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What is a Rally, really?
Written By: Chad Gillen
My wife says that whenever she tells someone I have a motorcycle, they always ask if I go to Sturgis every year. Admittedly I have only been to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally once back in 2005. I’ve found that the Sturgis Rally really doesn’t trip my trigger so to speak. One rally that I am quite fond of is the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America International Rally. For the past 46 years this club of about 32,000 members – full of owners or enthusiasts of BMW motorcycles – has been getting together annually and putting on their own rally. And here is how they do it differently and also the same:
- The location moves every year, with a rotation between west, east and middle zones of the USA. In 2018 it was in Des Moines, IA at the State Fairgrounds.
- Member volunteers run everything from registration, door prizes, security, bike wash, oil change station, first aid, and the beer garden.
- Technical seminars and classes are conducted on every possible aspect of motorcycling.
- Rider training consists of Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops, Street Skills, Off-Road Training, Female-Only Off-Road Training, and BMW Performance Center Riding Academy.
- A Rally Book and a Rally App are available, so you don’t miss a thing.
- BMW rider awards like mileage awards, age awards, touring awards, oldest BMW ridden to the rally and largest chartered club at the rally are presented.
- Vintage BMW bike awards are given to members, not custom bike builders.
- Both have live music and a beer garden, however the beer at the BMW Rally is cheap and the music is included in your registration fee.
- Aging riders. BMW almost has the same problem as HD with not getting enough younger people interested in their motorcycles.
- Vendors, mostly comprised of motorcycle parts, gear, accessories and camping gear. Despite having 110 vendors involved, there were hardly any t-shirt vendors.
- The BMW Rally had motorcycle demo rides, but you can only choose from the 28 BMW models.
2018’s theme was “Experience the Journey.” Because if you think about it, there aren’t any real good roads around Des Moines but there are great ones on both sides of Iowa that you can ride on your way to Des Moines. Even though I’m not a member anymore, I attended as a guest because it was too close to miss. My member host would be DRL on his 2013 BMW 1200GS nicknamed “Farklestein” by my wife. We decided to hotel it rather than camping on the Iowa State Fairgrounds because as DRL puts it: who wants to camp in the middle of Des Moines in the middle of July? We rode down to Omaha on Wednesday in scorching heat on the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, and stayed and my sister’s house. Thursday we rode Hwy 92 to Martensdale IA, and then north on Hwy 28 to the Iowa State Fairgrounds. I wanted to get there early on the first day so I wouldn’t miss a seminar by Author...Humorist...Speaker, Jack Riepe. His seminar was full, and funny, and was about writing motorcycle adventure stories. We hit the inside vendors as much as we could but there are too many for one day. I end up being a voice of reason for DRL and help him decide what FARKLES he needs and what he should pass on. We also run into numerous other people from home, namely Wrong Way Larry, who tells me he just retired and is moving to Arkansas at the end of the month. We also saw Dale Nordlie who rode his Vintage R69S down and entered in the bike show.
The next day I attended another seminar (standing room only) by Jack Riepe about the secret K club. He mentioned the sharpshooter he has in the back as protection from those who don’t like his work. Everyone laughed but me, because I am him. Next we did some demo rides; I rode a R1200GS Ralleye and DRL a K1600GTL. I like demo rides and I hate them too. I nicknamed the people that can’t ride and/or follow directions “Smalls” as in “You are killing me, Smalls” from the movie The Sandlot. I attended another seminar on hearing protection by BigEar Inc. Needless to say I now ride with custom ear plugs to avoid hearing loss later. That can be a whole story onto itself. DRL gets some new lights and a cycle cover, and the vendor tells him that the receipt will be texted back to the card holder. DRL straight-faced jokes, “How am I supposed to explain I am at a business conference when my wife gets a receipt that shows I’m in Des Moines, IA?!” We ended the day eating authentic German food at the Hessen House downtown with Izzy, Deb, Wrong Way Larry and the Heart Doc. DRL bought a gallon of distilled water at HyVee to get parking validation as we had parked in their lot instead of on the street.
On the last full day, I attended another seminar on buying used motorcycles by Bob Henig of Bob’s BMW in Jessup, MD. There was so much information and knowledge in that seminar it ran over time and into the hallway. I then took a demo ride on a S1000XR. This is an adventure bike based around BMW’s superbike engine. Oh man what fun, but terrible vibrations at highway speed. And of course, I yelled in my helmet “You’re killing me, Smalls!” when the guy on the G310GS stalled it in traffic. Afterwards I found the BMW Performance Riding Academy cone courses empty and I ran my Honda ST1300 through several times clean with lots of space to spare. As I finally pulled out to leave, I noticed I garnered a small audience. We finished off the night with some BBQ at Smokey D’s. It was great, but I pondered what the world is coming to when people proudly stand in front of a picture of Guy Fieri on the wall and get their picture taken with it?!
On Sunday we rolled home on IA Hwy 141 all the way to Sioux City. It was a road I’ve not been on before but was definitely a great road and I will take it again sometime. On the way we met some people from AZ making their way back from the Rally on their R1200RT. This was their first BMW International Rally and they planned on going through SD and hitting the Black Hills. We gave them some insight and told them to call in sick, as they’ll need more time than they are planning to really enjoy their long way home.