Fair weather riders

Sunshine State lives up to its billing

Daytona Beach, Fla., Oct. 14–17—If you were in Daytona Beach for Bike Week last March, you discovered just how cold it can get in Florida. And if you live here year round, this summer reminded you how hot and wet it can be. But if you were fortunate enough to attend this year’s Biketoberfest celebration, you experienced the reason so many riders choose to live here. This was perfect motorcycle weather. With not a drop of rain, sunny skies all day long, and a fresh ocean breeze, I could understand why the northern riders at the hotel were discussing options that would allow them to extend their stays. I live here and I wanted to stay longer too.

This was the 18th time the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has staged the fall motorcycle rally and, despite some changes and challenges, they delivered another top-shelf event. From New Smyrna and Edgewater, up the coast to Ormond, and inland to Deland and Orlando, Biketoberfest fever was rampant and provided a much-needed boost to the bottom line with an estimated crowd of 150,000—not the biggest of the Biketoberfest celebrations but one that can proudly boast of having the best riding weather in memory. “The weather this year was truly representative of Florida in all its glory—just beautiful,” was the way Janet Kersey, the birthmother of Biketoberfest, summed it up. A new hire at the CVB back in 1992, Janet was tasked with developing a motorcycle tourism event to coincide with the season-ending races held at the International Speedway. Now she’s the president of the CVB. “I’m hoping Biketoberfest is the first sign of things changing for the better for the motorcycle industry and riding in general. I also hope that the good feeling participants had during the event will last well after they all get back home and their friends and families hear the great stories and see beautiful pictures of the good times in Daytona Beach. That good word of mouth will help us far more than we could ever afford to advertise on our own.”

And while that initial event back in 1992 focused on riding (it was even called the Daytona Fall Tour), this year’s edition offered an ever-expanding list of activities. Rides, concerts, vendors and all of the usual bike rally attractions can be found here. And like any good rally, there’s more stuff to do than time to do it.

Customs inspection
The Chopper Time Show at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo opened up the party on Thursday and it may have been the last. The amount of effort and money that’s now required to put on the show is overwhelming and the Willie’s crew has announced that the Bike Week Show 2011 in March will be the final one. Created when a few young bike builders with a different perspective on the custom bike theme got together at the tattoo shop in Ormond, word spread and the show is now one of the most popular events during the Daytona biker parties. The plan at this point is to pull the plug but I have a feeling the builder community will find a way to help out and keep the show alive in one form or another. These guys are too creative to go away. Like all of the shows here, the Biketoberfest 2010 edition featured hot bikes, hot babes and cold brews. It was the perfect way to start the party.

The Boardwalk Classic Bike Show was held on Friday and it’s hard to imagine a better setting for a custom bike show. The wide walkway along the Atlantic was completely refurbished last year and the lineup of chromed-out creations stretched along the beach like colorful gems. Like Willie’s, there’s no charge for spectators and the crowd was steady throughout the day. While some of the bikes in this show are daily riders, many are meticulously sculpted museum pieces that show how just how good a canvas two wheels and a frame can make.

The Rat’s Hole Show on Saturday was at a new/old location, the Daytona Lagoon Water Park. After trying a couple of shows at Destination Daytona using the Coca-Cola Pavilion, Head Rat Ted Smith told me that issues with traffic congestion and the lack of natural lighting for taking photos of the show entries were the two main reasons for returning to the water park. Five bucks got you through the gate where almost 100 bikes were vying for trophies. There’s no argument that a bright, sunny backdrop makes for better photos. The park also offered $5 parking, which was a lot cheaper tab than what the city was offering in any of the restricted curbside spots along Earl Street. It wasn’t all good, though, as Ted pointed out that many builders and attendees were confused by an incorrect date, time and location listing in many of the event programs. The best advice foranyone interested in the Bike Week 2011 show is to check the Rat’s Hole website for the correct time and location.

Changes in the landscape
The revisions over the years to the beachside portion of this town have gradually removed most of the old and replaced it with new. Few of the old economy-priced hotels remain and the Main Street Pier, which has been here for more than 100 years, has been closed for more than a year while undergoing renovations that hopefully will have it opened back up by the time Bike Week 2011 gets underway. The beachside attractions were what drew the original tourists to this area and the famous races, autos and bikes, got their start along this very shoreline and is also one of the few places that still allow motorized vehicles to drive on the beach.

At Daytona International Speedway, the big news was that the entire track surface is being replaced which meant the races were rescheduled and moved to Homestead in south Florida. But even without any action inside the track, the grounds outside were busy with vendors, builders and entertainment. Eddie Trotta had his lineup of custom bikes on display near the front entrance. In the back, Dave Perewitz had partnered with Allstate and was promoting a bike giveaway. And even though Paul Sr. was busy elsewhere, he did send a crew to show off the OCC/Lawless battery-powered dragster that had recently set a new quarter-mile record for electric motorcycles. If you were hungry, thirsty or bored, you only needed to locate the Thunder Alley section where all those needs were easily satisfied. The buildinghousing the Destination 500 Experience was offering free admission to view the Nascar memorabilia inside and for $15 you could take a tour of the track. Not my idea of fun but some people thought that paying to look at an empty track and a bunch of construction equipment was a good deal and were boarding the tram for the tour while I was there. Apparently it was the last gasp for the attraction as they announced they were closing the venue completely just a few days after Biketoberfest ended.

Demo rides were also available at the track and around town at some of the dealerships. Indian and Big Dog set up on Beach Street right across from the brick-and-mortar dealerships, but Harley-Davidson demo rides were once again not available. I’m sure it’s a bottom-line budget decision not to send the demo crew on the road, especially with all of the recent labor issues and cutbacks the company has gone through. Still, I can’t help but think they’re missing an excellent marketing opportunity with the new models still being fresh and the Florida riders just getting started with our best riding weather in the next few months.

Places to go, things to do
Three of the most popular spots to visit during the bike events are Main Street, Destination Daytona and the Ormond Strip. The Main Street party stretches from the ocean beach to the bridge over the Halifax River and the transformation from ghost town to an entertainment center is amazing. Tents, loud music, vendors and streams of cars and bikes transform this locale into the epicenter for biker entertainment. Many show up early for a curbside slot so they can have a guaranteed seat for the parade. It’s loud and crowded and exactly what Biketoberfest is all about. The law dogs even seemed to be pretty tolerant this time with people rapping the pipes now and then. But they showed no tolerance for stolen bikes and had a crew canvassing the area looking over various bikes. The local paper also reported the use of “bait bikes” to entice some of the thieves.

I got a surprise when I used my usual route of heading up the coast on A1A and then taking a path through the Loop scenic ride to get to Destination Daytona. When I reached I-95, the southbound entrance was blocked off and I had my choice of turning around or going six miles north to the next exit and making a U-turn. The additional 12 miles were no big inconvenience and traffic was fairly light going into Destination Daytona. Vendors filled up most of the parking lot and the inside of the dealership was busy with people looking, but I don’t think many of them were buying. Vendors throughout the rally gave me the same message that even though you saw a lot of people, you didn’t see a lot of people with shopping bags. But for those with the cash or credit, deals could be found. Even the rally shirt vendorscaved early and had shirts for under five bucks when they first opened on Thursday.

The Ormond Strip is a section of US 1 just south of Destination Daytona and contains a collection of more vendors and bars. Most of these places are only open during bike events but there are places like the Iron Horse Saloon that is open year round. Parking the bike and walking is recommended at this location, as the roadway becomes a bottleneck during the afternoon and evenings. The Strip is heavily policed and your best biker behavior is encouraged. However, the bars will gladly accommodate your request to pull in for a burnout. Missing in action this time from the usual lineup was the Boot Hill Saloon, which suffered a fire a few months back and is now a parking lot.

Fall impact
The original intent of this event was to drum up tourism revenue for the local businesses during a traditionally slow time. The word on hotel occupancies for the event was that they were strong and decent rates were available if you booked early. My hotel was even offering discounts if you booked now for Bike Week in the spring. The event has grown beyond just bikers and Daytona with country music concerts on the bill and places like Orlando Harley-Davidson sponsoring a weekend party. I also noticed an increase in the number of out-of-state plates this year and met riders at the hotel from Missouri, New York and Virginia. Some rode, some trailered, but they all got to enjoy one helluva good party under the umbrella of ideal weather conditions. And that’s paradise no matter where you’re from.


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