Bright Lights, Bawdy BikeFest
BikeFest returned to Las Vegas for its 13th edition, with a twist. New this year was headliner entertainment, a killer contemporary art show and vendors peddling the fleshy wares that have made Sin City famous. Also noted – a growing Big Wheel trend in bike building. Bunyanesque front wheels reaching cartoonish heights were hung mostly on baggers, sometimes paired with super-fat rear wheels and making the most pragmatic of bikes impractical.
Unofficially, the event looks to be gaining attendance, adding vendors and for the first time in its history, big bands were featured. Some 30,000 enthusiasts rolled in for the four-day event, held October 3-6.
In previous years, the BikeFest sent attendees down the Vegas Strip for their amusements, offering only local live music under a makeshift tent. The event has taken a step toward major rally status by inviting Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult and rising country star, Joe Nichols, to perform on a new main stage.
Las Vegas has throttled back to its randy roots after a largely failed attempt at being a family destination. This comes as a relief, seeing the town at least trying to live up to its long running “What Happens” tagline. Sin City is more biker-welcome than ever since daycare centers, kid clubs and Disney movie marathons have been replaced by a mostly adults-only ride. Also gone are the annoying gauntlets of strip club and limo service card passers who clogged the Strip, pressing glossy, R-rated and germy ads into your hand.
(Above) Sapphire Club offers bikers a discount. (Below) Pretty vendor girls are part of the rally landscape.
The rally met with unseasonably cool temperatures and blustery winds, which made early morning riding brisk and late evening shenanigans and concert going chilly, but provided almost ideal conditions for vendor crawls. It seemed fitting vendor booths included scantily clad representatives of the Chicken Ranch, Nevada’s best known home to legalized companionship, as well as well as Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, and the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, generally regarded as the town’s best strip joint.
In contrast, the Sin City Art Gallery was a surprise and welcome addition, featuring avant-garde artists at work. Event goers enjoyed the added color, and even one cop said she “really liked” the artwork while pausing at one of the oil on canvas nudes.
There was also the usual shuffle of biker parts, accessories and apparel, dominated by the standard T-shirts and leatherwear, menacing jewelry, assorted sunglasses, and ambulance chasers who promise to be one of us and on our side, for a healthy fee. Interesting exceptions included LeatherPatch.com, a new company offering artsy alternatives to the regular fabric patch, and Inferno Art Studio, which offers edgy, mixed media work on canvas.
Attractions at the Vendor Village included the Miss BikeFest contest. In a town with a strip club on every corner, countless showgirls, burlesque performers and questionable adult entertainers, it’s odd only four women showed up to compete for the $1000 first prize. Other events included the Mr. BikeFest competition, Bikini Bike Wash, Artistry in Iron Master Builder’s Championship, Poker Walk, $10,000 Poker Run, Biker Bingo, Baddest Bagger contest, Custom Bike Show, World’s Strongest Biker competition, Tattoo Contest, the Golden Nugget Hotel Motorcycle Giveaway, a Wet T-Shirt Contest, of course, and some expression of true American slobbery called Hog Out, where contestants ate as much pork as possible in two minutes. And people wonder how we became one of the fattest nations in history.
(Above) The ubiquitous phone pervades the leather-clad set. (Below) Paul Yaffe’s new 30-inch front wheel kit.
BikeFest ticket pricing felt like an exotic sports book. Admission to the Vendor Village at Cashman Center is included if registered for a Party or Ultimate Pass. This started at $35 per person and included a daily pass. If you didn’t register, prices went like this: Thursday: $15 and two-for-one admission for locals with ID; Friday, $15 before 5 p.m. $30 after; Saturday, $15 before 5 p.m. $30 after. Children 12 and under entered free, and Sunday was free for everybody, I think. I boxed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, skipped Sunday, and laid 10 bucks down on the trifecta. No official word yet on next year’s program.
As responsible journalists covering a rally in Sin City, we thought it only our duty to a sample some of the sin whether we liked it or not. So we took in some typical Vegas fare. X-Burlesque at the Flamingo Hotel is a nonstop extravaganza of throbbing song and sensual dance performed by a bevy of nearly naked beauties to a packed house of mostly smiling couples. The Travel Channel dubbed it “The sexiest show in Vegas.” That may be arguable if you compare it to more schmaltzy and ubiquitous Cirque du Soleil productions, but it doesn’t disappoint. Same goes for X-Rocks, appearing at a more intimate venue at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. A smaller but more hard driving show, it offers less subtlety, more pounding music and nonstop hair whipping, writhing pulchritude in a high-energy performance. We were entertained.
Also on our bill of fare was the Mob Attraction Las Vegas at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. This is Disneyland for mob enthusiasts. The 27,000-sq.-ft. attraction recreates a fictional organized crime world using live actors, holograms recorded by tough-guy stars such as James Caan and other seedy Soprano types. Even Mickey Rourke makes a cameo appearance. Set aside a couple of hours for the self-guided walking tour; it’s well worth the time.
The Vegas Mob Tour, which starts and finishes at the Tropicana’s Mob Attraction and shares a ticketing agent but is otherwise unaffiliated, took us on a 2 ½ hour ride through Vegas, visiting former mobster hangouts, attempted murder spots, robbery crime scenes and the house where Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone filmed part of the fact-based movie, “Casino.” It also included a pizza dinner. The tour is best suited to mob history buffs. It’s interesting, but a bit soft around the edges. Staring at parking lot smudges and closed, nondescript buildings while being bounced through dense Vegas traffic in an airport van suggests a change of format might be considered. The pizza resembled something you might eat at Chucky Cheese.
Las Vegas BikeFest will reconvene at the city’s Cashman Center Oct. 2-5, 2014. For more information, contact Las Vegas BikeFest, 866-245-3337; www.LasVegasBikeFest.com; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority website: www.visitlasvegas.com.