Nestled among ranchland and wheat fields in the state’s northeast corner, reviewing the history of Pendleton, Oregon, conjures images of rough-and-tumble rodeo cowboys, Native Americans, woolen blankets and whiskey. Now for the fourth consecutive year, a new type of rough and “rumble” is settling in during the dog days of summer: Pendleton Bike Week, or PBW.
Event organizer Eric Folkestad is no stranger to this type of venue, since he was previously behind the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally. After four years of great support from local officials, law enforcement and the community, Folkestad feels PBW will continue to grow and present enough to attendees to make the list of many riders’ annual “go to” events.
Some great music was in the house, with sounds from the 1970s to today, played live by Foghat, Petty Fever (Tom Petty tribute band), Roni Lee and many great acts in between. Also on hand were the Seattle Cossacks stunt and drill team, who were celebrating 80 years of performing as an organized group, which was marked with a downtown celebration and presentation to the Cossacks of the key to the city. These guys are a spectacle that must be seen at least once in a rider’s life–witnessing a third-generation Cossack take on the harder stunts in the heat three times a day restored my faith in motorcycling youth.
On that note, it was hard to ignore that the crowd’s average age continues to rise. Perhaps the lure of redesigned machines with trendy and appealing features like the bikes available for demo rides from Indian and Yamaha will start to draw in newer riders. The 2018 PBW also hosted a flat track race on Saturday night as well as organized day rides, poker runs and a memorial ride. Great riding spreads out from Pendleton like the spokes on a wagon wheel, so there was something for everyone to enjoy at their own pace.
Pendleton itself has always been one of my favorite stops and has historic buildings, fantastic food and some cool stuff to see and do off the bike. I took in the Pendleton Underground Tour, which regales participants with the often sad, bawdy, illicit history of Pendleton and how it shaped the town into what it has become. It was very much worth the price of admission.
I also used the long weekend to reassemble my band of miscreants I have dubbed the “Guardrail Gang,” which includes me, my son, a nephew and a friend since birth. Seventeen years ago, we set out on a route very close by and just four hours into it my son, with the sun in his eyes, misjudged his entry speed and kissed a guardrail…hard. I saw more of the inside of his kneecap than I ever wanted to that day. My friend Mike had ridden ahead to our night’s destination, and many hours later when he got word he rode through the night to meet us back at the hospital. We all have a good story now, and this was the first time we have reassembled since then for a much less dramatic 200-mile loop on some lovely roads.
We left our digs in Athena, Oregon, and headed into the cool of Tollgate Pass, riding east on State Route 204 to the welcoming town of Elgin. After a brief southward jaunt via U.S. Route 82 to La Grande, we grabbed breakfast at the Smokehouse Café (highly recommended), then picked up U.S. Route 84 north until Hilgard junction gave us access to State Route 244 westward, bound for Ukiah. After some delicious curves in the quickly warming day, we took U.S. Route 395 at Ukiah and headed north again to Pendleton over the undulating Battle Mountain, a real treat for any rider.
If you get bored of sweating out mid-July where you currently reside, make the trek to Pendleton for the 2019 Bike Week (July 17-21); it will surely warm you up in more ways than one.
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