In January, the Bikes, Blues & BBQ motorcycle rally announced that it would be relocating to Rogers after more than two decades housed in Fayetteville. The rally, scheduled for Oct. 5-8, relocated after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and after logistical issues posed problems for hosting this year in Fayetteville.
But, while it may not be centrally located in the city that had hosted it for more than two decades, it will still be business as usual for many in the region when the motorcycles roll into Northwest Arkansas this fall.
“What I’ve said many times is, yeah, maybe the name on the letterhead changed from Fayetteville to Rogers. But that doesn’t mean that Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville — the whole Northwest Arkansas area — won’t still be involved,” said Raymond Burns, CEO of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. “I look at it as a change on the letterhead.”
‘MORE THAN FAIR’
While the rally originated in Fayetteville, over the years, it spread to become a regional event, and the city of Rogers has had a “long relationship” with the rally, according to Burns. The city hosts the Frisco Inferno barbecue contest, a rally staple for years, and other festivities.
After not hosting the rally for two years due to the pandemic, Bikes Blues & BBQ faced challenges in hosting again in Fayetteville. Construction on a downtown parking deck on Dickson Street would displace vendors from the event who had traditionally set up shop there, in addition to Razorback football hosting home games near the time of the rally.
When considering a city for relocating, Rogers checked plenty of boxes due to infrastructure investments and its central location in the region, allowing quicker access to highways and roads frequented by motorcyclists.
“If you look at what Rogers has been doing over the last 10 to 15 years, all of the infrastructure that we need to host something of this magnitude has been under construction and being developed,” Burns said. “If you just look at the things like our convention center, the Walmart AMP, Topgolf … it says that we are prepared for and have the infrastructure for and capacity for events of this type.”
In January, the announcement made to move the event may have surprised some residents. Still, it wasn’t a surprise to the city of Fayetteville, according to Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. He sits on the board of directors, which runs the rally’s nonprofit organization.
“The process was more than fair and more than open and more than transparent,” Clark said. “We knew those discussions were going on, and we knew what those discussions were. Nobody in Fayetteville was surprised.”
CHANGING THE LETTERHEAD
What exactly does it mean to move the rally — one that is already spread out across the region — to a new location?
In many ways, the complexion of the rally will look the same as it has. Clark said he still expects Fayetteville to close down Dickson Street and continue many of the same preparations they’ve done in the past.
“We’ll still have the same things going on here,” Clark said. “The distinction of Fayetteville is Fayetteville. It’s a university town. We have the entertainment district. You have a lot of places for people to walk on the sidewalks and sit.”
But there will be differences as well. According to Burns, the expo portion of the rally will move to Rogers, most likely to the convention center in Pinnacle Hills. And he expects the Walmart AMP to book musical acts that would be attractive to the bikers that flock to the area. He also expects a higher concentration of cyclists in Rogers, though he doesn’t think there will be a noticeable decrease in traffic in other cities.
“There will still be motorcycles everywhere,” Burns said. “The idea, if you’re coming from out of this area to participate in the festival, is that you experience all of Northwest Arkansas. From Fayetteville to Eureka Springs. If you happened to be parked in the middle of that, in Rogers, you may go south one day and north the next, and east the next.”
One change Burns doesn’t expect, however, is closing roads. He said the city has no plans to close streets in the city out of concern of displacing merchants and parking.
The shift also has ripple effects for nearby cities such as Bentonville. Kalene Griffith, president and CEO of Visit Bentonville, the city’s tourism bureau, said she anticipates more hotel bookings than before. Her communications team is also creating social media and website communications with a specific focus on motorcyclists.
Burns said the planning for the rally is a “year-round activity” and that Rogers has been in regular conversation with different law enforcement agencies and first responders in the area in preparation. And Clark said there were numerous factors to consider when planning for the rally — including personnel, electrical needs, temporary signage and sanitation.
“We won’t have some of those problems on the same level,” Clark said of planning considerations.
A YEARLY BASIS
Both Burns and Clark have heard positive responses from local vendors and merchants regarding the move.
“We’ve gone through two years of absolute hell for our hospitality businesses,” Burns said. “To bring this many people to town over four days is going to be a huge shot in the arm for all those folks. Not just in Rogers but everywhere. I think we’re looking for an operation that runs smoothly and safely. We’re looking for an operation that continues to give philanthropically. As long as it’s safe and as long as everything works the way it’s supposed to, I think it’ll be a success.”
But while the rally has moved for 2022, the future of the rally beyond this calendar year remains unclear — and that uncertainty may not be resolved anytime soon.
“To make a big move like this, obviously it needs time to establish itself,” Burns said. “I would think we would look at this on a year-by-year basis, give it a couple of years and see if it works. If it doesn’t, things need to be where things need to be. We haven’t had any discussions about whether this would be permanent or not. I think everybody understands we won’t be able to tell in one year — maybe in two or three.”
Clark said Fayetteville also might try to host again in the future.
“I think the idea is [the location of the rally] is always up in the air because our region is always changing,” he said. “Our mayor has said he might be able to create some facilities that the city would particularly direct toward Bikes Blues. Most of the spaces we have now were not built to host a motorcycle rally.
“We’re writing a new chapter. When you’re writing a new chapter, everything is possible. I’m excited about it, and I do believe that each community will have each segment of its community excited about it.”