Rally a three-day party with band and bikes

If you thought last year's inaugural West Coast Bike Rally was a dream come true for area bikers, organizers said this year's bash will be even bigger and better.

More than 20,000 people from all over the country attended last year's rally making it an astonishing success, and now it has become a new tradition for local bikers.

"They're just excited to have a new event to go to," said Helen Daruszka, the rally's event coordinator.

Friday marks the second annual three-day rally that brings motorcycle enthusiasts together for food, live rock, country and blues music, scenic bike rides and bike shows. It kicks off at 5 p.m. with the "Rock N' Rumble" welcome party on Bradenton's downtown riverfront featuring vendors selling motorcycle accessories and food. Musical entertainment includes Greg Billings, Billy Rice, Liquor Box and others.

The rally will continue Saturday and Sunday at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto with more live music and concessions. Plus, there's a bike show, car show, poker run and other special events. There's also a drawing to win a 2006 Harley-Davidson Powered Bobber.

Proceeds from the event benefit educational children's programs at the South Florida Museum, which received $10,000 from last year's rally, said Tony DiGiovanni, a member of the West Coast Bike Rally's board of directors and owner of Tony D's Pub & Sub in Palmetto.

The rally was created as an event to promote Bradenton's and Palmetto's biker population. It's held about a week before Daytona's Biketoberfest, an international motorcycle festival — it's part of the reason the West Coast Rally has attracted a large crowd, Daruszka said.

One of the main attractions for bikers will be a chance to ride through Manatee and Sarasota counties’ scenic routes, which highlights area attractions such as Bradenton Beach's Historic Bridge Street and the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

Daruszka said the route has been acknowledged by Harley-Davidson as must-see.

"That's pretty big for a stamp of approval," she said.

But there's a bigger reason why thousands of bikers flock to Florida each year. They are drawn to the pleasant weather, which allows them to ride 365 days a year, DiGiovanni said.

And the people who ride behind the chrome handlebars are as diverse as they come.

"You name it, the range is there," DiGiovanni said of bikers. "Blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, attorneys, doctors. It's almost like a family — a group. From the old guys to the young guys to the gals."

BecauseSince today's bikers come from all walks of life, they are more socially accepted than bikers were in the old days, DiGiovanni said. When they pull up besides a family in a car, no one cringes, he said.

When it comes to the West Coast Bike Rally, Debbie Toner, a rally board member and owner of Peggy's Coral, a local biker lounge in Palmetto, believes the event celebrates motorcycle enthusiasts.

"It's a place to go for what we like to do — we like to ride, get together and have a good time," she said.