The roar of the crowd is taking on a whole new meaning this summer, with Elkhart Bike Night's return to Main Street – which will host motorcycle enthusiasts from all over Michiana for a one-night festival experience that will also include a beer garden, food vendors, and live music.
Hoosier Harley-Davidson, North End Cycle and Elkhart Indian Motorcycle are sponsoring this year's event, which is intended to celebrate the city's motorcycling heritage – while giving those who attend the chance to create their own memories, suggests Corporal Jim Ballard, of the Elkhart Police Department.
“We're blocking off, basically, the entire downtown, for motorcycle parking only,” said Ballard. “With motorcycles, they run the gamut. You've got doctors and lawyers, to your regular blue collar worker.”
Ballard is a motorcycle enthusiast himself.
He's president of the Blue Knights Law Enforcement International Motorcycle Club's local chapter (Indiana #8), which boasts 29,000 members – primarily, police officers and corrections workers – worldwide.
He also oversees the Ride to Remember Fallen Police, Firefighters, Veterans event, now in its eighteenth year, which is scheduled for Sept. 11.
“That draws anywhere from 800 to 1,000 motorcycles every year that ride 84 miles, nonstop, police escorted,” said Ballard.
Ballard and his fellow Bike Night organizers are hoping to see a strong turnout for the event, which is returning after a brief absence of roughly three or four years.
“When Mayor Tim Neese came into office, he asked me and another gentleman, Randy Wilson, to bring back Bike Night – because one of the things he campaigned on was reviving downtown Elkhart and bringing Bike Night back was part of that plan,” said Ballard.
That's why organizers have created a special VIP parking area in front of the famous Green Block building, on East Lexington Ave – and get their photos taken in front of it.
“Back in, I think it was the 1930s, there used to be a motorcycle shop in that block,” said Ballard. “They took a famous picture of the old motorcycles in front of that building, so we're going to recreate that picture.” (To view the original image, visit the official event Facebook page, and look at the top.)
Michiana area bands Red Hot Voodoo and Whiskey Lips will kick off the festivities at 6 p.m., with plans for having them playing alternating sets of one hour apiece, according to Ballard.
Four or five vendors will provide everything from Italian beef, to pizza, pulled pork and a taco truck – so all tastes will be covered, Ballard said. (Ann Schell, Elkhart Indian's general manager, is handling the vendors, and Trevor Wendzonka, the Lerner Theatre's marketing manager, is taking care of those tasks.)
Five Star Dive Bar will oversee the beer garden, which is moving from Central Park to the Plaza, “right on Main Street,” said Ballard. “The beer garden will be located right on our plaza – and people are going to be near the bikes. Bikes will be everywhere.”
Commemorative T-shirts will be available for $20 apiece at Elkhart Indian, Hoosier Harley-Davidson or North End Cycle.
“If we sell out, and there's an overwhelming response, then we'll order more, and have them available for Bike Night,” said Ballard.
All proceeds from the T-shirt sales will benefit the Urban Gentlemen's Academy, which “takes young men from an urban setting, and teaches them positive character development as well as skills to go out in the labor force,” said Ballard. “They really try to give our community’s male youth a purpose; transforming them into Gentlemen.”
Organizers will choose a different charity to support every year, as part of their philosophy of spreading around their assistance.
This year's goal is to bring out 1,500 people, with the long-term aim of showcasing Elkhart – and, eventually, making Bike Night a destination event for motorcycle lovers from all over the Midwest.
“Businesses will be open later, so it (Bike Night) gives people a chance to see what downtown Elkhart has to offer. With malls, and the urban setting, people don't get downtown as much,” said Ballard. “And we have a beautiful downtown, like many downtowns are.”
Judging by the responses he's seen on the Facebook page – which, as of deadline, showed 577 guests, and 150 likes – this year's Bike Night will meet or exceed its goals, Ballard thinks.
“I wasn't expecting this big a response – it's been overwhelming. The whole idea is to grow this thing bigger, and bigger,” said Ballard. “We'd like to get outside of Elkhart County, for sure. We'd like to pull in people from all over Michiana.”
Live: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 9, Main Street, downtown Elkhart, IN. Free. (574) 360-7152 (sponsorship opportunities and other information).