Harleys roll into Cape

Monday, September 19, 2005

By now, the HOGS will have loaded up their bikes and headed back home, and reports will have been made about the economic impact of the estimated 3,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners (thus the name HOGS - Harley Owners Group) who rallied in Cape Girardeau Sept. 9 through 11.

Cape Girardeau was happy to see them ride into town and spend their 14th annual get-together here.

Mayor Jay Knudtson, a Harley owner for the past 15 years, got together with Police Chief Steve Strong, an other Harley biker, and formally invited the HOGS to come back after they visited Cape Girardeau in 2001. The HOGS initially held all their rallies in Hannibal, Mo., Knudtson said, but in recent years they have moved around the state -- Springfield and Kansas City, as well as their earlier visit to Cape.

"I won't deny the fact that having the chief of police standing at my right arm as I made my presentation was pretty impactful," Knudtson.

That and the fact that Old Town Cape threw a downtown street party for the group and invited the town to come party with them Saturday night. The Convention and Visitors Bureau helped share the cost of renting the Show Me Center for the HOGS to use as their home base while they were here because the return is worth the investment.

The red carpet was rolled out and thousands of Harley riders roared into town on it.

"These are people who live and work and have families and go to church the same way that we do," Knudtson said. "These are people who take seriously the art of motorcycle riding and they enjoy coming to our community."

They came to ride and they take riding seriously. The HOGS' three-day schedule of events included demonstrations of riding skill, competitions and trips throughout the area on their bikes.

Like anyone else, when HOGS get away to have fun, they spend money. Kara Clark of the Convention and Visitors Bureau said the average expenditure from the three-day event is estimated to be $135 per day per person for lodging, food and discretionary spending. Multiply that by at least 3,000 visitors and the impact on the community is a little over $1 million, Clark said. Consider also, she said, the additional money coming into the city from the hotel and restaurant tax.

Tim Arbeiter of Old Town Cape said that the average age of the participants is 40 to 50. Many come with their families, he said, and some were expected to come early before the rally and spend time and money in town.

Men and women participate. Barbara Minor of Minor Harley-Davidson, who with her husband Sonny, helped coordinate the rally, said that women bought between 20 and 25 percent of the motorcycles sold last year.

Barbara Minor said she no longer rides long distances, but declares that there is a certain freedom in riding a motorcycle.

"You feel more at one with the environment when you're out there," she said. "There's nothing like it."

Knudtson says riding for him is therapeutic. He said he rides as often as possible, but especially looks forward to a yearly trip he takes by himself, just getting away from it all.

"It's the closest thing to being absolutely anonymous I can get," he said. "I don't tell anybody I am a banker or a mayor; they wouldn't believe me if I did. The feeling is one I cherish right now given the pressures and challenges I have. It allows me to get away and affords me the best opportunity to step outside the mayor's office and the banker's office and be a regular person."

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