Bikers ride past the Lincoln Memorial as they take part in Rolling Thunder 21 along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / The Associated Press)
The biker rally season is just a few turns down the road. While South Dakota's Sturgis Rally — the mecca of motorcycle meet-ups — isn't until Aug. 6-12, there are plenty of engine-growling gatherings between now and then. You can fire all of your cylinders at one near you or take your heavy metal thunder and race with the wind cross-country. Here's a rundown of some of our favorite military-friendly rallies to help kick-start your travel planning.
1. Daytona Bike Week
Daytona, Fla., March 9-18: There's no doubt you'll meet up with more military bikers. This is one of the biggest biker gatherings anywhere, and its a warm way to kick off the rally season.
More events: Custom chopper raffle ($35,000 value); H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) pin stop; 5th Annual H-D Women's Ride (Muscular Dystrophy Association benefit); Wyotech 21st Annual Brute Horsepower Shootout; flea market; barbecue.
Cost: Varies by event/day. Some are free, some a la carte.
Getting there: Coming from the north, slide over from I-95 in Jacksonville to State Route A1A for one of the best runs of powder-white beaches in Florida.
Nearby bases: Patrick Air Force Base: 75 miles; Naval Air Station Jacksonville: 87 miles
2. Arizona Bike Week
Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz., March 23-April 1: Head to The Hideaway Grill in Cave City, Ariz., on March 24 for AZ Support Our Troops Day with a live remote sponsored by Troop Fuel energy drink and live entertainment all afternoon and evening.
More events: Demo HD; Victory, Kawasaki and Star rides; Greasewood Flat Music Festival, March 25; Quiet Riot, March 28; Puddle of Mudd, March 29.
Cost: $45 for a five-day pass; daily event passes available
Getting there: Consider State Route 79 for your final leg into Phoenix. The scenic high desert highway was rated the fastest in the nation by a traffic monitoring agency last year, with typical speed demons averaging almost 90 mph.
Nearby bases: Luke Air Force Base: 26 miles
3. Disabled Veterans Poker Run
Loch Lomond, Calif., April 7-8: Military Support Riders is a nonprofit that provides help with bills, food, clothing and other necessities to disabled U.S. veterans. It maintains a clubhouse with gaming tables (pool, cards, etc.) and sells merchandise to help raise more funds. Register for the Poker Run at the clubhouse.
More events: Live music (The GillBillys); biker games (Slow Drag Race, Cone Race and Board Race); scenic ride; barbecue; raffle.
Cost: $35 ($45 for two-up riders), includes one night of tent camping. RV sites with full hookups available for an additional $10.
Getting there: Your best approach to Loch Lomond is undoubtedly State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway — one stretch of blacktop that should be on every rider's bucket list.
Nearby bases: Presidio of Monterey, Naval Postgraduate School: 50 miles
4. Rolling Thunder XXV ‘Ride for Freedom'
Washington, D.C., May 27: This is the 25th anniversary of the annual Memorial Day ride in support of POW/MIAs, veterans and active-duty military. Assemble at the North Pentagon parking lot at 8 a.m. Note: It is not necessary to be active/retired military to participate. Bikers can ride from California to D.C. with the Flame of Freedom.
More events: Free barbecue at Harley-Davidson of Washington, Fort Washington, Md.
Cost: $5.50-$10.50 per patch/bandanna/pin
Getting there: The Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way to northern Virginia from as far as North Carolina.
Nearby bases: Fort Myer, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
5. Republic of Texas Bike Rally
Austin, Texas, June 7-10: The Texas capital will shut down 54 city blocks for this year's "ROT Rally." Ted Nugent and Shooter Jennings headline. Joining them on the bill are comedian Steve Trevino and the Boost Mobile FreestyleMX stunt team.
More events: This year, organizers will give away a custom-built bike to one lucky service member. Several military displays and special military-led rides are also on tap.
Getting there: One of the best drives into Austin winds through the Texas Hill Country along a razorback ridgeline road known to locals as the Devil's Backbone, running from Blanco on RM 32 before cutting up to Wimberley on RR 12.
Nearby bases: Joint Base San Antonio: 60 miles; Fort Hood: 70 miles
6. Detroit Bike Week
Commerce Township, Mich., July 26-31: Ride along with the American Veterans Traveling Tribute "mobile wall" for 21.2 miles on July 31 or help set up the event. All participants receive a "Ride of Honor" patch.
More events: Women's ride; custom bike show; tattoo contest; Builder's Row (hand-builts and choppers); performances by 60 Second Crush, Alan Turner and La Grange, a ZZ Top tribute band.
Cost: $10 for a day pass; $15 weekend pass.
Getting there: The most scenic route into Detroit may be driving north from Canada. Consider a ride that skirts the north shore of Lake Erie and you'll actually cross back into the U.S. from the south through quaint Windsor, Canada.
Nearby bases: Selfridge Air National Guard Base: 30 miles
7. Bikers for Veterans Assistance Ride
Chippewa Falls, Wis., Aug. 4: Sponsored by the War Eagles Chapter of the Wisconsin Leathernecks motorcycle club (active and retired Marines), this ride raises funds to help provide aid to veterans, including the DAV Van Pool Program. Starting point: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1038, Chippewa Falls. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m.
More events: Bike games; prizes; vendors.
Getting there: If you're coming through Milwaukee, the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is one of the most beautiful rides in the state.
Nearby bases: Fort McCoy: 95 miles
8. Salute to American Veterans
Cripple Creek, Colo., Aug. 17-19: This is a big event that typically draws several thousand bikers — 5,000 last year, or enough to form a column that stretched for nine miles as it traveled from Woodland Park, Colo., to Cripple Creek. Stay in one of the numerous nearby hotels, or pitch your tent (or park your RV) at Cripple Creek Gold Campground, Mueller State Park or the RNK Park and Camp. Discounts for active and retired military may be available, so be sure to ask.
More events: POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony and Recognition Ride; aircraft flyovers; Wild West Gun Fighters exhibition.
Getting there: Try the Gold Belt Byway connecting Cripple Creek and Florence to dig into the region's mining-rich history.
Nearby bases: Peterson Air Force Base: 55 miles
9. Capital City Bikefest
Raleigh, N.C., Sept. 21-23: The main military-themed event at this get-together is the annual Patriot Ride to benefit Support Our Troops, with proceeds going toward Homes for Our Troops and the North Carolina Army National Guard. Ride from the Bikefest area to the Raleigh National Guard Armory. Kick-Start Parade and Bikefest Block Party will conclude the day's ride.
More events: Live music; Parade of Lights; Bike Show & Shine; Freedom Biker Church.
Getting there: If you're coming from the south, consider detouring over to the 34-mile stretch of byway from Robbins to Pittsville that locals call the "Devil's Stompin' Ground Road."
Nearby bases: Fort Bragg: 55 miles
10. Oyster Run
Anacortes, Wash., Sept. 23: The largest rally in the Pacific Northwest is also one of the last of the season, taking advantage of the Puget Sound's typically glorious Indian summer. If previous years are any indication, there will be plenty of military-friendly events going on.
Getting there: Take the long way through the Olympic Peninsula, catching the ferry at Port Townsend to Whidbey Island, then shoot across the spectacular Deception Pass Bridge before heading to Anacortes.
Nearby bases: Naval Air Station Whidbey Island: 16 miles; Joint Base Lewis-McChord: 120 miles
Eric Peters is a Military Times automotive writer.