Mar 10, 2009

Dover In December - Port Dover Friday December 13th 2002

There's not much anyone can write that's not been written about Friday the 13th at Port Dover. Everyone probably knows by now that it was started in 1981 by Chris Simons and 25 of his closest friends, and has ballooned into the largest gathering of motorcyclists in Canada.

But if you're like me, you probably find those huge gatherings somewhat boring, too many poseurs, preeners, and trailer queens. On the other hand, a cold-weather 13th almost guarantees a higher loony ratio. These folks are more likely to be interested in riding, and the performance of an act which would differentiate them from the crowd, and less likely to care about what their bike looks like. In other words, my kinda people! To mesh with these folks and find out the real story, driving a car down was not an option. I would need to be on two wheels to have the cred with this crowd of hard-core cold riders. I'm also not one to make things easy on myself, so I decided to decorate my Honda ST1100 with Christmas (can we still say that in public?) lights.

My day started out on Ancaster, in my friend Mike's garage where I've been keeping my ST lately. Leaving with a local Gold Wing rider, we picked our way through piles of salt and dirt onto highway 6. Pulling onto this road back in September, I had to wait for a kilometer long string of bikes to pass by before pulling in behind them. Today, not one single bike is visible. It was going to be a slow day at the office I thought.

As we approached the bridge over the frozen Grand River, I noticed there was no sign reading “Bridge Freezes before Road,” but there was a sign saying “No Diving from Bridge Surface.” I was hoping this particular bridge was exempt from the former, as I certainly didn't want to do the latter.

Parking right on the main drag in Port Dover was not a problem, as opposed to the warm September 13th where thousands upon thousands of motorcycles clogged every inch of available soil. I decided to park at the Tim Hortons, with my string of lights lit up by the marine battery strapped to the back seat. Coffee in cold hands, I set out to walk the strip.

I didn't expect to see any open air beer gardens, but there were quite a few vendors. The Hells Angels were back with their booth. They had the biker gang market sewn up, the Outlaws club being wounded by recent and well-publicized busts. The one percenters were not the focus of the story this time, though.

Those who did ride were noticeably proud of their deeds. The festive mood carried over into their dress as well. Many were sporting Santa hats, reindeer antlers, and the t-shirt of choice read “Where's The Heat” in a chilly snow-covered font.

Interesting were two “municipal enforcement officers” walking a beat. These two older ladies were not carrying guns, but did have another lethal weapon with them, at least for those hawking goods. They carried binders with various Haldimand-Norfolk county bylaws inside, and weren't afraid to draw them and aim at any unlicensed seller. Peeking over the shoulder of one, I read the title of the page she had open, which read: “Peddlers Licensure - Haldimand Norfolk County.” I listened in as they asked a man selling souvenirs from the back of his pickup to produce his license. Of course he had none, but asked how much they were. Five hundred dollars annually was the answer. After being asked to leave, he packed up his things and drove off. Seems they are trying to put Friday the 13th out of business, one vendor at a time.

Back amongst the milling motorcyclists, I felt almost guilty (almost) about having ridden there behind a fully faired motorcycle wearing a heated jacket and gloves. Surprising was the percentage of bikes with no windshield or weather protection of any sort, their riders suffering with open face helmets, protected by sometimes as little as a kerchief over their faces.

As expected, the restaurants were busy, as folks attempted to warm themselves after their cold ride in. However, just as many were gathered outside in pockets. As they talked, steam escaped from their own internal vertical twins, mirroring the steamy exhausts of the v-twin double lungers rumbling by up and down the main drag.

According to constable Mark Foster, Community Services Officer for the Haldimand-Norfolk detachment of the O.P.P., between 200 and 300 motorcycles arrived, with many more people coming by some other means. Wusses! He reported no altercations, nor frostbite or other injuries.

Late afternoon as the sky darkened, people gradually began to leave, no doubt worried about traction as the temperature started to fall. Crowds would form sporadically, watching to see if the latest guy to weave down the street on his blatting Harley, goosing the throttle, was going to dump it.

Now that the light was more favourable to view my own spectacle, I decided it was an ideal time to cruise up and down the main street a few times. Reaction was positive to the string of lights I had mounted. On my way out of town, the inevitable spot check kept traffic to a crawl, and the O.P.P. were handing out MacDonalds gift certificates to motorists prior to being waved on! Provincial budget cuts produce strange bedfellows indeed. What's next, can we expect little ads for Tim Hortons on the cars, or perhaps the location of every outlet in the province printed on the back of your speeding ticket?

Overall, for those riders who made it, a sense of accomplishment reigned, of victory over the elements. Kudos to two riders especially. Two fellows by the name of Bob and Don came in from Kentucky and Ohio for the event!

Don't expect easy parking or parkas at the next celebration of two wheels in Port Dover. It's taking place in June, 2003. See you there, with bells on!

No, these weren't
taken in December.

These were taken on
Friday the 13th in
September 2002 by
Mark Bowman.

Just a teaser of
what you may find
next June.

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