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Thursday, March 29, 2018 12:07 am

The bikers are coming

Bikers from near and far flocked to the 2014 Bikers National Roundup in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo courtesy of the Tulsa World.

 

The nation’s largest convention of African-American motorcycle clubs is coming to Springfield.

The National Bikers Roundup, scheduled for Aug. 1 through Aug. 5 at the state fairgrounds, will feature sundry motorcycle shows, stunt riding, music, food, open-air markets but, according to organizers, no beer vendors.  

Launched in 1977, the five-day event in past years has drawn tens of thousands of people from across the United States and is considered one the nation’s biggest motorcycle rallies. While it is advertised as a place to hang out, visit with old friends and camp, plenty of folks now tote bikes on trailers and spend nights in hotels, which might be wise, considering that last year’s 40th anniversary gathering in Kansas City was cut short by epic rain and flash floods.

The event began in Kansas City with a gathering of fewer than 50 bikers. Still held in Kansas City at least once every 10 years, the annual roundup otherwise travels from one city to the next, hosted by local clubs. This year’s host clubs include chapters of the Ram Rods, Thunder Wheels, Night Owls, Black Souls, Upsetters, Stagecoach Riders, Dirty Dozens, Street Soldiers and Sin City Desciples.

Past host cities have included Las Vegas, St. Louis, Atlanta and Tunica, Mississippi, where the sheriff’s office in 2013 issued a pre-event press release to discourage drinking while driving and other problems. An estimated 30,000 people showed up, according to Randy Stewart, chief deputy of the Tunica County Sheriff’s Office, but there were no issues.

“Sometimes traffic backed up, but, overall, it went smooth,” Stewart said. “I don’t think we made any arrests of anyone associated with the biker roundup. There were, maybe, some minor disturbance calls, alcohol-related, but I don’t believe anyone was arrested. They were that quiet.”

Reviews were much the same after the 2015 roundup in Darlington County, South Carolina, where police reported no arrests while business owners raked in cash. The owner of a local gas station told WFSB television in Myrtle Beach that he realized six months’ worth of sales in five days. Restaurant owners also were pleased. “I met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so it was great,” Danny Watson, owner of the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant, told the station.

Chief deputy Joe Roesch of the Sangamon County sheriff’s office said that the department has been working with event organizers to ensure that everything will run smoothly.

“Everything I’ve heard about this organization is very good, and I don’t expect any problems at all,” Roesch said.

It will be the sort of gathering where families feel welcome, with no nudity or bellicose behavior tolerated, Rozell Nunn, roundup chairman, says. “This isn’t Sturgis,” Nunn said during a recent planning visit to the fairgrounds. While clubs hosting the event are dominated by aficionados of Harley-Davidsons, all makes and models of motorcycles and all types of riders will be welcome, he said.

Members from hundreds of clubs are expected, with attendees at past events ranging from members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association to bikers who belong to so-called one-percenter clubs, aka outlaw clubs, which have reputations for rowdy, even criminal, behavior.

Besides having fun, participants since the late 1990s have been encouraged to donate either food or money to food banks. In 2010, the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri received more than 33 tons of food from roundup participants during the five-day gathering in Columbia, Missouri, and Harley-Davidson, a sponsor of the event, gave the food bank a check for $2,500.

The state fair is scheduled to start four days after the bikers depart, but Rebecca Clark, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said that there should be no problems getting the grounds ready for fairgoers. “We don’t anticipate any need for any special accommodations,” she said.  

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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