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South Beach Bike Week: A party on two wheels

The first annual South Beach Bike Week — for the leather-wearing, engine-revving, open-road riders of motorcycles, not the pedal-pushers in Spandex — will roll onto Ocean Drive this weekend for camaraderie, cruising and lots of partying.

Events include a “Shameless Burlesque” show, erotic party, billiards competition, best tattoo contest and a “HipHop Bikers Gathering.”

While the motorcycle rally has the potential to lure thousands of attendees during the slow tourist month of August, the city of Miami Beach and the Ocean Drive Association did not exactly roll out the red carpet, according to the Bike Week’s founder and organizer, Diego Caiola.

“Since it was not like an antique show, or a 5K, the city was a bit standoffish about it,” Caiola said. “We couldn’t get any street closures. It’s not an event that many of the city workers wanted. We’ve had to do everything in private venues.”

And some citizens have expressed concern on social media, with one Facebook posting complaining that Bike Week — which actually runs only three days, Friday through Sunday — would be “another South Beach nightmare.”

But Caiola, 38, a father of three who grew up in Miami Beach and went to college in the area, said he has worked endless hours to make it an event his hometown can be proud of, and an event it will support in the future.

“We know a lot of people think of bikers as long-haired, big-bearded drug addicts, like the Hells Angels guys who go shoot up bars,” Caiola said. “But bikers are regular people who on weekends associate with other bikers and just hang out. We’ve had calls from doctors, lawyers and even a judge who say they are coming.”

Among those who have paid $50 for an all access pass to the weekend is Sgt. Luis Gonzalez of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. He is riding to the rally on his 2010 Ultra Classic Harley-Davidson and meeting up with 20 other members of The Defenders, a fraternal motorcycle club with chapters all over the country for active and retired law enforcement, emergency services, military and public safety professionals.

“The old stereotype of bikers as old dirt bags, homeless guys and gang members has kind of changed,” said Gonzalez, who works at the Plantation Key Detention Facility in the Keys.“We’ve never had trouble in the places we go,” Gonzalez added. “Then again, the bad bikers, we call them the 1 percenters, know we are law enforcement. It says it on our vests. So they don’t mess with us.”

Nannette Rodriguez, director of communications for the city of Miami Beach, confirmed that bike week does not have any special event permits for street closures and the like, but said it was because Caiola “never applied.”

Nobody knows exactly what size crowds to expect for the first time event, but expectations are just a few thousand — not the hundreds of thousands who show up for the well-known and long-running bike rallies in Daytona Beach; Sturgis, S.D., and Laconia, N.H.

The event has been marketed directly to bikers and motorcycle clubs. Few outside that community have even heard about Bike Week, and that includes Jerry Libbin, president and CEO of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.

“When is it again? I’m not familiar with it,” he said. “There is no BOLO, be on the look out, for a crazy motorcycle group coming to town. No alarm bells.”

Libbin, who used to ride a Suzuki 250cc when he was younger, said he is saddened he will be out of town and miss it. “Assuming everything is well behaved, I think it will be quite an attraction — hundreds of gorgeous bikes, decked out with all kinds of accoutrements.”

Among the bikes that are coming: a custom Ducati Monster 696, an Electra Glide Classic, a BMW K1600 GTL and a Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883, known as the “Iron Guerilla.”

The Miami Beach Police Department will have extra officers assigned to Ocean Drive for traffic control and pedestrian flow, “but we don’t plan to have ‘alpha bravo’ staffing like Memorial Day Weekend, when we bring in everybody,” said department spokesman Sgt. Bobby Hernandez.

Hernandez said that South Beach already is popular with bikers, who rarely cause trouble. Rodriguez said the biggest concern is noise. “The engines can rev up pretty loud.”

But much larger bike rallies, including Daytona, have had issues with drugs, fighting, excessive drinking and motorcycle accidents. If the crowds turn out larger or rowdier than expected, Hernandez said, there is a Plan B to call in more officers: “It’s a first-time event and we’re learning as we go, but it’s not our first time to the rodeo. We’ve got special events down on how to handle them.”

Caiola said he has been toying with the idea of a bike week for South Beach for several years. He owns two motorcycles, a Buell and a 1980 Honda, and rides them when he can squeeze in the time around his family and work.

Caiola has always been an entrepreneur, creating his own businesses. In 1995, he started SoBe Express Couriers, a messenger and delivery service. For the past 13 years, Caiola has owned and run Rising Advertising & TMG (Tourist Marketing Group), from which he started Nightlifepass.com and V.I.P. Club Entrance.

And in 2008, Caiola launched the Versace Murder Tour, a two-hour walking tour devoted to the life of the renowned fashion designer who was gunned down outside his Ocean Drive mansion.

In January, while making plans to attend Daytona Bike Week, Caiola decided it was time to create the first South Beach version.

“Anybody who wants to bring anything to the city in the middle of summer, I’m game,” said Kyle Edwards, general manager of the Chalk Lounge on Washington Avenue.

The lounge, with five pool tables and eight ping-pong tables, will host a billiards tournament. But thinking that ping-pong is not the game for big burly bikers, those tables will be moved to create room for several “best bike” competitions, Edwards said.

The Clevelander bar and hotel is the site for many of the official parties, which will include performances by South Florida cover rock bands The Regs and Ovrhol.

And for those who like the sexier side of motorcycles, “we’re having a party with biker art — basically, beautiful nude women on motorcycles,” said Naomi Wilzig, owner of the World Erotic Art Museum on Washington Avenue.

There are about 500,000 registered motorcycles in Florida, many of them in South Florida.

“We’re all excited,” said Janet Regalado, owner of Friction Zone Motorsports, a business that sells used motorcycles in Hialeah. “I have seen a lot of negative feedback on Facebook, but not from my clients. It’s the first year and we’re going to support it. If you don’t try, you don’t know how it’s going to work out.”

There has been some concern on what bikers actually get for their $50 all access pass, since almost all events are free. “I haven’t been able to get a straight answer on what the VIP ticket includes,” said Gonzalez, the sergeant in Monroe County.

Caiola said it is like a credit card that gives the bikers special discounts and direct access to events that become crowded.

On the rally’s official Facebook page: “Remember to respect the city while at the 1st Annual South Beach Bike Week. We love our city.”

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