Rally brings motorcycle riders together from all walks of life

Aaron West

The deafening roars of thousands of tricked-out motorcycles filled downtown streets and beyond Saturday — harbingers of the annual Republic of Texas Biker Rally and the accompanying leather and notorious biker attitudes.

The rally, which began 17 years ago, brought musical acts such as the Doobie Brothers, the John Gaar band and others to the Travis County Exposition center, where bikers had the option to camp for the weekend. Downtown hotels were filled to capacity and city streets hosted other festivities like the ROT parade, which holds the Guinness World Record for “Longest Parade of Motorcycles.” Whether at the exposition center or downtown, bikers from all over the country celebrated Texas’ biggest motorcycle rally and their love for the bikes.

“There’s a few troublemakers and a few people that don’t know what the hell they’re doing, but most people are just Average Joes who just ride their bikes and think it’s cool to be around the bikes,” said Steve Cantwell, a biker and a businessman from Ft. Worth who marked his 10th Republic of Texas rally this weekend.

The gathering attracted about 50,000 bikers to the city. The bikers, many of whom are leather-clad, tattoo-covered and look like they’ve stepped out of a scene from “Easy Rider,” flock to the event for different reasons.

“I come to see all the bikes and the people,” Cantwell said. “It’s the common interest. I’ve been riding my whole life, so just to get together and see all the other people who enjoy the same pastime that I do is great.”

Although many bikers in town are independent riders, others are members of motorcycle clubs that take the biker lifestyle more seriously. The clubs are identified by colors, often displayed on patch-covered vests. The secretary of the League City chapter of the Gypsy Motorcycle Club, whose biker name is Goldfinger, said motorcycle clubs are exclusive and that people can’t just join a club — they have to work for it.

“We follow protocol,” Goldfinger said. “You don’t [just] get a vest, you’ve got to earn it. It’s kind of like being in a fraternity. You have to learn respect, you have to learn club history.”

Jeremy Harris, a biker from San Antonio, is on the other end of the spectrum. The rally was his first Republic of Texas experience, and, like Cantwell, he said he was just interested in seeing the bikes and having fun.

“It gives me something to do,” Harris said. “I come out and cruise and hang out for a while. I wanted to check out all the bikes, drink beer and hang out with my girl.”

A passion for thunderous motorcycles is something both club members and casual riders can agree on.

“It’s just fun to get together and see all this,” Cantwell said. “Just walking up and down [Sixth Street] and looking at all the cool bikes. You’ll see anything from a piece of crap that’ll make you wonder ‘How did that even get here,’ to like a $100,000 bike that’s like ‘Man, somebody’s got more money than sense.’”