COLUMBIA — That distant roaring you will soon hear is 35,000 or so bikers pulling into Columbia.
They're coming from across the country on motorcycles and sport bikes for the 33rd annual National Bikers Roundup, which runs from Tuesday through Aug. 8 at the Boone County Fairgrounds, 5212 N. Oakland Gravel Road.
The Boone County Sheriff's Department recommends alternate routes for traffic near the fairgrounds while the National Bikers Rally is under way, from Tuesday through Aug. 8.
Likely to be heavily congested are:
- U.S. 63
- Starke Avenue
- Prathersville Road
- Roger I. Wilson Memorial Drive
- Oakland Gravel Road (from Smiley Lane to Prathersville Road)
- Brown School Road (from Oakland Gravel Road to Highway 763)
- Highway 763 (from Smiley Lane to Prathersville Road)
The following roads will be used exclusively for event patrons:
- Traffic on Starke Avenue will be eastbound only.
- Traffic on Oakland Gravel Road (between Smiley Lane and Prathersville Road) will be southbound only.
Free shuttles will be available from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. They will run continually between Parkade Plaza and the fairgrounds.
$20 for motorcycle club members, $25 for general admission and free for children 12 and younger.
Live entertainment is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday nights from 6 to 11 p.m. at the grandstand on the northeast part of the fairgrounds and from 6 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. at the arena in the main building.
Bands scheduled to appear are: Zapp; The St. Lunatics; Chingy; Theodis Ealy; Sir Charles; Motown on Wax; Dr. Zhivegas; DJ Diamond Kuts; Ruka Puff; Aloha; Baby Huey; DeAndre Perryman; Alyson Williams; and The Fellaz. The acts are primarily funk, hip-hop and rhythm and blues.
Demo rides will be done on the asphalt at the fairgrounds.
A bike show will be held in the parking lot of the Atkins baseball field on Saturday.
Activities for children are scheduled both in the air-conditioned part on the fairgrounds in the main building and outside. National Bikers Roundup chairman Billy Walker said activities will include "blow-up games, small carnival rides, video games, commercial video games and possibly a pool."
About 60 motorcycle dealers and food and merchandise vendors have signed up to participate in the event. This includes Harley Davidson, which will bring an 18-wheeler that folds out into a demo area and another with motorcycles in it.
The Sister to Sister seminar held for women at each roundup discusses first aid, breast cancer awareness, motorcycle riding and safety tips, and other topics of interest to female motorcyclists.
God's Wheels is a charity that is sponsored by the roundup. Attendees are asked to bring canned food for donation to those who need it. The cans are donated to the city that hosts the roundup.
The National Bikers Roundup is a yearly gathering for members, enthusiasts and clubs to socialize, show off their bikes, look at new ones and shop for gear. It began as a kind of camp-out for African-American motorcycle clubs within a couple of hundred miles of Kansas City, according to Rozell "Breeze" Nunn, a founder of the National Bikers Roundup and national co-chairman of this year's event. Over time, the roundup expanded to include people from all backgrounds.
The Boone County Sheriff's Department wants community residents to know the bikers are likely to be in the area in noticeable numbers, affecting traffic, starting on Monday. Alternate routes are listed in a sidebar to this article.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 35,000 is a conservative estimate of visitors and predicted the event will have $6 million in direct impact on the area economy. Hotels farther than Boonville have been booked for this event, she said.
"If you have 35,000 people in the market, and they're spending just $30 a day, do the math," Steiner said. "Average expenditure for someone who is visiting and staying is $100-$125 a day, so they'll easily spend $6 million in the market."
Steiner said Columbia stores have been advised to stock up on food and other camping supplies to prepare for the brief population spike. This is because people will be camping at the fairgrounds and staying in RVs as well as hotels. Four areas will be set up on the fairgrounds for primitive camping. RV hookups will be available at the fairgrounds as well as at nearby Cottonwoods RV Park.
"Hundreds will bring RVs and their cars," Steiner said. "Most people stay in hotels and then use RVs on the fairgrounds side."
Services manager Jody Russell has secured a shuttling service to minimize the traffic congestion and backup at the fairgrounds. Shuttles will run for free on Friday and Saturday between Parkade Plaza and the fairgrounds. Maps to Parkade have been made for distribution to out-of-towners and outlying hotels.
Thousands of copies of fliers with information as to where visitors can go for groceries, urgent care and bike repairs are also scheduled to be distributed.
How the National Bikers Roundup ended up being held in Columbia this year is a point of pride for Steiner.
"We're kind of the mouse that roared," she said about securing the bid. "We have a history that when we go after something — and it sounds self-aggrandizing, but we really do — we have a history of securing those events."
Last year, Steiner said, two staffers from the tourism bureau went to the event in Atlanta. In deciding whether to host the event, the biggest issue on this end was providing security. Security is being handled by the Sheriff's Department, the Columbia Police Department, the State Highway Patrol and Contemporary Services Co. The private firm is being paid $23,000 by the National Bikers Roundup to handle security inside the fairgrounds, along with sheriff's deputies.
"When you have an event this big, there are so many things from the bureau's perspective that we're responsible for," Steiner said. "We want to make sure that this event goes off as well as it possibly can."
Major Tom Reddin said the Sheriff's Department plans to have 20 to 30 deputies assigned to the event inside and outside the fairgrounds. Some of these assignments will include overseeing traffic, entry gate security and two-man foot patrols within the fairgrounds. Reddin said they have been working closely with Contemporary Services, which will send about 40 people to the event, 20 of whom will be on duty inside the fairgrounds at any given time.
"We're just counting down the days at this point," Reddin said.
The Columbia Police Department will be visible downtown, and theHighway Patrol will oversee incoming traffic to Columbia, particularly at the U.S. 63/Interstate 70 junction.
Steiner wants to allay fears, if anyone has them, about the event, saying, "99.9 percent of these folks are coming here to have a good time."
"Of course there have been incidents, but you take 35,000 to 50,000 depending on how many people show up, and you put them in the same place for five days, there's going to be an incident," Steiner said. "There's going to be a domestic violence incident, or there's going to be a fight break out. If you put that many people in a space for a concert for that amount of time, can you imagine what you're going to have? This is just humanity in the normal course of being human."
Steiner said that when the two representatives were sent to Atlanta to secure Columbia's bid for the event, they never felt unsafe.
A memo recently distributed by the Special Business District to Columbia restaurant and bar owners said: "National Bikers Roundup is an umbrella organization that hosts many members from other biker groups. Some are family oriented, some are simply enthusiasts, but there are a very few that align themselves with 'outlaw bikers.'"
The memo went on: "It's important to state that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Meaning, you won't be able to tell an 'outlaw biker' from any other, so welcome everyone equally. But it is vital that you inform your staff to not tolerate any foul behavior and to maintain a high level of attention and service."
The memo lists precautions for businesses, concluding: "This is all precautionary and does NOT mean that this is an unsafe event. Understand that there may be a few bad apples, but the vast majority of attendees are very friendly and very good customers, and it's important to treat them as such."
Visit the Vox website for a photo slideshow and story about the biker culture.