The Harleys and Triumphs and Hondas began thundering into Cruiser’s late Thursday afternoon, and within a few hours the party was on.
It’s Mini Sturgis, the Stateline biker bar’s eighth annual motorcycle rally and benefit for abused children.
Over the next few days 1,000 or more riders from near and far will stop in at Cruiser’s, and in many cases they’ll ride right on through the bar, which opens up garage doors on opposite walls and invites patrons to cruise through the building along a dashed line painted on the concrete floor.
“This is a celebration for the bikers,” said Sheri Herberholz, co-owner of Cruiser’s. A mother of six and grandmother of nine, she rides a bright yellow Big Dog chopper with purple flames.
“Bikers are great people; they do so much for our community,” she said. “Whether it’s a cancer run or a muscular dystrophy run, they just give, give, give, give, give.”
But this weekend’s gathering could be the last call for Mini Sturgis.
Herberholz and her husband, Larry, a retired Spokane Valley firefighter/paramedic who suffered a major stroke in February, put Cruiser’s up for sale three weeks ago. They’re asking $700,000 for it, well below the appraised value of $1.2 million.
“When you go to the doctor’s office and they say, ‘Your days are numbered, you better go do what you want to do,’ it’s like getting slapped in the face,” she said. “So we decided we’re going to sell the place and go travel.”
The three-day gathering draws riders from across the western U.S. and Canada. Many stop in on their way to Sturgis, the granddaddy of motorcycle rallies, held each summer in South Dakota.
The local bike rally had a humble beginning, with maybe 20 bikers attending. “It was a joke because we weren’t going to Sturgis, so we had a Mini Sturgis,” Herberholz said.
It has grown to include live music, food booths, belly dancers, a hypnotist and vendors offering everything from knife-sharpening to magnetic jewelry, blinged-up designer jeans to hydrographic printing for applying designs to bike parts.
Mini Sturgis makes a real economic splash, Herberholz said. “The gas stations are making money, the restaurants are making money, the hotels are making money,” she said. “In this economy, all that helps.”
Several riders sipping beer outside the bar Thursday afternoon said the bikers here represent a broad cross-section of society. They are cops, firefighters, doctors, lawyers, millworkers, teachers, veterans and retirees – people who love to ride and get together to admire other bikes, talk shop and trade tales from the road.
“It’s for everybody,” said a Post Falls Harley rider and Vietnam Special Forces vet who everyone knows as Ghost. “It’s not for, as people would know it, the gnarly biker groups.”
Those would be the “1 percenters,” the few biker clubs involved in criminal activity.
“The real biker world is a family,” said Special Ed, the moniker of a fellow Green Beret who flipped coins with Ghost for who would buy the next round.
“It’s not what you see in the movies, it’s not what you see on television. It’s not the Hells Angels and the Bandidos and Satan’s Disciples.”
Popular depictions of violent motorcycle gangs rankle bike enthusiasts like them. “The Wild One,” the 1953 outlaw biker film starring Marlon Brando, set the stage, and the hit FX series “Sons of Anarchy” continues the trend.
“The point is that the other 99 percent of us who love to ride is what shows up here at Mini Sturgis,” Ghost said.
It’s an opportunity to check out how other riders have customized their bikes and improved performance, he said. “Everybody’s personality is in their motorcycle.”
Bryan Ward, down from the Calgary, Alberta, area, has plenty of bike to personalize. The 6-foot-4 Canadian pulled into Cruiser’s on a 1,200-pound, 430-horsepower Boss Hoss adorned with flames and femmes fatales. “Objects in mirror … disappear quickly” is stamped on his rearview mirrors.
Ward has been taking in sights from Glacier National Park to Hells Canyon to Lolo Pass in recent weeks. This was his first stop at Mini Sturgis.
“It’s just a fun event where you can meet like-minded people,” he said. “I’m not a bad-ass biker, you know. I’m just a motorcycle enthusiast.”