Geography, the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the Interstates have made Billings the logistics hub of the upper plains and Rockies. Being situated a days round trip from a bunch of national parks hasn’t hurt Billing’s hospitality industry, either. Thus Billings is a layover stop for truckers, trains, and tourists bound for more more important places. But Billings as a destination? Only the BMWMOA would fall for that line!

One of the things I’ve noted as a rally rat is how much the host town can to contribute to or destroy a rally. On one hand we’ve got the lovely city of Elkader, Iowa which has embraced and grown with the Guzzi Rally there. On the other hand we’ve got Daytona, which has so gouged riders that the BMW riders have left and even the Harley lemmings are starting to stay away. Billings, you’ve in no danger of ever becoming a Sturgis or even a Daytona…

Lets start with the site, which is basically the old county fairgrounds. But unlike even the most impoverished county fair in Minnesota where you could eat your lunch off the floor of the swine barns after the fair’s over and they’ve cleaned up, the fairgrounds is a dump. And just to reinforce that image, Billings built the sewer treatment plant right next to the fairgrounds. On a couple other sides of the fairgrounds they built 6 lane highways to shuffle all the traffic from the Interstate to US87, which through the wonders of poor planning doesn’t have an Interstate exit of it’s own… Perhaps the oil refinery just across from the fairgrounds was in the way?

Now granted, the taxpayers have been fleeced for some recent improvements to try to place Billings on the map, namely a medium sized arena and a couple medium sized exhibit halls that should be just fine for the state high school tournaments and winter farm shows. But the rest of the place is sorely lacking in landscaping or even grass, and the racetrack and grandstands looks darn near abandoned. The only shaded and grassy area of any size is an acre or so at the apex of those six lane highways, with a series of stop lights thrown in so we can count how many times some poor trucker will shift gears pulling away from a red light only to have the next light turn red on ’em. That and watching the steady stream of creative solutions to Montana’s 131,000 pounds on 11 axles weight limits and green light for long doubles and triples was mildly amusing for this retired trucker during the daylight hours.

That same conspiracy of stoplights provided a wondrous opportunity for Billings rednecks, teabaggers, and other fans of the “loud pipes save lives” mantra to get even with all them “un’merican” BMW riders by keeping them awake ’til well past bar closing time while they circled the fairgrounds attempting to demonstrate their bikes, pickups, and even big trucks considerable noise if not horsepower production. When you’ve got a 700 mile ride home a good night’s sleep is a good thing beforehand, and the couple thousand of us sleep deprived by Billing’s lowlife that has somehow managed to acquire a vehicle and remove it’s mufflers was not appreciated.

Now I suspect a mere text from the Billings Chamber’s tourism staffers who were much in evidence at rally HQ to the mayor would have brought some police presence to the area with a sound meter and maybe even a “vehicle noise limits enforced” sign would have solved that problem. But apparently in Billings the local rednecks who could never make it as cowboys but make noise with their pickups and Harleys instead are more important than a couple thousand motorcycle riders that created no problems while dropping a few million in the economy. So no Billings, we won’t bother you again. But I do have an award for you…

Billings… America’s biggest cow town.

After over an hour of product placement not so cleverly designed as the closing ceremony, a new BMW motorcycle and a bunch of tours, togs, and trinkets have been distributed. BMWMOA claims an attendance of 5800 hundred and change… But in the multiple attempts to draw winners of the door prizes I heard no numbers less than 1000 and none over 5900. That suggests that no attendees were given 3 digit numbers, dropping the high numbers for attendance to maybe 4800. Throw in the possibility that a lot of comp tickets were given out to vendors and such and weren’t used, and the 4000 estimate I was given by a registration volunteer sounds like the low range.

So attendance was probably around 4000 to 5000, rivaling the previous low numbers for BMWMOA rallies and a far cry from the glory days that pushed 10,000 paid attendance. Perhaps this explains why MOA is promoting lifetime memberships again… There’s no way of knowing how many members are still riding or even alive!

Meanwhile, the rally continues here at Airhead Central. Heck, we just put an airhead powered Yamaha cruiser on the bike lift for repairs!

Temps headed to the 90s with little shade, talk is that attendance topped 4000 and looks like  at least half of them haven’t left yet. Slow day in the farkle vendor area too, with little inventory reduction… Wonder how many will come back next year? I’m kickin’ back at McDonalds, which has proven that they can take just as long to deliver crappy food(?) as any McDonalds in the world.

In a few hours we’ll snore through the awards ceremony and find out who gets stuck with a new BMW… I’m rehearsing my refusal speech just in case I’m the unlucky one. Then relax with the airheads and try to get a couple hours sleep between when the local rednecks tire of serenading us with their outa tune straight piped Harleys and trucks and when the first riders break camp at dawn -1 hour.

Was out judging the numerous entries for our exclusive “biggest RV” and “most farkled BMW” awards… This is gonna be a tough competition! Also a lot of walking throught the no less than three RV parking areas. Found some interesting factoids- like the most common bike found parked next to an RV is a GS. And here we thought the GS riders were these gnarly adventurer guys…

Noted too more than a few folks packin’ it in already, suddenly it’s possible to walk between tents. Not sure if they’ve had it with BMWMOA’s poor attempt at a rally or have to be at work on the coast monday morn… But this demographic don’t look to be of prime working age.

Being an airhead riding a Yamaha I don’t have much personal experience with these things, but from those in the know I’ve heard that renting a u-Haul truck from Billings to civilization starts at about a thousand $$$$, and that don’t include gas at 10 MPG or worse. And good luck finding one of them little Trannies that might get 15 MPG… The demand for rental vans around the BMWMOA rally is so high that you’re likely to get stuck with something that would normally require logbooks and a CDL!

Thta’s a far cry from 3 decades ago when I rode with an airhead rider across the desert who regularly commuted from Boston to southern California with no break downs. That experience sold me a new ’84 BMW R65LS that 31 years later has yet to be towed, trailered, or truck home. BMW, what happened?

DSC_4372Airheads BMW club membership meeting… BMWMOA, this is what democracy looks like! While the MOA goes throught the motions of corporate transpherency, the Airheads had a geniune old fashioned town hall meeting! Everyone got to speak their peace and no question went unanswered,  while MOA remains as responsive as a stone wall.

This bit of democracy in action followed a morning’s tech seminars, with experts freely sharing their tips to keep our airhead BMWs alive. That followed a couple days of practical instruction on the motorcycle lifts, with one motorcycle malady after another cured… We even fixed a near flaming oilhead final drive!

Jam a thousand or so tent dwellers into the venue’s only acre or so of shade next to a 6 lane US highway, and you’ve got a recipe for mass sleep deprivation. The other alternative is the hot ground and hotter temps of the the barren Montana landscape. Gettin’ uncomfortable in other ways too- Word has it that there’s maybe 20 showers for the couple thousand campers here. Given this lack of basic human comforts, BMWMOA’s declining membership and rally attendance is no surprise, and maybe a good thing… This place might be halfway tolerable for a couple hundred campers.

Thus we’re moving from the joys of a rally to survival, and I suspect the place will start to empty well before the formal closing of the rally saturday night… Why prolong the misery?.


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