Coppers and Choppers 

It was a safe weekend to be at the mall.

More than 60 officers from the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, and out of state converged on Wolfchase Galleria to compete in a motorcycle rodeo.

The River City Challenge, jointly organized by local law enforcement and Carnival Memphis, is the first in what the groups hope to be an annual event, with all the proceeds going to Carnival Memphis' Children's Charity Initiative.

As I get out of my car, I am greeted by the sound of revving bike engines and Metallica blasting from a convertible party bus. I try awkwardly to make my way across the parking lot to where the officers are lining up to start their runs. As the riders maneuver with remarkable precision, turning their large Electra Glide and Road King motorcycles in the space of inches, I creep around the edge of the cones like a timid rodeo clown at his first big show.

MPD's Chuck Nelson, one of the co-chairs of the event, describes the rodeo as a competition of riding skill and speed. Each bike gets two runs on a course organized into five sections, all of which must be ridden consecutively. The five loops each present a different challenge to the rider.

 "The patterns are definitely taken from real-life situations. A large part of this event is giving our officers a chance to work on their skills and safety," said Nelson, "with the added bonus that this is a competitive environment." 

A crowd is lined up along the edge of the parking lot, and they holler encouragement during each run. Carol Truhan, one of the few female riders, finishes a near perfect run and is greeted with loud applause.

Truhan, who has been with the Sheriff's Department since 1996, explains that a good ride is all about getting in the groove.

"When you pull in, you have to aim your tire for that sweet spot. If you can do that, you can steer pretty well with just your eyes and head," she says.

The final two riders slalom through these intricate patterns of cones, often pitching their bikes back and forth at such a precarious angle that I can hear their metal footbars grinding along the surface of the parking lot.

"If you ain't scraping the ground you aren't going to make it through some of these courses," said Rodney Askew, a motorcycle cop with the MPD.

In the end, Askew decides to give the crowd a rodeo farewell. Mounting his bike like it was a surfboard, he rides the course standing up, giving all the riders present something to practice for next year.

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