Nineteen years ago, the first Leesburg BikeFest was held. Like many rallies, it got off to a modest start, a handful of vendors, a few events, and maybe 5,000 people filtering throw the town over the course of a weekend. But the seed had been sown, word spread, and the rally blossomed. The businesses of Leesburg recognized the economic boost the rally presented, filling hotels, restaurants, and stores in the downtown district. Nineteen years later, those 5,000 rally-goers has boomed as between 100,000 – 200,000 visitors fill the town over a three-day period. Leesburg has responded in kind by shutting down its Main Street to regular traffic, allowing only motorcycles to cruise up and down the street, bikes squeezing into every crevice on both sides and even the middle of the thoroughfare. They turn their Towne Square into a music festival, bring in headlining acts like Lita Ford and Puddle of Mudd, offering up top-notch entertainment for free. Southern hospitality is alive and well in Leesburg.
Even though the weekend hadn’t officially started, by Friday afternoon Main Street Leesburg was already buzzing with activity. Artistically inked beauties and rippled muscle-men, their bodies human canvases, stood on a dais outside the Tattoo Expo, microphone in-hand as they encouraged people to come in and check out the show. Inside, approximately 40 national and regional artists were busy inking the willing, the z-z-z-z of tattoo guns filling the air. Artist Chris Dominick held a steady hand as he worked on a new back piece for a burly man grimacing in both pain and pleasure.
Across the street from the Tattoo Expo, Progressive Insurance set up shop, the red, white and blue wooden planks of the American Motordrome’s “Wall of Death” nearby. Progressive is using Leesburg BikeFest to debut Flo’s Chop Shop where bikers can stop in for beard or mustache trims, straight razor shaves, and manicures for the ladies. Progressive brought in the team from SHED Barbershop out of Austin, Texas, to help clean up the motley crew of bikers stopping by along with shoeshiners straight out of Chi-town. Progressive also has a rooftop secured for motorcycle-only parking. Attendees could park their bikes knowing their rides are under the watchful way of a security guard, get their party on that night, then come pick up their motorcycles the next day. Saturday morning, Progressive was serving up a little hangover helper in the form of a free buffet breakfast and a free shave to kick-start the day. While Flo’s Chop Shop debuted in Leesburg, the attraction will be making the rally rounds as riding season kicks into high gear this summer.
A few blocks away from Progressive, the shrill scream of high-revving engines filled the air, followed by plumes of grey smoke and the smell of burning rubber. Wheels were being lofted into the air as the Extreme Stunt Show team demonstrated their stunt riding skills in the lot behind the Rat’s Hole Bar. Across the street from them was a motorcycle riding demonstration of another kind as Jerry “Motorman” Palladino and his Harley touring-riding troupe showed had to handle a big bike with the best of them in their “Ride Like a Pro” show. The precision in which they ride and their ability to turn on a dime on a 900-pound bike is a treat to see as the “Motorman” espouses the merits of clutch control, the friction zone, and braking with the rear to keep big bikes under control in low-speed situations.
As we pounded pavement through the 30-block radius of downtown’s BikeFest location, music resonated around almost every corner as live acts filled the numerous stages. Between shows, bikini-clad belles battled for bucks in the Ms. Budweiser and Ms. Leesburg BikeFest contests. Meanwhile, the smell of Italian sausages, peppers and onions grilling held an olfactory war with popping kettle corn to entice hungry revelers to stop and drop a little coin at one of the abundant food vendors.
Night time brought a cool breeze as Town Square filled up shoulder-to-shoulder for the Lita Ford show. Lita can still rock a guitar with a vengeance, as young and old alike tapped their feet to familiar tunes, heads bobbing to the beat. And while Friday got 2015 Leesburg BikeFest off to a rockin’ start, the party is about to kick it into a whole ‘nother gear as the streets overflow with the crowds expected to show up for Saturday’s festivities.