Attending ROT Rally in Austin marked two firsts for me; it was my first time attending a full-bore bonafide motorcycle rally, and my first time visiting Austin since moving to Texas in 2013. Now that it’s all said and done, I’ll definitely be looking forward to heading out to more rallies.
With everything packed for the weekend, I hit the road to Austin in the middle of the day on June 9th after waiting from some rain to clear from the skies over DFW. After a few hours on the road I pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, unpacked my gear, and got a bite to eat at a nearby Tex-Mex joint. It was already getting to be late in the evening, so I sat down to sketch out a plan to tackle Saturday’s rally attractions, and went to bed.
I rolled into rally registration at about 8:30 Saturday morning, and despite it being early, there were a ton of people already at the Travis County Exposition Center. I got my wristband, bought a t-shirt, and hopped back on my bike to make my way through the expo grounds to find a parking spot and soak in the spectacle of the event to gather some first impressions.
There were torn up and broken strings of multi-colored plastic beads on the ground, remnants of the rowdiness from the night before. The dude riding in front of me had a string of them dangling from the back end of his Sportster. It struck me as sketchy and not intentional, so I decided to steer clear of the beads to avoid getting any caught up in the moving parts of my bike. A string of beads around an axle would probably contribute to the day being less fun.
The roadway to the parking area snaked through the campgrounds. Camping at ROT is clearly a big deal, and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of rally-goers camping out across acres of expo grounds; the campsites ranged from small enclaves of motorcycles huddled around humble tents, to the more serious campers sporting pickup trucks towing camper-trailers, to the luxurious RVs equipped with hot tubs and pools, outdoor kitchenettes, grills, and full-fledged entertainment centers. I dug the vibe, and am considering camping out if I attend next year. I found parking under some trees, unpacked my camera and made my way through.
The day was filled with checking out what the rally had to offer. Vendors large and small lined every avenue of the rally grounds. Motorcycle, golf cart, and side-by-side traffic was a constant presence, nearly outnumbering pedestrians in the outdoor areas.
I popped into the large covered vendor barn and caught a bit of the biker rodeo games; the fuzzy ball race, the slow race, and the loudest bike showdown. The games were genuinely fun and competitive, made more fun by an announcer brimming with off-color dad jokes. One competitor, known only as “Birdman” rode with his pet parrot perched atop the handlebars of his Yamaha V-Max. Once the rodeo was over, I headed out to check out more of the rally.
I hit the ride in bike show, which had a good turn out of awesome, but not-necessarily-show bikes. Some were unmistakably show quality, but for the most part, the ride in show featured a mix of custom and stock bikes that get put through the wringer and pick up some miles, dirt, and grime in the process. My favorite was an older couple with their 1984 Honda GoldWing Aspencade with nearly 214,000 original miles. They bought it new, and have rode it through the majority of the US. It was as original as possible, down to the raised white letter Dunlop tires that aren’t made anymore.
The highlight of the rally for me was in the Thunderdome, at the Kustom Kulture Artisan Show and Grease and Gears Garage. It was a convergence of cool bikes, art, tattoos, and live presentations and demonstrations by artists and builders alike. While world-famous artist Makoto Endo worked on a painting, the builders in the show presented and discussed their creations. There were some seriously cool bikes, especially the FXRs by Texas Performance Motorcycles and their bright late-80’s inspired color palettes.
This gave way to live presentations on the Grease and Gears stage by experts in the industry; I caught Chris Moos of Misfit Industries dive into a talk about raking a frame, and then proceed to saw the neck of said frame off live on stage. Upstairs, tattoo artists went to work applying fresh ink to rally attendees.
I couldn’t get enough of the Kustom Kulture Artisan Show, and spent the majority of the day there trying to soak in (and photograph) every detail of every bike.
ROT Rally touts itself as part biker rally, part music festival. The music being played on the Bud Zone stage and Cowboy Bar periodically punch through the ever-present rumble of motorcycle engines, and go a long way to rounding out the atmosphere of the rally with fitting rock, country. I regret not sticking around late enough to catch Honky, but with an early hotel check out Sunday, and a ride back to DFW to resume life as normal, it didn’t fit into the schedule.
As the day wore on, I made my way to the flat track pit to catch some races. I grabbed an iced cold brew coffee from Flat Track Coffee Company’s kiosk adjacent to the track, took a seat on the sparsely populated metal bleachers, and waited for the action. And kept waiting. It was 5:00 pm, and the practice laps scheduled for 3:30 had yet to begin. With my coffee empty, the ice melted from the Texas heat, and my phone battery on the verge of death, I decided to pack up and roll back to the hotel to refresh and recharge.
Once my phone was charged to a respectable level, I swung out and grabbed some awesome Texas barbecue for dinner from a little place down the road from the hotel. I decided that was a sufficient punctuation mark for my first rally experience, rode back to the hotel, and put a wrap on ROT Rally 2017.