As the number of motorcycle events has increased over the past 17 years, some quickly gain popularity as riders search for interesting venues to share fellowship with like-minded enthusiast. One local event that has become a noteworthy powerhouse over the past ten years is Leesburg Bikefest. The May date that usually delivers comfortable temperatures and clear skies teamed up with a beautiful setting has set the Leesburg events well above most.
"We stayed about five minutes from downtown here," says Rachelle Gomes. "At a nice fishing camp on the water. Just riding time. It's beautiful here. We've been in Daytona but we like this better."
A good attitude from locals, especially law enforcement, also goes a long way towards making an event grow. Sergeant 'Woody' says, "[We're] just out here making sure everyone's safe and has fun. We're not out here to run ruff-shot or anything like that. We want everyone to come and enjoy their time and be comfortable. For ten years it's been going; eight of them I've run security."
This year's event has grown to some pretty impressive numbers, according to Officer Woodward. "Right now we've probably got around ten to fifteen thousand," he says. "We're looking at over, by the end of the weekend, we're looking at around 250,000 people here." It is also good when host communities recognize the economic impact that these events have on the city and it's surrounding communities. "From what I've heard there's no hotels from Ocala to Claremont; from Apopka to Wildwood," he says. "All the hotels are booked solid."
Although there's lots of fun, a weekend like this does take its toll on those involved with putting on the event. "By Monday I'm a cripple." Woodward says, "I got sit at home for a couple of days. Haha."
Another part of any motorcycle event is the vendors. Leesburg had literally hundreds to give bikers lots of choices for shopping. Jayme Allred says, "We have a booth setup. We're one of the vendors. I sell custom chaps made out of jean material; mainly black and blue and different colors." As the popularity of Leesburg continues rising, riders choose this venue over some of the larger events. Dan Pincus says, "[It's] a lot more calmer than Daytona. You don't have to fight your way through the street." "I've been to Daytona several times and also here several times and between the two we like this better," says Brian Giblin.
One part of any noteworthy motorcycle event is the bike show. Leesburg has the "Big-Daddy" of all events: The Rat's Hole Show. Ted Smith and his wife Pam are carrying on a thirty-four year tradition. It was started by deceased father Carl Smith, the famous "Big Daddy Rat," one of the real legends of the biker world. Pam and Ted not only put on their show at all the top events, they also own their own fleet of classic bikes. Pam Smith says, "We have a rat we just finished. It's a three-wheeler, it's a 1950's Harley Davidson... We have several. We're getting a whole bunch of theme bikes for the Rat's Hole."
At Leesburg you'll even find some monster builders of the biker world like John Neger of Trik-Daddy's Custom Cycles. Neger can tell you that the life of a custom builder is not all T.V. interview and lots of fun. Neger says, "We've been out here since 7:00 pounding the asphalt with our fist full of flyers trying to drive some business. Letting you see the real side of what goes on here at these motorcycle rallies."
There's also one element of any bike show that is pretty predictable. Being the pros that they are in Leesburg, they had that base covered well with the Hawaiian Tropic Bikini Contest. As thousands arrived on the first day of the big event, the perfect warm-up for the band was fifteen Hawaiian Tropic Girls. As the crowd and the town square grew to over to over 8,000 it was apparent that the management team at the Leesburg Partnership had again hit a home-run.
It's not likely that any other event will compare with what the City of Leesburg visionaries have going on. But one thing for sure is that we will be back next year to check out all the action.