Republic of Texas rally underway, attendees warned about rock-throwing

The Republic of Texas rally, the annual event that brings thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to Austin got underway Thursday.  Road safety is always a concern but the recent rock throwing attacks on I-35 has added a new wrinkle this year.

They came wearing a lot of leather, riding on lot chrome, and with a lot of attitude. The 21st annual Republic of Texas bike rally, at the Travis County Expo Center, is one of the largest in the nation.

Newt Chilcott, who lives in Canada, attended the rally three years ago. He brought back a lot of good memories and has always wanted a return trip.

“And everyone treated me super, it was just phenomenal how friendly the Texans were,” said Chilcott.

Organizers are expecting up to 30,000 motorcycle enthusiasts to attend. Many camp out on the sprawling complex, which will feature nightly concerts at a hillside stage.

"For the most part, once they get here, it’s a great time, everybody is safe and we are all here to have fun and enjoy everyone's company,” said Charles Hickman with the ROT Rally.

New this year is a flat track racing. It’s open to anyone who wants the challenge can race. The expo center arena renamed the Thunderdome is where an expanded custom bike show is taking place. 

The unique designs are a big draw, especially for people like Isaac Espinosa who spent 9 months modifying the bike he rides.

"I’m going to go and see what they have, and if I see I got a chance I might put my bike in it too,” said Espinosa.

Friday night, the annual parade will be held down Congress Ave. It will start around 8:00 pm.

While a lot of planning went into this event one thing wasn't anticipated. 

Riders, especially from out of town, are being warned about the rock throwing incidents on I-35.

As one of the official rally greeters Bonnie Connell is making sure everyone she meets knows about the threat.

"Are y’all from around here or out of town … Ok you know about traveling on the upper level, don’t go down 35 on the bottom because of the rock throwing we've got going on,” said Connell.

Local bikers Ben and Norma Gonzales are also telling their friends not to ignore the warning signs posted on the interstate.

"We are definitely going to spread the word, we don’t want nobody hurt, I mean with a rock on a bike, oh no its nothing but disaster there,” said Ben Gonzales.

A stunt show, held Thursday morning, is the only risky behavior organizers would prefer to see during the ROT rally.  But with hill country rides part of the experience, an extra emphasis on safety will certainly be part of the gear that’s strapped on this year.