Friday the 13th keeps on rolling

PORT DOVER – Chris Simons recalls hearing a story long ago about a group of motorcycle enthusiasts in Kansas who tried to get a bike event going on Friday the 13th.They managed to pull off a few before authorities cracked down and ended it.During a presentation Thursday at Grace United Church in Port Dover, Simons recalled how police set up barricades on every road into the county and turned away everyone on a motorcycle.That was the end of Kansas’s experience with Friday the 13th motorcycle rallies. It was also the end of this county’s opportunity for a spectacular boost in tourism.Simons, 66, was attuned to stories like this when he was younger because he had received shabby treatment all his life for riding a motorcycle.Back in the 1970s — before riding was hip – young people who rode motorcycles were considered sketchy at best and criminal at worst. Simons says the harassment was constant.“If you went to Tim Hortons in Brantford, they’d chase you off the lot,” Simons said. “If you tried to go into a bar, they wouldn’t let you in because you had a helmet. I had a friend who rode his motorcycle from Port Dover into Simcoe. He was pulled over three times. Just crazy stuff.”On the basis of these experiences and more, Simons and other like-minded riders came together to form the Bikers Rights Organization (BRO). Simons was in charge of the BRO newsletter which went out to 800 riders at its peak.Simons is the latest speaker in the Norfolk Historical Society’s Gallery Series. Nearly 50 people turned out to hear him reminisce Thursday night.Simons’ family moved from Brantford to Port Dover in 1963. He will be remembered as the driving force behind the Friday the 13th motorcycle rallies in Port Dover.What began as a few dozen friends gathering at the Commercial Hotel on the night of Nov. 13, 1981, has exploded into an event that attracted 200,000 people and 15,000-plus motorcycles last July.There is no sign of the rallies slowing down and Simons believes they will stabilize in the range of 150,000 or so people during peak events.Simons recalled how Port Dover was rocking in the 1960s and 1970s when big-name bands were playing the Summer Garden at the Walker Street beach.The town’s vibrant social scene began to flag however in the late 1970s. When Simons convened that first gathering at “The Zoo,” he did so because the town was dead on weekends and he missed his friends.“So that’s how Friday the 13th started,” Simons said. “It was a drunk.”That revelry has evolved into a huge money-maker for Norfolk County and surrounding area. Simons noted that fleets of armoured vehicles can be seen scurrying around Port Dover on the weekend after the main event.On the day of a nice ride, enterprising groups stage drop-in meal events along the main routes for riders as they make their way into Port Dover. On a nice Friday the 13th, people for miles around will set out lawn chairs and watch the parade of motorcycles roll by for hours on end.When Simons was finished speaking, some wondered why Norfolk County has done nothing to acknowledge that Port Dover is home to one of the largest one-day motorcycle events in the world.Dale Hopkins knew little about Port Dover when he rode in from Cambridge during a Friday the 13th event in 2013.What Hopkins saw persuaded him that he wanted to live in Port Dover and soon after he made his move. He wonders why there isn’t gateway signage into town declaring Port Dover the motorcycle capital of Canada.“Why don’t we have something like that?” he asked. “You can’t tell me there is resistance to putting up a sign. This event has brought millions of dollars into this town. As far as I’m concerned, this needs to be acknowledged.”[email protected]

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