Deland, Fla., Mar. 8—In the weeks before Bike Week, the Central Florida area springs to life as riders begin preparations for the annual pilgrimage to Daytona. The DeLand Rally is only in its eighth year; a meager drop in the bucket compared to the more than 70 years Bike Week has been a biker staple. During its initial years, DeLand offered a more laid-back sampling of the chaos 20 miles up the road—laid back, but still a nice destination to spend an afternoon immersed in bikes, vendors and music. Then last year, the rally promoters changed the event drastically, resulting in a lot of missing parts. Unfortunately the whole event suffered and instead of a solid six to eight hours of fun, the entire experience could be completed in half that time… including lunch.
With all this in mind, I was a little apprehensive about how the day would turn out while making plans to head to DeLand on the first day of Bike Week. But as I got closer to town, there seemed to be more bikes heading in that direction also; an encouraging sign. And as I rolled onto Woodland Boulevard (the main street through DeLand), things were looking more and more promising. So I took a side street to find a parking spot even if it meant having to walk a short distance.
Bike parked, hair brushed and camera in hand, I headed to the hub of the rally—the intersection of Woodland and Indiana Avenue. While there were a lot of people on the streets, many were just sightseers, college kids from nearby Stetson University and seniors just out for their morning walk—a mixture of people simply out enjoying the sunshine and the bikes… and the bikers. After grabbing a rally program for the day’s event I realized that most of the content was for local businesses. Only a couple of pages provided information pertinent to the rally itself. The first two pages inside were actually advertising for Seminole Harley in Sanford listing their Bike Week promotions. Finally, on page 4 there were a few paragraphs from the Main Street DeLand Association showcasing the rally and, with the exception of a two-page map in the center of the pamphlet and a couple pages listing the bands that would be performing, the balance of the 15 pages consisted totally of advertising. This didn’t look good and my concern was surfacing. Nonetheless, I was determined to find something to boost my attitude and I decided a good lunch would be the perfect start. The offerings seemed to be limited unless it would be of a liquid nature since every nook and cranny seemed to have a beer tub with a smiling coed hosting it. I checked out the map for possible biergarten options and there were three, none of which teased my palate so I decided to head back to my favorite little Irish pub and just prepare for a wait if need be.
Along the way, I took a moment to inspect the multi-class bike show. It was still early and there were only about 15 entries at that time, so I made a mental note to check back after lunch. In years past this show would have lined the entire street, on both sides, with two-wheeled fantasies that ran from stock to custom to, “What the hell was the builder thinking?”
On the way to the pub, on the west side of Indiana Avenue, I stopped to catch a couple songs by a band called White Buffalo. They’ve performed there several times in the past and do a pretty good mix of country and Southern rock. But in the distance, the voice of a throaty female beckoned, causing me to follow my impulses to the stage where A State of Red was beginning their first set. This band was total rock with the songstress belting out some great Pat Benatar covers (a personal weakness). And it didn’t hurt that the gal singing lead was sporting bright red hair to accompany that voice—not at all.
My hunger soon reminded me I’d tarried too long and I headed for the pub hoping that by this time everyone else would have finished and I’d be able to get a seat without much of a wait. My wish came true as I walked in and was promptly seated—however; I soon realized that the place had changed drastically. What once was a cute little Irish pub was now called “Half Wall of Beer.” With the partial removal of an adjoining wall, the place had almost doubled in size and hence the new name. As I looked around it was clearly living up to that moniker with several hundred beer labels on display on the shelves behind the bar—craft, domestic, foreign—you name it, they most likely had it. My server was Brian and the wait time for my order wasn’t bad at all. Plus the additional minutes at the table provided me the opportunity to improve my knowledge of the various types of beers available and how they differ. And, even though I wasn’t imbibing, the table propaganda proved to be good reading material while waiting for my lunch.
With a full stomach and a renewed interest in shopping, I headed down vendor row where a wide variety of booths were fully equipped to sell you just about everything under the sun. And while it may have something to do with my age, I seem to remember that it wasn’t that long ago when the items offered at a motorcycle rally were… well, motorcycle items—gear, leathers, parts. Nowadays it’s everything from insurance to pet and bath supplies. Not that bikers don’t need insurance or to bathe… it’s just that, in the past, you didn’t buy your soap at a rally. There was a lot of foot traffic at the vendor tents, but it didn’t seem much was being sold. (Maybe they were just on their way to the nearest beer tub.) I stopped to admire some nice leather at one place and spoke to a vendor from North Florida. She told me it cost her more in gas and the registration fee than she had recovered in sales.
Since I didn’t see anything I couldn’t absolutely live without, my wallet survived the deerskin temptations. But it was getting late so I headed back toward the bike show where my friend Carolina Dave and his partner from Fast Lane Productions were tallying up the winners.
In the Ladies class, Charli Priester’s Fat Boy secured first place, while second went to Melissa Stroud’s Triumph bobber. The Custom Bagger class was won by Tyronne Andrecheck and his Harley Heritage Softail bagger, with second place going to Alan Gilbert and a nice Harley Electra Glide. Andrew Feldman took first in the Metric Cruiser class with a Honda Goldwing, with second-place honors taken by Sheldon Dohaghy on a late-model Yamaha. The winner of the Open class was John Voddre displaying a 1916 Harley-Davidson, with Jimmy Arndt next in line as his bright red three-wheel custom scored second. There was also a special custom L.E.D. light class that became a narrow contest between two sportbikes. In the end, Danny Martin won first with a Suzuki and Dominick Peppacena took home second with his Yamaha.
During the ride home, I reevaluated the day’s offerings. In retrospect, the DeLand Rally was much better than I had first anticipated. Not earth shattering or an 8 on the Richter Scale, but, if you’re looking for a relaxing and enjoyable day of motorcycles with some cute gals smiling over tubs of cold beer, DeLand should be programmed into your GPS next year—if for no other reason than as a laid-back way to kick off your Bike Week exploits.