were delighting in watching the expressions on people’s faces as they took their first bite of the peanuts which were so spicy they’d take your breath away. We only made it around to about ten booths before we had to throw in the towel due to full bellies. We made our vote before leaving and when all the ballots had been tallied, reigning champ Kevin King of Pit 4 A King earned the crown for the fourth year running, claiming the $750 top prize. Funny thing is, that’s who we voted for after sampling some of the most succulent pork loin we’ve ever tasted. The following day, the KCBS Cookoff and the Arkansas State BBQ Championships would take place, which Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared the official state BBQ championship. We missed out on that competition though because we were busy covering the custom bike show over on Dickson Street.
The Motorcycle Thrill Show known as Circus Una entertained the Bikes, Blues & BBQ crowd with their daredevil act.
When emcee Laramie from Cycle Connection Harley-Davidson out of nearby Joplin, Missouri, declared the 2011 Stokes Air Battle of the Bikes had the “Hottest bikes we’ve ever had in the show,” you knew the competition for the “Battle Belt” would be fierce. Forty-four competitors were broken down into ten categories, from choppers to baggers, from trikes to the always entertaining unique category. The Bikes, Blues & BBQ bike show had a unique format as judges picked the top three contenders in each class while the crowd ultimately picked the winner by cheering loudly for their favorites, which was registered on a sound meter. The top 10 in each category are then pitted against one another, again by popular vote with the loudest shouts of appreciation from the crowd determining the winner. Fabricated metal trophies went to the winners of each class while the overall winner was awarded the handmade leather “Battle Belt.”
The self-proclaimed “World’s Smallest Bagger” was entered in the show, a limited edition 1978 Honda Monkey customized by owner Harold Wilson. Wilson got a good deal on the mini-trail bike from a buddy and set about giving it custom flair, throwing on floorboards, small saddlebags, wire-wrapped cables, a custom seat, windscreen and a small stereo mounted between the bars. He even made a little heel/toe shifter for it. Wilson actually tows the little Honda to rallies behind his Goldwing where he’ll show it off while raising money for the March of Dimes.
Another crowd favorite was a raked-out old school Honda chopper powered by an engine off a ’77 CB750. With its quadruple pipes twisting off the front of the cylinder jugs and spikes jutting of the heads, the engine looks wicked. A Springer front, rigid rear and a gold leaf paint job contribute to its authentic old school vibe. Its owner happens to be a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association who is a minister that takes his scoot around to prisons in 11 different states to deliver a little inspiration to inmates. On the bottom of the tank is scrolled the words “Faith, Hope & Love.”
But the winner on this day would be Darren Davis of nearby Rogers, Arkansas, for his 2010 supercharged Street Glide. With its intercooled ProCharger V-Twin supercharger and Air Ride suspension which drops its bags to the ground, this isn’t you’re average, every day bagger. Drilled-out components, from the fork gaiters to controls, floorboards, and covers mean its looks matched its rumble. High-end electronics like a flip-out Kenwood DVD player tucked into the front fairing and 6 ½-inch speakers in the tops of the saddlebags also scored high with the crowd. Davis said he did all the work himself except for the exceptional paint job.
The face of a man who’s serious about his BBQ. Doug Stanberry of Team InIt2WinIt hooking it up at the Bikes, Blues & BBQ People’s Choice Competition. My first sample was a spicy rib and some homemade mac & cheese.
The finals pitted “old school” versus “new school” as last year’s defending champion was brought back to battle against this year’s winner. The defending champ brought his 1941 Knucklehead that was spoked, sprung and lathered in custom black powder coating to square off against the techno-age bagger. Fans vocally supported both, and the first battle ended up in a tie, but in the rematch, Davis was able to eke out a few more decibels from his fans to snatch the victory away from the defending champ.
Saturday after the show, the “Parade of Power” was supposed to take place down Dickson Street but we couldn’t tell when it started or ended because it was always a parade of motorcycles down Dickson. We saw everything from a guy riding a yellow Harley in a pink bunny suit to a rider rolling by in dressed as a black gorilla. Sportbike riders were representing, more so than most rallies, and scooters were everywhere thanks to Fayetteville being a college town. There were also plenty of three-wheelers, more Big Dogs and American Ironhorses than we’ve seen in a long time, and of course tons of V-Twins of all ilk.
Over at Baum Stadium, riders were busy getting a first ride on the 2012 motorcycles thanks to Harley-Davidson, Victory, Star, Suzuki and Can Am all showing up with their big rigs to offer demo rides. The Harley display was busy with plenty of women getting their first riding experience on a stationary bike Harley had mounted on a dyno. The Progressive Insurance booth was constantly busy as it had a carnival-like squirt gun game with racing motorcycles for people to play with biker schwag like duffle bags going to the winners. All the while an obnoxious yellow helicopter busily buzzed overhead as it took people up for a sky view of Fayetteville and the festivities.
Riding the Ozarks is a huge part of the rally and riders were up early to take off on one of the many epic roads around here. We came in on the Pig Trail Scenic Route ourselves and were impressed with its array of sweepers and switchbacks. We got lost out of Huntsville heading out on 74 and ended up on County Road 79 headed to Goshen where we encountered a herd of elk. But you know what? We didn’t care that we were lost because the ride was so scenic and peaceful. We enjoyed the Ozarks so much we declared it our “New Favorite Place to Ride.”
Music was everywhere, from the Main Stage at the Beer Garden to every pub and bar on Dickson Street.
The 2011 Bikes, Blues & BBQ was a peaceful affair for the most part. The chest thumping and posturing we’ve become accustomed to at other rallies was mostly non-existent. The Fayetteville Flyer reported the police stats for the rally and only 27 arrests were made, mostly for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Of those, 13 incidents involved local residents, so bikers visiting from out of town were well behaved for the most part. Best part is, no motorcycle related fatalities were reported, a rarity for an event of this magnitude.
We rode away from the 12th annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ festival impressed with the friendliness of the people, awed by the beauty of the Ozarks and titillated from riding the great roads around the area. Dickson Street is one of our new favorite places to party. The only person who might have had an even better time than us is Mike Riebold of Highbridge, Missouri, who won the 2011 Fat Boy Bikes, Blues & BBQ organizers raffled off Saturday night. We had such a good time we’re already marking it on our schedule for next year. Borrowing a line from Arnie, “I’ll be back.”