Once again bikers in what’s known locally as Mouse Town (Orlando is home to Disney World) were able to enjoy a taste of Bike Week without leaving the confines of their city limits. Each year since 2001, Orlando Harley-Davidson has hosted their own two-wheel celebration that runs concurrently with the bigger Daytona Bike Week party being held 60 miles to the east. Located in the heart of town
just off Interstate 4, this is the original shop that has been designated as their historic dealership with two other full-fledged dealerships nearby, Orlando Harley East near Alafaya Trail and Orlando South in Kissimmee. These three businesses are backed by an additional four “gear stores” that carry Harley-related merchandise.
This year Orlando Bike Week ran from March 10–18, kicking off the first Saturday was the Battle of the Bands, an all-day rock ’n’ roll rumble. This pitted 10 local groups competing for the opportunity to be the opening act for headliner Soul Asylum the following Saturday, March 17. (Black Tent Revival won the honor.) Additional live music was provided free of charge each day throughout the event under the big-top beverage canopy. Also featured on the opening weekend was a Buell stunt show with action provided by Team Extreme Bike Stunts. And to add a bit of weirdness to the entertainment factor, Robinson’s Racing Pigs were on hand to sprint over a track and paddle through a water obstacle course while competing for the prize of an Oreo cookie.
New for this year was the Orlando Bike Week Ride-In Bike Show on Thursday with a total of $7,900 in winnings being offered. Registration ran from 10:00 that morning until noon, and for a $25 entry fee you had the possibility of winning up to $2,500 in cash if you scored the most votes in the People’s Choice division—with everyone who walked through the gate receiving a ballot to select their favorite. That was the easy part. The hard part was left to the three guys who had to pick the best competitors in the Judged Classes. I know because I was one of the judges.
Marketing Manager Amanda Duitsman had contacted me months earlier requesting my expertise in judging the show. And while I’ve participated in an official capacity in a number of such contests, I always do so with caution and a touch of trepidation. (An angry mob of losers bearing torches and pitchforks cornering me in the nearest windmill always comes to mind.) But Amanda ensured my safety, so I humbly acquiesced. Luckily I wasn’t alone in my professional scrutiny of these fine machines. Also on hand to aid in the judging responsibilities were Mike Bozic, a principle with Orlando Harley-Davidson, and Henry Hays, an on-air personality at WWKA 92.3 Country in Orlando. Bozic’s credentials are obvious while Hays is an avid motorcyclist who participates in a number of area bike-related events.
There were nine judged classes with only Harleys being allowed to enter, of course—Custom/Chopper, Dyna, Softail, Touring, Sportster, V-Rod/Buell, Ladies Only, Vintage and Rat. Only the Rat Bike division had no entrants. First place in each class won $400 and a trophy, while second took home $200 and a plaque. (Guess I should’ve had someone roll my filthy Road King over to the empty Rat Bike holding area for a $400 first-place victory by default.) Judging criteria was predetermined by the dealership that supplied us scoring sheets and gave us an hour to complete the task—which turned out to be at least one hour too short. This is not an easy job.
A total of 34 bikes had been entered with the largest group being the eight entries registered in the Touring Class. The next two largest
divisions were Custom/Chopper (not surprising) and Ladies Only (surprising). And while several bikes had only received minor upgrades (pipes and bars), most were pushing the limits with highly polished motors, expressive (and expensive) paint and trick gadgetry. Several were serious contenders that would go on to compete in the Boardwalk Classic and the Rat’s Hole Show held the following two days in Daytona Beach.
The awards were scheduled to be handed out at 2:30 that afternoon. At 2:15 we realized we were only about halfway through. So we sped up the process while continuing to confer over details and nitpick over squabble points. But in the end, we agreed on the winners and no one was seen searching for a pitchfork. Robert Jackson took first in the Custom/Chopper class with a stunning Firestone model by Thunder Mountain, while Vince Balistreri captured a win in the Dyna division with a nifty 1999 Super Glide. Sandy O’Connell outdid everyone in the Ladies Only competition with a Pittsburgh Steelers-themed 1997 Softail Custom. Juan Serna was awarded the Softail money and trophy for his 2011 FLSTC and Ron Carriere took first place in Touring for his 2006 totally over-the-top Road Glide. Edith Tasse was happy with her V-Rod victory (2010 Nightrod Special), while Rodney Smith seemed pleased that his bizarre 1991 Sportster had swayed the judges’ pens. First and second-place wins in Vintage were polar opposites, with Larry Smith’s immaculate 1929 H-D J Model taking the top honors followed by a 1970 350cc Aermacchi Sprint (Italian-made Harley) coming in next. People’s Choice Best in Show went to Jim Finch and his lavishly illustrated 2009 bagger that stood as a tribute to the Vietnam veteran.
All in all it was a great time and a solid show with a few of the bikes coming from some local builders who may have been a little intimidated by some of the bigger shows. One of the most interesting presenters proved to be Don Waugh from Georgia with a 2011 Ultra Glide that took second place in Touring. It was complete with a sidecar and featured a wood-toned paint job by Webster Design and Paint that took five weeks to complete. However, the most fascinating aspect revealed when talking to Mr. and Mrs. Waugh was that they were celebrating 51 consecutive years of attending the Daytona Bike Week experience. Now that deserves a trophy. 4