HOLLISTER, CALIF., JULY 5-6–On Fourth of July weekend, thousands of bikers rumbled into America’s little hometown of Hollister, California. Rally receipts end in the black! These two sentences have never appeared together in the history of the Hollister Rally before. In short, the revived Hollister Rally was a huge success. Estimates by organizers ranged from 50,000 attendees to estimates by police of 150,000. I find the upper number a little hard to believe, but suffice it to say there wasn’t enough room to turn around, move forward or even find the sidewalk of San Benito Street. It reminded me of being in the mosh pit at a Slayer concert, steel-toe boots and all. Let’s just split the difference and say there were 100,000 people and move on.

Thousands of bikers line San Benito Street for the return of the Hollister Rally
Thousands of bikers line San Benito Street for the return of the Hollister Rally

Hollister has a lot to offer. What other place can lay claim to being known as the “birthplace of the American biker?” That, in and of itself, is pretty awesome. Now add the excellent weather, as well. As Goldilocks would say, “Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” No oppressive Central Valley heat and no coastal fog. There are possible day trips or even overnight two-day jaunts to areas like Big Sur (in case you like the coastal fog) or the famed Cannery Row in Monterey. San Francisco is only two hours away, or maybe you just want to enjoy the local riding and drive out to Panoche Valley or down Highway 25, the best motorcycle road in San Benito County. If you did drive out to Panoche, the Panoche Inn has barbecues on most weekends, especially during the Hollister Rally. Driving south for another 50 miles or so and you’ll find the county’s only ghost town, New Idria. There’s the San Juan Bautista Mission with an old-time Western town just across the lawn. You’ll also be walking over the famed San Andreas Fault, with the western portion that threatens to slide off into the ocean at any minute. If your bike doesn’t mind the dirt, there’s the Hollister Hills Off-Road Recreational Park just outside of town and the newly christened Pinnacles National Park, home to one half of a volcanic crater that’s 200 miles north of its other half. Or you can just hang around Hollister and take in the rally sights.

Bikers were four deep in front of Johnny's Bar & Grill
Bikers were four deep in front of Johnny’s Bar & Grill

The shine from the bikes parked on San Benito Street was blinding. Just like the old days, bikes were parked on both sides of the street and two rows down the middle. The streets were closed off to all but bikes, vendors and pedestrians for almost 18 square blocks, which is all of downtown.

Large vendors like Custom Chrome, Dragonfly, Yamaha and more were there. Mike Corbin and Corbin Seats had their big open house with more vendors including Sonny Barger. My personal kudos to Mike and Corbin Seats, who never let anyone forget the Hollister Rally. Even when there was no rally, Corbin always had a huge event the same weekend for bikers to come to.

There were two beer gardens located at the north and south ends of town on San Benito with 30 bands between them and the Veteran’s Hall. On Saturday night Guerra Family Cellars, at their Peppertree Ranch Amphitheater, had sets featuring Ronnie Montrose Band Remembered (RMBR) featuring the surviving members of the original Montrose Band, as well as Great White joined by lead singer Terry Ilous and bassist Scott Snyder. Carmel Weddings was also performing wedding ceremonies and wedding vow renewals all weekend at the beer garden outside the Veterans Hall, and the $75 fee went to the Hollister American Legion Post 69. It’s reported that during the original 1947 Hollister riot, the only way to calm down the crowd was to put the band on a flatbed truck and drive into the crowd with them playing. Well, the bands at the Veteran’s Hall played out front with an antique flatbed truck behind them as a sort of tribute to those that dared to wade into the fray all those years ago and save the town from certain destruction, or so the story goes.

The Faultline Derby Devilz put on a great demonstration on 6th Street
The Faultline Derby Devilz put on a great demonstration on 6th Street

At the west end of 6th Street, Hollister’s own Faultline Derby Devilz girls were giving roller derby demos. It’s one thing to fall on a wooden track, but it’s quite another to fall on asphalt wearing shorts. Most of us who have experienced road rash can attest to that. The Christian Motorcyclists Association put on the Old Fashioned Bike Games both days. They were selected on purpose because many supporters of the rally wanted to assure there would be no wienie biting; at least in public. Local slow-riding champ Japana Hohler of Carmel Valley won the slow race on Friday. Other games played were Over the Top and Sewer Rat—you just had to be there for those. The Hollister Free Wheelers, a “power” soccer ball team, also put on a demonstration between bike games and roller derby demos. Each team plays with four individuals at a time including the goalie. Goals are scored by rolling the ball over the back line within the designated goal area, using their powered wheelchairs to move the ball.

Gawkers inspect custom builds at the AMD Custom Bike Show
Gawkers inspect custom builds at the AMD Custom Bike Show

On the other end of 6th Street, American Motorcycle Dealer was holding a custom bike show where the Freestyle class winner would be invited to show their bike and to compete in the 2nd annual AMD Invitational Custom Bike Show held in Milwaukee at the Harley-Davidson Museum during the 110th Anniversary Celebration this year. The winner of that will get to show his bike in Essen, Germany, next April at the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building. Jeff Najar from AMD said the winner will also get $1,500. The winner turned out to be Sam Baldi of Profile Cycles in Riverside, California, with his beautiful 2013 custom Softail.

Sam wasn’t there, but Shelby Thompson was. Her entry was a combined effort with Jim Giuffra from AFT Customs of Jackson, California, and the girls who work for him, including Shelby. Although her day job is a sales rep for a major wine and spirits distributor, she works for Jim on the weekends to fuel her passion—racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats with her pride and joy, Halia, a custom 2012 Honda VT750BR that was entered in today’s contest. She not only races, but also does her own wrenching. She’s had this bike up to 107.98 mph on the salt. She said, “It’s probably the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe how tranquil it was. It was very quiet, just you and the motorcycle, and you’re out there by yourself for miles on end. You can hear yourself breathing. You can hear your heart beating.” Halia would take first in the MOD Street class.

On Saturday the Top Hatters put on their annual Poker Run starting on 5th Street. So with all of that going on and the excellent riding in the area coupled with the warm weather, this could turn out to be the best rally Hollister has ever had—especially since all the bills got paid this time.

The Charlie Brechtel Band closed out the rockin' scene at the Veterans' Hall
The Charlie Brechtel Band closed out the rockin’ scene at the Veterans’ Hall


A long and bumpy road

The history of the rally is as rocky as the riot that put the town on the biker map back in 1947. In 1997 there was a Pre-Rally to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the American Biker… and to test the waters for future rallies. Organizers saw good possibilities, but 10 years of straight financial losses for the City of Hollister (with the exception of the cancelled 2006 Rally) and opposition to the rally by local law enforcement finally resulted in 2007’s Non-Rally (where the police seemingly outnumbered the bikers) and the cancellation of the 2009 rally.

So what was different this time? Gone are Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller and San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill, who led major oppositions to the rally. Current San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson was in favor of the rally, while interim Police Chiefs Captain Carlos Reynoso and Captain Dave Westrick also supported it. Westrick’s appointment as the new police chief came just three days before this year’s rally started. New faces on the City Council and a newly elected mayor, Ignacio Velazquez, changed the balance of power and influence, resulting in a unanimous and enthusiastic vote on January 8 to bring back the rally for 2013.

Another huge difference was the event manager. Once the decision to have a rally was made, Mark Cresswell, president of Worldwide Dynamics, was contacted. Mark wasted no time in getting Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys to be the official legal sponsor, and in a few scant weeks he was able to get the wheels in motion for a successful landmark rally with a lot of help from local business owners including Mike Corbin and out-of-towners like Progressive Insurance and Jack Daniel’s. Mark and his organization are well known to the industry for organizing vendors and sponsors at the Leesburg Bikefest in Florida, Laconia Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and at Bikes, Blues & BBQ in Arkansas. Mark proposed a two-day event, noting that Sunday is mostly cleanup and leaving town. He said, “Let’s wait and see if the demand is there for three days.” With the two-day event and cooperation from Chief Westrick, law enforcement costs were $114,000, one-third of the cost that Chief Miller charged in 2008. This was a key factor in stopping the rally from coming back in 2009.


And the beat goes on

Bands played both days from 11:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Local groups like the Chicano Allstars, This Side Up and The Thirsty Three really got the crowd going before tribute bands like Urgent (Foreigner) and Steel Horse (Bon Jovi) really rocked the house. Touch’d Too Much, an AC/DC tribute band to the Bon Scott era from Santa Cruz, packed the beer garden by The Vault the whole time they played. Although they didn’t look much like the real thing, they had the sound down note for note. They received the biggest applause of any of the local bands that I heard. Biker favorites Charlie Brechtel, with his rockin’ biker brand of blues, and The Fryed Brothers Band at the Veterans Hall closed out Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. Great White and RMBR closed out Saturday night at the Peppertree Ranch with a roar, especially when RMBR launched into “Bad Motor Scooter.” Hollister Christy and her husband Danny hosted a small party Saturday night after everything was done, and who should show up but Harry and Tommy Fryed along with two other band members? You just never know who’s going to show up at Christy’s. Like friends sitting around a campfire, they performed an acoustic set for all of us to enjoy. Thanks, guys; you are awesome.

Danny and Cristy Howe (center) hosted a small gathering on Saturday night that featured a surprise acoustic set by The Fryed Brothers Band
Danny and Cristy Howe (center) hosted a small gathering on Saturday night that featured a surprise acoustic set by The Fryed Brothers Band


We got you covered

Vendors, vendors and more vendors. If there wasn’t a motorcycle parked or a person standing, a vendor was occupying the space. Although the bikes were center stage on San Benito Street, the vendors covered all of the side streets. Star, a division of Yamaha, was offering demo rides of their Bolt models. The Star models have long been the cruiser design, but the new Bolt, in spite of being labeled a cruiser, looks like a direct attack on the Sportster Dark Custom line to me. BMW and Suzuki were also there, and the Harley presence was being filled by House of Thunder out of Morgan Hill.

The original Warbird FXR from Corbin in the mid-’90s was on display at the Custom Chrome tent along with its original owner and designer, Louie Casarez, now director of operations at Custom Chrome Industries. A few years ago, Rich Fulk and Kirk Taylor combined their design efforts for the Lucky Sucker, a Softail conversion kit on a 2004 Night Train. That original bike was also for sale at Custom Chrome for a mere $10,500. When was the last time you saw a bike from two of the top designers in the motorcycle industry for that kind of money? Almost anything you were looking for could be found through the various vendors. The only thing I couldn’t find was a license plate frame with the words “Hollister—Birthplace of the American Biker.” And believe me, I looked.

Hollister's Ashley Hartwig was crowned winner of the Miss Hollister Bikini Contest, while Mom and Dad were there to keep an eye on their lovely daughter
Hollister’s Ashley Hartwig was crowned winner of the Miss Hollister Bikini Contest, while Mom and Dad were there to keep an eye on their lovely daughter

What’s a rally without a beauty contest? The Miss Hollister Bikini Contest was held at the Vetera’s Hall, and fittingly, Hollister native Ashley Hartwig won the title. Mom and Dad Hartwig were right there to make sure their little darling was safe.

This was the best rally Hollister has ever had, with little to tarnish the event except for the idiot who tried to do a wheelie on San Benito Street and knocked over five parked Harleys in the process. (Anyone with suspect information is encouraged to call the Hollister Police Department. Five Harley owners would appreciate it.) Fortunately, Benito Mendoza at Thunder Road Motorcycles was able to get most of the damaged bikes upright and running for their owners. Aside from those repairs, he was working on bikes for rally goers until midnight Saturday.

There was adequate police coverage and the officers that I ran into were very friendly overall, but also keeping a very watchful eye. There were some situated on rooftops that weren’t readily seen by rally goers. When compared to the same weekend in 2012, DUIs went from one to 12, citations went from 13 to 32 and arrests went from 16 to 30. Total calls for service went from 319 to 576.

There may have been some merchants unhappy with the amount of people who came to town, but I could find no one with a complaint other than those wanting to see the event last three days instead of two or vendors hoping for a better spot on San Benito Street next year. Vendor prices ranged from about $600 for a small spot to around $5,500 for the larger spots, but most were willing to come back next year with some even wanting an upgrade. Local businesses also were happy with the additional customers.

On the Monday immediately following the event, there was a constant flow of praise at the City Council meeting where folks turned out to voice their gratitude to the city, organizers and police department. The City Council is now starting to look at a five-year approval plan for the rally, and Mark Cresswell and Worldwide Dynamics have also recently signed a five-year agreement with Hollister’s Downtown Association, subject to approval by the City Council.


Hollister Rally Bike Show First Place Winners 2013

Free Style Class
Sam Baldi, Profile Cycles, Lost Angel, 2013 Softail, $1,500

MOD Harley
Al Sanchez, Calwa Cali, 2005 Road Glide Police, $1,250

Radical Bagger
Bike Werks CA Baggers, 2007 Road King, $1,250

Retro Mod
Dalton Walker, SIK, Shknuckle, $1,000

Performance Custom
Paul Binford, Binford Custom Cycles, Captain Bad Ass, 2013 Sportster, $1,000

MOD Street
Jim Giuffra, AFT Customs, Halia, 2012 Honda VT750BR, $1,000



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