Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Every Memorial Day weekend, thousands of motorbike-riding military veterans descend on Washington DC for the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally.
Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally USA Flag
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Every Memorial Day weekend, thousands of motorbike-riding military veterans descend on Washington DC for the annual Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally. It typically takes place on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend.

The ride’s purpose is to draw attention to the issue of prisoners of war and those missing in action (POW-MIA). Vietnam Veterans are heavily represented, but there are also veterans from other wars, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. As for bikes, there are a lot of Harleys, of course, but there both riders and bikes comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Photos of Rolling Thunder

Vietnam Veteran Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

VW Customized Bike at Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Bikes Parked with Pentagon

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Signs and Symbols

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally American flag

Bikes parked before the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Rider

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Small Bike

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Participants

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Rider and Child

Custom Bike Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Start of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally POW-MIA flag

Customized Trike Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Yellow Motorbike

Participants in the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Riders

Lines of Bikers at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally beginning

Chopper at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Staging Area

Beginning of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Panorama of Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Bikes Parked with Pentagon

How to Get Here

The staging area for the riders is usually in the north parking lot of the Pentagon, with overflow into the east and south parking lots. With thousands of bikes, it takes at least a couple of hours for all the riders to depart. The rumbling procession takes 2 to 3 hours to pass any given point.

The staging area is a good place to get up close to the bikes, but it’s not for anyone bothered by exhaust fumes. There’s also very little shade, and with so many bikes in motion, be sure to keep a close eye on what’s happening around you. It can get hot and noisy and aside from some porta-potties and the occasional water stand, there aren’t a lot of amenities around.

A much more comfortable option is to stake out one of the many great vantage points along the route around the National Mall. If you position yourself well, you should be able to get a shot of the riders in the foreground and one of Washington’s landmarks, like the Washington Monument or the Capitol Dome, in the background.

If you want to head to the Pentagon staging area, the best option is to get the Metro to the Pentagon station. If you’re heading down to the National Mall, the closest Metro stops are Smithsonian, Foggy Bottom, Metro Center, Federal Triangle, or Union Station. DC Police close a lot of streets around the Pentagon, Memorial Bridge, Constitution Avenue, an Independence Avenue from mid-morning through mid-afternoon, so you’ll have a lot of trouble getting about if you’re trying to drive downtown–best bet is to metro.

For Photographers

So long as you don’t interfere with the riders, you’re pretty much free to shoot however you like. Just don’t get run over!

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