Biker-Friendly Destination: Riding through Scottsdale’s motorcycle history

Motorcyclists have been gathering at Scottsdale’s WestWorld every spring for Arizona Bike Week; this year, it’s March 29 to April 2. 

They find the Scottsdale Airpark area a biker-friendly destination, with many dealerships, riding safety classes and great biking weather. Scottsdale’s motorcycle legends and lore date far earlier than the recent advent of Bike Week.

Take a ride through our motorcycle history:

• Motorcycles have been a mode of transportation in Arizona dating back to Territorial Days, circa 1900. An article in the 1915 Arizona Republican said two youth rode their motorcycles from Acre City (Van Buren/32nd Street) to Scottsdale on a Sunday excursion.

• During the 1930s, the Indian Motorcycle baseball team played the Scottsdale Blues team in Scottsdale.

• Long before becoming Scottsdale’s first mayor after the town incorporated in 1951, Malcolm White served as a motorcycle patrolman.

• Among the 46 entries in Scottsdale’s second annaul Sunshine Festival (later named the Parada del Sol parade) were motorcycle police. During the 1950s, the Arizona Roadrunners Motorcycle Club performed at rodeos and had a polo drill team.

• One of the featured acts at the 1958 Arizona State Fair was the Pallenberg’s Bears, riding a motorcycle, juggling, playing musical instruments and performing other tricks.

• The town of Scottsdale authorized purchase of three-wheeled motorcycles in 1960 for use by town marshals (forerunner of the Scottsdale Police Department) for parking enforcement. The Scottsdale Progress reported in February 1961 that the city council “approved purchase of a Harley Davidson two-wheel motorcycle for police use at a cost of $1,394.95 including tax. This bid was submitted by Arizona Harley Davidson Co. The purchase provides the local police department with one three-wheel cycle, two two-wheel cycles and four police cars.”

• In February 1960, Thunderbird Field No. 2 (now Scottsdale Airport) hosted an air show that included feats such as wing walking and the transfer of a man from a motorcycle to an airplane.

• South Mountain Speedway at 10001 S. Central in Phoenix held professional motorcycle races in the 1960s. Motorcycle races were also held at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. The Arizona Republic’s April 4, 1961, edition claimed that “former Scottsdale resident Jack O’Brien … is hailed as one of the better cycle racers in America and along with Joe Leonard is rated as one of the favorites. O’Brien’s father Jack Sr. still resides in Scottsdale …”

• When a summer storm knocked out power in Scottsdale and cut off communications at the police department, police officers brought a motorcycle police station lobby and resumed radio contact with their units using the bike’s radio … by lantern light.

• In 1963, a Pinnacle Peak area businessman and colorful character Don Pablo applied to Maricopa County for a permit to build a 65,000-seat sports amphitheater on the northeast corner of Pinnacle Peak and Scottsdale roads. One of his planned uses was to be motorcycle racing. Several landowners filed suit, and although the amphitheater was approved, racing of any kind was not. It was never built, but Don Pablo’s curio stand at that corner was a popular weekend drive through his death in the 1970s. Today, it’s the site of the much quieter The Pinnacle of Scottsdale shopping center.

• Motorcycle Accessories of Scottsdale & Glendale operated in the 1970s at 3024 N. Scottsdale Road, and Motorcycle City was located at 2608 N. Scottsdale Road, advertising Suzuki, BMW and Moto Guzzi bikes.

• The Scottsdale Progress reported in its August 19, 1971, edition “Teenager Gary Wells made his debut in motorcycle stunt riding at Beeline Dragway Wednesday night by soaring over 12 1971 Rambler Gremlins.” Over 8,000 spectators watched the 14-year-old clear the cars.

• The city of Scottsdale’s new water department’s meter readers began using an electric cart (like a three-wheeled motorcycle) in 1971 and 1972 to glide down neighborhood streets. They could read meters without getting off the open vehicle (unlike those who had previously used a pickup truck).

• World-renowned motorcycle stunt man Evel Knievel headlined the Wings and Wheels Spectacular at Beeline Dragway near Scottsdale in November 1972. A frequent visitor to Scottsdale in the 1970s, he was known to stay at the Granada Royale Hotel (now the Embassy Suites). In 1974, he performed his stunts at Beeline for ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” When it aired, the Main Street bar Mabel Murphy’s hosted a special showing. In 1975, Knievel played in the Phoenix Open Pro-Am, paired with tour professional golfer Tom Weiskopf. Knievel played in the 1976 Pro-Am tournament, paired with George Gobel and Tom Seaver.

• In 1978, 60 motorcyclists from Germany — all top salesmen for the Bavarian Motor Works — toured Arizona on their bikes, traveling 1,200 miles. According to the October 17, 1978, Arizona Republic, which quoted Scottsdale’s Motorcycle City Parts Manager Don Sewell, “Arizona was selected tour state because the Germans thought, ‘It’s the prettiest state in the United States and has wide open spaces that make travel great.’”

• Wings of Phoenix Motorcycle Show was held in August 1982 at Thomas Mall (now Arcadia Crossing), with over 50 custom bikes on display. It benefited the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

• Arizona Bike Week began circa 1997. By its eighth year it offered a festival of motorcycles, tours, parties, racing, contests and a five-day Cyclefest at Rawhide (then at Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads). Now held at WestWorld of Scottsdale it includes demo rides, bands, a motocross stunt show, Miss Arizona Bike Week contest at the Handlebar Saloon and a tattoo contest. See for information.

• During the 2000s, Hayden Road in the Scottsdale Airpark became the epicenter for motorcycle dealerships. Among the many brands, the Harley-Davidson of Scottsdale dealership is billed as the largest Harley shop in the world, and offers a barber shop, tattoo studio and a variety of special events, from bikini bike washes to live music and food trucks.

• According to the Arizona Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Foundation’s website, there are 210,000 registered motorcycles in Arizona. An Arizona drivers license is required to operate a motorcycle. Motorcycle classes are offered by TEAM Arizona at Harley-Davidson of Scottsdale and GO AZ Motorcycles in Scottsdale.

Heads up, drivers! Motorcycles are here to stay in Scottsdale and around Arizona. Let’s be safe out there.