Alternative Bike Week hits roadblocks

PATONG: A second “Bike Week” planned for Patong seems to be running into roadblocks after groups listed by the organizer as “supporters” either denied all knowledge of the event, or expressed their opposition to it. The Phuket Bike Rally, organized by Harald Vesterheim, proprietor of the Pink Panther A-go-go and Panther Travel, is planned to take place from February 22 to 28, just over a month before the well-established Phuket Bike Week. Planned activities – as announced on the website – include a rock music festival, games, motorbike MC contest, tattooing, “girls shows”, bike racing, and a big bike rally. In addition, Mr Vesterheim says that the first three days will feature parties in the football field on Thaweewong Rd. However, though the event website at lists such organizations as Phuket Chamber of Commerce (PCC), Patong Municipality and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) as supporters of the event, those the Gazette spoke with denied that any support is being offered. Anupharp Thirarath, Director of the local branch of the TAT, was surprised to learn that his office was listed as a supporter. “I’ve never heard of the event,” he said. Eam Thavornvongwong, Deputy Chairman of the PCC, was similarly mystified. He told the Gazette that he had never heard about the Bike Rally, and that the PCC office had never received any letters requesting support. Patong Mayor Surasak Maneesri had definitely heard about the event. He says the Bike Rally organizers had contacted him to request permission to use the football field on Thaweewong Rd during the week. But Mayor Surasak, who is chairman of this year’s Bike Week, which will run from April 5 to 10, said, “I won’t allow them to arrange activities in Patong and I will never support them. We won’t allow them to close Thaweewong Rd for racing because the road is under construction and we are worried there will be traffic jams. “I want to keep the football field as a place for teenagers to play sports. I’m worried that [the event] will damage the grass, that it won’t be safe, and that it will destroy the image of Phuket and Patong,” said the Mayor. The Bike Rally is being organized in part by members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, Phuket Chapter. At least 100 bikers from Europe alone are expected, including several Outlaws club members. US authorities have named the Outlaws as one of the four big American motorcycle gangs involved in criminal activities – along with the Hell’s Angels, the Pagans and the Bandidos. Harry “Taco” Bowman, formerly considered to be the Outlaws “boss” in the US, was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for more than a year until his capture in June 1999. In April last year, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a number of offences, including ordering the deaths of rival club members, firebombings and drug trafficking. When asked about the relationship between the local chapter and other Outlaws chapters, Mr Vesterheim said, “We are very, very independent [from the Outlaws in North America and Europe]. We are bikers. We don’t want to fight. We just want to make a party.” Answering accusations by some Phuket Bike Week organizers that he was trying to usurp the established event, Mr Vesterheim said, “That wasn’t my intention at all.” He said that he wanted to set up a rally earlier in the year to attract Europeans who are interested in biker events, but would prefer to come to Phuket when it is winter at home. “In the beginning there was some worry that I would take over Bike Week, but now we are working together again,” he explained. However, Wittaya Singkalah, a Bike Week organizer, denied that his group was helping with the Bike Rally. “They already have a lot of support from overseas,” he said. “We don’t know much about that club. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them – we’re friends,” he added quickly. Repeated attempts to contact Mr Vesterheim again today – for comment on the denials by the various organizations – were unsuccessful. Mayor Surasak and Patong Municipality councilors will meet at the end of this week to decide whether they will allow the Bike Rally to be held in Patong.

Phuket News
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