Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Are Poker Runs Getting Shorter?

Looking through a list of upcoming motorcycle events, I noticed a poker run that had already taken place last weekend in Jacksonville, FL, dubbed "Ride For Life", here's a snippet of the description...

...Ride begins at the center on san jose blvd and ends at Adamec Harley on Baymeadows Rd. 49 miles long. registration begins at 8am with kickstands up at 10:30. price is $25.00 for rider and 10.00 for passenger...

Notice it says "49 miles long".

Now, I haven't been on a poker run for probably a couple years now, but the ones I went to always ran about 150 miles, give or take 25. I don't know if poker runs tend to be shorter in Florida, but lately I'm seeing poker runs here in Southern California that also ran about 50 to 75 miles.

Are poker runs getting shorter now?

I remember years ago, poker runs actually gave out cards that you held on to. You collected them at each stop. But at the last stop, we'd all trade cards with each other to produce four-of-a-kinds. Someone would always get four-aces and earn the top prize, the rest of us got smaller prizes, and some of us with full-houses got nothing.

Then poker runs changed to where they stopped handing out cards, and instead used a sheet of paper and stamped your cards on them. That prevented people from trading cards.

But that changed the whole dynamic of poker runs. I noticed riders would assess their hand after the second card, and decide if they had a shot at getting a good hand. If their first two cards prevented anything good, they didn't bother to ride the rest of the route, and headed straight for the final destination.

That was a problem because the stops along a poker run were businesses, like cafes, bars, motorcycle shops, that wanted exposure.

So that caused poker run organizers to find ways to encourage riders to complete the whole route and stop at each stop. One way was to offer a prize for the worst hand. Another way was to let riders pick two cards at the final stop, and let them decide which card to keep. And yet another way was to give out more prizes, and allow smaller hands to win too.

One innovative solution was to have predetermined winners. After the registration, the organizers already knew who would place first, second, third, and so on. At each stop, you presented your registration number. A person looked up your number on a laptop, and could see what your eventual hand would be, and simply gave you one of the cards. Each rider would gradually build a four-of-a-kind, or a full-house, and that encouraged them to stop at each stop. None of the riders realized the winner was predetermined, and each thought they had the winning hand.

But as motorcycling increased in popularity throughout the 2000s, poker run attendance increased as well. That lead to poker runs awarding more prizes so that more people could win, except they gave out cheesy prizes. No one wanted a faux-leather wallet, or an Amsoil doo-rag, so a lot of riders just didn't bother completing a poker run if they didn't think they had a shot at the top prize.

I remember attending the Hooters Poker Run in the San Diego area, where you stopped at five different Hooters restaurants. The idea was for Hooters to sell you food and drink at each stop. So, it was necessary that riders stopped at each Hooters. In years past, they used to give out actual cards that you kept with you. It allowed everyone to cheat, and some people complained about it. So in the next couple of years, Hooters gave out sheets of paper and stamped your cards on them. But that caused riders to drop of the route, avoid going to all the Hooters, and head straight to the final Hooters where the party was. So finally, Hooters went back to handing out real cards again. If riders wanted to cheat, they were forced to stop at each Hooters.

I think ultimately, poker runs have evolved to where the route is now much shorter, just because I think it's the most manageable way of getting riders to complete the whole route. Even if a rider knows they're building a lousy hand, they'll likely make all the stops, knowing the route is pretty short and easy.

But it seems like a lot of participants don't really care about the riding anyways, and only about the camaraderie. And if a poker run is only going to be 50 miles in length, then it seems stupid to even have one.

Why not dump the poker run, and just have riders pick all five cards in one place?


  1. It's all about the journey, not the destination. If anyone is there just for the food/prizes/party and don't want to ride, what the hell do they own a motorcycle for anyway?

    You can't judge a ride by its distance. Some of the best rides I've been on have been only 35 miles, but the roads are so full of twisties/hairpin turns/single-lane covered bridges/etc that they took nearly 3 hours!

    Last summer I participated in one poker run that was 100 miles long, and another with 5 stops (all at ice-cream shops)...appropriately named the "Brain Freeze" run!

  2. Here in Texas I have not noticed a shorten of the runs. I have participated in an annual run that actually offers a short (80 miles) route and a long route (95+ miles). Both stop at the same places. It seems to work well.

  3. Getting shorter? I don’t really know. I gave up on poker runs several years ago. It was because of the prices they were starting to charge, especially if my wife was with me as she usually is. Add to that the ones that don’t belong on a bike and the normal lack of anything resembling organization, I’ll take my chances with a few close friends.

  4. Doing my FIRST poker run and it is 235 miles starting in Hobbs NM. I thought that was going to be long but also might keep some of the kids riding like idiot demons on crotch rockets at home.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)