A couple of weeks ago, I partnered with Progressive Insurance to ride to my first major motorcycle rally. Since my motorcycling interests skew towards adventure travel, most of my experience has been with events of the overlanding variety. I knew Bikes, Blues, and BBQ in Fayetteville, Arkansas would be a completely different beast than my typical haunts of Overland Expo and Horizons Unlimited.
So why go to event where I’d be a fish-out-of-water? For exactly that reason. To step out of my own comfort zone, experience a different side of the motorcycling community, and to partner with a company that supports women riders.
At the Rally…
As an outlier to this part of the motorcycling community, I was in a unique position to simply people-watch and experience the rally as a newbie. Ultimately, a rally like this is an opportunity for like-minded people to come together to share in a common passion. Even if our motivations and approaches to the sport differ, we’re all riders and that’s a very large common ground.
Bikes, Blues, and BBQ is the 3rd largest motorcycle rally in the nation. The events within the rally were plentiful and included things like group rides, music, a barbeque contest, vendors, a lawn mower pull, a motorcycle parade, a vintage car show, bikini and karaoke contests, and a Battle of the Bikes custom motorcycle contest. All of this takes place across four different venues, with the hub being historic Dickson Street in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Much of the time I simply soaked in the atmosphere of the rally and chatted with some very interesting characters. That was certainly the highlight for me. The music is a crucial aspect to this particular rally and was absolutely top-notch, setting a lively tone for the entire event. Although I won’t deny there was also lots of eating happening on my part since the food offerings were quite tempting. And I love to eat.
One of the events I spent some time in was the Battle of the Bikes. It was truly eye-opening. The level of craft involved in these motorcycles is astounding. I live in a motorcycling world in which form comes a distant second to function. In adventure travel, your motorcycle is first-and-foremost a tool. To spend time amongst machines that are painstakingly constructed purely for the value of the spectacle is a new world to me. It’s not my world as a motorcyclist but I certainly appreciate and respect the level of craftsmanship of these bikes. Even for the attendees simply there to enjoy the rally, riding and exhibition are quite often equal parts of the motivation for their motorcycling.
Having said all that, there were some parts that were not terribly enjoyable. The barbeque contest at the fairgrounds turned out to be a frustration. It was disorganized and difficult to navigate for many of us. I found out I was not alone in my dissatisfaction as I overheard conversations and spoke with others. One of the organizers reminded an attendee that the event was for charity but, even so, I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation for a mismanaged event. If it’s a hassle and frustration, attendees will not be inclined to return, good cause or not.
Another aspect I struggled with was the noise. This is largely a Harley-Davidson crowd, a subset of the motorcycling community that embraces “loud pipes.” Photographing on the street amongst all of the bikes at one point became physically painful and I had to retreat to find another way to bring images and the story out of this rally.
In the end, it was healthy for me to step out of my realm of the motorcycling community and be a part of this one. I’m an ATGATT chick (All The Gear, All The Time) and I was the anomaly. It was valuable to set aside my personal feelings and experiences to understand another part of motorcycling. I don’t embrace it but it’s all personal choice in the end. And in spite of our different philosophies, these are nice people who welcomed me as the oddity.
Bikes, Blues, and BBQ is known as the “Rally with a Purpose,” providing support to many charities over its 15-year span. As the title sponsor of the event, Progressive’s role was quite large, as you can imagine. From free parking to a benefit breakfast featuring “Flo” waffles and beyond, it was a treat to watch and be a part of their efforts to develop relationships with the motorcycling community in a very personal way.
The Progressive booth at the rally was “Flo’s Chop Shop” offering manicures, boot shining, and beard trims. It was a unique and charming way to engage with rally attendees. The staff kept the atmosphere fun and light even when rally-goers were hot and tired, including myself. Watching the action at the booth proved to be one of my favorite parts of the rally.
Mad love to Progressive for their support and the chance to expand my view of the motorcycling world. Here’s a little video of my time at the rally and my journey there. You can also visit my Bikes, Blues, and BBQ Flickr album for more shots of the event.
Disclosure: I partnered with Progressive for Bikes, Blues & BBQ.