Thousands of bikers roared into Tyler this week, reveling in the freedom of cruising East Texas’ open roads.
Among them is John Styres, of Dallas, (road name “Capt. John”) who is a past winner of Harley Owners Group’s ABCs of Touring Contest, which challenges Harley owners to visit stops in every state within a single year. Every inch of Styres’ vest is covered with patches acquired from stops around the country.
“I won the ABC Touring in 2003. I went to every single state and every single county that they counted,” Styres said. “One week I went to all the eastern states in nine days. I did all the western in 19. I counted all of them except Hawaii.”
Styres is in Tyler this weekend for the 2015 Texas State Harley Owners Group Rally, which goes through Sunday and is expected to draw 3,000 to 4,000 Harley owners.
J.T. Hasley, HOG Regional Manager, said all the hard work put into the conventions pays off the moment organizers kick off the event and see attendees’ enthusiasm. This year’s event saw bikers from as far away as England and Sweden.
“There’s always been a strong bond among Harley riders,” Hasley said. “The camaraderie is very, very strong. (We have) the opportunity in the evening to get together and make new friends and see old ones that you haven’t seen since the last rally …”
Hasley loves his job. After 18 years of organizing rallies for Harley Davidson, he can’t see himself anywhere else.
“(It’s) the camaraderie,” Hasley said. “It’s a very unique bunch; they’ll sit there and talk to each other for half an hour … before they introduce themselves.”
Matthew “Tumbleweed” Powell, of Bedford, came to town on his custom bike named “Texas Traditions.”
Powell takes the Longhorn bull-themed bike all over the state, from rallies to escorting Medal of Honor recipients as a member of the Patriot Guard.
Since retiring, he’s come back to his childhood hobby of leatherworking. All of the custom leather on the bike, from the saddle to the themed knife and shotgun, were painstakingly made over a period of three months.
Powell enjoys the escaping the hustle and commotion of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
“It’s a nice clean town. It’d be a nice place to live,” Powell said of Tyler.
Rally coordinator Jill Womack recalls letters received after the last HOG Rally hosted in Tyler, in 2003. Residents of the Azalea district had seen bikers admiring their yards and invited them in for wine and conversation.
“We find that they hurry to the rally,” Hasley said. “But on the way home, they’re not ready for the weekend to be over.”
Typically, the bikers will plan their routes home around sites and towns they’ve been itching to see.
Womack estimated as many as 200 of the events’ registered members had never been to Tyler before the rally.
According to surveys conducted by HOG, the opportunity to explore is the number one reason why Harley owners come to HOG Rallies.