This past week at work I got a chance to do the sort of work I usually put on this blog: My editor sent me out to the Bikes, Blues & BBQ motorcycle festival for a couple of days with my camera to wander around and find what I could find.
The organizers of this relatively family-friendly biker rally say between 300,000 and 400,000 people from here and across the country take part — there’s some skeptical rumbles around here about that number, but even if it’s half that big, the potential frames out there were countless.
The rally, which ran from Wednesday through yesterday, had events and venues throughout Fayetteville and Springdale, but Fayetteville’s Dickson Street is still the rally’s heart in my mind. No other place has the constant parade of choppers, touring bikes, sport bikes, trikes and other odd vehicles, and at no other place do those motorcycles line the sides of the street for six blocks solid.
I managed to get outside of the Dickson area on a couple of occasions, first heading to the “motorcycle village” at Fayetteville’s Baum Baseball Stadium. On the train there a woman with a pink-sequined headband and big winged glasses flagged me down. “Are you a reporter?” she asked with a laugh. “Come here and listen to our story.”
Her name was Debi, and she, her husband and two high-school friends had ridden over from Tulsa. Debi had come to the rally for 15 or so of its 16 years. One of those friends was going to test-drive a Harley at the stadium and they seemed a lively bunch, so I just tagged along with them for a while.
The four are a perfect example of the rally’s primary demographic: They have kids in college or older and jobs in sales and a hair salon and embroidery, but they love to ride. “You have the wind behind you — I think of nothing else,” Debi told me. On a bike you can actually smell the orange groves in Florida or the fields in the Midwest, she said. “I seriously feel like I have wings and I’m flying.”
They were good company and very patient with the reporter hovering around them, though they were jokingly dismayed to hear I’ve never been on a motorcycle before.
Later I went off to the county fairgrounds for a barbecue competition. It’s hard to walk past thousands of pounds of juicy, sauce-covered meat around dinner time and not be able to eat it because you’re on the job. One of the cookers did pass me a delicious sliver of a whole cooked hog. The rest of it looked mouthwatering.
I headed back to Dickson for the last day; they had a “parade of power” going on in the afternoon that I wanted to see, a procession of thousands of motorcycles end to end. This rally is intensely sensory, and on no day more than the last. Harleys roared past with their signature, visceral and deafening rumble; sport bikes screeched; steel glinted from every pipe and handlebar; cigarette smoke and the smell of fried food drifted on the air.
The rally gets two main complaints around here: the traffic — the entire corner of the state can get clogged up — and the noise. Tens of thousands of motorcycles are extremely loud. At some moments Dickson Street was unbearable, and when noise hurts your ears, it’s damaging your hearing.
Speaking of, I saw a patch on someone’s vest saying “Loud Pipes Save Lives.” The point’s well-taken; Debi and her companions said they’d lost dozens of friends over the years in traffic accidents because car drivers simply didn’t see them, and one bike on a highway, even a Harley, is quiet when compared to a thousand a few feet away. I still plugged my ears every now and then, and I wasn’t alone.