Opinion: Rally to the rally

In Port Dover every Friday 13th, there are only two types of residents: those who love it, and those who clear out for the weekend. No one is indifferent. It’s tough to be indifferent to more than 100,000 bikes descending on your small town. Maybe closer to 200,000 if the weather is warm and sunny, though this Friday threatens rain.

There are also two types of motorcyclists: those who love it, and those who stay well away. Most commenters here at Canada Moto Guide seem to sneer and stay away and to each their own, but there’s something special about riding into town with such a mass of people who just want to hang out together, look at some bikes, buy a T-shirt and maybe a fish sandwich; drink some beer if they’re camping over.

Port Dover gets packed on most Friday 13ths.

I won’t be there this Friday but Dustin will, setting up a tent somewhere on the edge of town and checking out the goings-on. I’ve been a few times in the past and enjoyed myself, but I’ve never stayed over. I probably should one day so I can park the bike, have a drink and kick back with all those thousands of others.

The first big rally I ever attended was Sturgis, back in the mid-’80s, when I rode out to South Dakota with my friend Ian. He had a Honda Magna and I was on my then-new Suzuki DR600, and it was the first time I’d ever seen the prairie. We set up camp at the Buffalo Chip and made some friends among the neighbouring tents, but I never slept well – apparently, my Japanese dirt bike was vulnerable to being stolen and thrown on a bonfire as a sacrifice to the Harley gods.

Mark’s bike on the way to Sturgis in 1985. Not your typical motorcycle to ride there.

It really was a trial by fire that year. On the Saturday night of the rally, a half-dozen of us went drinking in town and when we were finally ready to head back to the camp ground, I nipped into a dark alleyway to relieve myself. I’d just gotten matters in hand, as it were, when a door in the wall I was about to pee against suddenly opened and four SWAT officers emerged from the bright light, just an arm’s-length away. They were as surprised as me.

“Hey – what are you doing?” said one of the cops.

“What do you think I’m doing?” I answered back brightly, but none too smartly.

Probably just as well the cops didn’t try to arrest Mark’s friend Ian, seen here at the Buffalo Chip campground.

Next thing I knew, my hands were grabbed, I was handcuffed, and I was hauled inside the door, which turned out to be a back entrance to the police station. I was annoyed because my testimonials were still making a statement outside of my Levis, as it were. I ended up being charged with “depositing filth in a public place” – though, as I pointed out, I hadn’t had a chance yet to actually deposit any filth – and spent the night in jail. It wasn’t as comfortable as I’d hoped: my large cell mate took my blanket and ate my French toast in the morning. When I came to court on the Monday, the judge threw out the charge and I rode north to Canada as fast as that DR could manage. Which wasn’t much.

Daytona, Laconia, Lake George – they all blur into each other, with thousands of bikes and thousands of stories. I did go back to Sturgis a few more times, most recently in 2009 when I rode there on a Harley decker with my 19-year-old English nephew Ollie. His mom, my sister, was none too impressed when he went home and showed her his new tattoo, which matched my own.

Ollie gets inked at Sturgis in 2007. He wasn’t old enough to drink, but he was old enough to get into trouble.

It was only a small tattoo: a yin-yang on the shoulder, etched in long after midnight on the final night of the rally. But the tattoo artist told us of how she’d travelled up from Los Angeles where she had a studio, and how she was the cousin of skateboarder Tony Hawk, and how she’d given Tony all his tattoos. She gave me her card. So a year or two later, when I decided how my tattoo should be improved and I found myself in Los Angeles, I went to look for her to finish the job.

She was there, in the back, and she didn’t recognize me. I didn’t expect she would.

“Hey!” I said, and explained the Sturgis connection, and she pretended to remember. “And how’s Tony?” I asked.

“Tony Who?” she said.

I wasn’t too surprised. She didn’t touch my tattoo that day, but it had been a good story. That’s what bike rallies like Port Dover really give you: good stories. If you go there this Friday, you’re sure to get a few of your own.

Mark and Ollie in Sturgis, South Dakota, flying the flag.



  1. Great story Mark, I do not like crowds of any sort and I am not much for sitting around. I am near the opposite end of the spectrum. I do mostly solo pavement riding on quiet roads in southern BC. Most other people on the road are very dangerous, I try to stay away from them. Interesting how we all have the same passion, expressed in so many different ways. Cam

  2. My last Friday the 13th was January of 2006 when I rode my Wee Strom down from Toronto. The weather was mild, if not a bit overcast & threatening rain. Ran into TooTall & Chris while there & rode back to Toronto with TooTall. Never thought 6 months later that I would be moving West to Alberta & that was possibly my last Friday the 13th Rally

  3. To quote Groucho Marx, “I wouldn’t belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member”.
    Just ask one of your former esteemed writers.
    Oh yeah, and get off my lawn !

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