Countless motorcycles lined San Benito Street this weekend as the 70th anniversary Hollister Independence Rally kicked into high gear.
Downtown swarmed with bikers of all creeds and colors. Attendees gawked at ferocious hogs and ate their weight in barbeque and Spam fries as engines revved up and down the main strip.
“Riding a motorcycle is the closest thing you can get to real freedom,” said Casper Crowley of Ride Wright Wheels, an Anaheim-based company famous for the Fat Daddy, a 50-spoke wheel with a fat frame, and one of the many vendors of motorcycle gear, memorabilia and accessories set up along 5th, 6th and 7th streets, which catered to the event’s thousands of spectators and leather-clad riders.
“We rode here from Modesto. We got wind out of Pacheco Pass, but otherwise it was a cool, nice journey,” said Brandon Santos, as he lounged with a few friends against a convenient cement slab at a less crowded section of sidewalk near the tail-end of the cordoned area at San Benito and South Street. “It’s my first time here – but this guy,” he said as he pointed to his mustachioed friend, “was born and raised in Hollister and even though he moved away 17 years ago, still comes every year.”
The event, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this 4th of July weekend, has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. Once a niche community celebration of the hog, the Hollister rally has expanded into a real spectator pleaser that draws thousands each year. Organizers have also kept pace to make the event more family-friendly, with multiple stages of live music and the wild Monte Perlin’s Globe of Death stunt show. Beer sales are also kept indoors at local bars, like Johnny’s Bar and Grill or behind closed off sections in specially designated areas.
To keep the peace and the crowds gently moving, the city also required a swollen police force with officers from all over the state arriving for the weekend.
On Saturday around noon, Police Chief David Westrick had been walking around the event perimeter monitoring activity and shared how there had been a couple arrests for intoxication and weapons possession.
He said visitors had been “really supportive” and it was a typical rally.
After the rally, the chief shared more thoughts and said it was nice having the same organizer, Roadshows, Inc., as last year. In recent years, there has been a revolving door of promoters running the historically on-again, off-again event.
“You know what their strengths are and you know the company,” Westrick said. “They also figured out Hollister a bit better as well. It is a big event. There are a lot of moving parts.”
Westrick acknowledged he tends to “way, way over-prepare” and had plans in place many months before this year’s event.
That mentality seemed to work. Police continued moving away from the “pack” approach to enforcement. In the past, one of the common gripes about the rally had been those large packs of officers roaming the grounds. He called that way of enforcement “ineffective” and said he’d rather see police interacting with bikers, some of which talked with cops and gave them high-fives as they walked by.
The positive vibes in 2017 came despite the chief’s belief that crowds were particularly large this year, especially on Saturday when the San Benito Street main drag filled up by mid-morning.
“I don’t know if it was because of the anniversary – no idea,” he said.
Still, police always expect a certain level of shenanigans despite the mostly aging population of the self-described rebels.
“I think it is common pretty much every single year that either they try to bring open containers or they will bring banned weapons,” Westrick said.
Thankfully, considering its size, the rally resulted in little trouble for the city’s public safety officials. According to the Hollister Police, calls and arrests at the rally were down from last year. Over the three-day event, there were 619 calls, seven DUIs, 86 citations, 30 arrests, four collisions and 46 reports. Compare that to the 2016 motorcycle rally, which had 753 calls, 12 DUIs, 70 citations, 46 arrests, one collision and 56 reports.
Arrests for public intoxication, narcotics and illegal weapons were the bulk of reports taken for 2017. No crimes, incidents or events were reported after midnight in the rally event area all weekend for the third year in a row.
“So far it’s been great,” said Tina Hurley, west coast representative for Indian Motorcycle, which had their booth in front of the Veterans Memorial Building, transformed inside for the weekend into a beer hall. “Anytime you close off streets for riders it’s awesome.”
Events like the Hollister Independence Rally offer motorcycle awareness and brand awareness, Hurley said.
“A lot of safety awareness too, which I think is really important,” she said. “There’s a lot of people against drunk driving. A lot of motorcycle insurance brands as well that are here. It’s like we’re one big family. I like the rallies because it shows that.”
The beer garden boasted alcoholic beverages, but Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Company served up something sweeter on a side street. Stacks of mugs sat next to large casks serving on-tap sodas such as Rocky Mountain Root Beer, Sarsaparilla Six Shooter and Vintage Vanilla Cream.
“Wild Bill’s sodas are old fashioned sodas made with real sugar,” employee Alvaro Gutierrez explained. “When you buy a mug, you get unlimited refills for the rest of the day.”
Gutierrez said the company normally travels around California, Washington and Oregon. This was their first time in Hollister.
“We heard about the rally and the one in Galveston was pretty good, so we came to check it out,” he said.
The perfect accompaniment to an old fashioned soda, Spam fries were a rally hit. The deep-fried, salty snack battered in tempura is a family tradition of Kulia and Lupe Lemus, proprietors of Tutu Pa’s BBQ.
Straight from Hawaii and made with a spoonful of Aloha spirit in each serving, “the Spam fries leave a smile on your face – even if you thought you did not like Spam,” said Anela Hikialani Tyler, Kulia’s sister, who was out helping for the weekend.
Tucked in between the larger leather merchants and sunglasses vendors was a small booth promoting what appeared at first glance to be belt buckles. But closer inspection proved the products to be belt buckle-wallet combos from Wallet Buckle, a Walnut Creek-based company featured on the television show Shark Tank.
“They’re popular with bikers,” said Dixie Mae Rebel, representative with Wallet Buckle. “A lot of times they don’t want to have the wallet while they’re sitting on the bike. It’s a comfort thing. For the ladies, it’s more of a fashion thing.”
Owners and Editors Stan and Terry Hill of Thunder Roads Northern California Magazine was at a nearby booth. Both have been attending the motorcycle rally for years.
“Since it came back,” Stan said, referring to the rally’s revival in 2013. “But even before that, we were going to Corbin’s before the rally.”
The Hills said they come to Hollister several times a year for business.
“We love the area,” Terry said. “It’s probably the best rally we got going in California right now.”
The rally helps the local economy, Stan said.
“It’s a great outlet for bikers to be able to come out and be around people,” he said. “Be around people they have a lot in common with. If it helps the community along the way, that’s a big bonus.”
Stan said he expected this year’s rally was as big as last year, if not bigger.
“It went off really well last year, so I’m thinking that bodes well for the future as far as the growth of the event,” he said. “This event’s definitely grown and is moving in the right direction. We’re super excited about it.”
City Manager Bill Avera was happy with how the weekend went.
“I’d say everything went pretty smoothly,” Avera said Monday. “Overall, we had a larger crowd on Saturday compared to Saturday last year, which is the bar we use to see how the event is going.”
Things also went smoothly working with the promoter, Avera said.
“As far as setup and the promoter’s ability to meet our needs, everybody worked well together,” he said. “I also think the weather helped. A nice cool weekend is always better for us. I thank everybody for their help and for being cool.”