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People mingle and line C Street in Virginia City to watch the Street Vibrations scene

Large crowds mingle and line C Street in Virginia City to watch the motorcycle scene

In Reno, the weather was a bit cooler and the crowds were a little smaller, but that was just fine for most of the motorcyclists who made the trip to the 2013 Street Vibrations Rally this past weekend.

Street Vibrations manager Randy Burke, put the attendee estimates around 30,000.  

The vendor space expanded this year in downtown Reno as all vendors, including those at the Nugget, were consolidated in downtown Reno.  That was a good change especially if you stayed downtown.  You might recall that in 2012, the Nugget moved vendors off Victorian Avenue and into a gated parking lot west of the hotel.  

The Street Vibrations crowd was ‘huge’ in Virginia City where hundreds lined C Street to watch the motorcycles roll through, grab some food/refreshments and toss around some beads.  In addition, the Harley-Davidson dealer in Carson City took over several blocks with music, vendors, a beer garden, motorcycle stunt performers and lots of chrome and leather.

Street Vibrations brings in an estimated $56M economic impact to the region, just slightly behind the USBC Women’s Championships ($62.9M).  

Clearly people who are enjoying themselves in the Biggest Little City is good for business.  

Unfortunately, the one downside with the big increase in the number of motorcycles in the area was one motorcyclist fatality in Reno and 4 others hurt in crashes in Carson and at Tahoe. 

Note: as a result of the 2011 club-on-club shooting (HERE), the city continued with the “No Colors” rule.  Individuals who displayed club colors (as defined by the US Department of Justice) at Street Vibrations venues and participating sponsor properties were asked to conceal them or exit the event.

Previous blog posts on Street Vibrations (HERE).

Photo courtesy of Ben.

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Virginia Street during Street Vibrations – Note LEO’s on Parking Garage

Gas prices were higher than in the movie, but Reno always takes advantage of special events that go on through-out the summer and none of them are bigger than Street Vibrations which brings in motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the world.

This year was no exception as the warmer than normal riding weather meant tens of thousands of people turned out for the 18th annual event and they were looking to spend their money!

Over the last 11+ years I think I’ve missed the Street Vibrations Rally only once.  The event typically marks the last long ride of the season for our posse.  The rain and cold winter weather will quickly kick in and last for several months limiting trips to the few dry riding days.  I’ve seen the event evolve over the years.  Some of the changes were not well received (see HERE) to say the least.  In 2010 there was club-on-club taunting during the day on the Virginia Street sidewalks (see HERE).  And then last year someone “pee’d in the pool” so’s to speak with that Sparks shootout.

Now for the first time ever visitors are not allowed to wear patches.  In fact, Roadshows Inc., the event managers for Street Vibrations, has a provision in its “Exhibit Space Contract” for this rally that “No club colors may be worn or sold in vendor booths.”   This is similar to the Laughlin River Run riot ten years ago and the changes implemented there after the biker club brawl.  And just as I predicted last year the Street Vibrations Rally is now a ‘No Colors’ event and will be going forward.

Carson City Harley-Davidson

For those of you new to the blog…the  ban on motorcycle club insignia was the result of the shootout between members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs inside John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino in Sparks.  Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, the President of the San Jose charter of the HAMC died of wounds he suffered in the fight.  The Vagos, Leonard Ramirez and Diego Garcia were also shot. Two others, Vago Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez and Hells Angel Cesar Villagrana are awaiting trial for participating in the fight. Gonzalez is accused of killing Pettigrew and Villagrana is accused of shooting Ramirez and Garcia.  It’s been reported that former Vago Stuart Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, actually started the fight with Pettigrew and he has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution of Gonzalez and Villagrana and is now free.

But, the above carnage is old news.

This year there was a noticeable increase in law enforcement presence in and around the various venues for Street Vibrations. The “no colors” policy and signage were highly visible and hotel security was clearly beefed up.  I visited left money in several of the casinos and observed a few club members wearing “soft” colors in a couple of the casinos, but it was fairly limited.  One item most noticeably missing at this year’s motorcycle newly labeled “family friendly event”… was the typical large contingent (30+) of HAMC members bristling and posturing in and around the Silver Legacy Casino bar at the foot of the antique mining rig set.

Street Vibrations is the second largest motorcycle rally in the west.  It’s the fourth largest event in the nation and includes activities in multiple locations in Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada.  And as you might expect with any large motorcycle gathering it increases the opportunity for accidents and other issues to occur.  And there were plenty.

Street Scene at Street Vibrations 2012

There were fewer crashes, but more than twice the number of arrests than last year.  For 2012 there was a total of 65 crashes investigated in the greater Reno-Sparks area. Of the 65 crashes, 25 resulted in some type of reported injury and the remaining 40 were reported as property damage only. These numbers are down from last year’s 84 crashes with 49 property and 35 injury.  However, this year there were 54 motorists arrested during the Rally period with 27 motorists arrested for DUI and the other 26 related to warrants, misdemeanor or felony arrest. These numbers were up from last year’s 23 arrests which were 16 for DUI and 7 related to warrants, misdemeanor or felony arrests.  There was one motorcycle fatality crash on Plumb Lane Sunday morning that reportedly was the result of a truck running a red light.  The 2011 stats HERE and 2010 stats are HERE.

I want to provide a big shout-out to Richard Tapia, the Carson City Harley-Davidson dealership owner.  The “Carson Event” in my viewpoint is really setting the tone and direction of where the event is heading as part of the area-wide Street Vibrations motorcycle festival.  There were more of the big vendors like you’ll find in Sturgis along with the big vendor trailers in Carson City.  Not to mention a bunch of activities aimed to wow the crowds.  Yes, the HAMC were very visible as part of the Cathouse Run, but so were the employees of the Cason City Sheriff’s office who were selling support your “black & white” t-shirts in a vendor booth in the parking lot.

Downtown Reno (Virginia Street) was a disappointment for me when compared to the Carson City event.  There were only a couple of what I’d consider to be tier-1 vendors on Virginia Street like Corbin Seats.  It was great to meet/chat with Mike Corbin.  Other than the food stalls many of the vendors were on par with a motorcycle parts swap meet.  Sparks was a lot better, but Carson City was top notch.  However, staying in downtown hotels at the greatly exaggerated prices means were paying for proximity and access.

The lack of high-quality vendors on Virginia Street might be a ploy driven by the casinos to keep people on the gambling tables, but in my view if the quality level of Virginia Street vendors don’t greatly improve folks (including me) will migrate out of downtown and this will become the Carson City Rally!

Photos taken by author.

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US342Street Vibrations is a 4-day event that brings two-wheel enthusiasts from all parts of the country to show-off customs, parade the vendor booths and enjoy the entertainment.  Oh did I mention the local rides?  Yes, there are plenty from Virginia City to Lake Tahoe as well as the various poker runs.

The weather (mid-90’s) really made for a positive experience this year.  Our entourage spent time riding out the Virginia City loop, but mostly we stayed in downtown to mingle with the crowds, talk motorcycles with riders and vendors and take in all that the casinos had to offer up in terms of entertainment.  The vendor booths were busy with crowds most all day long.  Of course there was the monster jump at the Grand Sierra Resort by Ryan Capes who broke the (ramp-to-ramp) record on a motorcycle.

Left Of Center

Left Of Center

And there were lots of bands with some top tier talent, but I enjoyed the non-headliners more. There was Saddle Tramps on the Jagermeister Super Stage and most notable was Left of Center who played the Brew Brothers pub at Silver Legacy on back to back nights.  Our group also caught a comedy club act in the Catch A Rising Star lounge which made the $15 per ticket expense seem like a bargain after all the craps table losses!

The motorcycle festival didn’t pass without incidents, however.  There were several motorcycle accidents including one fatality which I posted previously HERE.  In fact, on our ride back from Virginia City we came upon a motorcyclist who lost control and struck a wall on Griner’s Bend, a sharp curve at the south side of Virginia City on State Route 342.  In addition, Police reported there were 72 arrests made at Street Vibrations even though it was considered one of the more peaceful events! Most of the arrests were alcohol related, including 23 for public intoxication.  The police also issued 77 traffic citations and responded to six reports of stolen motorcycles.  It was a busy weekend for LEO, but what I most appreciated was the lack of SWAT teams armed with semi-automatic rifles marching in Virginia City and other areas.

tat_SSBack to the rally.  I missed the roller derby battle between the Rose City Rollers and the Battle Born Derby Demons, but you have to make a call since you can’t take it all in!  The sponsors brought back the firework display which had disappointed many last year when it was cancelled.  And then there was the tattoo expo which put body art on display and inspired one of the posse to get inked.  A big shout out to Randy Burke, owner of Road Shows who puts on Street Vibrations because it was a great event and the rally was kept fresh with some new activities.

Posse Dinner

Posse Dinner

On Sunday morning we were up early because it was all about miles and putting on as many of the 546 miles we needed to do before the heat baked the day.  From Susanville we took CA-44 through Lassen National Forest.  We headed up toward Old Station and then took CA-89 toward the town of Mount Shasta.  I like riding this route. The road is good and traffic is moving fast for a two-lane road.   It has a varied and interesting scenery.  About 60 miles south of Mount Shasta there was a forest fire in early August that raged through the area.  I believe it was the Hat Creek Complex.  More photos HERE.   We didn’t know it at the time, but there was another forest fire filling the air with smoke.  A thin layer at first, but it increased through-out the day.  It was from the Boze fire, an 11,000-acre fire near Tiller, OR and with the southerly trade winds blowing it meant we rode in it nearly all day long!

I-5_SunsetWe entered the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, rolled onto I-5 and pressed on through beautiful scenery.  Arriving at the Oregon border we crossed the 4300 foot mark at the Siskiyou Summit which is the highest point on I-5.  We then dropped down in the Rogue River valley through Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass.  Occasionally, I’d catch a whiff of toasted brake lingering in the air, proof that not everyone enjoyed the ride as much as we were!  We traversed the three passes of the Umpqua Valley and after Roseburg it was back to rolling hills.  We continued to deal with forest fire smoke.  There was a small mechanical delay which baling wire fixed in short order with a shift linkage, but otherwise we were all about miles and stops were limited to fast food and fuel.  It took just under 12 hours to make the trip home.

It was a good and safe Street Vibrations trip!

Road Trippn’ to Street Vibrations 2009 — Part 1 HERE; Part 2 HERE.

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Two-LaneThe weather, the gambling action, the leather and the chrome all attracted higher attendance for Street Vibration 2009.  Maybe the lack of hype or the “sky is falling” press about impending club-on-club violence helped?  There was a positive “vibe” in the city which I’ve not observed in a couple years.  I ask and didn’t hear much from street vendors about the current recession is the new normal… yada, yada.

As I roared out of Reno yesterday on my way home I thought about this video — “Rockin’ The Beer Gut” — a bit of truth wrapped up in a humorous ditty that tells us even though we have dangerous unemployment and we may not be perfect, don’t work on Wall Street making millions, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun!  And fun at Street Vibrations we had!  The 546 mile ride back gave me plenty of time to try and recall what stood out from years past — there was that monster jump at the Grand Sierra Resort by Ryan Capes who broke the standing 254 foot (ramp-to-ramp) record and then turned around and broke his own new record by clearing 316 feet on a motorcycle, then there were the Motorcycle “Clubs,” more than a dozen all getting along, but mostly it was about the scenic journey on two-lane tarmac with green mountains to sage brush desert which was fantastic.  The weather (mid-90’s) didn’t hurt and put the FUN back into the experience.  As well as tens of millions to the local economy.  I certainly left my small share!

The event didn’t pass without incidents, however.  More riders often means more accidents.  First, there were several motorcycle accidents on US 395 related to the set up for the monster jump.  Then there was a lady who was on the Harley-Davidson demo bike ride and wrecked.  A couple on U.S. 50 who crashed just east of Spooner Summit which sadly resulted in the only fatality at the event.  Then on our ride back from Virginia City we came upon a motorcyclist who struck a wall on Griner’s Bend, a sharp curve at the south side of Virginia City on State Route 342.  It turned out that 6 people were injured Friday afternoon, two of them seriously, in four separate accidents all involving loss of control.  The Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) reported there had been 18 motorcycle accidents over the course of the rally weekend.

The final attendance tally and the economic $$ impact will be out in a few days, but from my perspective it seemed like more people and the street crowds were bigger.  Not as record breaking as a few years ago, but none the less significant.  I plan to provide an trip chronology and will post it up over the next few days.

UPDATE: September 29, 2009 — AP is reporting that there were 72 arrest made at Street Vibrations even though LEO consider the event largely peaceful.  Most of the arrests were alcohol related, including 23 for public intoxication.  The police issued 77 traffic citations and responded to six reports of stolen motorcycles.

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Reno_NightA lot of people mistakenly assume that gambling originated in Las Vegas.  The fact is that Reno, NV gambling was the hottest and most entertaining until the 1950’s when Vegas started to staked its claim in the market and solicited clientele away.

Prior to the explosive rise of Indian Casino’s and online gambling, Reno and the Lake Tahoe area attracted visitors from all over the world and kept up nicely with the booming gaming industry in Vegas.  Although many Reno casinos closed their doors permanently and others have been transformed into condos,  the city is slowing making the climb back up the gaming destination ladder and its with events like Street Vibrations that calls motorcycle enthusiasts from as far north as Seattle and south as L.A. to help inject some much needed $$ back into the local economy.

It’s rally déjà vu and this year Street Vibrations marks its 14th Anniversary.  I’m fortunate to attend the event — often called Street “Closure” Festival by many locals — which revolves around motorcycles and related interests.  There is a diverse musical line up from rock to jazz along with Custom Bike Builders and personal ink at the Tattoo Expo.  A lot of quality food and drink sprinkled among the thousands of attendees and rows of shiny chrome top off the event which keeps getting better every year.

For those of you traveling the Oregon highways you may want to take note that 21 new Oregon State (OSP) troopers will be sworn in this Sunday (Sept 20).  These new troopers are being deployed across the state and are the first group of 39 new positions authorized by the 2009 legislative session which will help OSP return to around-the-clock coverage in many offices.

Lastly, road trips present certain blogging challenges for me.  I don’t blog from the road.  But, this time I’ll pay closer attention to what those challenges actually are and see if I can determine how to deal with them.  Clearly others have mastered remote blogging, vblogging (video blogs) and do the “tweet” thing from their saddle.   I’ve been slow to jump on this motorcycle road warrior trend especially when it’s a vacation.  Besides like many others I get distracted with the roar of the engines, the entertainment and soaking up the displays in the vendor booths.

Our entourage heads out in a few days.  See you in Reno.

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Virginia City

Virginia City

What a great couple of days. Terrific t-shirt weather, easy riding and we’ve been here in Reno with a bunch of good riding friends.

On our third day (Friday) we seperated into a couple groups and one drove the Virginia City, Carson City to Reno loop. Those of you old enough to remember the TV show Bonanza might be interested to know that the Ponderosa Ranch, home of the Cartwright’s is in the area.  Many believe it it’s in Virginia City, but actually Virginia City only hosted a back lot for the filming of the TV show.  The Ponderosa Ranch was actually a theme park in Incline Village, near Lake Tahoe.  It was shut down in the late 1990’s, but you can read lots more HERE.  Bonanza ran from 1959 to 1973 and was behind Gunsmoke as the longest running Western TV series.  I have an aunt who co-wrote a couple of the shows, but I don’t have a clue which ones.  It’s a cool area to ride in and the Ponderosa Pines are massive and the views are spectacular.

We arrived in Virginia City (pop. 1000) which still has much of the same character and ambiance it was famous for, and some of the same businesses (brothels), for which it is now infamous.  Named after the Comstock Lode which was an exceptionally large and rich mineral deposit of Silver, the city is directly built over the “lode” and was mined for years.  We leisurely wandered through many of the old buildings. Most have been converted from saloons and brothels to retail stores: cowboy clothes, leather goods, tourist trash, etc., however you can still see much of the original building details: large mirrors found on walls behind the various bars, the bar itself, or areas set aside for the honky tonk piano, gambling tables, and the infamous stairway to the rooms upstairs where a hard working miner or cowboy could find friendly companionship.  We enjoyed a $5 combo hotdog and beer lunch while watching the SWAT teams invade, oops I mean lurk in doorways in this rustic city.  Estimates had the biker crowd in Virginia City as high as 15,000 during the busiest part of the event.  Afterward the hotdogs we headed east out of town toward Carson City.

Speaking of the “companionship” business.  All indications are it’s going strong…. several of us made our way over to Mound House (about 6 miles east of Virginia City) to what’s called “The Ranch”…a set of connected trailers owned and operated by Dennis Hof for a “what’s-a-nice-girl-like-you-doing-in-a-place-like-this” tour.  Dennis is a TV personality and most visible as the owner of the Bunny Ranch and who starred in the reality TV show Cathouse: The Series on HBO.  I met him last year.  This year it was slow due to the poker run being on Saturday.  Sponsored by the Hells Angels and called the “Cat House Poker Run” many motorcycle enthusiasts go from business-to-business and participation is high…we had other plans. 

Skynnyn Lynnyrd Band

Skynnyn Lynnyrd Band

From the Ranch we rode to the Carson City Harley dealer.  The new building is located on 2900 Research Way just off US 395.  It took us awhile to find it because last year it wasn’t in this location!  We ran into the other half of the riding posse who were getting some parts and enjoyed various activities from burn outs to rock bands at this venue.

We headed back into Reno after a long and fun day. We grabbed dinner at the Eldorado Hotel in the Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant called Golden Fortune. Afterward we did a bit more vendor booth hopping and decided to catch a Harrah’s show.  Turns out that Skynnyn Lynnyrd (a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band) rocked out the plaza for some good sets. For comparison here is a video of Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1977.

Read more about the Street Vibrations trip at Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5.

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The story of Chicken Little is an allegory about alarmists, which concludes with an admission about ill-founded apocalyptic predictions.

Thinking about how “The Sky is Falling“…on my return ride from Street Vibrations yesterday…I couldn’t help but wonder if the speculation, rumors, concerns, worry and numerous citizen calls created an apocalyptic “environment” for the rally? 

SWAT

SWAT

I was in Virginia City during “Street V” and I’ve never witnessed (in the U.S.) so many submachine guns, stun grenades and specialized fire arms attached to so many SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) members… all of them willingly ready to perform dangerous operations.  They were there to prevent another motorcycle rally from going sideways or prevent a terrorist attack by stud-n-leather clad motorcycle riders! 

Talk about taking apocalyptic prevention measures… turns out that Virginia City pulled out all the stops (and city budget $$ too!) to have these specialized paramilitary tactical units “lurking” in doorways and engage any potential armed criminal or take down with steel reinforced boots any dangerous biker who ate one too many $5 combo hot dogs and beer.

Supposedly the apocalyptic predictions started just a few days before the Street Vibrations.  Rumors started about biker “club” tensions or retaliation as a result of the San Francisco’s HAMC chapter president, Mark ‘Papa’ Guardado who was shot outside a bar earlier this month. He was a high-profile figure in the motorcycle club.  A rival Mongols “club” member,  Christopher Ablett is a suspect in the case.  Since the funeral there has been a pipe bomb explosion in San Jose aimed at members of the Mongols.

Phone calls flooded the Nevada police lines with residents stating their concerns of biker violence spilling over into Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Virginia City.  As a result the law enforcement agencies beefed up and planned for the worst of the worst.  I didn’t see it, but it’s likely snipers with high-powered rifles and night vision optics were watching my every hot dog bite and beer burp?

Virginia City Police

Virginia City Police

There are so many analogies between motorcycle events and that of Chicken Little.  The first is that all the doom and gloom are unnecessarily alarming.  Second, they expose the inability of the average (non-motorcycle riding) citizen and their motorcycle hating followers to process relevant information and synthesize rational, appropriate interpretations.  The majority of people and motorcycles at Street Vibrations are recreational riders and this was overkill to the power of TEN.  An incredible show of AGGRESSION or police force which did NOT correctly interpret the situation or was supported by the facts. 

Yes, there was a large “Red and White” presence at Street Vibrations.  I saw a number of Vagos, Henchmen as well as many other “clubs”.  Many of the clubs have a no colors rule and were not highly visible, but you could easily tell if a group were part of some “gathering”.  I did not see Mongols.

I believe that law enforcement were tricked and fell for “the sky is falling” trap!  It’s another example of how the Outlaw Motorcycle “Clubs” behavior helps set the overall “tone” for many motorcycle events and the police agencies worked in cooperation to miss-interpret.

To be fair, the Sheriff reported that on Saturday there was at one point about 11,000 bikers in Virginia City and they arrested 6 people.  One for domestic violence, 2 for DUI, and the remainder for disturbing the peace and indecent exposure. 

Yeah, the sky is falling…

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