Reno Biker Fest Draws More Than Just Easy Riders

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(Reno, NV)
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On Saturday night of this year’s Street Vibrations Festival, you could hear the roar of motorcycles from a half mile away in this usually quiet, residential neighborhood.

(the roar from afar)

But downtown, gangs of exotic choppers and fat boys cruise the perimeter of a 12 block area, which has become a massive biker mall, replete with revelers and vendors

(Demo guy)

Pink fur purses; black leather chaps, vests, hats, even underwear; skulls; iron crosses and the lighting bolts of the wafen SS.  Then, you come upon the tent of the Christian Motorcycle Association.  A six foot cross hangs behind bikers Don Peterson and Susie Stanbaugh.  Peterson sports a salt crusted bandana around his head, and a foo-man-choo mustache.  He defines being a biker in traditional terms

“Mostly freedom …the wind in the face and the old adage of drive where you want when you want … go where you want  … just do anything you want … that probably is what best defines a biker …”

I asked if being a Christian causes conflicts with the lifestyle.

“Some prefer to stay in the sinful world … and some prefer to get out, but it doesn’t take away from our enjoyment of the motorcycle …” 

Susie Standbaugh has her own concept of what it means to be a female biker. 

“I know my place in the biker world … when we’re amongst an outlaw club or we’re amongst some hard core bikers … even though I’m mouthy … I do not speak unless I’m spoken to … and it’s unfortunate but it’s just part of runnin’ in those circles.”

Farther on, inside the Reno events center the crowd is even thicker.  Standing before a wall of gas tanks featuring images of flags and eagle heads is a woman in tight buckskins and high heeled boots.  She’s custom bike painter Josie Laughton.  Motor cycles and the biker lifestyle, she says, are very alluring.

 “When you’re on a motorcycle, it makes you feel just … so alive … and it just has a power to it … it feels very powerful … so that’s why you see the black, the sculls, the flames, the grim reaper sometimes … and I’ve done angels and other things too but … I think it’s just the power it has.”

Back on the street, an African American biker stands out among the thousands of mostly white attendees.  His jacket is heavily upholstered with studs and pins and patches.  “Shake,” as he is known, is editor of The Black Biker’s magazine.  For him, it’s about independence. 

“One way I define it, I’m not a Democrat or a Republican … I’m a biker … and bikers don’t have to try and satisfy some platform to say what they need to say … and when they say it … they just let the chips fall where they may.”

No matter how you define a biker, poor is not the adjective.  For 2007, the average price of a Harley is up 3% to $15,290, and the average custom bike costs nearly twice that at thirty-one thousand.  And, Harley Davidson has flourished in recent years.  It’s now a larger company than General Motors.

(Finish with a Harely driving away)