NEW PORT RICHEY — Hundreds of bikes lined the streets of downtown over the weekend as booths offered food, vendors hawked the latest motorcycle gear and music blared from two stages. The lure of the Cotee River Bike Fest was simple enough: Bikers gathered to talk shop, compare bikes and have a good time.
Tom Frederick has been riding since he was a young man, and he comes to events like this with his daughter to be around other bikers and get a taste of the culture.
"It's a community," said Frederick, 49, of Lutz. "There is a freedom in riding a bike that is special and it brings people together. Bike festivals are great because it's a lot of fun to see this many bikes and see what people do to them. You talk to other riders and there is a sense of camaraderie amongst bikers."
Even with patches of rainy, gusty weather, thousands of bikers flocked to New Port Richey for the seventh annual festival, packing Sims Park and filling the closed streets with their bikes.
The West Pasco Chamber of Commerce launched the event in 2005, after the mayor and city manager at the time attended a bike rally in Leesburg and saw the economic impact such an event could bring. The Leesburg event draws up to 300,000 people.
Dan Sullivan, the chamber's director of events and marketing, has coordinated New Port Richey's event each year. He chose last weekend for its prime spot on the calendar.
"The week before this event is the Thunder Beach Fall Rally in Panama City, and the week after is the Biketoberfest in Daytona," Sullivan said. "We'd like to grow this event, and right now we can use those two events to offer traveling bikers and vendors a place to go in the week between."
In the past, the event has attracted up to 35,000 riders, but this year saw lower turnout due to the stormy weather. Sullivan was still pleased with the crowds that made it.
"Novice riders tend to not go out in the type of conditions we've seen this weekend," Sullivan said. "People are still coming out to see the bands and enjoy the location, though. There's a lot of work that goes into staging an event downtown because you have to coordinate with the city and landlords, but it all comes together to offer something that makes this event special."
The festival has found a home in downtown New Port Richey that offers everything from restaurants to a waterfront feeling. Roger and Betty Duquette rode up from Palmetto to enjoy what they feel is a bike event like no other.
"This is our first time here, and I really like the setup because the roads are all blocked off and you can walk everywhere," Roger Duquette said. "They have a really nice historic sector here, it makes for a beautiful setting. I've been to these all over the country but I'm just getting back into riding after a long break. This has been a good event for us to come back to it because the venue has been a lot of fun."