Bike Week in Mazatlan

La vida loca in paradise found

Mazatlan, Mex., Apr. 15–19—On this particular Saturday afternoon I was far, far from familiar ground. I knew that up north the last vestiges of winter were in play. Here, a very warm tropical sun shone down, with the heat kept in check by a sea breeze that rustled palm trees as it made its way from the nearby beach. Along the streets that morning, the music and chatter that drifted out of the shops went largely unrecognized by my ears. The folding money in my pocket was an array of peacock-colored bills that tested my meager mental math skills with every purchase. I was, in fact, a stranger in a strange land.

Nevertheless, standing in the middle of the Plaza de la Moto, the heartbeat and headquarters for the 14th iteration of Bike Week in Mazatlan, I felt right at home. Whatever the other differences, the predominant language here was “motorcycle” and, more importantly, everyone had the same thing in mind: “Let’s go crazy at the biggest biker bash in Mexico.” Sometimes a really good idea just cuts across all cultural lines, not to mention national borders.

Formally known as Semena Internacional de la Moto, this nearly week-long celebration of everything motorcycle in Mazatlan, which is located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, had begun revving its engine on the previous Wednesday. Starting that afternoon and continuing into the night, what would eventually turn out to be a reported crowd of some 18,000 riders—sometimes arriving with a family of three or four aboard a single bike— rolled in to register.

Sponsored by the Mazatlan Motorcycle Club, a long list of activities that would stretch out through the following Sunday included bike drag races, vendors, a custom bike show, raffles for a couple of bike giveaways, live bands, plenty of food and more beer tents per square foot than one is likely to see at any rider rally. And, while the music and general revelry at the Plaza de la Moto lasted into the early hours of the next day, the party was likely to continue at Mazatlan nightspots, in the streets, on the beach and in hotel parking lots until the sun came up. Then it was time to grab a bowl of menudo and start all over again.

Tropical pair of dice
It is difficult to describe Mazatlan and not end up sounding like one of those cheesy travelogues from the 1930s and ’40s. Still, it is a fact that this city of a million or so does have long stretches of white sand beaches, luxury hotels, a beautifully resurrected, colonial-era downtown of cathedrals and upscale shops and restaurants. Huge sculptures line the long beachfront area. There is even a casino and cliff divers, for God’s sake.

So it certainly is no news flash that Mazatlan is one of Mexico’s premier tourist destinations. Many Mexican families come here for one or more of the several special events the city holds annually. Retirees from the United States and Canada flock here to reside seasonally or even year-round in the endless condos and other housing that seem to spring up overnight. Huge cruise ships dock here and disgorge thousands of middle-aged folks in shorts and tennis shoes eager to take in the sights.

Mazatlan is also a motorcycling paradise with great riding weather (except during the rainy season in the fall). There are many colorful villages to ride to in the foothills where the roads are surprisingly well maintained. While there is a helmet law here, Mazatlan officials seem to look the other way during Bike Week.

With all this in mind, the Mazatlan Motorcycle Club initiated a very modest bike rally in the early 1990s. Many of the club members like Alberto Gallardo, a local businessman and Harley-Davidson rider, had attended rallies in the U.S. and thought, “Why not here in Mazatlan?” They tried different venues and varying formulas, Gallardo told Thunder Press, until arriving at the current venue near the heart of the city. There is plenty of room for bike parking, a vendor village, concert stage and other facilities. On Saturday evening, attendees stage for a huge ride down the beachfront boulevard that is lined with locals as if it were a holiday parade, which it is.

Back to the future
Gallardo, who owns the popular Shrimp Factory restaurant in Mazatlan’s upscale tourist area known as the Zona Dorado (the Golden Zone), has served several terms at the motorcycle club’s president. He has been involved in Bike Week here from the beginning when the event drew less than 300 people, and he told Thunder Press how important the event has become.

“We had the Secretary of Tourism, representing the governor for the State of Sinaloa, come over and open Bike Week this year,” Alberto stated, “and Bike Week is now considered the number two local event for filling the hotels and restaurants here.”

For the future, Gallardo said, Bike Week organizers may have to seek a new and larger venue. And, he said, they are looking into the prospect of bringing in a big-name American rock and roll band (ZZ Top and Steppenwolf were two that he mentioned).

“That would change the whole nature of the event,” he opined, “and really blow everybody’s mind.”

In future years, Gallardo would like to see more people riding down to the rally from the U.S. and Canada. He maintained that, while some riders have concerns about crossing the U.S./Mexico border, “it is safe as it can be.” He said as long as riders have the proper paperwork (check the requirements before leaving home), crossing the border isn’t difficult. He also wanted to dispel some of the old and outdated “we don’t need no badges” stereotypes about Mexican law enforcement, saying that, by and large, police on Mexican highways are always willing to help motorcycle riders.

Despite the bad rap Mexico gets in the U.S. press—border town drug wars and kidnappings (and, a week or so after this year’s rally, an outbreak of swine flu)—Alberto said, “There is no reason why you should be worried about riding (a motorcycle) in Mexico.”

He said rider safety and security are top priorities for Bike Week planners and that a plan was being worked on to possibly have a bike group assemble at the border for an escorted ride down to Mazatlan for Bike Week in 2010.

At least two North American riders didn’t wait for an official group to cross the border and head for Mazatlan Bike Week. Canadians Jack Webster and Greg Ashcroft rode 5,000 kilometers over 10 days from their homes in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to attend this year’s Mazatlan Bike Week festivities. What happened to them—the good and the not-so-good— hold an instructive lesson for anyone considering riding in Mexico.

Shortly after crossing the border, Jack told Thunder Press, one of their Harleys developed a problem with the front forks. Stopping in a small town in Northern Mexico, a police officer led them to a local mechanic. After dropping the bike off, a couple of other locals showed them the town, with everyone having a great time. The next morning they picked up the bike, repaired and ready for the road. The local mechanic refused to take any payment, save a Sturgis Bike Week banner the Canadians had picked up on their way south.

Full of good feelings for their fellow man, Jack and Greg headed out of town. Here the story takes another turn. A different local police officer stopped them for speeding. The fine, payable at the edge of the highway, was negotiated and the intrepid travelers continued south, albeit a little lighter in the wallet. Further along, Jack reports, they were stopped for a roadside rest break when they noticed two non-uniformed men pull up fairly near them. The pair looked to be armed with automatic weapons. Not waiting to find out more, the Canadians fired up the bikes and headed out. Once in Mazatlan, both reported having the time of their life at Bike Week. Would they ride down again? “Hell yes,” Jack said.

Ready, set, go loco
Early Saturday afternoon at Mazatlan Bike Week, participants take a deep, relaxing breath, knowing they need to pace themselves for the night’s vida loca (crazy life) that starts with a parade and ends with a huge rock concert. But at about two in the afternoon, sitting in the stands, sipping a Pacifico beer and watching the custom bike show seems like a good idea.

Unfortunately, I’ll be doing no such thing as I had been tapped to help with the bike show judging. Naturally, this was to be done in full sun and sans the suds. So, along with my fellow judges Gilberto Alcocer and Alex Santaella, I spent the next hour or so going over the entries that ranged from trikes with automobile engines to some very classy customs that would look right at home at any rally bike show. After careful consideration, we selected three outstanding bikes and awarded Gabriel Toledo Gonzalez the top prize. After this, the wise among us took a well-deserved siesta in anticipation of the long night of partying Mazatlan-style that lay ahead.

Bike Week in Mazatlan always follows within a week or so of Easter, which next year falls on Sunday, April 4. Check Thunder Press or go to (click on the stars and stripes logo for the English version) for complete details on the 2010 Semena Internacional de la Moto in Mazatlan.


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