For years, Fort Myers Bike Night has filled the streets of downtown Fort Myers with rumbling motorcycles, loud rock music and thousands of bikers. Not anymore.
When the annual event returns Saturday, Nov. 9, it won’t be happening in downtown at all. It’s moving eight miles south to Rockstar Harley-Davidson in south Fort Myers.
And Southwest Florida bikers aren’t happy about it.
Not at all.
“People are totally disappointed,” says Manfred Glanzner, owner of motorcycle dealership Haus of Trikes & Bikes, which usually has a vendor table at the downtown event. “It’s like a slap in the face. It’s just all of a sudden — boom! Gone after 15 years.
“It looks like they don’t need us anymore, these loud, ugly bikers.”
Facebook has filled up with angry comments about the move. Two Facebook groups were started to boycott the Rockstar event and bring Bike Night back to downtown. There’s even a competing event, also called Fort Myers Bike Night, happening the same day at Sun Sports Cycle.
“Shame on Ft Myers,” wrote Punta Gorda resident D.E. Schenk in the Facebook group called “boycott the move of Fort Myers bike night.” “This is nothing more than stuffy, stuck-up people thinking everyone riding is a hoodlum.
“I’ve ridden with judges, lawyers and other upstanding citizens. We’re construction workers, clerks and stock people in your favorite stores.”
But Lisa Sbuttoni, president and CEO of the 13-member River District Alliance board, says the Alliance decision had nothing to do with snobbery or any perceived dislike of bikers. Instead, they ended the event because of safety concerns.
Bike Night attracted an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people to downtown every other month during tourist season, and all those motorcycles would line both sides of the streets, Sbuttoni says. So if there was a fire or someone had a heart attack, ambulances and fire trucks would have a hard time getting past the bikes.
“In the event of an emergency, we’re not going to be able to get there in a timely manner,” Sbuttoni says. “It’s a matter of safety.”
Simply put, Bike Night got too big for downtown, she says. “It outgrew the footprint. It was very popular. It was very successful. But it outgrew the downtown footprint.”
The River District Alliance — the nonprofit that organizes the event — pulled the plug on Bike Night about two months ago. The decision came after a meeting with city officials, police and firefighters, Sbuttoni says.
“We were all concerned about the safety,” she says, “and so we looked at different solutions.”
Police spokesman J. Mitchell Haley declined to comment on the change, since police aren’t involved in managing or coordinating Bike Night. But city spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer confirmed that public safety was a concern, along with rising event costs.
“Proper ingress and egress for fire and police must be maintained at all times,” Schaffer said in an email. “This also became an issue as Bike Night has grown over the years.”
After the Alliance canceled the event, Rockstar Harley offered to take over Bike Night and move it to their south Fort Myers venue, Sbuttoni says. “Rockstar Harley’s a longtime sponsor. So it made sense.”
But some Facebook commenters have speculated that Rockstar “hijacked” Bike Night or paid the Alliance to take over the event. Neither is true, says Rockstar general manager Geno DeMauro.
“We didn’t find out until they canceled it,” DeMauro says. “Once we heard they weren’t going to do it anymore, once we were told it wasn’t happening anymore, we got together and said, ‘How are we going to resurrect this thing? How are we going to save this?’
“We didn’t want to see it just go away. We wanted to save it.”
Many bikers, however, are complaining about the event moving to the Harley dealership in south Fort Myers. First, it’s a Harley dealership, says Glanzner of Haus of Trikes, and he doubts people with Indians, Triumphs, Hondas and other non-Harley bikes will be welcomed.
Besides, Glanzner doesn’t see how Fort Myers Bike Night will be any different than the regular, monthly Bike Nights that Rockstar already holds there.
“It’s just another Saturday event like they have any other Saturday,” he says. “This is a joke.”
DeMauro, however, says the event is open to everyone no matter what kind of bikes they ride. “Everybody’s welcome,” he says. “Everybody’s invited.”
As for the other Bike Nights, this one will be much bigger and more involved, says Rockstar event coordinator Kaley Tyree. It won’t be themed, like the regular monthly events. And it will have lots more vendors, food trucks and bands.
“For the bigger Bike Night, we’re doing bigger things,” Tyree says.
Still, many bikers are upset that the event is moving anywhere that isn’t downtown Fort Myers. And they point out the unique ambiance in downtown, including the picturesque buildings and the bars, restaurants and stores.
“Fort Myers Bike Night, to me, is very special,” says biker Steve Baker, 60, of Lehigh Acres. “I’ve been going for six or seven years. … It’s just to be around other bikers and go see the vendors.
“I like the atmosphere. It’s the fact that you can go to the different restaurants.”
Baker started the Facebook group “We The People (bikers)” on Oct. 27 to rally people to get Bike Night back to downtown. Another group, “boycott the move of Fort Myers bike night,” suspended its page last week because its organizers say they’re in talks to try to return Bike Night to downtown.
But Sbuttoni says the Alliance has no plans for Bike Night during the 2019-20 season — although the following season might be an option if they can resolve the safety concerns.
Even so, she says she gets why people are upset about the decision.
“I understand,” she says. “It’s a beloved event. … People are disappointed.”
Glanzner says he wishes the Alliance had publicized the idea more before making the decision and had given people the chance to come up with an alternative plan.
“They should have worked to change it,” he says. “We really need solutions. At least they could keep it alive.
“It’s just an amazing event. It’s a shame.”
Rockstar’s leaders know it’s not an ideal situation, but they say they’re doing what they can to maintain the longtime biker tradition.
That’s why they’re sinking a big budget into the newly transplanted Bike Night, including a big-name sponsor. The event has a mouthful of a name in honor of that sponsor: Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner Presents Fort Myers Bike Night Hosted by Rockstar Harley-Davidson.
“We’re never going to be like downtown,” DeMauro says. “It’s not like downtown. We won’t have that downtown feel. It’s never going to happen.
“But we can try to make it the best that we can.”
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)
What: Fort Myers Bike Night
When: 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9
Where: Rockstar Harley-Davidson, 9501 Thunder Road, south Fort Myers,
Info: 275-4647 or facebook.com/RockstarHarleyDavidson
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