Of the Baker City Herald

Nick Peluso's words drown in the roar of a passing Harley Davidson as he relaxes in a lawn chair outside his Sunridge motel room.

Peluso, 45, doesn't mind the racket.

In fact, he'd just climbed off his own Harley minutes before when his touring group of 30 pulled into Baker City on Aug. 25 during their 1,800-mile route through the Pacific Northwest.

Peluso is the the senior vice president and national sales and marketing director for Manheim Auctions, a wholesale auto auction business based in Atlanta, Ga. Each year, Manheim organizes three motorcycle tours for employees and customers.

andquot;Some companies use golf to entertain their customers. We have a good group of customers who enjoy motorcycle riding,andquot; he said. andquot;It's a good way to connect to our customer base. We have car dealers, people from the banks and a bunch of auction people.andquot;

According to their Web site, the company runs more than 115 auction facilities worldwide and employs 35,000.

That includes Bill Tiedemann, vice president of auction services in Atlanta, a 1973 Baker High graduate who suggested this trip through his hometown.

andquot;We wanted to show them our neck of the country. It was sort of our turn we've been talking about a ride through the Northwest for so long,andquot; said Tiedemann, who was joined on the trip by Belinda Ruda, also a 1973 BHS grad.

This Pacific Northwest trip was the first Oregon experience for everyone but the two Baker City natives.

andquot;They've been bragging about this town ever since we started,andquot; said Joe Scimone, a senior vice president at JP Morgan Chase in New York.

Their fascination was evident as each asked their own questions about Baker City's economy and history, and inquired, andquot;How does someone move to this town?andquot;

Though touring groups are fairly common to Baker City, there's really no way to track their numbers unless someone contacts the Chamber of Commerce in advance, said Myllisa Jensen, marketing director for Baker County Unlimited.

Most visitors just happen to stop when they see the andquot;Visitor Informationandquot; sign at the Chamber on Campbell Street, she said.

andquot;We get a lot of lunch stops that happens on a regular basis,andquot; she said.

But those groups who do inquire receive quite the welcoming from BCU.

andquot;A lot of times we'll do visitor's packets bags full of visitor guides and maps and brochures for attractions,andquot; Jensen said.

The goal, she said, is to stimulate the curiosity of those who are only scheduled to stay overnight, like the Manheim tour that pulled in Wednesday afternoon and left town Thursday morning.

andquot;We want them to say, 'Gosh, there's so much to do here, we have to come back,'andquot; she said.

Manheim tours across the U.S.

The Manheim tours take riders all over the United States on trips that usually last about a week.

andquot;It's all back roads. It's not a race for us,andquot; Peluso said.

The group pulled out of Santa Rosa, Calif. after trucking or flying their bikes to the city on Aug. 20 and ended the trip at Seattle on Aug. 29.

Karen Braddy, 35, is Manheim's director of best practices in Atlanta and organizer and participant - of the Harley tours.

andquot;We sit down and talk about the places we want to see, then I look at a map and figure the best places to stop,andquot; she said.

These riders are pretty pampered, too, with hotel reservations pre-paid in advance and gas stops scheduled every 120 miles a distance that even the souped-up bikes can make at 42 to 52 miles to the gallon.

To gas up, Braddy said they simply open up the pumps and refuel the motorcycles as they pull in.

andquot;They just roll in, fill up and roll out,andquot; Braddy said. andquot;We're out in 15 minutes.andquot;

The herd of Harleys is accompanied by three support vehicles and two officers from the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Braddy said they also plans special events along the way, from a birthday party in Sisters to a picnic lunch at the covered wagon near Prairie City.

That lunch was somewhat short, curtailed by an impending rainstorm.

andquot;It really opened up on the way to Baker City,andquot; Braddy said. andquot;We were all rain-suited, but we still got wet.andquot;

Last week's soggy weather was somewhat of a disappointment to Tiedemann, who wanted to show his fellow riders a clear view of Eastern Oregon's landscape.

andquot;We're trying to see the scenery. They think it's beautiful, but they've only seen the bottom 1,000 feet,andquot; he said with a smile.

The 30-some riders, though clad in leather and sporting bandannas cinched around their temples, are a far cry from the rough-and-tumble image that Harleys bring to mind.

Greg Aslinger, a helicopter pilot and owner of a Bell service center in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, spent a good hour shining up his bike after the group rode through the rain on his first visit to Oregon.

Aslinger, 43, is all about adventure whether it's in the sky, on the road or swimming in the sea with sharks for the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, N.J.

andquot;A motorcycle is just freedom,andquot; he said. andquot;It's kind of how would I describe it? Just ultimate freedom.andquot;

Plus, he said, a motorcycle is a sure conversation-starter.

andquot;It's camaraderie you pull up at a gas station and there's a guy with a motorcycle, you instantly have something to talk about,andquot; he said.

For Frank Post, 52, this trip was only his second time out of Texas.

andquot;I love it,andquot; said Post, the general manager of Manheim's auto auction in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

During their Baker City visit, his eyes kept slipping to the mountains surrounding the valley.

andquot;I never get to see them and I'm sure people here take them for granted,andquot; he said.

And motorcycles, he said, offer a chance for this group of professionals to leave their work behind, just for a little while.

He refers to groups like Manheim's tour as RUB (Rich Urban Bikers).

andquot;It's relaxing you can't hear a phone, no faxes come over the gas tank, you don't get an e-mail riding a Harley,andquot; Post said with a grin.