The café racer movement is alive and well in North Carolina, as proven by the large turnout at this year’s Bull City Rumble in Durham, N.C. In its 10th year, the Rumble is one of the largest vintage motorcycle, scooter and café racer events on the East Coast.
Put on by Ton Up NC, the Rumble is held in the heart of downtown Durham, filling multiple city blocks with motorcycles, vendors, live music and great food. The guys at Ton Up NC have really reached out to the community, including many local bands, restaurants, bars, food trucks and even burlesque dancers in the weekend’s line up. One thing that makes the Rumble different is that all bike show entries must been ridden to the event, so you’re not stuck looking at a bunch of over-chromed trailer queens and billet barges, like what you find at so many other motorcycle events.
Things officially got started Friday night with a kickoff party at a well-known Durham landmark called the Green Room. For those outside of central North Carolina, the Green Room is the pool hall that was used in the 80s baseball movie Bull Durham, with Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Not much has changed at the Green Room in the 20-plus years since the film came out, so a parking lot full of vintage motorcycles looked just right next to this historic location. After snapping a few obligatory photos of pool tables and old baseball stadium seats, it was on to the late-night party across town at the Motorco Garage Bar to finish out the evening with locally brewed beer and live music.
Knowing that there would be at least a few guys nursing hangovers, Saturday’s schedule mercifully started with a late breakfast at 11 a.m. Still, it was around 11:30 by the time I rolled into downtown Durham to find that motorcycles were already setting up for the biggest draw of the weekend, the bike show. By 1 p.m., motorcycles were lined up two deep, stretching across two city blocks. Both vintage and late-model Japanese, British and German motorcycles dominated the show, with a small handful of American motorcycles set up on a side street. Registration for the event included an entry in the bike show, so I pulled my Panhead, a 1964 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide in original condition, alongside the other half dozen Harleys that were entered, just glad for the upfront parking.
With the street blocked to car traffic, vendors were able to set up directly across from the bikes, which made it easy to go from looking at custom motorcycles to grabbing a freshly rolled cigar to checking out Indian’s new Chief on display. By late afternoon, the bike show judging was complete, and somehow I had been beaten by a 1940 Harley UA. I also failed to win any of the prizes from the raffle, which included a quart of strawberry-scented two-stroke oil that would have created great sensations in my chainsaw.
With two losses in one afternoon, there was nothing left to do but drown my sorrows while watching the burlesque show. Local favorite band The Straight 8’s came out afterwards and energized the crowd with their high-octane rockabilly music, prompting many folks to hit the dance floor. It was another late night.
The last day of the event started a little earlier, with breakfast at 9 a.m. Then it was on to a guided ride through the central North Carolina countryside. For those who got up in time, it was a great way to end the event, riding on some of the most scenic roads around the Triangle. Riders and latecomers both got to enjoy a final lunch together back in Durham before the Rumble officially came to an end Sunday afternoon.
This was my third year attending the Bull City Rumble and it certainly won’t be my last. The variety of unique motorcycles that this event draws each year makes it well worth checking out.