Article By: Heather Callen
Photos Courtesty of Thunder In The Valley
Originally Published In The April 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
2017 marked a 20-year milestone not only for this rag but also for another Western PA motorcycle long time holdout, Thunder in the Valley. Back in 1998 several local motorbike shops and enthusiasts approached the Cambria County CVB about starting a motorcycle rally. Back then, and even still today the CVB was primarily run by a group of what many would consider to be “soccer moms.” What the heck could they possibly know about putting together a motorcycle rally? Well, obviously they knew something because, in June of 1998, Thunder in The Valley came together at Central Park in Johnstown, PA with roughly 3,000 attendees. They admit that some of the first-year success may have been due to combining the new event with Old Fashioned Bargain Days, which had been around for a bit already. However, they didn’t just combine the two and hope for the best, they added Hill Climbs in Beaverdale and a Welcome Party at Franklin Ballfield, and encouraged local shops to host bike events at their own locations, all of which are still happening 20 years later.
Despite having a minimal budget and only advertising in club newsletters (cool fact: Cycle Source Magazine was one of the first publications that they actually advertised in, our own editor was in on that inaugural year, helping the ladies navigate the motorcycle culture in the region). That first year, it was mostly local and regional traffic, but it was successful enough that they opted to make it an annual event. After the first year, a leather vendor inquired about the event and needed a tent space larger than a 10×10 and the birth of other venues within the rally was born. Currently, Thunder hosts four downtown venues, Central Park, Train Station, Biker Mall and Peoples Natural Gas Park to accommodate their evergrowing numbers. A few short years into the event major motorcycle manufacturers started to take notice, and 2000 Flood City opened its arms to Triumph who was quickly followed by BMW in 2001. Now, on their 20th event, the riders of Thunder had the opportunity to visit with factory dealers such as Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, Ducati, and Aprilia.
Back in 2013, the event organizers knew it was time to step up their game a bit and knowing that motorcyclists are often music enthusiasts as well, they started to bring some national acts to their main stage. Since then, the likes of Josh Gallagher, Molly Hatchet and most recently 38 Special in 2017 to name a few. Now, the fine folks at the CVB also know that it takes more than music and motorcycles to make a successful event. So, for their 20th Anniversary celebration they brought in Ill Conduct, one of the nation’s leading street bike stunt shows, the legendary American Motordrome Wall of Death and Cycle Source even had the pleasure of hosting a ride in bike show. I mean it only seemed fitting, our 20th Anniversary, their 20th Anniversary, and it was awesome. We were thrilled to have such a diverse group of bikes show up. Part of their annual offerings include a Flight 93 Memorial ride, a parade of motorcycles through town that lets proud riders show off their trusty steeds to kick off the event, and the legendary Budweiser Clydesdales make regular appearances.
So, what does this event have over other regional and national bike galas you might be wondering? Well, let’s talk about the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. If you have never ridden in this part of the country, within a half hour of the center of the rally, you can ride up out of the valley, and through some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. In the western direction, you can ride over to the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, one of the most historic railroad sites in history and the people of this region are as steeped in motorcycling as if it were downtown Milwaukee. Johnstown is only two hours away from Pittsburgh, about the same from the York final assembly plant. This quiet country town fabled in story and song for their epic flood disaster back in 1889 has proven that while they have no intention of losing their personal history, they have adapted to the changing times when it comes to throwing a hell of a motorcycle party.