Updated 7/20/17 to reflect as of today, the Key West Poker Run 2017 event has been officially cancelled. There has been statements made in the past that city officials of Key West did not like an increased presence of motorcycle clubs attending the event, and numerous fights had broken out in the past.
It is that time of year again for the annual Key West Poker Run hosted by Peterson’s Harley Davidson in Miami, however, you won’t find me there anytime soon.
Originally, the Poker Run was created to increase motorcycles sales and tourism revenue in Key West for the month of September. From there it has grown to over 10,000 bikes riding to the United States’ Southernmost Point and a portion of the proceeds going to the Diabetes Research Foundation. However, as bike events go, I have no problems skipping this one out.
If you have never been to Key West or the Poker Run, I recommend visiting. I love Key West with its fascinating history and famous if not colorful residents like Ernest “Papa” Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.
At one point, Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States, and it wasn’t because the Warren Buffet’s of the world were living there, but because the criminals would shut off the lighthouse and with shallow water and plenty of jagged coral rocks, ships ran aground, only to be looted of its treasures by the residents. Landowners of Key West became wealthy overnight selling the government swampland when they convinced the government that military bases were needed with the island of Cuba 90 miles away.
Riding to Key West is always listed as a “must-do” ride for bikers. You travel US-1 surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but getting there takes time. The 150 mile ride from Miami takes about 4 hours because of the 45 mph speed limit most of the way. And because the Poker Run involves you picking up a card at each of the five stops to play a hand of Poker, the ride can easily stretch to an 8 hour day if not more. I’ve known plenty of bikers to take 10-12 hours to get there.
The first time I did the Poker Run, I did all the stops and you should too, but you will realize that at each stop, some bikers will have a beer or two or more. At the end of the day, that’s a lot of drinking and mix that with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees and thousands of bikers on the road, and the results could be deadly. Luckily, US-1 is straighter than arrow, but it is the only road that leads to Key West and you do have plenty of cars cutting across the one lane highway from your left and right to make a left hand turn.
The weather is also another issue for me. It is brutally hot in Key West in September (93 degrees currently as of 11 a.m) and if it doesn’t rain, you wish it did so that it cools down.
Another issue for me is the cost. Hotels double and triple their price and require a 2 or 3 night minimum. And while it is cool to walk through Duval Street with hundreds of bikes parked side-by-side, it will cost you $10 to park on Duval not to mention a bunch of non-bikers sitting on your bike taking photos. I’ve seen plenty of times bikes tipped over, resting against another bike. For whatever reason, bicycles are also parked in-between the bikes with the same result.
If you are one of those not riding around in sandals, t-shirt and shorts (at least wear sneakers), and decide you are better off in a taxi, I hope your hotel is nearby. A taxi from Duval to the entrance of the island, a total of 3 miles, will cost you $30-$40.
Throughout the years, it seems the numbers have dwindled for the Poker Run. My first Poker Run was in 2005 and I believed it when they said 30,000 bikes went. Back then, I couldn’t even find parking at the stops. Now, after the first stop, the bars seem empty of motorcycles. My guess, the costs involved are to blame.
It’s great that some monies are raised for charity, but there needs to be a balance struck between charity and price gouging. Key West at some point was very affordable. I use to travel to the Florida Keys and Key West four to five times per year, but not anymore. Even a friend of mine complained to me recently about spending $250 a night at a hotel in the off-season that didn’t even have clean sheets. And with a limited amount of rooms available, the law of supply and demand shall always rule supreme.
Besides the costs, my biggest issue with the Poker Run is that there is no riding. Riding US-1 to the United State’s southernmost point is definitely a must do, but once you arrive to Key West, you park your bike for 2 days until you return home, unless you ride 1 mile to Duval Street. I enjoy other bike rallies and events because of riding in the surrounding area. Fact is, I think the Poker Run is better suited for those that wish to party and enjoy doing the Duval Crawl. I prefer to ride than party, besides, I don’t need to leave Miami if I want to party.
For this same reason I have given up on Lobster Fest in Key Largo and Key West. You buy a tiny overpriced lobster tail to eat sitting on the sidewalk with a plastic fork and a Styrofoam plate. Maybe it is just me, but I feel I am being taken advantage of. I work hard for my money and I’m not about to give it away that easy, especially with so many bike events throughout Florida and the rest of the country.
To those heading down south this weekend, have fun, take lots of pics, and more importantly, ride smart.
Update- Whether the Poker Run is on for 2017 is unknown at this time. There has been a break out of fights the last couple of years. City officials blame motorcycle clubs and Peterson’s Harley Davidson blames it on politics.