An estimated 30,000 bike fans showed up for the annual Gibtown Bike Fest held Jan. 15-17, sponsored by the International Independent Showmen’s Association and approximately 150 volunteers at the IISA Event grounds.
Now in its 15th year, the three-day Bike Fest is a top-shelf motorcycle event that mixes food, beverage and merchandise vendors with daredevil acts, sideshow freaks, carnies and bikers for a rowdy, rockin’ weekend that’s fun for the whole family.
Bike Fest visitors lined up to see the latest in motorcycles, biker fashion, gear and accessories, as well as an amazing lineup of entertainment, including headliner Molly Hatchet, Soul Circus Cowboys, the Greg Billings Band, Highway to Hell, Michael Allman Band, Black Honkeys and Caribbean Cowboy.
Bike Fest enthusiasts flocked to buy tickets to win two Harley Davidson Fat Boy motorcycles that were raffled off at the show.
“Even though people like to come for the beer and food and music, it’s really all about the bikes,” said Brandon Harley-Davidson sales manager Evan Paraskos, who, along with Dave Brown and Darryl Medel of Tampa, demonstrated their choice of the show, a 2016 vivid black Electra Glide loaded with dealer options and priced at $43,953.
“We come here every year,” said Gonzo, a resident of Apollo Beach who was in attendance with his friend WrongWay, a member of the Free Bones Riding Group of Tampa. “We both grew up in the Riverview area and have been friends for over 30 years — this is one event that we never miss,” said Wrongway, who posed on his ’79 custom Harley Shovelhead, which he named “My Dad’s Shovel.” Gonzo was also proud to display his prized 1947 Harley Knucklehead. “We are both involved in Poker Runs that raise money for charity,” said WrongWay, including an upcoming benefit for 7-year-old Jocelyn Holland to be held Jan. 30 by the Free Bones Riding Group.
With its national headquarters in Gibsonton, the IISA is a gathering place for professionals who have worked traveling carnivals and circuses for almost half a century. “We raise money for over 50 scholarships in the local community,” said Shriner Scooter Ryals, who was working in the kitchen serving food to hungry Bike Fest visitors.
Funds raised at the show go to benefit the Showmen’s charity work, which gave out more than $100,000 last year to help low-income families, seniors and underprivileged kids in the local community.
Bike Fest vendors came from all over the country selling new and used bikes, motorcycle parts, leather and “bling” apparel, and mechanical innovations.
Motomover, a steel dolly system capable of moving bikes weighing up to 1,500 pounds, was demonstrated by Rick Bovero, while Brenda and Ron Weiland showed off leather and rhinestone fashions offered by onesexybikerchick.com.
Bike Fest visitors enjoyed helicopter rides over the Alafia River piloted by Cortnie Josza and Harald Siegl of Leading Edge Helicopters, Orlando, as well as scenic ride maps developed by Steve Finzelber of Finz Finds Rides in Sarasota. Bike fans included Dave and Donna Hoover from St. Pete, who posed on their Vulcon Storm trike decorated with pearls, fur, top hat and featuring a champagne cooler on the back. “We like to dress up our bike to show the elegant side of biking,” said the couple.
Daredevil acts were popular at this year’s Bike Fest, including the “Wall of Death,” featuring 24-year-old Shawn Ives and the “Globe of Death Riders,” starring the Curtis family of Wimauma.
Nationally known Jadd Knox, 32, performed a breathtaking daredevil motocross act to the delight of the crowd. “It’s my passion and my life,” said Jadd, a third-generation rider whose family now owns the Hard Rock Cycle Park in Ocala. Jadd spends his summers performing in festivals, state fairs and Monster Jams in the northern states and his winters in Florida. “But it can be dangerous,” he warns, showing off a large vertical scar on his abdomen. “I lost my spleen in Columbus and shattered my wrist in Toledo. I’m not very fond of performing in Ohio these days.”
For more information on the IISA Showmen’s Club, check out its website at www.gibtownshowmensclub.com or call 813-677-3590. Other bike events can be found through local chapters of the Moose Lodge (mooseriders.com), the VFW, American Legion and Eagles Lodge.