Tremors reach to sparks

Rally finds room to grow

Reno, Nev., Sept. 25—As tens of thousands of motorcycles and folks both on and off them (30,000 bikes and 50,000 people according to official tallies) rolled into Reno, Nevada, the last weekend in September for the 2010 version of Street Vibrations, everyone—rally promoters, participants, casino owners and even vendors—was in for a big surprise.

Among them was the unauthorized and completely unofficial Thunder Press Best Rally Action Test crew. The BRAT squad—some of us watch too many television cop shows—was comprised of four people on three Harleys. Each had attended at least one prior version of Street Vibra­tions, which only meant we all had preconceived ideas about what to expect, and not all of those thoughts were positive. But, as it turned out, most of our expectations would prove pleasantly wrong.

Our “plan” was to arrive on Virginia Street in Reno and then attempt to do everything (in some quarters, this is known as “eating the whole enchilada”). And then we’d report back to HQ, PDQ. The saga of how much fun the crew had while falling woefully short of our “clean your plate” goal probably mirrors the experience of most attendees. And while much at The Vibe this year had changed, ultimately, we thought, the changes were for the better.

Where has all the glitter gone?
First off, the rally had moved. Well, not the whole thing, but a significant portion of the event was no longer located on Reno’s crowded and slightly grimydowntown streets. The Biggest Little City in the World’s venerable Glitter Gulch—a.k.a. upper Virginia Street—had lost some of its limited charm and a good deal of the accompanying energy.

It turned out that the Vibe’s vendors and special activities this year were split in half, with virtually all of the big rig vendors and many others as well decamping to some place called Sparks. (More than one slightly dazed participant was heard to mumble, “Where the hell is Sparks?”) It turns out that Sparks, while not exactly a bedroom community for Reno (more like a backroom community) was just a short bike ride away or, for some, a quick shuttle bus ride (but more on that later).

Not only that, but the official list of activities again included the historic old silver mining site Virginia City as part of the goings-on. The Reno Harley-Davidson dealership, with new ownership and a new facility off southbound Highway 395, was also officially on board the Vibe train. Even Fernly and Fallon, which are tiny, mostly agricultural towns east of Reno, got in on the act for the first time as official poker run stops. Furthermore, there were also some significant unofficial big doings in the area, such as the Hells Angels Cat House Poker Run, and a full slate of activities down at the Harley dealership in the state capital, Carson City.

Street Vibe attendees could be excused for looking a little like hungry babies in a nudist camp: There were so many choices. Concerts, rider participation events, hundreds of vendors, a raft of motorcycle stunt shows, custom bike displays, ride-in bike shows, beauty and bikini contests, bike giveaways and more, in addition to the casino action for which the region is famous.

In the end it was clear to even the most casual observer that Street Vibrations in 2010 had ex­panded and really gone regional. But the big­gest surprise—and the most pleasant one for the event’s promoters, Roadshows, Inc.—was that it all seemed to work pretty damn well. With near-perfect weather, Street Vibrations this year was a certified hoot; at least in the experience of the Thunder Press BRAT squad. It was also, according to the event’s organizers, a template for how Street Vibes will look and operate in the years to come.

Pulling the trigger
Now in its 17th year, Street Vibrations has long prospered and grown into a major national event, and with that kind of success, a fair question seems to be, “Why change anything; why mess with success?” In this case, maintains Randy Burke, president of Roadshows, Inc., necessity was the mother of expansion, particularly when it came to moving the big rig vendors and motor­cycle industry displays to nearby Sparks.

First off, organizers of events like Street Vibrations, Burke says, are “always looking to grow an event.” In downtown Reno that meant filling Virginia Street and many side streets with vendors, and then also maxing out the capacity of the indoor venue at the Events Center. Out­doors, as manufacturer’s big rigs got bigger, getting them parked on the street without blocking emergency equipment access became a serious concern.

The search for an alternate site to both ac­commodate the big rigs and to “grow” the event led Roadshows to nearby Sparks and, more specifically, to John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel Casino and its outdoor area, dubbed Victorian Square. The outdoors area is not only large, it was purpose-built, Burke says, for events that require access to features like electricity and phone lines. Roadshows dipped its toes in Sparks’ water by hosting a modest Spring Street Vibrations show there annually over the last few years.

“So we’ve known for some time that we really had to move part of the event to Sparks,” Burke told Thunder Press, “and we had some positive experience there with the spring event so this year, even with the down economy, we just pulled the trigger.”

The effect of the shot heard around the Reno/ Sparks area surprised even a seasoned promoter like Burke who said, “It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.” There were other signs that the innovations are having the desired effect. Burke said this year set records in terms of vendors and rider participation. In general, he said, people just seemed to be having more fun and, tellingly, there were plenty of shopping bags being clutched by attendees, a sure sign folks were letting go of the purse strings.

And, he said, there was a 121-percent increase in beverage sales. Burke observed that warm temperatures during the rally may have accounted for some of that jump, “but that’s an almost embarrassing statistic to report.” A happy embarrassment, no doubt.


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