By Barbie Elder
Call them “Boomer Bikers.”
You know the type, identified in films like “Wild Hogs” – they are accountants, bankers, lawyers, government officials and many others in what could be called button-down careers. On weekends, however, all that changes. Suits and ties are traded in for helmets and leather as their powerful motorcycles are gassed up and road-bound.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are now close to 7,500,000 motorcycles traveling on American roads, while numbers available from Harley Davidson point out that those purchasing their particular brand of bike have a median age range of 50, with an average $100,000 income per year.
While some might look at this trend as both innocent and charming, bright minds at the city of Muskogee, Oklahoma understand that these riders, along with their spouses and families, are exactly the type of tourists the city wishes to attract.
“Once we started looking at the demographic for the average rider, and found communities across the United States with a creative promotion to attract them, Muskogee became very interested in showing off our wonderful area to these adventurers with disposable income,” said Sue Harris, president and CEO of the Muskogee Chamber of Commerce. “Riders are both male and female or ride as couples, are mostly empty nesters, ride for both fun and leisure, take part in motorcycle safety courses and, most of all, have a high, disposable income.”
Further research by Harris and the Chamber indicates a biker’s top priority on a ride.
“We found that the most important factors when choosing a motorcycle trip are value formoney, scenery, entertainment and time spent on the bike,” Harris said. “We also found that men choose the quality of the road over accommodations or points of interest, while women want specific locations, with entertainment and interesting shopping.”
Harris adds that bikers visit local clubs and restaurants and will go out of their way for biker-related attractions or festivals, and are inclined to stay in hotels with close, secure parking.
“Also important is the phrase ‘good riding,’” Harris said, “which includes sweeping roads and tight, twisty blacktop with impressive views and little traffic, usually on weekends. With this in mind, Muskogee offers the perfect starting point in Oklahoma to attract these travelers.”
It is also interesting to note that word of mouth among bikers is the best advertising, says Harris.
“Like it is on recreational lakes, people with similar interests find the settings easy to connect with those who are like minded,” Harris said. “The Muskogee Chamber, through its research, found that these bikers talk to each other about potential rides, and are impressed by such things as historic sites and routes, live music, museums, festivals and events, racing events, poker runs, casinos, great roads and friendly people, ‘cool’ restaurants, lakes and rivers.”
What bikers avoid, Harris says, are big cities, rush-hour traffic and interstate highways.
Max Boydston, senior vice president of lending at the Citizen’s Security Bank of Muskogee, a longtime advocate of northeastern Oklahoma tourism, as well as the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, is, ironically, exactly the type of weekend warrior the city is attempting to attract.
“Eastern Oklahoma has turned into a motorcycle magnet, and the curves are its main attraction,” Boydston said. “Around here, we call our roads ‘asphalt roller coasters.’”
A strong supporter of the chamber’s initiative, Boydston understands what riders wish to experience.
“Lush forests and challenging roads are now an attraction for the modern two-wheel adventurists, and there’s also plenty of history to discover,” he said. “Explorers, various American Indian tribes, Civil War soldiers, outlaws and lawmen have traveled these trails in the past several hundred years.”
“Today’s explorers will find the going to be much more pleasurable and downright entertaining,” Boydston continues. “It seems there is always something going on to keep riders smiling and ready to come back for another memorable trip. Festivals seem to be happening every weekend somewhere here in Green Country, and the lakes, rivers and historic towns always lend themselves to a reason for celebrations. Those same lakes and rivers will also wipe away any lingering thoughts about those infamous dust bowl days.”
Boydston said the area has been a longtime destination for tourists.
“In this part of Oklahoma, the Western Ozark Plateau meets the Ouachita Mountains, and visitors have been coming here since the Vikings left their marks on the runestones near Heavener,” he said.
Muskogee’s “Motorcycle Ride Guide” is a foldout pocket brochure that is both inventive and informative, so much so that it recently won a “Redbud Award” from the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
All tours start from Muskogee:
This sweet little 50-mile trail winds north of Muskogee to beautiful Lake Fort Gibson and Western Hills State Resort, voted Oklahoma’s “best place to watch a sunset.” The lake makes a wonderful picnic spot, and it has been reported that the refreshing breeze off the lake eases all tensions and worries. Sharp-eyed spotters will also be able to marvel at the majesty of eagles soaring above their nesting grounds.
Riders can “straddle the saddle” for this 100-mile ride, winding through the territory of Belle Starr, the James Brothers and the Cook Gang. Along U.S. Highway 69, where “the drive is fine on 69,” riders can also take a side trip to the Honey Springs Battlefield, a must for Civil War buffs, and negotiate some sweet shopping deals in downtown Eufaula. From this point, it’s on to Porum, where the bullet holes from a cattle range war can still be found in an old barn or two. From there, a shaded and winding Highway 10 will lead riders through the home of the Cherokees. It takes little imagination to envision the hideouts and shootouts that were once commonplace in these hills.
Winding Star Journey
During this 150-mile ride through Green Country, riders will truly discover how the region got its name. The sparkling lakes, creeks and rivers create a lush canopy of greenery over this gypsy ride. One can travel through the old Cherokee towns of Tahlequah and Fort Gibson and enjoy their quaint downtowns. Bikes following the winding Illinois River can bask in the beauty of two lakes – Fort Gibson and Tenkiller. Highway 80 takes riders past the historic Fort Gibson stockade.
Who isn’t in for this? A 205-mile journey into “bootlegging” country, an activity that proliferated along this route that was supposedly “dry.” Cowboys would slip flasks in their boots to smuggle the contraband in from Arkansas. The back roads between Siloam Springs and Muskogee were well known to young men who earned some extra cash on a moonshine run. The Cookson Hills, picturesque and peaceful today, at one time hid many copper stills that kept federal marshals up in arms. Today, this road still has a bit of rebel attitude, and the Cherokee Hills can still conjure up spirits. A final stop on this ride is the Natural Falls State Park, a locale that is truly frozen in time.
Mountain Waters Tour
Another 205-mile trek, where every mile is a delight awaiting adventurous riders. Exhilarating ribbons of pavement wind through these mountains, stepping higher and higher toward the sky in layers of smoky blue. This is Choctaw Country, an area known as “Little Dixie” for its politics, southern comfort food and unmistakable hospitality. The road will take you through the world’s tallest hill and the Short Mountain. Side excursions to Robber’s Cave State Park and the Spiro Indian Mounds make this all-day journey a ride to remember.
For more information, go to www.muskogeechamber.org.