Perhaps no other city in the world is a better fit for a custom bike event than Sin City.
Las Vegas Bike Fest is like many other bike events in their infancy. Needing to pull a profit right from the beginning, numerous events are planned so that you need to pay a registration fee to get in to. In the end the mob always rules and the competition will eventually start using the crowd drawn by your pay-only event and siphon off the paying customers with "free" events nearby at the same time, fuelled by alcohol sales and other peripheral income streams.
Right now there are mature events, run by local governments and some of the big stakeholders, like Sturgis and Daytona, that basically are a conglomeration of events, mostly without charge. You also have what I'll term Adolescent events, like the Laughlin River Run. There is still a pay-to-play element to them, but due to their success, there are a ton of things to do whether or not you are an actually "official" rally participant. In fact, many rallygoers are blissfully unaware of the "official" rally at all. And then you have Newborn events, like Las Vegas Bike Fest, now in its second year.
They're so small, the town they're in barely knows its there. Especially when you're talking about a crowded touristy place like Sin City, you can get lost in the jungle. Still what better place for a Biker Bacchanal?
Being a naturally cheap person, I decided to check out the free events first. Okay, it wasn't the first thing I did. The first thing was getting schooled to the tune of $80 at a State Line poker game. Starting "hot" is never the right way to get into a poker game for me, makes me cocky. but that's a story for a whole different genre of magazine.
A free concert by 38 Special pulled in the crowds at the Freemont Street Experience.
Heading into town, I decided to hit the free concerts downtown at Freemont Street. While riding out Friday afternoon there were a good number of bikes rumbling out from LA. But here, at the theoretical epicenter, there were no more bikes than I'd expect at a local Bike Night. The host hotel of the event, the Plaza, had some bikes out front, but nowhere was the overwhelming crush of chromed steel and studded leather that is the hallmark of a bike event. Sorry, bike people in a larger quantity than normal is just not enough to get the full effect.
So, yeah, there were quite a few biker-types strolling the canopied length of Freemont Street, but no bikes. A sign at one end explained it all: no bike parking, go to some structure a block away. As much as I was tempted to go hang out at the structure just to get my sea-of-bikes fix, being stuck with a hundred morons with straight pipes in an enclosed space is possibly my personal version of hell.
On the upside, the .38 Special concert was free to all who wanted to come on down. This also meant that the bike rally was mixing with both the general population and whatever tourists happen to be in town. a good thing for public image if nobody gets shot, and nobody did. On the downside, it was a further dilution of the "groove" you get at a normal event.
Still jonesing for that groove, I rode over to the strip to check out the Harley-Davidson Cafe. A wise man would have taken a back street and avoided the Strip, but I'm not a wise man, only a wiseass. Luckily, my bike has a radiator.
There wasn't much of a crowd at the Harley-Davidson Cafe, but at least Billy got to chow down on some tasty BBQ food.
The H-D Cafe was a step in the right direction, with at least a closed-off taxi-stand devoted to the chrome ponies, but still only about the equivalent of Bike Night in Anytown USA. In fact, it was ironic that the crowd was about as many sportbikes as cruisers, and there were a good number of metrics here as well. A waitress inside told me that while business was definitely up a bit, this is basically what a Friday night was like. I got a table inside of a minute. By the way, the sign that advertises the "The Best B-B-Q in Las Vegas" is not just bluster, it's actually pretty damn good.
With that, I'd had enough, and went back to my host hotel, the Sahara (thanks to generous subsidies for poker players), to turn in. Okay, not really, I actually hit the poker tables and made $45. For those keeping track, that left me only $35 down.
Pay to Play
The following day, I decided to bite the bullet and go out to the pay event at the Cashman Center, site of the vendor areas and the "Artistry in Iron" show with some of the top builders in attendance. It seems odd to pay $10 to essentially go shopping, but for freeloaders like me, it's a bargain at twice the price.
This radical chopper from Strokers Dallas is painted in owner Rick Fairless' inimitable style. Cool wheels.
Getting to the Center, I finally got that feeling I was lacking. That almost suffocating feel of being completely immersed in Bike Culture that you can only get from a parking lot full of motorcycles. Here were thousands of bikers happily parting with ten bones to congregate in the vicinity of motorcycles, instead of having them cloistered away in a parking garage a block away. It almost brought a tear to my eye it was so beautiful.
Once through a rigorous 10-point safety inspection, wherein my camera gear was deemed to not pose a threat to the population of the vendor area, I entered the Cashman. Here Las Vegas Bike Fest really shines. While still a relatively small event (claimed attendance for '04 was 30K, no figures yet for '05 but most from-the-hip estimates had it at about the same levels), the custom bike builders and aftermarket were out in force. In addition to a close proximity to Los Angeles and Phoenix, as well as Vegas having a good bike industry buzz itself, it's probably not hard to convince most industry types to take a leap of faith and go party in Vegas for a few days. Twist my arm a little harder. It was a feast of chrome and billet aluminum that many a large regional event would be eager to dine on.
In fact, the Cashman was so well attended that this event might soon outgrow its current home, as it was pretty crowded as is. If the Fest grows up into an 80K+ event, they'll need bigger digs.
For the second year in a row, Canadian Roger Goldammer took the show's top award for his slinky single-cylinder creation, "Trouble."
The centerpiece at the Cashman was the Artistry in Iron show, complete with autograph sessions with the builders. Just about all of the builders were very friendly and approachable, taking pictures with the fans and answering a never-ending series how'd-they-do-its. Marquis names like Roland Sands, Jesse Rooke, Cory Ness, and Jim Nasi were all in attendance, and all got beat (for the second year in a row) by a gentleman from British Columbia named Roger Goldammer and his single-cylinder creation "Trouble."
After a long stroll around the grounds, and gawking and soaking it up, and dehydrating in the desert sun, I was done. Due to a tight schedule, I was out first thing in the morning, so that was the sum total of my Vegas bike adventure. Okay, not really, I needed to leave another $35 on a poker table before I left.
In addition to the Cashman Center, there were a number of other events that were attached to the broader Fest including: a 'ride-in' bike show Friday for all the people without a TV show; Sin Fest at the Plaza (which frankly, I was afraid of); the grand opening of the Vegas rendition of NYC hotspot Hogs and Heifers; a $100,000 poker run, and other bike events standards like a wet t-shirt contest and Mr. and Ms. Bikefest competition.
Top 10 New Products Seen at Las Vegas Bike Fest '05
The editorial gods at MUSA wanted me to get the skinny on all of the hot products being show at the 'Fest. So, doing my best rendition of what would happen if they let Starsky and Hutch's Huggy Bear host the Oscars, here's the winners! (Items not shown in main article can be seen in the accompanying photo gallery.)
Best Use of a 100-pound Block of Aluminum:
Custom wheels from Colorado Customs make the univeral bio-hazard symbol into a thing of beauty.
Independent Cycles, best known for their frame kits and air suspension, has gotten into the wheel market. Machined from a big hunk of high-grade aluminum, these of wheels are stylish and shiny, yet understated and elemental. Independentcycleinc.com
Miss Michigan Award: (or the Best Accessories to Pull the Hotties):
Strip Club Choppers has pegs and controls designed to woo the opposite sex like no other. If the mud flap vixen doesn't do it for you, take it to the next level with these pole-equipped honeys. Machined from aluminum billets, of course, and threaded for universal custom fitment. Stripclubchoppers.com
Product most likely to get you better service at a fancy restaurant:
Titty Tops makes a fine array of women's apparel designed to celebrate the human mammary glands (and silicone ones too!). They come in several styles (t-shirt, tank top, boy beater, etc) each with a witty saying that has something to do with boobs. They come in any color you want, but you better want black. Tittytops.com
The Esoteric Innovation award goes to:
Havoc Industries for their high-output alternator kit. While many can see the potential value in more juice for your system, this product has specific appeal to me for one reason: sealed magnets. The rotor on most Harleys has magnets glued to the inside of the housing, while on this one they're contained within the silver ring. I have an old '80's Sportster than once lost a magnet, which proceeded to maul the other magnets and make a big ass mess inside my primary drive. nuff said. Havoccyles.com
Excellence in engineering award:
Colorado Customs may have picked this bio-hazard design for purely aesthetic reasons, but in fact, the arch is one of the strongest shapes structurally-speaking. Just check out most bridges, with a cantilevered arch underneath or an arch framing the middle of the bride, or even the reverse arch of the support cables on a structure like the Golden Gate. Coloradocustom.com
Danger Will Robinson! Award:
Aim Corp's new auto clutch will give your tired left hand relief during those walking-speed cruises at your favorite bike rally.
Dragonfly Cycle Concepts specializes in windscreens and fairing, so it seems a natural extension to put one of these trick little in-dash DVD players on a bike. just don't ride and veg out in front of the TV at the same time. The screen folds down and tucks away in the dash for safe keeping. Dragonflycycleconcepts.com
Ultimate Rally Accessory:
At most bike events getting around the main drag is, literally, a drag. While it may be fun to ride to and fro checking out the scene (really, the definition of cruising) all that starting and stopping will wear out your clutch hand in a hurry. Unless you have an auto clutch. Using drag race technology, AIM Corp's auto clutch disengages the engine any time engine rpm falls below a tunable threshold, and progressively locks up the clutch at higher rpm, making for slip-free performance from the most high-horsepower engines. Aim-tamachi.com
Best Dual Purpose Accessory:
No, we're not talking about parts for your old KLR. Tauer Machine makes this cool belt guard in either the nasty black finish shown here, and in the more traditional polished finish. What's cool is that it's also an oil cooler (inset), essentially turning what is one of the ugliest accessories on the planet into a very attractive package that is claimed to give a 25-30-degree engine temp drop. Tauermachine.com
Best use of Pneumatic Power:
A clever oil cooler is integrated into Tauer Machine's new primary belt guard.
Many adjustable-height airbag systems have been made to work within the confines of a stock frame, and this 8 Ball rolling chassis is designed around an air bag rear suspension for a cleaner look and a greater range of adjustability. Oh yea, it'll fit a 300mm tire out back. 8ballmfg.com
The Prestigious Milking the Cow Award:
Kiwi Indian Motorcycles has been building complete newly assembled Indian Replicas for a few years now, but recently came to the realization that some of their handmade parts might be of use to someone building a custom chopper. This leaf-spring front end is a good example, while not providing the plush, damped ride of a modern suspension, you will probably be the only one on your block to have one. Kiwiindian.com
Finally, the "This List Goes to Eleven" Award:
Okay, I don't really want to ride it, and I'm not sure I want to sit on it, but you gotta love the clean lines of this bicycle (dubbed the Sick Bike) from Wicked Bros. wickedbros.com
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