Since the first battle-weary vet returning from WWII bobbed his Hog and hit the highway for a mental reset, hard-core fans of “the biker lifestyle” (whatever that means) have followed roads less traveled to destinations unknown in search of fun on two wheels. Sometime after “Easy Rider” whisked freedom and the counter-culture into cinemas, an army of opportunists in Florida and South Dakota started bolting expensive moving parts onto what was once a pure experience. Before Bud Light Bikini Jams™ and the Dunlop Burnout Pit® came to town, “biker rallies” were simple affairs: grab your gear, grab your girl and go for a ride. If you got thirsty, you drank a beer. When it got dark, you started a fire. And when it got cold, the truly committed pulled a blanket over their pickled corpse and took a nap. Easy.
Unfortunately, the bell of crass commercialism can never be un-rung, and modern motorcycle events today are shit shows wrapped in hundred dollar bills with sagging tits and shredded chambray shirts as far as the eye can see. Emboldened by the success of three back-to-basics biker hoedowns we hosted in Baja (see El Diablo Run), in 2009 our Biltwell crew used the rapidly growing social network ChopCult.com to promote a different kind of good time, this one on California soil. For many bikeriders in the growing blue-collar chopper scene, the Slab City Riot was their first glimpse at a leaner, meaner custom motorcycle experience, one bereft of the bloated buffoonery America’s top bike rallies had come to represent.
SAILING HIGH ON THE SALTON SEA
At places like Sturgis, “bikers” in Official Commemorative™ t-shirts celebrate freedom by swilling 13-dollar longnecks in theme bars with names like The Rusty Trombone. At the first Slab City Riot in 2009, fun seekers elbowed past indigenous speed freaks for free beer and shared the warmth of a dumpster fire with the flotsam and jetsam of civilized society while punk rockers jammed with homeless rappers in a post-apocalyptic hellscape straight out of a Roger Corman slasher flick. One peek into “Salton Sea” or “Slab City” on the Google will expose an environment unlike any that’s hosted a motorcycle gathering before or since. It wouldn’t be boastful overstatement to say the first Slab City Riot set a high bar for lowlife hi-jinx that aficionados of the American motorcycle scene had not experienced in decades. So good was the inaugural event, energized members of a newly resurgent home-built chopper scene used the power of social media to foment mania for an even bigger and better Slab City Riot the following year. All Biltwell had to do was rustle up some beer, some bands and some cord wood to keep the fire burning while jungle drummers on ChopCult passed the torch to their friends.
SLAB CITY RIOT 2
Thanks to the power of hashtags and hash pipes, Slab City Riot 2 may go down in history as the best chopper hoedown ever. With four bands, a dozen kegs and well over 1,500 bikeriders fully involved, neither the local inhabitants of Slab City nor their friendly Imperial County LEO knew what hit them. The crude confluence of greasy bikers, Slab zombies and gin-soaked quim dancing in the flickering light of a 50-foot pallet fire was too much for many people to take, which is why Bill and I solicited friends immediately to sponsor SCR3. When the dust settled on the second Slab City soiree Sunday morning, 16 like-minded rabble rousers representing every facet of the chopper industrial complex had already pledged their support
With considerable sponsorship revenue already invested in louder bands, more booze and the biggest pile of pallets ever, the Biltwell marketing department and ChopCult members cranked up the hype machine for SCR3 in early fall of 2011. In our collective zeal to spread the word to everyone, however, some of us might have shared too much information about our planned debauchery on Facebook. These ribald tales caught the eye of Imperial county legislators, who admonished us in a letter dated November 1, 2011 for failing to obtain a public events permit. With no Plan B and three days ’till kickoff, Bill posted a flyer announcing the cancellation of SCR3 on ChopCult and Biltwellinc.com. Without naming a destination or even giving a time or place for our alternate jump-off, we relied on the strength of friends and customers word-of-mouth regarding this last-minute switch. Would it work? We’d find out on a miserably cold and rainy morning in front of our favorite breakfast joint in two days…
THE ILLUSIVE UNICORN
On November 4th, 2011, with no official information and limited verbal hearsay, a few dozen chopper fanatics rolled into Old Town Temecula for breakfast and instructions from Barnacle Bill. Not wanting to ride a motorcycle in the icy torrent, I volunteered to hand out free Biltwell bubble shields to everyone who needed one. Bellies stuffed and bubbles installed, Bill and his fellow freedom riders headed southeast to Ocotillo Wells, one of SoCal’s more popular off-highway vehicle parks. When we arrived around 11am, a few hundred other chopper freaks from as far afield as Las Vegas, Arizona and the Bay area were already pitching tents on the muddy desert floor. When the rain subsided, dedicated hell raisers roasted wienies, watched old biker movies on the side of a box van and swapped stories about the motorcycle ride that almost got away. The Man might have killed Slab City Riot that weekend, but he’ll never kill the power of a good idea.