More Montana Visitors Arriving by Motorcycle

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – The preliminary results of a survey show that 10 percent of visitors to Montana this summer arrived on a motorcycle.

“We’ve never seen motorcycles jump out like that before,” said Norma Nickerson of the Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

About 90 percent of the estimated 10 million visitors to Montana each summer arrive by highway.

Officials say the rise is partly due to motorcycle rallies in the region. Those rallies include one in nearby Sturgis, S.D., that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, and other rallies in Billings and Red Lodge that draw thousands.

Billings had its first national biker convention in 1997 with the arrival of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association for its annual Wingding. That group returned in 2000 and 2007 with about 10,000 visitors each time.

In 2006, the Harley Owners Group HOG Rally drew about 10,000 bikers.

Smaller motorcycle groups have also picked Billings in recent years.

The Beartooth Rally has been held in the resort community of Red Lodge every summer for 15 years, but it has drawn complaints from residents due to noise.

“Motorcycles are always welcome in Red Lodge, especially those with mufflers,” Red Lodge Mayor Betsy Scanlin said. “We love them. Those without mufflers will continue to be an irritant.”

Two bike groups have already signed up to arrive in Billings next summer, said Kelly McCandless, leisure sales manager for the Billings Area Chamber. The Gold Wing Gold Rush will return in 2010 with 1,000 riders, and an international police organization called the Blue Knights is expected to bring 800 to 1,000 riders.

Joe Walter, a parts specialist at Montana Honda and Marine, said he’s noticed that more women are buying motorcycles and that the motorcyclists appear to be getting older.

“Maybe the baby boomers can finally afford them,” he said.

Motorcycle registration in Montana is also increasing, going from 80,095 in 2006 to 112,055 in 2008.

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