It was tire-to-tire, shoulder-to-shoulder Saturday at the 11th annual Lone Star Rally in Galveston, Texas. (Below) Beads were flying off balconies at this year’s rally, giving it a Mardi Gras-style atmosphere.
Walking along The Seawall on Galveston Island, the smell of salty sea coats lips and fills nostrils as it rides the breeze blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico across the street. Seagulls surf the waves of air overhead as a constant stream of motorcycles roll by to our left while canopies of motorcycle vendors line the roadway to the right.
The cavalcade of industry-related businesses at the 2012 Lone Star Rally begins with the recognizable orange and black banners of The Law Tigers. We pause to drool over turbo kits from Trask Performance as we walk the row of Lone Star Rally vendors set up at The Seawall, stopping next to check out the stylin’ hoodies at Hellanbach. Further down we see Patrick Garvin busily manning the J&P Cycles’ ship, reps bustling about as they direct people to the latest and greatest V-Twin aftermarket goodies. Next to them, S&S Cycle gets into the spirit of the season by offering specials on their monstrously displaced ‘Frankenstein Engines,” a 117 cubic-inch fire breathing V-Twin with dual 4 1/8-inch bores.
The 2012 Lone Star Rally marked the return of the party to The Seawall after Hurricane Ike decided to rewrite the rules in 2008 when it slammed into the island. But now palm trees resiliently line the avenue, hotels have spruced up their exteriors and were pushing capacity, and new attractions like the Pleasure Pier hint at the area’s recovery. The island’s sandy beaches and green waves provide an attractive back drop for a motorcycle rally because when you’re tired of the crowds on The Strand you can put the zaniness behind you with a trip to the beach and lose yourself in the soothing cadence of the waves coming in.
Brett Michaels caused waves of his own later that night with a free concert set up in the park at The Seawall. The long-time Poison front man can still draw a crowd. Even the waning moon seemed to move in close as his band erupted onstage with “Talk Dirty to Me,” Michaels taking the crowd on a roller coaster ride of both Poison favorites and new tunes. It’s amazing how Bud Light broke out its roll-out bars with second story viewing platforms and big screen TVs to help convert a public park into a block party. As hopping as the party at the Seawall was, it was still the circus sideshow to the main event going down at The Strand.
To connect the two main centers of the Lone Star Rally, organizers did a good job of providing a well-marked route connecting the two. This allowed attendees to ride through some of the old neighborhoods and ornately gabled houses of Galveston. There is some amazing architecture on display in the structures of this historic settlement, from the ante-bellum Ashton Villa mansion to the rosewood and white mahogany features of Bishop’s Palace. These buildings have been constructed with an attention to detail a custom bike builder could appreciate with their scroll-trimmed balconies and sharply spired roofs.
Pulling into The Strand, plastic beads are flying off balconies of brick and mortar buildings and it feels a lot like Mardi Gras. The way thousands of people cram into a few city blocks, shoulders rubbing as you walk by, lends even more credence to the Mardi Gras-style atmosphere. Though there’s patch-wearing club members from all sorts of riding groups and gangs in attendance, posturing is minimal, the vibe is upbeat and simply posting up at a sidewalk table or kicking back by your bike with a band of buddies is a popular way to pass the time.
Cruising down The Strand makes everybody the star of a parade, riders revving their engines as the crowd roars their approval, from the high-pitched wail of Inline Fours to the deep-seated grumble of a V-Twin. Riders roll by wearing everything from helmets with longhorns to ones decked out with the dreadlocked extra-terrestrial known as the Predator.
The spirit of the rally was best captured in the face of a young boy cruising The Strand aboard the tank of his dad’s sportbike, his head and shoulders swallowed by the oversized shell of his father’s full-face helmet. As dad steadied the bike and clutched in, the son reached down to grab a handful of throttle, grinning ear-to-ear as he revved his dad’s motorcycle, stopping every now and then to high-five friends and fans along the way. The faces of the duo lit up The Strand, one the proud father, the other the elated son as they inched their way along the avenue. It’s always good to see someone fostering the next generation of riders, and after seeing the excitement on the young boy’s face I have no doubt he’s counting days until he can ride on his own. Props to the dad, too, for providing positive motorcycle-related memories to a young mind that will last a lifetime.
(L) Where else will you see the Disney Cruise Ship float by in the background during a custom bike show than the Lone Star Rally? (M) Rick Fairless and his daughter Lena of Strokers Dallas had lots of fans at the rally. (R) Brett Michaels can still rock a party.
While The Strand and its surrounding blocks attempt to contain the majority of the Lone Star Rally party, it still spills over Harborside Drive to Pier 21. With the steel structures of Todd Shipyard on Pelican Island serving as the back drop across the channel, the pier hosted the trio of custom bike shows held at this year’s Lone Star Rally. Around 50 motorcycles made it out for the first-ever Metric Bike Show Friday, ranging from a Valkyrie trike to fat-backed Hayabusas to a clean Yamaha bobber. It wasn’t a bad turnout at all for a first-time show, but Dakota of Motorcycle Cowboys (the organizers of the show) said a misunderstanding with local police kept attendance numbers from being even higher because quite a few competitors reportedly weren’t allowed to ride their bikes out on the pier.
This didn’t prevent a stellar turnout the following day as an estimated 125 custom motorcycles, scooters and trikes took to the pier. Bikes ranged from bar-hoppin’ Springer choppers to Cushman scooters, from an acid-etched “Freemasonry” bike to a raked-out Harley Panhead. Paul Yaffe of Bagger Nation had his work cut out for him as judge of the “Baddest Bagger in Texas” portion of the bike show because it had plenty of show-winning caliber entries. When final votes were tallied for the main event, Broderick Hammonds rode away with the award for “Best Paint,” but it was Army Officer Daniel Tupper who won “Best of Show” for his 1939 Indian Scout. Tupper happened to be on leave from serving at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, so he decided to check out the Lone Star Rally during his reprieve which made his victory at the show that much sweeter.
Everyone’s the star of the parade when they’re cruising down The Strand at the Lone Star Rally.
In between making his dad’s sportbike pipes scream and slapping high fives with fans in the crowd, this boy was having a day to remember at the 2012 Lone Star Rally.
Marine Corps veteran Fermin Villarreal from Houston stands proudly next to his 2007 Limited Edition Dyna LowRider.
One of our favorites at the Saturday show was a Royal Enfield Bullet 500 customized by Rick Fairless’ crew which featured a slick Springer front end and the first 21-inch front wheel we’ve seen on an Enfield. The stock 500cc Single-cylinder engine has had extensive carb work in addition to modifications to its electronics and ignition while its exterior was gussied up with a heavy dose of chrome. The rear end had been reworked, too, with a chopped down fender resting between the new twin tubular rails. Up-spec ES Endurance shocks now hold down suspension duties on the rear and the cut-out tank retains some of the lines of the original but stands out more thanks to the addition of honeycomb grills. Though customizing Royal Enfields is huge overseas, it’s not as popular here in the States so it’s cool to see somebody like Fairless experiment with the platform.
Another unique moment at the Lone Star Rally bike show was provided by a passing Disney cruise ship which blasted the Disney theme song over its horn as it floated by Pier 21. People headed out to sea stood on deck and waved to the crowds gathered on the dock checking out the custom bike show. Later a cigar boat operator roared over the same waterway doing donuts and sending out big wakes as he tried to drum up business for his company by showboating offshore.
Flags of the various branches of the U.S. military also wave boldly above the pier as the Veteran Tribute Bikes were proudly on display. The building of the tribute bikes was spearheaded by industry advocate, emcee, party host, and motorcycle land speed record holder Jay Allen who arranged for Brigette Bourget, Dar Holdsworth, Mike ‘Kiwi’ Tomas and Billy Lane to each build a custom motorcycle in honor of the military branches. The motorcycles made their debut at Rolling Thunder over Memorial Day and have since been making the rally rounds, landing in Galveston for the 11th annual Lone Star Rally. Having these bikes on hand to honor those who have bravely served our country was only fitting seeing the number of veterans in attendance at the show. We had the pleasure of meeting one such gentleman, Marine Corps veteran Fermin Villarreal from Houston, Texas. Decked out in a black leather biker vest and matching leather cap decorated with patches and pins, from the ever-present “Live to Ride” logo to a “U.S. Marines – Mess with the Best, Die Like the Rest” patch, Villarreal carried his Marine-inspired aura of invincibility openly. He also stood with dignity next to his 2007 Harley-Davidson Dyna LowRider, a limited edition model with a Springer conversion up front and skulls galore engrained on controls and covers.
As the sun disappeared over the Western horizon, the party moved from the streets and into the pubs and bars around The Strand and along the seawall. Under the thatched roof of the super-sized tiki hut known as The Spot, the crowd was always hopping, music filling the air with funk from the band jamming out on the upstairs deck. Outside its doors a mechanical bull provided plenty of laughs as it flung people into the air. Inside, the margarita machine seemed to provide a never-ending supply of the agave-based elixir to revelers. We met a larger-than-life character with a great bushy beard that could easily get a job as a body double for Hagrid from Harry Potter. Interestingly enough, it was one of the Grimm Brothers, a powder coater from nearby Victoria, Texas. If you’re in the area and need to have some powder coating done, be sure to check out the work of our new friend at Victoria Iron Works.
As the 2012 Lone Star Rally winds down, we’re impressed with the way the area has rebounded in the two years since our last visit. Sure, some buildings are still boarded up and in disrepair and storefronts are still looking for suitors. But Galveston realizes the importance of the
tourism dollar and has been busy giving the area a facelift and restoring the seawall. The region’s natural wonders are one of its biggest attractions and will naturally bring people to the area as long as the infrastructure to support them is in place.
We did make a few notable observations before leaving this year’s rally. It’s surprising that despite the number of people it attracts in such a short period of time, there oddly is no OEM representation. We didn’t see any manufacturer offering demo rides, despite the beautiful riding weather. They missed a chance to get a lot of exposure for their 2013 motorcycles to potential customers. We’re also surprised at how popular LED lighting is on motorcycles in these parts. From baggers with their engines lit up in blues and greens to stretched Hayabusas with lights on their 300mm back ends to a Gold Wing that out-lighted them all, LEDs are huge in these parts. Three-wheelers were also well-represented, from conventional trikes to Victory Vision conversions to the atypical Can-Am Spyder.
The Lone Star Rally has shown amazing growth in popularity considering it’s only been around 11 years. Timing helps, seeing how it’s the last major motorcycle rally of the season. Setting helps too, and Galveston Island is proving to be a gracious host with its historic districts, beautiful beaches and accommodating weather. Organizers estimate a few hundred thousand people showed up for this year’s rally making it the biggest and best Lone Star Rally party yet and after mingling with the massive crowds, they’ll get no argument from us.