Wally Lerro still remembers riding his Harley to the very first Roar to the Shore in Wildwood nearly 20 years ago, where a handful of bikers came down to compare bikes, check out the latest gear and enjoy the weekend.
"I believe $1,000 was our total profit," says Lerro, a member of Cape Classics Motorcycle Club and the owner of Bolero Resort in Wildwood, the host hotel for Roar to the Shore.
It's safe to say things have changed. Today, Roar to the Shore Motorcycle Rally is one of Wildwood's biggest and most profitable events, drawing thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts for the four-day festival of all things biker.
The rally - billed as the largest free motorcycle rally in the northeast - kicks off Thursday, Sept. 6, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 9, in various locations in Wildwood. The event includes free live entertainment, motorcycle vendors, food and merchandise vendors and charity events all weekend long.
"This event brings millions of dollars into the city," Lerro says. "It's one of the best weekends for the restaurants here and it fills up the hotels. They have so many vendors, they have a battle of the bands, they have a charity event - and it's one of the safest weekends to come down."
More than 300 vendors will be selling everything from bikes, clothing, bike parts, jacket patches and everything in between, Lerro says.
"As a rider, you come to a town that has everything that you need," says Lerro, who owns two Harley Davidson motorcycles. "There's everything that you want on a vacation. The bikers, they want to do other things too, and they do. They charter boats, they go fishing. It's great for the city."
And while some may get the mental image of thousands of leather-clad, burley male bikers pouring into town, the crowd that shows up, organizers say, runs the gamut.
"We actually have a lot of charities that come to the rally, because bikers, they break the mold," says Juli Musser, the director of marketing for One Off Marketing in Wildwood, one of the organizers behind the event. "They're not scary. They're not intimidating. They come, and they have the biggest hearts. Last year, we had dog rescue (charities), and every single dogs got adopted by the end of the show. That's rare."
"You don't need to have a Harley," Musser says. "You can have a Honda. Everybody just comes down as they are."
The crowd favorites of past Roar to the Shores have returned this year. There is the Friday Pig Roast at Kindle Ford at noon, the Walking Poker Run on Saturday at noon, the Biker Babe Contest on Saturday at 7 p.m., and the rubber duck-themed Boardwalk Motorcycle Ride on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. - this time, with a 2012 Harley Davidson 1200 Custom Sportster giveaway. All proceeds from the rubber duck ride benefit the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
This year will include two brand new events - the Battle of the Biker Bands and the Custom Boardwalk Bike Show.
The semi-final rounds for the remaining 10 bands will be held on the Wildwoods Convention Center Lot Stage on Friday and Saturday. A combination of judges' scores and audience participation will send the top four to the final round on Saturday night for the chance to win a $3,000 cash prize.
The Custom Boardwalk Bike Show begins with a pre-show on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Pacific Avenue Block Party. There, one bike will earn the title "King of the Streets." On Saturday, 18 classes of motorcycles will line the Boardwalk starting at 11:30 a.m. to compete for "Best in Show" titles and cash prizes.
"This is definitely something that you can bring your family to," Musser says. "It's a very festive atmosphere. It is free - there is no admission charge. All of our events are free. We just want people to come down and really enjoy themselves."
"It's really a community event," Musser says. "All the bars bring in entertainment, so there is something to do this entire weekend. It's really just non-stop. It's one last chance to get a good ride before it starts to get cold."