On A Roll

On A Roll

Rally grows up to be regional event



NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Colton Williams and Elijah Williams, 5, of Fayetteville walk through rows of motorcycles at Pig Trail Harley-Davidson in Rogers, AR on Saturday, September 16, 2017. Pig Trail Harley-Davidson in Rogers has had their own event during Bikes and Blues for a decade now. They are bringing in an extra 100 employees for the event Frank Hardman, general sales manager, said. In addition, he said they expect to sale about 200 motorcycles through the event.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Colton Williams and Elijah Williams, 5, of Fayetteville walk through rows of motorcycles at Pig Trail Harley-Davidson Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Rogers. 

Throttle jockeys can get the Bikes, Blues & BBQ experience without ever running tread on Dickson Street.

What started in 2000 as a gathering of a few hundred riders to benefit Meals on Wheels has blossomed into a sprawling, thunderous regional event. Organizers quickly realized they needed to spread the traffic burden from the main drag downtown and in 2002 started strategically placing road barriers and tents. The festival has grown exponentially ever since.

Exhibitions have gone up at Baum Stadium, and campers have settled in at the Washington County Fairgrounds for about a decade. Arvest Ballpark in Springdale became a satellite venue in 2014 with car and motorcycle shows and barbecue cook-offs. It marked the first officially sanctioned venue outside of Fayetteville and has grown from a two-day affair to all four days of this year’s festival.

Pig Trail Harley-Davidson in Rogers has had its own mini-rally outside the store since 2007. A new addition this year, Bikes on the Bricks, will offer riders a chiller vibe, courtesy of the Rogers Downtown Partners.

Eureka Springs, already known as a tourist destination, has become a second home of sorts to the rally because of its scenic rides and lodging. Riders frequently book a year in advance.

The regulars got savvy about the experience, said Mike Maloney, executive director of the Eureka Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission.

“Let’s put it this way: Not everybody will ride up and down Dickson Street because there are so many motorcycles,” he said. “But for a lot of people that’s an OK thing.”

Fayetteville officials are OK with it, too. The rally’s regional reach doesn’t take away from the city’s piece of the proverbial pie, because with an estimated 325,000 to 350,000 participants, there’s plenty of pie to go around.

Shiloh struttin’

The natural progression of the rally lent itself to expand north, said Tommy Sisemore, executive director. With Pig Trail in Rogers and the festival’s main hub in Fayetteville, Arvest Ballpark right in between seemed like a perfect fit, he said.

New attractions this year in Springdale include a demo truck with all the latest and greatest Harley-Davidson models available for test ride. The Full Throttle Stunt Riders on Friday and Saturday will put on a high-energy show. Of course, the car show will be there. The latest models from Everett Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat will be, too. Snap-On will have tools on display to go with the motorcycles.

In Fayetteville, participants usually grab a turkey leg and meander about. In Springdale, they’ll be able to sit down, like in a restaurant, and have a pulled pork sandwich. And beer sales will be available throughout the rally this year, just like the beer gardens in Fayetteville.

The idea wasn’t to expand for the sake of it but to cultivate a partnership that made sense, Sisemore said.

“We’re going to continue to try to grow and cultivate Springdale and push people downtown now that they’ve started the downtown revitalization program,” he said. “They’ve got some great entertainment spots at bars and some nightlife.”

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said he’s heard residents talking about organizing a ride through the city. Construction might prevent that now, but that won’t be the case in a year or two, he said.

“I can see it being a real attractive place for some expansion of Bikes and Blues events,” Sprouse said. The Springdale City Council unanimously voted in August to recognize Bikes, Blues & BBQ as a city-approved special event.

Roger, Rogers

The Pig Trail rally on Hudson Road is independent from Bikes & Blues, although the store serves as a sponsor. Sixty to 75 vendors sell food, T-shirts, merchandise and leather goods. About 400 motorcycles will be on display for sale.

Mike Hall, who works in marketing for Pig Trail, estimated 25,000 to 35,000 riders attend during peak times on Friday and Saturday, although it’s hard to know for sure. Heritage Indian Motorcycle of Northwest Arkansas is just down the street.

“It just keeps getting more and more and more,” he said. “We’re to the point now where we rent out any available space around us to use for parking just to handle the volume of traffic we have during the rally here.”

A few miles away, downtown Rogers will have its first bikes-themed event. The local merchants association, Rogers Downtown Partners, coordinated with rally officials, but it’s not an official rally event, said Julie Loose, a board member.

“We just wanted, with the area tourists and the motorcyclists here in town, to offer them something they can’t possibly get in Fayetteville, which is more of just a laid back setting,” she said. “We have a beautiful historic downtown, and we’ve got everything they want.”

An organized ride was scheduled for this morning, starting in Fayetteville and heading to Rogers for lunch. From there, the group will head to Eureka Springs for some shopping.

Perhaps most notably, Ozark Vintage Motorcycle Association will have its vintage motorcycle show at Frisco Park. It has been at Arvest Ballpark.

Pieces of the pie

It got harder for riders to find lodging about year five or six of the rally, once crowds swelled to more than 100,000. That’s when Eureka Springs saw a boom, Maloney said.

“They found if they rode not too far to the east, about 45 minutes away, they had a whole town at their disposal,” he said. “They had plenty of lodging, Monday through Friday, which was hard to find in the [NWA] corridor.”

Maloney estimated 10,000 riders come into Eureka Springs every year although the city isn’t directly associated with the festival. The riders serve as a huge economic asset with money spent on dining, lodging and refueling, he said.

“I equate Bikes, Blues & BBQ as ground zero in the eye of the hurricane, and we get the bands of wind and everything else that goes along with Bikes, Blues & BBQ in Eureka Springs,” he said. “It’s like dropping a rock in the middle of a pond, but we get the big, big ripples.”

Sisemore said the crowds the last few years in Fayetteville haven’t waned with rally-goers staying in Eureka Springs or hanging out in Rogers.

“Rather than try to keep everybody condensed down into one area, it makes more sense to be able to spread it out to the outlying areas,” he said. “Bikes, Blues & BBQ is definitely a regional rally.”

Better with age

Over the years the rally has gained new venues in Fayetteville and unofficial ones in other Northwest Arkansas spots, which means it’s attracting more and more people, said Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. From the city’s perspective, that’s a good thing.

The charitable beneficiaries of the rally are regional entities, so it makes sense the region would come together during the rally, Clark said. The $200,000 commitment over 10 years the rally made last year to Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital in Springdale is something everyone will benefit from, Clark used as an example.

The rally bills itself as the country’s top charity rally. It has donated more than $1.5 million since 2000, according to organizers. Last year’s beneficiaries included 7 Hills Homeless Center, Habitat for Humanity and the Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault.

More attention regionally means more attention nationally, which can translate into more economic opportunities for the city, Clark said. Tourists, businesses or organizations that might not otherwise hear about Fayetteville will as the rally’s scope grows, he said.

“It’s all good, and it’s only getting better,” Clark said.

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