Italy's biggest Biker Party was a BIG one!
May 18th-21st 2023, Biker Fest 37 events in Lignano Sabbiadoro.
Anybody watching news from Italy would probably have seen the news on rainfalls and floods – and a cancelled Formula 1 Race at Imola… Not likely a good time to party, but bad weather had never kept the crowds away from BIKER FEST, the traditional outdoor partytime for Italian Bikers. Italy is a big country anyway ¬– and Emilia-Romagna is more than a few kilometers distance from Lignano and the most eastern provinces of Italy. Friaul had its share of rainfall in the week before the event, but that was gone as the site was set up ¬– and BIKER FEST #37 was heading for a dry and likely sunny weekend party with an overwhelming number of visitors and participants! There are numerous “events in the event”, both for two- and four-wheeled visitors, as the organizing publishing group also publishes US-Car and Custom-Scene magazines. Here’s a story what you can expect in four days of Lignano-Sabbiadoro – and how to make the best of BIKER FEST…
One of the biggest biker parties of the year is celebrated on the Italian Adriatic coast: this ears 37 years “Biker Fest” once again attracted tens of thousands of Italian bikers to one of the largest seaside resorts on the Adriatic, but – as every year – a weekend before the start of the beach season. Thus, pubs, pizzerias and bars already switch to “full throttle”, the Mediterranean sea comes so slowly to working temperature but the beach is still empty.
What more does the biker want? 3 1/2 days program with bike show, live music, Pin-Up shows, demo rides and parades with custombikes and US cars. Yes, the “Biker Fest” is an event also for US cars – and has changed over the years as the biker scene has changed: Italian bikers are getting older too.
Day 1: Thursday
Even if the “main party” takes place on Friday and Saturday – on Sunday the event site and town are handed to US Cars and Hot Rods – you can plan a few more days for any Lignano visit. Thanks to the great Italian Autostradas, you can reach many great tourist attractions from Lignano in no time: Palmanova and Grado are around the corner, Venice can be reached within the hour, Trieste even faster. By the way, the tour operator also offers guided tours of the area starting on Thursdays – definitely an insider tip worth taking.
Although the city in May can still be called “car-free”, the motorcycle is the optimal means of transport. Parking is no problem and “Italian parking” near restaurants and cafes is also tolerated when BIKER FEST is running. The event area on the BIKER FEST is passed quickly and in earlier years, the music acts were more prominent, yet with entrance fee. But it is now extremely difficult for an event to get even affordable “top acts”. Great Italian cover bands or quite original music acts did however do a great job already on Thursday! The event opens at noon on Thursday, yet many exhibitors are still setting up and the Bikeshow participants are allowed to enter the contest until Saturday. So a good time to check out the touristic center and the beaches.
If the street map of Lignano-Sabbiadoro seems a bit retro-style, you’re not wrong: the town was planned in the 60s as a vacation resort on the drawing board and was built to plan in the years following. Bibione is situated on the other shore of the Tagliamento river and Grado on the other side of the lagoon. Attempts to compete with the then Austrian beach resort of Grado were made even before World War I – at the time the borderline ran through the middle of the lagoon – but the then malaria-infested marshes resisted even later attempts for quite some time. A result of the Great War, Grado, Monfalcone and Trieste became Italian and the plans disappeared. Few visitors are aware that bloody battles raged not far from today’s beaches more than 100 years ago – but from the piers one looks east to the ridge of the Karst, to Gorizia and the heights of Monte Sabotino and San Gabriel, where for a few meters of useless karst rock thousands of soldiers from both sides met their deaths. Today it seems that Lignano is firmly in Austrian hands – because here is one of the largest marinas in the Mediterranean and many apartments belong to owners from Carinthia and Styria.
Day 2: Friday – the crowds roll in!
Friday morning, the event gets busy: Many brands offer Demo Rides for the public, including Harley-Davidson, BMW, Triumph, Honda, Kawasaki and numerous Italian brands. Harley riders en route to the 2023 SUPERALLY in Igoumenitsa/Greece stop for the weekend and combine the two events. By Friday evening, some 50+ custombikes have entered the Biker Fest Bike Show already – including some really hot and extreme custom creations. “Dr. Jekill & Mr. Hyde”, in Italy exclusively distributed by Custom Chrome Europe, are present with a both and two demo bikes – the team was already busy on Thursday.
Many visitors arrive from Austria and Germany to enjoy a few warm and sunny days in May. Recent rainfalls dropped again snow onto the mountains in Italy and Austria! But that don’t stop the riders from coming. The “Terazza del Mare” host its own “Bike Art” event and motorcycle exhibition. In recent years, it was at times also the location for the bikeshow, but increasing numbers of participants had the bike show moving to the water park first, then onto the main eventsite into a not very scenic, yet fully packed tent. The Luna Park is also the Helicopter base if you want an “overview” on Laguna, town and eventsite – the pilots enjoy to shake up the passengers quite a bit on an exciting flight. As the sun sets in the west, parking for motorcycles has become difficult, and cars are parked all around the Luna Park – Friday’s party does not stop before the early morning hours!
Day 3: Saturday – Pin-Up Action & Light Parade
Friday’s sunshine is gone, but the dark clouds stay in the west. It is a less sunny and warm day, but without rain. Demo rides are buzzing with activity early on – and today the “Off Road” circuits and racetracks are prepared to see the first action. “Ape” racing and off-road scooters put up spectacular action for the visitors, the just dug-out Off-road training course for Jeeps and SUV’s is more “static”, yet very interesting for the visitors: The previous rainfalls have left enough water in the ground to create huge mudholes – and wet earth delivers all the more opportunities to get totally stuck in the quagmire. “Rescue Missions” are underway all the time and lure more visitors to the off-road area than many other event attractions.
The bike show is now complete with 60+ motorcycles on display – and the jury has a hell of a job to walk the eventsite and the tent to sort out the best bikes in 9 different classes! Micke Persello, Onno Wieringa and “Motographer” Horst Roesler spent about 3 hours on the challenging job – and the quality of the bikes exhibited at BIKER FEST did ask for extensive discussions even to define which custom creation would fit into which category! The variety of custombikes exhibited at BIKER FEST is huge – with many Italian and Japanese brands being modified to outstanding one-off custom creations. This might be the first-ever event where a Yamaha “Road Star” based Bagger did beat the Harley’s! Quite a number of bikes had “Championship” quality – the BIKER FEST bike show has been a traditional affiliate show to the World Championship – and quite a number of entries were built to compete on this level.
Just finished with the judging, the “Pin-Up Contest” has evolved into a popular show part well beyond the catwalk type presentation of girls. Each girl had a little show presentation with a story to tell – and fitting music, of course! 11 Pin-Up stories made for great entertainement for the crowd which at this time packed the place before the main stage. The girls then walked the eventsite – and most returned Sunday for the Car Parade as passengers.
The traditional “Light Parade” started at 7 pm to ride into town: Several thousand bikes started from Luna Park into Downtown Lignano, passing the Beaches and the “Terazza del Mare” returning to a still crowded eventsite which was now completely packed. Saturday’s party was even wilder than the day before – who would have thought to hear an all-girls band playing Sex Pistols, Clash and Ramones songs in cool 70’s style! And that was just the start of a long party night at Luna Park and downtown Lignano!
Day 4: Sunday – Showtime and the party goes on!
While most events in Europe “fade out” on Sundays, visitors and riders returning home, BIKER FEST event steps on the gas – literally! This morning the Luna Park parking lot is US-cars and motorcycles only – and Hot Rods and American Classics and Muscle Cars arrive in force! At the same time, the “Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride” assembles at the Demo ride area, still packed with interested testriders that arrive and depart amidst the dressed-up motorcycle riders in suits. The car parade takes off at 11 am and crosses into Lignano for almost 2 hrs, welcome by Sunday tourists and beach visitors that enjoy a sunny Sunday morning beachside! While the V-8 powered rumble into town, Tesla owners meet more quietly at the same stadium eventsite where the day before Sportscars and lowered classic cars had a massive gathering.
At Luna Park, more bands prepare the crowd for the bike show trophy ceremony – Sundays other highlight for the builders. BIKER FEST founders Moreno and Micke Persello are present at the ceremony, which in the last decades has seen some of the best European builders participating. The creativity of the Italian customizers is still extraordinary, this years show did see few entries from neighboring Austria and Germany, some of which made it into the winners circle. Among them Peter Penzenstadler as winner of the “Freestyle” class with a new radical Chopper that premiered at BIKER FEST. The “Best of Show” title remained in Italy: The spectacular hubless turbo-powered Sportster “Miss Penny” by Mannaia was built in two years hard work for the discontinued World Championship. BIKER FEST nevertheless kept up the tradition of the AMD affiliate status – and retained 3 top prices for the best custombikes in show: the three equally stunning bikes were the VM-Cycles built 1980 BMW R100 RS, Niko Bikes outstanding Evo-powered Chopper and “Arcadia”, the 1968 Early Shovel Chopper by DMC Toys for Men.
The group shot of all winners did finish the trophy ceremony, yet not the work: With the sun back up in style, winner bikes and customizers were rolled out to a photoshoot which lasted well into late afternoon, as the event was still running full steam. With all activities “Free of Charge”, it is difficult to count visitors – especially since many inhabitants of Lignano now visit and participate at the event. It is only a short bicycle tour from downtown to Luna Park. Without doubt this was one of the biggest BIKER FEST’s in Lignano ever – and if there has been anything good coming out of the COVID pandemic, it was the fact that now Lignano has two version of the event: The “Italian Bike Week” will be held there September 14th – 17th, just after European Bike Week. Add it to your calendar and have fun time at the beaches of Lignano!
Flashback Biker Fest 2016
A Trip to Marano Lagunare with Thunderbike’s “Blue Bandit”
For the 2016 Event, Custom Chrome Europe premiered the Thunderbike-built “Blue Bandit” at BIKER FEST and took “Blue Bandit” and the Cult Werk built “Gunslinger” VRSCDX Night Rod Special to the opposite side of the lagoon for a photosession. Marano Lagunare is within sight from Lignano, yet a 33 km road trip from Luna Park. The one-way trip over small country roads takes about an hours and is passing the agricultural “Hinterland” of the Laguna. Beside cool photo location, there is one particular reason to visit the small town: For eating! This is an active fishing harbour and nowhere else can you eat fish that fresh. At the harbour restaurant even fresh from the net!
CCE Marketing Manager Axel Scherer and Motographer Horst Roesler rolled the two bikes to a stunning “double shooting” at the fish market opposite downtown – and did enjoy a fresh lunchtime that year! Harley-dreams become reality at German custombike and -parts specialist “Thunderbike” for more than 3 decades – and this project was the sixth in a long history between Custom Chrome Europe and the Hamminkeln-based customparts manufacturer that has become one of the most high-profile Harley-dealers of Europe. Always state-of-the-art in finish, technology and style, the “Bolt On and Ride” Softail for the 2016/17 season then was based on an unexpected choice from the Harley-Davidson model line: Would you have expected that this elegant and slim looking ride is based on HD’s classic “Muscle Bike”, the FLSTF “Fat Boy”? With a lot of new components, challenged by the neccessity to deliver a homologatable Custombike that would have the “big wheel” style while retaining full function of the stock Advanced Breaking System (ABS), Thunderbike delivered a great ride!
Text & Photos: Horst Roesler, Motographer