We take you inside the metro’s bike nights
and other motorcycle events
By Amber Williams
I have a plump, purple Harley that vibrates
me awake. I ride it only on special occasions
and only in my dreams. But I’d like to think
those are the premonitory kind, and one day
I will ride that dream machine in real life
(despite a lifetime of threats and warnings
from my elders that a “wild child” like me should
never get on a motorcycle). Until then, I remain
a scavenger biker babe, waiting for my next
opportunity to hop on back.
I love them all. And for a backseat biker like
me, bike nights at the local bars are where
it’s at — a crop of chrome and leather waiting
to be raked. I slide up next to a bike that
calls to me, run my reverent fingertips lightly
down the tank, look up at its owner (who never
wanders too far from his steed), and with sincere
admiration I ask, “Is she yours?”
That’s how I met Katey Gardner. I first spotted
her reflection in the chrome primary cover as
she came up from behind me like a protective
mother — protective over her bike, not me.
“It’s a ’99 Indian Streetburner with an S&S
motor,” she informed me.
Gardner grew up on motorcycles, starting with
a Honda 50 her dad bought her.
“He said if I can learn to ride a dirt bike
on sand, I could learn to ride anything,” she
said. “I have a crotch rocket, too, and an old-school
Harley — a ’71 Ironhead. Crotch rockets are
different when you’re riding in a group. Harleys
are more laid back and tight-grouped, riding
two and two and two. They stay together. Crotch
rockets are more independent, and the guys like
to do tricks. They’re mostly younger kids, and
it’s just riskier riding with them.
“My crotch rocket makes me feel sexy, though
— Bam!” she laughed, popping her ass up as if
she was riding. “You got your G-string on, and
it looks sexy. That’s why I like it.”
Crotch rocket or not, Gardner has sexy down
to a science no matter which bike she’s riding.
And the fact that she’s female, or even that
she sometimes likes to ride her non-Harley model,
doesn’t prevent her from being one of the guys.
Most of the bikers I talked to said they don’t
discriminate against rice burners. “Them dudes
gotta have something to ride,” one snickered.
Gardner bought her Indian Streetburner from
a fellow biker in Centerville who was desperate
for money three days before Christmas. He
died a few days later, so she remembers
him every time she rides, she said.
They all say they don’t discriminate, but rather
“give a little hell” to the guys on the Japanese
models. But at the rallies and the bike nights,
an invisible line is drawn in the parking lot
much like the one drawn between a brother and
sister in the backseat of a car on a long road
trip: You stay on your side, and I’ll stay on
“I had a guy ask me once, ‘How do you approach
a girl who’s on a Harley?’ ” Gardner said.
Her answer: “You gotta have a Harley, too,”
she smirked, but the name brand model is less
important than the code by which the biker clan
follows — riding in pairs, for example, even
if the two bikers aren’t travelling together,
and the one-finger-pointed-to-the-road exclusive
wave they give to each other as they pass on
the roadways. It is a show of mutual respect.
Gardner was raised on the code. On a Tuesday
night, you’ll find her rendezvousing with a
tribe of biker friends at Ron’s Dawg House on
the east side before parading in pairs down
University Avenue to the “Gathering on the Grounds”
at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Gathering at the Grounds
This is the spot. That sweet, sexy spot where
bikers, babes and gearheads gather like a gaggle
to gossip about engines, models, makes, custom
jobs, great deals they scored and anything you
can think up with regard to bikes or cars, as
the Gathering includes both, every Thursday
night at the Midway.
clan of riders gather at Ron’s Dawg House
on Tuesday nights before heading to Gathering
at the Grounds at the fairgrounds. Pictured:
Katey Gardner (far right); Kristy Stoneburner
on her ‘85 Harley Sportster; Andy Hall on
an 883 Harley Sportster; Brian Potter rides
an ‘02 Honda Shadow; and Randy Arndt on
the Harley Roadglide. |
One old-timer had a bike almost his same age
that he’s had “through five wives,” he said,
a robin egg blue 1957 Harley Davidson that’s
in pretty good shape considering the miles.
Another Harley rider, Clem Vestal, has had so
many bikes it would take the rest of this page
to list them all, but last Tuesday night he
rode out on his 127-cubic-inch L.A. Chopper
290 (purple, just like in my dreams).
“I never thought I’d own a purple bike. Never
really liked the color, but I love this bike,”
he said. “I got into a big fight in Conesville
(the dirty old man of bike rallies in Iowa),
and all I know is I wanted that bike. I wanted
that bike, and two years later I saw it at a
car lot and bought it for $9,000.
“I’m going to turn this into my memorial bike,”
The first of the memorial bike’s members is
depicted on the back fender: a Harley-Davidson
logo bearing the name “Shalan-Ray,” a fallen
comrade of the biker clan — the fatal first
of many who live to ride and die trying — along
with the signature “515 Forever.”
“All of our fundraisers and benefits have 515
on them. It stands for Iowa,” he explained.
Although they may seem like hardened outlaws
(and a few of them are), nowadays the biker
culture has a softer side. Despite the traditional
reputation of infamy, that rebellious-outlaw-terrorist
image has changed over the years as the demographic
of riders has transformed to what some east
side riders affectionately call “the penny-loafer
The softer side of a softail
While pop culture influences from TV and movies,
such as FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and even the
classic bar-dancing biker scene from “Pee-Wee’s
Big Adventure,” continue to tout bikers as the
contrary, in reality, most are retirees, veterans,
American Legionnaires, yuppies and aristocrats,
and “it’s been that way for the last 30 years,”
according to Patriot Cycles co-owner Steve Turpen.
Vestal plans to turn his L.A. Chopper into
a memorial bike in honor of his fallen fellow
riders. Vestal is credited for his focus
on charitable efforts throughout the metro
as a key motorcycle event organizer. |
“Harleys run anywhere from $2,500 to $150,000.
You can’t be some bum on the streets to own
one,” Turpen said. “You still have a few groups
around that are a little tough, but most people
who ride nowadays have a six-digit income.”
And, it’s “the caliber of the people” who have
transformed the image into one of charity, fellowship
and community, he said.
“Bikers are very giving, and most have money,”
Turpen said. “They enjoy weekend riding, getting
away from their jobs, and it’s a relaxing thing
to do. That’s why so many out there are doing
it. The people are just phenomenal.”
Although the image has changed, the spirit of
the motorcyclist is timeless. The kinship that
exists among a tight group of bikers is as undeniable
as the intimacy between two lovers who cruise
the scene on a shared pair of wheels, like the
couples I met while visiting Trophy’s Bike Night
“She talked me into buying it,” said Steve McLaughlin
nudging his girlfriend, Carol. McLaughlin might
be mocked as one of those “penny-loafers” by
the east side boys, but he doesn’t care. At
least his 2003 Heritage Softail is “U.S.A-made.”
“If you’re going to get on one, it might as
well be the best,” he said. McLaughlin is a
safety specialist for the Iowa Association of
Municipal Utilities, but he’s also a free spirit,
and that’s why his girlfriend, a business analyst
for Iowa Health, likes him.
They’ve travelled the country on that bike together,
“anywhere along the Mississippi River,” and
they’ve made a flock of bike night friends at
Trophy’s and Indianola Bike Night and have recently
been branching out to the new Krazee Kafe Bike
Night, but that’s as crazy as they’re going
to get, McLaughlin admitted.
It seems the farther east you travel in the
biker scene, the crazier the crowds get. Krazee
Kafe is the middle of the road between the business
bikers and the badass bikers. Continue on to
the fairgrounds, and you’ll find a few of the
latter, such as the El Forestaros, a proud east
side biker club that invited me to be one of
their “bitches” the night I met a few of them
on the Midway.
“We’re the 1 percent — the only 1 percent club
in Des Moines,” said club member Billy Witter.
“The El Forestaros have been on the east side
all our lives. Any biker on the east side wants
to be an El Forestero,” which has 12 local members,
But you don’t have to be an official affiliate
like the Chopper-riding El Forestaros to be
accepted into the tribe. You don’t have to ride
a Harley or even an American model motorcycle,
and you don’t have to be a native east-sider.
A genuine appreciation for motorcycles is often
enough, at least, that was the case for me at
Ron’s Dawg House.
“You should ride over to the fairgrounds with
us,” Gardner had finally suggested. Ten minutes
later I found myself pressed up against the
shoulders of my new friend Randy Arndt on the
back of his Harley Roadglide — a magnificent
machine he had bought from the Harley Davidson
Big Barn only two days before.
“That’s a custom paint job,” he boasted, as
I zoomed my camera lens in on the intricately
airbrushed human skulls over a blood red paintjob
that covered the bike from head to tail. Like
his friends, Arndt is an avid bike night-goer.
After surveying riders at several different
bike night events throughout the city, I learned
that only God could possibly know about them
all. But here are the bike nights the pros I
A week of bike nights
Sweeney and Steve McLaughlin cruise on a
2003 Harley Davidson Softail to Trophy’s
and Krazee Kafe’s bike nights on Thursday,
as well as Indianola’s monthly Bike Down
to I-Town. |
On Monday, the Fireside Bar and Grille, 523
S.E. 8th St., in Altoona, is a hot spot for
bikes of all sort. The five-year-old event has
gained a reputation among the riders as a “pretty
good time and nice, little drive.” It runs from
6-9 p.m., occasionally featuring live music.
Tuesday was the day I met the gang at Ron’s
Dawg House, 2117 E. University Ave. From 6-9
p.m., it’s become a rendezvous location to put
back a few before heading to the Gathering at
the Grounds, at the Iowa State Fairgrounds,
to close out the night with a motorcycle and
car show, more beer and live music.
Hump Day is a good day to get away for bit.
So Latitude 41 Bar and Grill on Saylorville
Lake has been a popular bike night destination
for years. It’s far enough away to open her
up, and includes scenery on the lake that includes
more than just Mother Nature (meaning there
are often half-naked drunk people there). However,
due to road construction, this one doesn’t officially
start until later this month.
Thursday was a tad tamer, at least at first,
as most the bikers meet at Trophy’s Sports Bar
and Grill, 2701 Douglas Ave. (Plaza Lanes Family
Sports Complex), from 5-10 p.m. for live music
at the tiki bar in the parking lot. Trophy’s
may not have a lake, but “the view” is very
similar to Latitude 41, as the adult co-ed volleyball
leagues take place at the same time. Several
people pack it up and head to Krazee Kafe, 1410
N.E. Broadway Ave., for a grill-out before the
night’s over, if they’re feeling frisky enough.
The new owner at 4th Down Sports Bar, 207 Fourth
St., loves his biker crowd. He got permission
from City Hall to close off the block downtown
so the bikers can take over the entire street
every Friday night. Not a lot of the regular
riders have caught on to this debut bike night
yet, but they will.
For bikers, the weekend often means road trips,
and the rolling hills of Madison County make
Winterset Bike Night a scenic cruise before
arriving to a carnival of activities that includes
thousands of motorcycles around the historic
square (see “Weekend Road Trips” sidebar).
If the road is still calling your name by Sunday,
check out Team 36, 117 Center Ave. N., in Mitchellville,
for “Bike Night All Day.” The kitchen is always
open, and a tiki bar on the patio with live
music from 4-8 p.m. draws hundreds of bikers
who are often passing though en route to Red
Rock and other hot spots around central Iowa.
“We’re a small community, but once you start
getting to know everybody, you become family,”
Gardner had said to me. Get yourself a bike
or a friend to wrap yourself around, and before
you know it, you’ll have “515” tattooed on your
WEEKEND ROAD TRIPS
Bike Down to I-Town. On the third Friday of
the month, from April to September, the town
of Indianola becomes a beacon for bikers from
all over the state. Considered one of the Midwest’s
largest bike night events, it draws more than
6,000 bikes and a crowd of 10,000-plus. I-Town
is a free, family-friendly occasion, running
from 6-10 p.m. on the historic downtown square.
In addition to the many standard and custom
motorcycles on display, there is live music,
food and beverages, vendors and exhibits, a
live radio broadcast and award presentations.
Learn more at Bikedowntoitown.com.
Winterset Bike Night. Partnering with the Indianola
Bike Night this year, Winterset Bike Night continues
to grow. Held on the third Saturday of the month
(the night after Indianola’s event) means bringing
a tent or booking a room might not be a bad
idea, as each event offers unique festivities
to fill the weekend. Find the event page on
Iowa State HOG Rally 2012. This national event
is coming to Des Moines this year, June 14-16.
Check out the awesome rides and fun events.
Learn more at iastatehogrally.com, or call 661-4438.
The Inaugural Iowa Grand Motorcycle Rally.
The July 25-28 event kicks off with a meet and
greet with “Sons of Anarchy” stars Katey Sagal
and Charlie Hunnam, followed by live music by
Joe Diffie and Rev Theory, Hairball and others
at the Iowa Speedway in Newton. Other Rally
event highlights include:
The Wall that Heals and a Military Tribute
Ride sponsored by J&P Cycles;
John Lehman Tribute Ride;
Baker Smoke Down Show Down the Ultimate Race
to Fifth Gear;
Miss Iowa Grand with cash prizes;
National Motorcycle Museum and J&P Cycles
Vintage Bike Show;
S&S Cycles Circle of Honor Tribute to the
Jay Allen Bike Builders Invitational;
Iowa Grand Tattoo Competition;
Iowa Grand Ride-In Bike Show;
Ride the Speedway and Da$h for Ca$h Drag Racing;
Motorcycle Cowboys Bike Rodeo and Grand Swap
The Northeast Sportbike Association (NESBA)
Track Days; and more.
Learn more at Iowagrandrally.com, or call 641-791-8000.
Operation Heroes Car and Motorcycle Show. On
Sunday, May 20, head out to Prairie Meadows
Race Track and Casino, 1 Prairie Meadows Drive,
Altoona, for a car and motorcycle show where
the proceeds go to benefit Operation First Response,
which serves wounded veterans and their families.
Registration is $20 and starts at 11 a.m. The
show is from 1-4 p.m. followed by a benefit
auction at 4:30 p.m. and concerts and awards
at 5:30 p.m. Find out more details by calling