Shakin’ the Sierras
Reno, Nev., Sept. 26–30—Any seasoned rider knows full well that traveling into the high desert of the Sierra Nevadas can be dicey any time of the year, but especially come autumn. Snow isn’t uncommon and wind is a regular part of the journey into the Biggest Little City in the World any time of the year, but Roadshows Productions seemed to have ordered up some pretty reasonable weather for the 24th iteration of the big-time biker blowout called Street Vibrations and riders were plenty grateful. Though Street Vibes is a rocking block party right in the heart of Reno, it’s also a riding event since day rides are scheduled throughout the area and bikers take advantage of the incredible scenery for poker runs and trips out to visit Lake Tahoe, Virginia City and the Carson Valley. As a gambling town, however, the nights are hot with entertainment opportunities as the whole city embraces their wild side when the bikers come to town.
Celebrity entertainer Erik Estrada kicked off the extended weekend as the grand marshal of the Police on Parade on Thursday. Later that night the ladies from the International Bikini Team got busy with trying to outdo each other for the honor of wearing the Miss Street Vibrations crown. These shapely sirens came from all across the country to strut their stuff for the rowdy riders and the more than attentive audience appreciated their efforts. If you’d registered as a VIP, your package included a private party, five-day parking and entry in all the hunts, runs, walks and shows as well as an official run pin and a really nice long-sleeved T-shirt. Not a bad deal for $60, or $70 if you waited until after August.
More than 250 vendors rolled into the Sierra Nevadas and took up temporary residency throughout the area. They lined the blocked-off downtown Reno roadways as visitors flooded the streets that were literally vibrating with action. Accomplished tribute bands like the all-female groups Zeparella (Zeppelin) and Hell’s Belles (AC/DC), joined Journey Revisited (Journey) and Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (ZZ Top) to entertain the masses streetside on Friday and Saturday with the crowd’s favorite headliner, Skynnyn Lynnyrd (Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute) shakin’ the streets on Saturday night in front of Harrah’s. In addition, 15 other local and regional groups entertained attendees, all for free, throughout the week on five different stages set up outside the bigger casinos, since everybody wants to get in on the action. Mostly. The “No Colors” signs gracing the doorways of the gambling joints where giveaway bikes were prominently displayed inside and slot machines lit up like Harley-Davidsons made vroom-vroom noises from the casino floors, made it clear that not everyone was welcome and caused a bit of head scratching for anyone wearing a patch. Our clan simply chose to take our business elsewhere.
Besides all the free music, there was also a bike auction and plenty of downtown activities like scavenger hunts, bike shows, stunt shows like the Globe of Death performers, street food and drinks. There were also daily slow races under the famous Reno arch each day. Just for a little added spice, local cops would swing by and take a turn down the lane on their City of Reno motorcycles to compete against whatever biker/brand happened to show up. There’s something cool about seeing that kind of competition play out, especially when the cop is bested by an unsavory character on a Harley with apes. Knowing what great riders veteran law officers are, the battles are always cause for a smile but having Mike “Coach” McNulty call the races while antagonizing not just the contestants, but the crowd too, was its own form of fun. Coach heckled bystanders for giggles before picking a lady from the crowd for each competition to serve as official flagger, which served to give an all-inclusive community feel to the races and the crowds cheered the efforts.
Meanwhile, up above the valley in the hills of Virginia City and beyond to Carson City, the ripple of the rowdy vibes carried on as riders choked the roadways. Heading out to the mountain enclave of Virginia City is a rite of passage to any newbie to SV but nobody can call their Street Vibrations complete without a cruise through the mayhem of the famous silver mining community. The ever-popular Fryed Brothers Band were rocking the joint over at the Red Dog Saloon until the wee hours on Friday night and despite a little cloud cover early on Saturday, riders of all ilk took to the 14 miles of twisties up Geiger Grade to scope out the action in the historic mining town. The wild mustangs still roam the city, girls still traded boob flashes for beads, and cops still stood by and quietly reveled in the crowd’s ability to police themselves as the tiny town is inundated with riders from around the world. Adding to the fun were the riders on their way to and from brothels during the annual Cathouse Poker run sponsored by the local Hells Angels. Just beyond the outskirts of Virginia City is another hotspot of party vibes at the Battle Born Harley-Davidson dealership in Carson City where the place was so packed it was tough to even get in.
After the outlying excursions, crowds made it back downtown for the annual fireworks over the dome of the Silver Legacy Casino on Saturday night. Immediately after the rockets’ red glare, everyone set out to participate in the Legends n’ Leather Bar Crawl that benefited the Child Assault Prevention Project of Washoe County. The worthy cause is an education-based program aimed at empowering children to be “safe, strong, and free” from abuses and every dime of the proceeds from biker’s $10 entry fee to the included bars went straight to the program. Knowing the bucks went to local kids, it suddenly seemed like a great reason to walk the streets and get liquored up before heading over to Davidson’s Distillery where everybody’s favorite family band, the Fryed Brothers, came down from the Virginia City hills and were rocking the house in Reno, too.
All in all, what the pulsing good time for bikers means for the local economy is a boon of several million dollars. According to a press advisory, a 2015 visitors study done by the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority determined that the average visitor to Reno spends about $715 a day. The typical vacationer stays 4.06 days so, doing the math, they’ve determined that guests spent about $2,902.90 per person while visiting the Reno area. Armed with the handy little pocket program provided by Roadshows, we made a point of trying hard to keep an eye on our meager budget and found free food, drinks and activities. Finding a room for under $100 a night wasn’t an easy job and the most expensive part of the budget, of course, but buddying up and sharing digs helps. Between gas, grub, dinners and dancing and a bit of imbibing, including the early-bird Roadshows registration of $60, we still managed to come in at about one third of the study’s price for a four-day stay. The biggest cost, as mentioned, lies in the casino’s habit of gouging bikers on bed space, but if you go in with a buddy it’s not quite as painful and leaves plenty of moola for all the fun stuff. Except gambling. We did not budget for drowning quarters in the one-armed bandits, but registering as a VIP is clearly the key to getting more bang for your buck since, even though the event is free and open to the public, the benefits of being a VIP adds another layer to the fun vibe plus having a free parking pass is its own reward. For the 2018 party, riders who wanted to continue the party past the Street Vibes weekend scored with the Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa in Lake Tahoe offering a party package on concert tickets and room discounts of $49 a night. So, obviously, bargains are to be had so do your homework, plan in advance and get yourself out to Reno for the 25th anniversary in 2019 since you can count on it being a biggie. You sure don’t wanna miss an opportunity to shake it up in the Sierras!