Leesburg commissioner questions whether Bikefest has become too racy

Sun-bronzed women in teeny bikinis, leather miniskirts and skin-tight tube tops have become as much a fixture at Leesburg's annual Bikefest as the motorcycles that jam Main Street.

Leesburg native Thom Weekly likes to stroll down Main Street, where bikes are lined up in two rows. Weekly, 64, said he's far from offended by the scantily dressed women.

"I'm looking at the women first," he said jokingly.

But as this weekend's three-day festival roars to life for its 17th year, at least one city leader has questioned whether it's projecting too racy an image for the conservative Lake County city.

During a meeting this week, City Commissioner Bill Polk complained about an event advertisement that included an image of a bikini-clad woman wearing a sash labeled "Miss Leesburg."

Polk, who said he has also heard complaints from constituents, said he doesn't want the city of 20,000 associated with bawdy images of women who compete in the Bikefest's hot-body contest.

He was concerned about the message the ad might send to girls involved in the Miss Leesburg Scholarship Pageant.

"It's a bad image for the city," he said in a phone interview. "It's a family-oriented town. That's what we should be billing ourselves as."

The ad was supposed to read "Miss Leesburg Bikefest," but the end of the sash was cut off, said Greg Padgett, who sits on the board for the Leesburg Partnership, which organizes the event.

He said many residents enjoy and take part in the festival, which is expected to attract about 300,000 people and concludes Sunday. Those who don't like it leave for the weekend but understand that it provides an economic boost, he added.

"Most communities would die to have an event like this," he said.

Getzel's Department Store owner Freddie Mularsky, 53, said bikers and spectators alike come to the men's clothing store downtown to buy dress shirts, hats and Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers.

"We're excited. We want them to spend," he said.

Lake County officials estimate that the event has an economic impact of $30 million.

"They fill up the hotels," said Leslie Campione, chairwoman of the County Commission, which awarded $40,000 in tourist-tax dollars for this year's festival.

Discouraging risque clothing would mean robbing the event of its character, she said. "It's all part of the flavor of the event."

Pennsylvania residents Shari and Jeff Englerth have attended numerous motorcycle festivals, including the popular one in Sturgis, S.D.

"This is definitely PG-rated compared to Sturgis," said 52-year-old Shari, whose parents live in Leesburg.

"This would be G-rated, but you have the beer booths," said Jeff, 57. He said that unlike other festivals, Leesburg's Bikefest doesn't have women running around in thongs. Leesburg's attracts more families, he said.

City officials have gotten defensive about the city's reputation in the past. In 2006, commissioners took a businessman to task for selling "Sleesburg" T-shirts to Bikefest attendees.

Polk said organizers got rid of T-shirts with offensive language, but he said there's still work to be done to "clean up" the event.

"They should continue to go at it," he said.


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