Rose City Thunder
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Thursday, August 14, 2003. Preceded by much fanfare from the organizers and later by the reaction of angry local residents, the Rose City Thunder event went down regardless. Vocal protests to Mayor Vera Katz went unheeded. Way to go, Vera ! (and I never thought I'd hear myself say that). The contention was that hordes of motorcycle riding reprobates would descend upon Portland's South Park Blocks revving their nasty engines and perspiring in the neighborhood after a hot day on the road. The event started officially on Tuesday August 12th and was scheduled to continue to its crescendo on Sunday August 17.

Sidestreets were filled with Milwaukee iron. For all that, there were a few strays not belonging to the faithful. Brave folks, indeed.

Some of the stock bikes were gems in their own right. This red Road King is readily available at your local dealer. Does it really need customizing ? Your call.

The sign says it all. The culture in this district goes one way only - Harley Davidson, chaps, bandanas, tattoos and 'If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand' teeshirts.

Eschewed by some and embraced by others, the V-Rod was in evidence both in static displays and in the sidestreets. You'd have to be truly dyed-in-the-wool, or just plain stubborn, to reject Harley's latest offering. By any criteria, this motorcycle oozes class and design flair. Doubtless there are those who look upon the V-Rod as an effeminate intruder into their traditional world, but if you have any appreciation for innovation and fit and finish, it would be hard to discount this newcomer. A classic from Day One, the V-Rod drew more admiring glances than scowls. Is this the beginning of acceptance amongst the brethren for Harley's bold departure ? If you can't handle anything that radical, there's always the gold edition of the Road King.

The event brought special interest groups to town and one was the Seattle Cossacks, whose sturdy machines are shown here. The group was formed in 1938 but was temporarily disbanded during World War II. It returned in 1946. Machines are from the 30's and 40's and include VL's and CI models of varying capacities between 74 and 80 cu. in. and 45, 61 and 74 Knuckleheads. Bikes are stock with special handlebars.They perform about 30 shows a year.

Open Road Rider's undercover agent encountered some of the event's precursors on I-5 on Thursday evening about 5pm. On entering the freeway at the Carman Drive on-ramp, a stream of Harleys was being marshalled by local motorcycle police at the intersection of Hwy 217 south and I-5. Machine after machine curved left and north at Bangy Road to head toward downtown in an orgy of pavement takeover. Once on the freeway, their police escort disappeared behind the scenes to let the pageant continue under its own steam toward its inner city rendezvous with others of the faithful.

Rose City Thunder was promoted as one of four major rallies leading up to the centennial pilgrimage to Sturgis for Harley Davidson's 100th year. It was orchestrated by Global Events Group, a Portland company with a 27 year record of organizing fun venues from rock concerts to motor sports events. The Portland event was designed to lead up to the great trek back to Wisconsin, when, on August 27, the great celebration would take place. The co-sponsoring local dealership was Destination Harley Davidson in Tigard - (home by the way to the new Buell XB12S, to be reported on elsewhere at this site).

The atmosphere in the Park Blocks on Saturday afternoon was surprisingly mellow. Normally the confluence of that much motorcycle muscle results in unpalatable levels of testosterone, but, to steal a notion from another manufacturer's earlier ad campaign: 'You meet the nicest people on a Harley'. Police were a little edgy in protecting the rights of the many pedestrians, but participants were low-key and moved about the area in an orderly fashion. Truly wild customs were noticeably absent, which indicated that this was a venue for riders rather than trailer junkies. There were plates from all over the country and beyond the shining seas, as evidenced by a couple machines sporting European Union plates.

As an outsider, you could be forgiven the human urge to conform. If your HD wasn't just around the corner, you might feel left out. Whether or not you are a fan of the marque, the HD crowd has the brother- and sisterhood thing down.

Like an orchid in the forest, a V-Rod sits on display inside the main compound. It is and will likely remain an impressive and unique motorcycle.
Subdued bronze paintwork enhances the chrome and billet of this 2003 Road King.

The Cossacks' nicely restored vintage Harleys drew admiring and, for some, nostalgic glances. Riders must perform their own maintenance.
Model unknown, the cases look like the precursor to today's Sportster. I think I'd want to take it easy on this oldtimer, for a number of reasons...
A stock standard 1996 Yamaha Virago - the object of a controversy that was swiftly dealt with by concerned onlookers.

One motorcycle, depicted at left, was proclaimed by the owner as a stunning example of engineering skill. Describing it as an AMF engined Harley converted to overhead cam and shoehorned into a Flexomatic pressed steel frame for extra fun on bumpy backroad curves, he submitted it for 'Best In Class'. Wanting to know where his prize was, the contestant had to be restrained and was last seen gagged and hogtied beneath a hamburger concession stand.

The event came in like a lion and left like a lamb. Incensed residents returned to their usual way of life when the last Harley had potato potatoed its way out of the Park Blocks. Who knows, some wealthy Road King owner from across the country may decide to set up shop here in beleaguered Oregon. Well now, there's a thought.

© 2003 Open Road Rider: Event photographs and article