Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin starts East Coast tour with motorcycle rally in Washington

Sarah Palin participates Sunday in the Rolling Thunder annual motorcycle rally, past the U.S. Capitol during the Memorial Day weekend in Washington.

Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON -- Sarah Palin rumbled through Washington on the back of a Harley as she and her family began an East Coast tour Sunday that renewed speculation the former Alaska governor would join the still unsettled Republican presidential contest.

Wearing a black leather jacket and surrounded by a throng of cheering fans, Palin and family members jumped on bikes and joined thousands of other motorcyclists on the Memorial Day weekend ride from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans' memorial. Palin didn't mention politics as she visited with participants, but she smiled broadly when many in the crowd urged her to run.

"How do you wear all this leather and stay cool?" she asked one woman as Palin took off a leather jacket and worked her way through a crush of fans, photographers and reporters.

Palin remains one of the biggest questions for Republicans, who have not yet settled on a frontrunner to challenge President Barack Obama's re-election. While many of Palin's likely rivals have worked to build campaign organizations in early nominating states such as Iowa or New Hampshire, Palin has taken no concrete steps to begin a presidential campaign.

Given Palin's star power, she might be able to wait longer than others. But the clock is ticking, the establishment isn't happy with its options and one of the earliest tests of campaign infrastructure, the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, is scheduled for August.

Palin showed no hints Sunday that she would join the field although she again demonstrated her ability to build excitement and practice person-to-person, retail politics. In heels and black flair slacks, Palin shook hands and posed for pictures with well-wishers. Just before she, husband Todd and daughter Bristol rolled from the Pentagon's parking lot, she gave a thumbs-up to a military police officer who asked if he could snap a picture while taking a break from directing traffic.

Palin set off from Washington on a tour of East Coast historical sites. Her political committee billed the swing as an opportunity for her family to visit historic sites as they worked their way to New England. It set off speculation she would visit New Hampshire, a state that holds the first nominating primary.

Many of her potential rivals were scheduled to visit New Hampshire in the coming week. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was expected to make formal his bid during a noon barbecue on Thursday. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was set to speak at an evening fundraiser for the state GOP. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman -- who also rides bikes -- is set to spend the weekend working through the state's rural North Country.