Ohio Bike Week 2010 ready to roar

Ohio Bike Week will once again roar into town June 4. But it's been the quiet, persistent support by the business community that's helped make this year's event viable. And Ohio Bike Week's chief organizer, Steve Ernst, says he's confident it will return in 2011.
Tom Jackson
May 23, 2010

Ohio Bike Week will once again roar into town June 4.

But it's been the quiet, persistent support by the business community that's helped make this year's event viable. And Ohio Bike Week's chief organizer, Steve Ernst, says he's confident it will return in 2011.

Last year, when Bike Week's main supporter suddenly went out of business about two weeks before the event was scheduled to begin, local business and tourism leaders rallied to save it.

That support continued this year. A group of prominent business leaders guaranteed payment to provide security for events at the county fairgrounds, while the local visitor bureau, Lake Erie Shores and Islands East, provided cash and staff support.

This year's Ohio Bike Week, billed as "10 days of ridin', rockin' and racin'," takes place June 4-13.

Ohio Bike Week takes place early in the tourist season, so it's a big shot in the arm for the area, said Joan Van Offeren, executive director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands East.

"This week I've talked to several hoteliers who are just raving about what it does for business," Van Offeren said.

The week has raised occupancy at some local hotels from about 50 percent to 100 percent and also allowed them to raise their rates, she said.

The 10 days of events for this year's festival match the 10 days of activities Bike Week offered in 2009, Ernst said.

Using ticket sales and crowd estimates at events, Ernst calculated that Bike Week attracted a little more than 150,000 people.

This year, Bike Week has attracted a solid lineup of entertainment and there is no cloud of uncertainty over whether it will take place. For months, Ohio Bike Week has maintained an office in downtown Sandusky. Still, Ernst is not forecasting bigger crowds this year.

Given the realities of a continuing recession, "I'd be happy to have the same," he said.

Entertainers who have agreed to perform for this year's Ohio Bike Week include Great White, Vince Neil, Pink Floyd tribute band Wish You Were Here and Charlie Daniels. (The planned supporting act for Charlie Daniels, country singer Gretchen Wilson, won't be able to make it and has been replaced at the last minute by a rock band, Asia featuring John Payne.)

There will also be martial arts cage fights, racing events, free entertainment to lure bikers to downtown Sandusky and excursions to local attractions. All-access passes and tickets have been on sale for weeks at the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center on Milan Road and also will be offered from a booth at the new Mad River Harley-Davidson dealership, which opens Wednesday at 5316 Milan Road, the location of the former Roeder Harley-Davidson outlet.

It was the Roeder family and its dealerships in Monroeville and Perkins Township that created Ohio Bike Week several years ago. They hired Ernst to organize it and provided the main backing for the event.

With the demise of the Roeder dealership, Ernst has been freed to forge partnerships with other dealerships. Tickets and passes for Bike Week are being sold at dealerships ranging from Cleveland to Toledo. The Great White concert is taking place at Toledo Harley Davidson, with a ride scheduled to take place from the Sandusky area to the show.

Ernst remains close to the Roeders. They have been "incredibly gracious people to us," he said.

When Roeder Harley-Davidson shut down last year, an apparent casualty of the recession, support from the tourism bureau and local businessmen helped save the event.

Many of those same players are helping this year.

Auto dealer Bryan Kasper has organized a group of five businessmen who are paying the cost of a $25,000 bond to guarantee payment for the officers hired to provide off-duty security at the Erie County Fairgrounds.

Kasper organized a similar effort last year. The other four are hotelier Ralph Ruta, hotelier Jim Sortino, developer Pat Shenigo (who is also an Erie County commissioner) and Chuck Stark, president of Firelands Regional Medical Center.

Kasper said his businesses don't benefit from Bike Week but he contributes because the event is a much-needed boost for the community.

Aside from providing a booth at the visitor center, the tourism bureau mailed out 14,000 promotional items to people on the Ohio Bike Week mailing list, said Van Offeren, the tourism bureau director.

The visitor bureau is also providing $25,000 to help cover the cost of marketing Bike Week, Ernst said.

Ernst said he's already planning to bring Ohio Bike Week back in 2011.

"We're confident it's going to happen next year," he said.