THOUSANDS of bikers will descend on the Highlands this weekend as one of Europe’s biggest rallies – Thunder in the Glens (TITG) – marks its 20th anniversary.

Aviemore has been the focal point for TITG since its inception, but the intervening years have seen the event expand to take in the Highlands and even parts of the islands.

More than 3,000 people are registered for the three-day event, but thousands more come along to watch a series of displays and ride-outs, or to listen to some of the live music.

The rally’s value to the local economy has been put at around £10 million, a benefit EventScotland recognised this year giving its organisers – Dunedin Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) – a grant of £10,000.

Although this is a HOG-organised event and the bikes are predominantly Harley-Davidsons, all marques – along with cars and pedestrians – are welcome.

The 20th anniversary rally will be launched on Friday by Scots rockers Big Country.

Rally coordinator George McGuire says local residents play a large part in its success.

“Pre-registration closed on July 5, with 2,500 registering,” he told The National.

“Interest since then has been quite phenomenal and we are expecting record numbers – around 3,500 paying attendees, not to count visitors and holidaymakers who visit Aviemore just to see the event. Conservative estimates consider it to be worth around £10m to the Scottish economy, with many of those who come along travelling through Scotland, visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow on route, as well as touring the Highlands.

“What makes TITG special is the welcome given by local people to everyone who attends, and the rally in turn embraces the local people. Everyone joins in.”

The benefit to local businesses is huge and extends across the Highlands as hundreds of bikers take part in ride-outs to various places of interest. There is even a shuttle bus running for the weekend.

McGuire added: “This year has seen us advertising accommodation in Kingussie and Newtonmore to meet demand, and a rally shuttle bus will operate between here and Aviemore to ferry rally-goers back and forth in the evenings.”

The highlight of the weekend is a mass ride-out from Aviemore to Grantown-on-Spey, which sees the normally quiet resort transformed into a bikers’ paradise for an afternoon.

“As well as the Saturday ride-out and the Sunday Cairngorm Mountain ride there will be four further rides to promote local areas of interest,” said McGuire.

“This being the 20th rally we are putting on bigger named bands. Big Country open the event on Friday night and closing on Sunday night are the RPJ Band, fronted by Rick Parfitt Junior, son of Status Quo’s guitarist.” Harley-Davidson demo bikes will put in an appearance and additional events will see off-road biking displays and drives through Rothiemurcus Estate in Jeep four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Macdonald Aviemore Resort is TITG’s major sponsor and has been joined this year by Speyside Distillery, which has produced two limited-edition 20th anniversary malts. Any profits go to local good causes. Last year TITG gave most of its funds to the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance.