It’s been a tumultuous year for Marcel and Sabine from Inline4 Cafe and I know that they have been sweating bricks all year over the change in venue for the Blessing of the Bikes from Mirboo North to San Remo. But their efforts have not been in vain, as this year’s event has become something much more significant and far more mature than what came before. The past three years has seen the Blessing of the Bikes grow from a hesitant 500 or so riders to one that this year appears to have eclipsed 8,000+ riders (my estimate). And it’s all to do with support. It’s not just the riders and sponsors that have thrown in their support, but it should be recognised that the Bass Coast Shire and the San Remo business and broader community have also put in a magnificent effort to ensure that this event would succeed and succeed it has. In fact, were it not for the efforts of the latter, this event may well have faded into history.
Firstly, the Blessing of the Bikes has certainly had a major impact on San Remo, in a very good way by the looks of it. Just about every available accommodation was been booked out before this event and may continue on for the following weekend when Round 16 of the MotoGP is held at Phillip Island. Secondly, every local business, school and club, has realised what this event means to San Remo and so have taken every effort to ensure that it succeeds and that visitors are not just welcome, but seen to be welcome. I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in San Remo early this Saturday morning, but the overall atmosphere was very different to the last three Blessing of the Bikes events at Mirboo North, especially so early in the day. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement that I never felt in Mirboo North, but maybe that was just me feeling a bit excited as well.
The other thing that was immediately obvious was the excellent organisation and placement of all the stall holders and promotion vans. They were centrally located so that they became a focal point and also supported all the adjacent local shops that were clearly doing quite well from the day’s event as the crowds rolled in. Speaking to some of the stall holders, especially the local schools having their sausage sizzles etc, they were ecstatic about the opportunity to be there with a crowd that probably exceeded 10,000 riders (given that many riders had pillion passengers) and visitors. The local hotels had been putting on entertainment etc for several days for the early arrivals, as I understand, and some were really preparing for some major partying, no doubt part of that would also be for next weekend’s MotoGP.
Anyway, this turned out to be a huge event to say the least. Speaking with Frank Angarane, the Bass Coast Shire Events Manager, who was still having concerns the night before, I noted that the traffic management was exemplary and everything went like clockwork. As the riders started to roll in, there was an army of experienced traffic controllers making sure that riders and local traffic didn’t clash and that both were minimally disrupted. All the roads were sensibly sectioned off, with detours marked out for side streets, so that riders and other visitors knew exactly where to go. Early arrivals were coming in at 8:30am, but by 10:00am it was full on. Most riders came in small groups as with previous Blessings, but there were also some large groups coming from meeting places all around Melbourne. A notice even came around 12:00pm that 1500 riders were on their way, but I’m not sure if this was a false alarm or not, as I didn’t get to see that sort of convoy arriving. The main entrance was some distance away and I didn’t feel like making another trip to the far end of San Remo.
While the Blessing of the Bikes is no longer just around the corner for me, the hour or so drive isn’t too bad and I certainly can’t complain, given from how far afield some of the visitors travelled for this event. Some came from Tasmania for effectively the day and then back again, and most likely others came from even further afield as in previous years. One of the things that I’d discussed with Marcel about the San Remo event is that it was likely to attract a lot more riders from Melbourne, being much closer and familiar to many, and I think that has panned out, given the massive numbers this year. It also didn’t hurt to have a lot more mainstream media publicity this year, especially given the close physical association with the following weekend’s MotoGP event. The latter is something I wouldn’t mind covering (not the race, but all the peripheral activities), but I doubt this documentary photographer (amongst other things) would ever get a media pass (those days are long gone).
As the day progressed, San Remo slowly filled up with bikes. By midday the main street was full and riders were being directed to side streets where they could park. Huge crowds of both riders and visitors, some from the Island, moved about looking at the wide variety of bikes. The variety of bikes on display was amazing and certainly one thing that stood out this year were the sheer numbers of Harley Davidson motorcycle riders attending the event. At one point in the morning, it appeared that the ‘Hogs’ were at least 90% of all bikes in attendance.
At the closing ceremonies, Bass Coast Mayor Cr Pamela Rothfield expressed council’s excitement that this event was able to come to San Remo and expressed her personal appreciation for everyone that made this event possible, especially the massive crowd that attended, and she looked forward to many more in the future. Pastor John Robertson then gave his blessing for the event, after which Marcel and Sabine Widmer expressed their appreciation for everyone that helped make the event possible at San Remo, and for the transition to be so smooth, acknowledging that a lot of work went on behind the scenes. And thanks to the guy with the iPhone and notepad, excellent positioning, I must have been invisible standing next to the WIN News cameraman.
Following on, Reverend John McMahon introduced several speakers who had lost a son, sister and good friend while riding and who wished to tell their story and express their gratitude to the riding community and the friendships that they’ve formed, which has helped them find the strength to adjust to life after the tragic loss that each one has suffered. These are stories that have been repeated numerous times, but rarely publicly, so it took some courage to do so. Unfortunately I didn’t get the names, but I think it’s the story that was more important. The bikes lined up around the stage represented those who had lost their lives while on the road and at the conclusion, thirty doves were released in memory of those that had fallen.
The formal and informal parts of the day were pretty much over by 3:00pm, though clearly the day didn’t end there for the many who were staying on. Like in previous years, this event is far more a family gathering, in more ways than one, and it would surprise many that thousands of bike riders can congregate in one place at the same time, yet present the most relaxed and well behaved group that you could possibly find. Far too many misconceptions have been fostered about bike riders, as I similarly noted about the heavy metal fans in an earlier story, where looks not only can be, but usually are, quite deceiving. Having Phillip Island next door, I think the community of San Remo understands what motorcycle riders are all about.
I have to say that the Blessing of the Bikes is a huge loss to Mirboo North and I’d suggest the region overall. While locals lament the loss of jobs in the area and panic about a few trees being logged, predicting that the latter will result in the end of Mirboo North, the Blessing of the Bikes was a once a year event that brought significant ongoing benefits to Mirboo North and really put the township on the map. Mirboo North and the South Gippsland Shire gave up something utterly unique in the Australian events calendar and it’s now gone forever. The Bass Coast Shire on the other hand has shown that they hold no bias when it comes to major events and are willing to take on any challenge. There is no way they will let this event slip through their fingers.
Update: And our local WIN News also covered the event.