For riders in the Midwest, September usually marks the conclusion of the riding season as autumn's cold rain moves in and prompts a six-month bike hibernation. Naturally there's motivation to get one last epic ride in before the cold weather arrives. In recent years the final hurrah has become the St. Louis Streetfighterz' annual Ride of the Century, and it's been picking up steam since its inception.
What started out eight years ago as an internet forum call-out session between rival stunt teams has evolved into one of the biggest organized rides in the country; over 2000 bikes took to the streets this year.
Wade Landry, from New York's...
Wade Landry, from New York's 518 crew, took home the King of the Streets trophy.
But the ROTC isn't your standard poker run or barhopping endeavor. Rather, hardcore stunt riders from across America bring their best moves in hopes of taking home the trophy of King of the Streets. According to Guru Khalsa of the Streetfighterz: "The King of the Streets award is for who we (Streetfighterz) felt rode the best overall during the ride. In our minds, the ROTC is the ultimate stage for a street rider. It's up to the riders to present an all-around street game. We look for it all: wheelies, combos, burnouts, stoppies, distance and acrobatics."
Sounds like your standard stunt competition, right? The underlying lunacy of the ROTC is that it all takes place on public roads. The most talented riders typically claim the front of the pack, but that means up and comers as well as those simply along for the ride are all jockeying for the best position. And things tend to get a little hectic. "There haven't been any deaths on the ride but there are usually accidents. This year there weren't any major injuries but still some accidents.
We have what we call a "ride patrol" meant to remind people to be safe and courteous to other riders, but with each new year it seems more and more people are learning to ride wheelies, and that adds to the intensity of the ride and increases the margin for error," Khalsa said.
While good behavior and respect are encouraged amongst riders there's far less regard for general motorists or any standard traffic laws. Due to the sheer size of the group the freeways jam up and there's little that drivers or law enforcement can do about it. Exacerbating the situation are the riders who perform slow-speed stunts at the front of the group, which has ultimately led to the freeway literally closing down for a stunt session. Khalsa explained: "Shutting down the freeway just established itself over time. There are so many bikes that the highway is completely open for miles ahead, basically transforming the road into a "parking lot" for a few minutes. We simply decided to stop the ride and enjoy the open space!"
Crash cages, wasted tires...
Crash cages, wasted tires and minimal protective gear are the ROTC standard.
That's not a parking lot,...
That's not a parking lot, but rather the i-70 freeway in downtown St. Louis!
This guy was minding his own...
This guy was minding his own business when an out-of-control rider wheelied into him and took them both out.
Let's hope the driver of that...
Let's hope the driver of that 18-wheeler is a stunt fan; the freeway was shut down briefly and he was stuck. At least he had a good vantage point of the action.
Obviously, the regular folks just trying to get to their destination are less impressed with the ROTC than the revelers, but not even the St. Louis Metro Police (who wouldn't return our calls or answer emails) has the power to do anything about the antics. At random locations there has been some police presence, but the enormous group easily overwhelms a single police cruiser or two. Even the mighty eyes in the sky are virtually helpless to enforce order on the herd, making the ROTC a dreaded-but accepted-burden by the general public for one weekend each year. The riders, meanwhile, rejoice in the havoc.
The peculiarity of the ROTC is that it attracts riders from across the country. From coast to coast, local stunt competitions struggle to lure riders out of the parking lots, yet somehow the ROTC, which promises nothing aside from general chaos on the streets and an inevitable hangover the next morning, brings riders from all four corners of the country. Khalsa said that he and his crew have yet to determine what's made the ROTC such a special event. "There seem to be three groups of riders that come each year. The first is the hardcore street riders that just want to ride with each other, show their stuff and see how they stack up.
The second group is the up-and-coming stunters who haven't converted completely to the parking lots yet. In other words, they ride parking lots and streets and are looking to make a name for themselves, learn from other riders and network.
The third group, which is probably the largest percentage, is the everyday riders that just enjoy being a part of the ride. They may not stunt, but they like watching other people stunt and they enjoy the couple of hours where they feel like they're taking over the streets and feeling the same rush that the stunters do. They just get a kick out of being a part of the experience."
The ROTC's lawlessness and Wild West spirit unfortunately personify stunter vanity, yet it still manages to bring thousands of regular riders together for a few hours of mischief and mayhem. Love it or hate it, but recognize that the ROTC looks like it's here to stay and nobody seems to have the power to do much about it.