As night falls over the Austin skyline on June 9, bikers will rev their engines and over 200,000 attendees will flood Congress Avenue for the annual Republic of Texas Motorcycle Parade and Downtown Party.
The 11 mile journey down Congress avenue is only one of the many signature events of the ROT Rally, celebrating 22 years this June 8-11. What started off as an exclusively Harley Davidson motorcycle event in 1995,has evolved over the past two decades to include a variety of brands, vendors and events.
“Every year when we open the gates I go stand up by the front gate and to feel the ground shake,” said Jerry Bragg, founder of the R.O.T Rally. “The bikes coming through, the vibrations, the crowd and the smiles on peoples faces—I get goosebumps every year.”
Jeff Nicklus, owner of the Desperado motorcycle manufacturer, said he's seen this event add unique elements, such as new stunts, yearly, something he can't say about the majority of the rallies he attends every year.
“It is kind of like seeing old family members that you haven't seen in a year every year,” Nicklus said. “We are all getting old together and that's part of the fun.”
Bragg said the R.O.T Rally has become on of the safest in the nation following a recent partnership with TXDOT to improve safety measures. No fatalities have been reported during the biking events at R.O.T Rally over the past three years.
R.O.T Rally has also grown in the aspect of diversity to accommodate changing times and new generations as they continue to influence millennials to keep the biker spirit alive.
“We want to be safe and just as importantly we want to promote and preserve the biker lifestyle, the sport itself,” Bragg said. “Motorcycling is changing from being centered around your bike [to] more motorcycle adventuring, adding to your lifestyle.”
Bob Kay, director of the Kustom Kulture artisan show at the event said the company he co-owns, Biker Pros Media, was contracted to bring increasingly innovative elements of the biker lifestyle to the rally. Kay said this included adding new styles and inviting leather workers, craftsmen, younger builders and new styles that are not brand specific, as opposed to the first year’s focus on Harley.
“We developed Kustom Kulture to open (the event) up to newer, younger crowds while still keeping some of the traditional values,” Kay said “Things are changing these days and millennials are not so brand loyal to Harley Davidson as the baby boomers were. They tend to use more functional styles.”
Bob Kay said he remembers when he began working with motorcycles in 1971. Back then, Kay said riders saw their bikes as a lifestyle choice and were therefore willing to spend more time and money on it, rather than treating it as a passion or hobby.
“When I grew up as a baby boomer, you built your whole life around the motorcycle,” Kay said. “Millennials are more interested in experiences that things, so a motorcycle fits into their lifestyle.”
R.O.T Rally, Nicklus said, means so much to him because of this people element, and the way that it unites a diversity of people every year under one Austin sun.
“Everybody has one thing in common at one time,” Nicklus said. “You will see doctors and lawyers and they are all in one group chatting about their bikes, everybody gets along and when the rally is over everybody gets back to their life. But for that brief moment in time everybody has one common goal and on common interest.”