Motorcycle riding is an experience so much bigger than the bike, Jay Huber says. He describes it as a different way of interacting with the landscape: feeling the temperature drop when a cold front moves in, leaning into the curves, being vigilant to spot road hazards and smelling the fragrances you’d miss boxed up in a car.
“There’s kind of a Zen moment,” he says. “Until you’ve done it it’s hard to explain.”
Huber serves as motorcycle education coordinator for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and was president of the Kentucky Motorcycle Association, an advocacy group, for 20 years. For Huber, as for many Kentuckians, the draw of motorcycle riding has a lot to do with the feeling of freedom, but he says Hollywood stereotypes like Sons of Anarchy TV show ought to be retired.
“There’s probably not a nicer, more giving bunch of individuals, as a group, that you would find anywhere in the country, or the world, for that matter,” he says.
From the rides, rallies and charitable fundraiser to the biker churches, barbecues and adults-only weekend extravaganzas, Kentucky motorcycle culture prioritizes community. And across the state, motorcycle events welcome bikers and non-bikers alike to support small towns, give back through charitable events and celebrate a shared love of riding free.
July 31, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Phillip Kelly loves his town, and he knows others will, too.
He also loves motorcycles, and during the Cynthiana Bike Night he organizes, thousands of visitors flood downtown to enjoy motorcycles, games, vendors, live music and kids activities.
Free and family-friendly, this year’s event features a Kid’s Zone with bouncy houses, face painting and games, along with two bands, a motorcycle stunt team, more than 20 vendors and the Traveling Kentucky Vietnam Wall, a memorial for Kentucky Vietnam veterans. The area is served by Blue Grass Energy.
In addition to celebrating motorcycles and the downtown experience, Cynthiana Bike Night has a charitable mission. All proceeds from vendor fees and T-shirt sales go to a community toy drive. Kelly says the last event raised enough money to give toys to 300 kids and feed 25 families a full Christmas dinner.
Kelly and a group of friends have been running motorcycle-based fundraisers since 2016, but they’re not a nonprofit—they’re not even an organization. They’re just people who like helping others and love to ride motorcycles, and find ways to connect the two.
“It’s just a bunch of friends,” he says. “That’s what we do.”
The green-canopied back roads of Anderson County hum with bikes in August as the Kentucky district of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) hosts its KY Blast District Rally in Lawrenceburg.
Leah Cridlin, who serves as state GWRRA director with her husband, Rick, says the event focuses on the association’s motto: Friends, Fun and Safety.
The event kicks off on the evening of August 19 in downtown Lawrenceburg with food trucks and live music from local band Puncheon Creek.
In line with the association’s educational mission, the Lawrenceburg event offers seminars on motorcycle education and motorist awareness, as well as a daily ride through scenic Anderson County.
“It’s a time for Gold Wing riders to come together and reunite, take some beautiful rides and participate in motorcycle training,” Leah Cridlin says. “There’s a bike show on Friday night, and a light parade where we ride through town and display our beautiful bikes.”
Cridlin enjoys the friendships she’s developed through the motorcycle community, as well as opportunities to travel across the country and resources to continually hone skills and learn more about safety.
“Not only do you get to participate in fun, but you get educated on how to be a good motorcycle rider and co-rider, all while keeping this hobby of ours safe,” she says.
All are welcome at the rally, and Cridlin says anyone interested can register and learn more at the Kentucky association website.
“We would love for people to come join us and participate in some motorcycle fun activities and be part of all the fun,” she says.
European Riders Rally, Burkesville
September 9–12 (tentative at press time)
Chris Aycock started riding motorcycles as a 6-year-old. Since then, he’s owned more than 30 bikes and ridden motorcycles in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and across the United States. He’s met plenty of interesting folks along the way, but he says some of the most fascinating people still wind up at an event in his own backyard—the European Riders Rally in Burkesville.
Aycock lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and he’s a longtime member and past president of the BMW Club of Nashville, which hosts the European Riders Rally. The name is somewhat misleading; while European-made bikes are common, all riders and all bikes are welcome to enjoy scenic rides and the small-town charm of Burkesville, served by Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation.
“The downtown itself, and the people there, are just what make it,” Aycock says. “They open up and cater directly to us. Annie Ruby’s Cafe specially opens, and they have a Friday night dinner for us, when otherwise we’d be hunting around for something.”
Peter Duncanson, the current president of the BMW Motorcycle Club of Nashville, also highlights the efforts of the town and county to welcome guests.
“They also have a great facility for this kind of event—space for camping and RVs, shower and restroom facilities, in town so that several amenities are available,” he says.
For their part, downtown businesses are thrilled to have nearly 300 guests flooding Burkesville for the weekend.
“It means a lot for us,” says owner Heather Hannan, owner of Annie Ruby’s Cafe (featured in the January 2021 issue of Kentucky Living). “We’ve gotten to know a lot of the riders over the years, and they’ve become our friends, too.”
There’s a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. There’s one in Sturgis, Michigan.
Carlene Thomas isn’t sure what it is about Sturgis, but she does know this: the Kentucky Bike Rally in Sturgis, Kentucky, is the place to be the third weekend of July.
An adults-only event, the Kentucky Bike Rally welcomes guests 21 and older to what’s billed as Kentucky’s largest motorcycle rally for a weekend of live music, bike games, bike shows with trophies, vendors from across the U.S., a poker run to raise money for charity and a long weekend in which bikers say they can simply relax among their peers.
Thomas and her husband, Bill, who own Custom Biker Wear, a small business based in Sturgis, were vendors at motorcycle events for 25 years before taking over as rally organizers in 2011. She says that despite the stereotypes about bikers—and the colorful reputation of the Kentucky Bike Rally—the motorcycle community is supportive, encouraging and always willing to lend a hand.
“The motorcycle industry is different from most things,” she says. “They’re the most giving. If there’s a charity event going on, they’re right there to help with it. Everybody has kind of a bad vibe about motorcycles, but they’re the most respectful, giving people that I have met in any industry.”
Cynthiana: Murals and more
The Cynthiana Bike Night, July31, is about the love of motorcycles, but it’s also a celebration of home.
“I’m also wanting people to come to Cynthiana and see what my town has to offer,” says Phillip Kelly, Bike Night organizer. He touts murals, mom-and-pop shops and downtown attractions.
Start your day with coffee and breakfast at The Burley Market & Cafe. Housed in a painstakingly restored downtown building, the Burley Market & Cafe was a labor of love for business operators Karey and Noel Riddell and property owners Marlin and Cheryl Anness. Their attention to detail is evident not only in the building, but also in their homemade Cyn City Cinnamon Rolls—more than 20,000 have been sold since 2019.
Cynthiana is home to 23 murals, according to the Cynthiana Tourism Commission, including the world’s largest mural of The Walking Dead, which was created by the Portugal-based mural artist Sergio Odeith. Other mural subjects include former University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach Joe B. Hall, a vet clinic, former Cynthiana distilleries, Tow Mater from the Pixar movie Cars, and many more.
You’ll be hungry after all that walking, so don’t miss one of Kelly’s favorite local spots, the Cynthiana Cheese Store, which offers sandwiches, meat and cheese trays, gift baskets, frozen yogurt and more.
Close out the day by raising a glass at Maiden City Brewing Company and enjoy live music from local artists starting at 7 p.m. on Saturdays.