Broken Leg Doesn’t Stop Biker From Wharf Rat Rally
DIGBY — Perhaps nobody was more excited about attending this year’s Wharf Rat Rally than Dave Balderson.
The biker from Gananoque, Ont., broke a leg getting here — literally.
His Harley Davidson blew a tire on a highway in Quebec near Riviere-du-Loup and he ended up pinned under his bike, breaking the fibula in his left leg.
Balderson, leader of the Ontario River Rats biker group, continued to ride, finally getting medical treatment at the Digby General Hospital upon arrival Tuesday.
“I like it down here,” he said leaning on a wooden walking stick Wednesday. “The people treat us well, not just here, but in all of Nova Scotia.”
This town of 2,100 people will blossom into about 50,000 as bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country and beyond gather for the largest rally of its kind in Atlantic Canada. It started on Wednesday and runs through the Labour Day Weekend.
Balderson attends many rallies throughout the year, but has a special affection for this one.
On Tuesday night, a complete stranger brought a spaghetti and garlic bread supper to the group of 10 River Rat bikers, here for the rally. Hearing about his crash and broken leg, someone offered him a private room. Another local man offered his car.
“You don’t get that kind of treatment anywhere else,” Balderson said. “We feel welcome here. … It’s like coming home.”
The biker group also goes by the name of Henry’s Ontario Boys, in recognition of octogenarian Henry Hubbards who let the group stay at his Digby home every year, until he died last April.
The bikers came to his funeral and Balderson spoke at the service and other bikers were pallbearers.
“We come for the roads, the people and the food,” said biker Doug Wood of Kingston, Ont.
Last year’s event drew close to 50,000 people and about 24,000 bikes of all makes, sizes, shapes, ages and colours.
The rally is a huge boon to the local economy, generating about $10 million in revenue for surrounding businesses. It’s now the largest tourist event in Southwest Nova Scotia.
“Even though it’s just a five-day festival, I’ve had business owners tell me if it wasn’t for the rally, they would probably either shut down or really struggle for the rest of the winter,” said Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland.
In the spirit of the event, Cleveland got his motorcycle licence a few months ago.
“Local businesses count on this rally to boost their bottom line and get them through to next spring,” he said, amid the 80 or more vendors set up on the downtown’s Water Street.
“The exposure right across North America for Digby is tremendous, too.”
Bob Eisener can attest to that. The owner of the Siesta Motel in town said his 15 rooms are booked years in advance for this event.
“I’ve had people calling me every day for the past two months looking for rooms.
“They’d be pretty hard to find right now,” he said, as motorcyclists continued to ride into town.
He said bikers who come to the rally are generally between 45 and 60 and have money to spend.
The event, organized by more than 100 volunteers, is now on most bikers’ must-attend lists.
Over the next four days, there will be bike raffles, parades, displays, guided tours, organized daily bike rides, whale watching tours, time trials and even a tattoo competition. And there’s a show-and-shine contest, a rat bike tourney and an LED bike challenge.
A highlight for many will be the Harley Davidson display near the waterfront, where the famed motorcycle company from Milwaukee will unveil its 2014 models in conjunction with its 110th anniversary celebrations.
Lucky wharf rats will get demo rides on the new bikes.
“That’s very exciting,” said rally chairman Glenn Dunn, a local businessman and avid biker for the past 40 years.
Plans are already underway for a special event on the 10th anniversary of the rally next year, he added.
Peter Robertson was one of the founding members of the rally in 2003. He now lives in Alberta, but comes home every year for this event.
“I didn’t think it would get so big so fast,” he said.
That first year drew 35 bikers, he said. “This event has really taken off.”
By GORDON DELANEY Valley Bureau