BMWmotorcyclists buzzed into town Thursday, gathering for the 41st Chief Joseph Rally at the Grant County Fairgrounds in John Day.
The fairgrounds was the jump-off point for several scenic tours during the June 27-30 event sponsored by BMW Riders of Oregon.
Bruce Choy of Redwood City, California, who arrived Thursday afternoon, said it was his sixth time attending the event.
He said the Silicon Valley is congested for a reason, and he enjoys leaving the traffic behind for the rally.
His favorite route, he said, is simply driving his BMW R1150R from northern California to Burns, Seneca and on to John Day.
“For two hours, I’d be riding and not see one vehicle,” he said.
He recalled seeing a bicyclist in the Silvies Valley and waving, because it was the first human he’d passed in a while.
This year’s event was headed up by BMWRO President Alice LeBarron of Bend.
She said 371 riders had preregistered for the rally, and she expected others to sign up at the gate.
LeBarron said her first Chief Joseph event was in 1997 in Heppner, then she started attending regularly in 2012.
What’s the best thing about the rally in John Day?
“I hear it over and over: The community is so welcoming,” she said. “We really enjoy coming here.”
The BMW riders are well known for raising funds for local nonprofit organizations. Last year, they donated more than $20,000 to local organizations. LeBarron said this year, they plan on donating all the proceeds of their 50/50 raffle to Juniper Arts Council in honor of the late John Fiedor of Dayville.
Many of the motorcyclists enjoyed Fiedor’s tours in years past through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, called “Geology Rocks!” as he led the group in his Corvair and gave an overview of the geological features seen in the National Monument’s Sheep Rock Unit.
“I know the people just really enjoyed him as a person, and each year he donated the proceeds from the tour to the Juniper Arts Council,” LeBarron said.
Jay Bennett led a tour group of 85-plus riders through Logan Valley Friday on the Cowboy Lunch Ride.
Their destination was the Wayne Smith Ranch in Silvies Valley where Prairie City resident Tobe Zweygardt organized a meal for the group.
Bennett said he started the event as a way for the riders, many coming from bigger cities, to connect with the locals. He said it’s a popular ride that sells out every year.
Zweygardt, who’s been organizing the meals for 11 years now, said the riders visit a different ranch in Grant County each time.
He said the money raised from the $15-a-plate lunch is donated to the Grant County Stockgrowers Association.
“It’s a real educational thing for the riders, because every ranch is different,” he said. “A ranch foreman gives a little spiel after the meal — it’s informative for the bikers. It gives them a chance to take a ride in the county before they have a lunch.”
“These BMW people are great people,” he added. “We really enjoy them, and some of the same people keep coming back for years.”