Matt Richards

The thunderous call of open throttles and diligently shined chrome rolled into town again for Bay Minette Civic Club’s 12th Bike-O-Rama May 18-20.

Warm exuast fumes and the stark aroma of new leather filled the air as nearly 500 bikers from all over the Gulf Coast gathered under the shade of sprawling oaks in a field just outside the city limits.

However, unlike most motorcycle rallies, this one didn’t sponsor the normal decadence and self-indulgence commonly juxtaposed with motorcyclists.

“We always decided to keep (the rally) clean,” said Greg Mais, president of the Bay Minette Civic Club. “We wanted whole families to be able to go.”

This came as good news to riders like Steve Grant and his 6-year-old daughter, Amanda.

“We really enjoyed the family festivities,” Grant, a native of Bratt, Fla., said as Amanda timidly clung to his arm.

She cracked a toothless grin when her father explained that they “almost” won one of the games.

It was a competition where a plastic pipe stretched the length of a field. The players dropped a tennis ball in one end and attempted to catch it after riding their bikes to the other side.

Amanda mimicked the ball bouncing out of her cupped hands and the leather-clad giant chuckled through his bristly, white beard.

“Almost, huh?” he reiterated.

Her pink helmet bobbed up and down and then her larger smile showed two teeth poking through the gums.

Aside from myriad games constructed for the riders over the weekend, there were motorcycle shows, live bands, a tattoo contest, a charity auction and more than a dozen different vendors.

“This is the best event I’ve found where families can attend,” said Gary Simpson, owner of The Leather Shop in Northport, as he stood outside the tent full of motorcycle accessories he has sold at the rally for the last three years.

Simpson brings his litter of five dogs and puppies from home for the children to play with. His “crew.”

“(Bike-O-Rama) is not like some events where all you see are drunks roaming around,” Simpson said. “This is where kids aren’t exposed to what they shouldn’t be exposed to.”

As for charity, the civic club uses the cash from the auction and admissions for their full plate of good Samaritan deeds. They do everything from recycling bicycles for youngsters, making the holidays special for the needy, to footing the power bill for the poor and elderly and more.

Mais wanted everyone to know that they had a “good time for a good cause,” he said.

Besides the family environment and the charities, most gathered for one reason: to cruise the streets in the open air and show off their motorcycle loyalties.

Father and son duo Mike and Michael Gardener of Theodore are no different. They’re both members of the Southern Cruisers Riding Club and they love to “just ride.”

Four-year-old Michael proudly showed off the club’s patch on the back of his leather vest and claimed to have the most members here each year.

“(The rally) has some great family stuff,” said Mike.

Sharon Estelle, volunteer with the civic club, said she is convinced this type of event is necessary for people to understand who bikers really are.

“Everyone usually thinks: bikers! Ew, Hell’s Angels,” she said while her 8-year-old grandson, Gage Coons, waited in line at one of the refreshment vendors. “But I think it’s important to get the family involved so (everyone) can identify with us.”

Mais said he uses his post as president of the civic club to bridge the percieved gap between motorcycles and family.

“Not a lot of people know that bikers can be anybody,” he said. “There are doctors and lawyers who like to put their leathers on for the weekend.”