Hogs downtown not so wild

Raleigh bike fest has damp 1st day

Staff WriterOctober 8, 2005 

Used to be, motorcyclists brought to mind images of burly, silver-chain-encrusted, black-leather-clad rabble-rousers.

But when Harley lovers take to the streets of downtown Raleigh today for the first Ray Price Capital City Bike Fest, the crowd is just as likely to be an Oxford-wearing bunch of white-collar professionals -- people like Janice Fox.

Fox, 47, is a banker at Wachovia's main office downtown. On Friday evening, she shed her conservative work clothes for a baseball cap and a pin-bedecked motorcycle vest.

"There are a lot more women riding now. It's the thrill of the ride," she said.

Added Chris Haddock, "The bad-boy image is pretty much gone in our world."

Haddock is chief financial officer and promotions director for Raleigh's Ray Price Harley-Davidson/Buell dealership, which is sponsoring the biker rally Friday and today.

On Friday evening, Fox and other motorcycle enthusiasts ventured out in the rain for events. Organizers are hoping for brighter weather today, when they expect up to 35,000 people to crowd the streets near Moore Square and City Market.

The event, which planners hope to stage annually, is a boon for those who want to market Raleigh as a festival-friendly venue.

Some downtown businesses, however, have been less than thrilled.

Streets closed to traffic Friday morning, curtailing business for merchants in City Market.

Big Ed's City Market Restaurant took in about $1,000 less than a typical Friday, and namesake Big Ed Watkins was peeved.

"I'm seriously considering suing the city," he said.

Fridays and Saturdays are the restaurant's biggest days, with loyal clientele streaming in for biscuits and gravy. Watkins said this is the first time he can remember streets being closed on a Friday.

"Person Street is blocked, Davie Street is blocked, Martin Street is blocked, Blount Street is blocked," he said. "My customers can't get within two blocks of me. People are calling me and saying, 'Come get me if you want me to eat with you.' "

Doug Grissom, assistant director of the Raleigh convention center, which is co-producing the rally, acknowledged that street closings make doing business tough downtown. "It is an inconvenience for some, but we would like to think we'd make it up to them by bringing 30,000 people in," he said. "At least the bars and restaurants will be doing better business."

But not necessarily the hair salons.

At City Market Designs, half of the customers Friday canceled their appointments. Those who did make it in for a cut and blow dry were bedraggled and wet from having to walk blocks in the rain.

"For businesses like us, it's really difficult," manager Randy Parrish said.

But the show goes on.

Today's events include the Rolling Thunder Ride In, in which cyclists will honor the state's MIAs. Music will pour from two stages. Rock band Nantucket, a throwback to the '70s and '80s that shot to stardom with "Heart Breaker," revs up at 8 p.m. Country music star Aaron Tippin follows at 9:30 p.m.

People can ogle the custom bikes during the Bike Show and Shine. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., chrome and tricked-out motorcycles will vie for the Best in Show trophy.

Big-name bike builders will be on hand. Beer will flow. Liquor will be doled out, too, in one tent.

There will be a Harley drag racing display, NASCAR exhibits and a traveling Jack Daniel's museum that explains the distilling process.

Bottoms up.

Staff writer Bonnie Rochman can be reached at 829-4871 or brochman@newsobserver.com.

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