Having grown up just outside of Las Vegas I always saw caravans of bikers passing through town on their way to the Laughlin River Run every April. This past weekend I decided to finally join in on the event, as it kicked off its 31st year of festivities. The plan was to check out the vendor areas, maybe see some bands but most of all to experience what the area had to offer the person that was there to ride above all things.
Situated on the Colorado River on the Nevada and Arizona border, Laughlin is a small casino city that lacks the polish and glamor of Las Vegas. The usual crowd is those looking for cheap accommodations, inexpensive grub or a place to gamble after a long day on the water. But once a year the Laughlin River Run brings a different flavor of tourist. The parking lots are full of cruisers rather than Priuses and Buicks, and the sound of V-Twins rumbling down the street can be heard over the constant din of slot machines eating some shmucks hard-earned cash. Each casino has a vendor area with tents and booths that could drain wallets quicker than the aforementioned slots, but at least you’ll be leaving with something shiny for your machine.
Attendance for the River Run has rebounded, with reports of 70,000 in attendance over the course of the rally. That’s an increase of 15% over last year and a large jump from the numbers we reported on in the 2011 Laughlin River Run Review. There was speculation that the low numbers in the past had to do with the heavy police presence and the same could be said for this weekend. As for what we witnessed, the amount of officers on the streets and roads was noticeable but not oppressive or heavy handed. In fact, when one of the riders in our group had bike problems, an officer chased us down and escorted the group back to the location of our lost crew member.
The parking lots were full of bikes all weekend at the 2013 Laughlin River Run as attendance peaked at 70,000.
According to the three agencies that police the area, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Mohave County Sherriff’s Office and Bullhead City Police Department, incidents of all type were lower this year. In the actual city limits of Laughlin 16 arrests were made over the five days of the River Run and only a handful of accidents were reported and no fatalities.
All the shows and displays were great to check out, but I was there for one thing and one thing only – to ride. And ride I did. After arriving in Laughlin at about 10 a.m. on Thursday, we quickly checked into the hotel and headed out for the first big ride of the weekend. Crossing the bridge over into Arizona we made our way over to Lake Havasu along the road to Topac. Once there we stopped by a massive display of wealth and horsepower called Desert Storm. This boat regatta draws some the fastest and most expensive boats in the world to the home of the London Bridge. For any horsepower freak, the 150-mile round trip cruise is worth your time during the River Run.
For Friday the requisite ride to Oatman was on the agenda. If you don’t visit this old mining town turned tourist trap and wild burro paradise during your visit to the Laughlin River Run, you have completely failed in getting the entire experience of the rally. When our group arrived around high noon the main street of old Route 66 was lined with so many bikes, any open space was fair game for parking. It’s quite a unique experience dodging donkeys looking for a handout while checking out the plethora of cruisers. We dropped into the Oatman Hotel to wet our whistle and then it was on to Kingman, Arizona to check out the crowd at Mother Road Harley-Davidson.
Before stopping off at Mother Road we grabbed a bite to eat in the cool air of the Hualapai Mountain Resort, which is just a 12-mile detour up into the pines above Kingman. Good food and good music make this a recommended side trip if you plan on riding this direction. Once at Mother road H-D we wandered through the vendors area that included displays from companies such as Arlen Ness. With the sun beginning to hang low it was back to Laughlin with a straight-line blast down Highway 68.
I used Saturday to roam the vendor booths that were grouped along Laughlin’s main drag. The rows between the displays were jammed full of people looking for everything from booming stereo systems for baggers to event t-shirts. Some of the larger tents from companies like J&P Cycles, Vance & Hines and Performance Machine looked to be doing quite a bit of business offering installation of purchases right there on the spot. It’s good to see people are spending money on bikes once again.
The Laughlin River Run Custom Bike Show at the Colorado Bell Casino saw a modest contingent of bikes vie for $1500 in cash and prizes, and it was Sam Baldi who took the Best in Show honors with a very slim and smooth creation named “Lost Angel.” The Patrick Racing 113-powered masterpiece is a tribute to his first granddaughter that was lost during his oldest daughter’s pregnancy. Exceptional paintwork, clean lines and some of the nicest wheels I’ve ever laid my eyes on put “Lost Angel” over the top for the judges.
My personal favorite custom at the show was Troy Lepird’s Buell-powered “Brutal” café racer. Lepird and Envy Cycle Creations of Peoria, Arizona started with a 2005 Firebolt XB12R and basically tossed everything but the powerplant and front-end. The rest is a full-on custom-built masterpiece that would look just as good on the racetrack as on display.
Tro Lepird’s Buell-powered cafe racer was a crowd favorite and took the runner up award in the Custom Bike Show.
We missed out on the concerts by Travis Tritt, Foghat, and Blood, Sweat and Tears as we rode well into the night on Friday and Saturday. I’m not a fan of any of those bands anyways, but the arenas looked packed and we could hear the crowds and music rising from the stage each night. The shows received positive reviews from fellow attendees in the elevators on the way to our rooms.
After a few down years due to a slow economy, I think it’s safe to say the Laughlin River Run is back to full force. There is so much to do and see that it’s tough to fit it all in in just four days, but rest assured, there is something for everyone. From the concerts to the displays to the excellent riding, the River Run is a fun-filled rally that exceeded my expectations. I now know why riders flock to the heat-soaked strip of casinos on the Colorado River once a year. I’ll be back for sure.