DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., MARCH 9-18—Hooves stepping high, the Budweiser Clydesdales paraded down Main Street kicking off the 71st annual Daytona Bike Week and setting the festive tone for what would ensue. Spectators packed the sidewalks and straddled their motorcycles, all eyes trained on these immense iconic party animals as they drew the classic red, white and gold beer wagon behind them heralding what would become the best Bike Week in years.
The confluence of a number of fun factors was responsible for that happy outcome. For one thing, this year’s rally started a week later than usual, planting Bike Week smack dab in the middle of college spring break. In addition to that, the switch to Daylight Savings Time on the first weekend gave us an extra hour of daylight for the rest of the week, and with the exception of some shower activity early in the going, it was a week blessed by Floridian weather at its finest, with daytime temperatures consistently a balmy 80 degrees. And on top of it all, St. Patrick’s Day fell on the last Saturday of the rally, lending the entire event a true blow-out party finale.
While Bike Week has spread to the entire region over the years, from Ormond Beach down to New Smyrna, Daytona’s Main Street remains the frenzied heart of the rally, and it’s there that we spent a goodly amount of our time. The half-mile stretch between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway was a never-ending procession of people, both on foot and on two or three wheels (when will the city ban cars and trucks from Main during Bike Week, anyway?). Itinerant vendors took over storefronts that stand empty for pretty much the rest of the year and hawked everything from T-shirts to jewelry to bike parts, while grizzled rally veterans mingled with dewy-eyed coeds, all looking to soak up the sun and the fun to be found at the many bars and outdoor party zones stacked cheek-by-jowl along this busy strip of biker Babylon.
Our rally home was but steps from such hotspots as the Full Moon Saloon, Dirty Harry’s, Wise Guys, Froggy’s Saloon, Bank and Blues, the Boot Hill Saloon and the Dog House. When Bike Week rolls into town, the bars kick it up a couple of notches with live bands and special rally events. One such extravaganza was the 5th annual Biker Fusion, a fundraiser held Thursday night at the Dog House to benefit Soldiers’ Angels, a charity that assists veterans, wounded and deployed personnel and their families. Hot Leathers and a slew of other sponsors pitched in to present the event, hosted by bike builders Dave Perewitz, Paul Yaffe and Steve Broyles Sr., and for $25 attendees enjoyed a buffet, fashion show, auction and live entertainment. It was the industry party of the week, with over 600 guests in attendance and more than $16,000 raised.
Our regular go-to spots this year were Bank and Blues, where the Razorbacks played their rockabilly hearts out every night, and the Boot Hill Saloonthat, this year for the first time, featured the Jay Allen Roadshow. Jay, former owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon, produced and emceed a variety of events each evening, from slightly raunchy on-stage competitions, to burnout spectacles including the Baker Drivetrain Smoke Down Show Down and the S&S Ultimate Tribute burnout held in honor of our troops.
For those with an appreciation for custom creations, the Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show, part of the season’s final International Motorcycle Show at the Ocean Center, took place Wednesday through Friday. The 22nd annual Boardwalk Classic Ride-In Show also took place Friday, and on Saturday was the return—after a seven-year absence—of the Bike Week Community Appreciation Parade, followed by the 40th anniversary of the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show at Daytona Lagoon.
Around and about
As if any incentive was needed to entice riders to expand their horizons, the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce once again sponsored the Bike Week Treasure Hunt. The centerfold of the official Bike Week pocket guide contained a passport that riders could get stamped at 10 locations, from JJ Fins in New Smyrna Beach up to Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach. The promotion was so popular that the Chamber quickly exhausted the supply of 300 Special Edition Bike Week 2012 Commemorative Coins that were to be awarded upon completion of the passport.
Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona, about 12 miles north of Main Street, was actually a fine choice as one of the Treasure Hunt locations. The massive playground for bikers sprawls across more than 100 acres that comprises Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson that’s touted as the largest H-D dealership in the world, biker-related retail stores arranged in strip-mall style, Destination Daytona Hotel & Inn and the Saints & Sinners Pub that has an outside bar and live music. Other entertainment this year included the Ives Brothers Globe of Death and Stunt Show, midget wrestling, MMA fighting and a free Jackyl concert. Rossmeyer passed away several years ago, but his family has rallied on to keep his dream of biker heaven alive. In fact, we hear that many riders who choose Destination Daytona as their place of lodging during Bike Week or Biketoberfest never leave the property because the good times roll day and night.
In stark contrast to all the hoopla at Destination Daytona we cruised The Loop, a 22-mile circular route that starts at the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach and heads north between the west bank of the Halifax River and Tomoka State Park. North Beach Street becomes Old Dixie Highway where the road passes underneath a canopy of trees as it continues through Addison Blockhouse Historic Park and skirts the western edge of Bulow State Park. The Loop cuts east at Walter Boardman Drive and winds around High Bridge Road, crossing back over the Halifax and then south down John Anderson Drive until it meets with the Granada Bridge again.
Another ride that took us off the beaten path had us following South Atlantic Avenue, through Daytona Beach Shores and to the southernmost part of Ponce Inlet where we enjoyed a delicious and leisurely lunch and spectacular views at the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill. The restaurant is directly across the road from Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Florida that also contains a museum and has been designated a National Historic Monument.
Begrudgingly biking back into civilization, we took a ride to the Jam On Productions swap meet held this year at Daytona Flea Market on Tomoka Farm Road. Not far from the flea market is the sprawling Daytona International Speedway which doubles annually as another popular vender spot, and serves as demo ride central for Harley-Davidson, Victory, and a whole host of other major motorcycle marques. No place offers a more comprehensive hands-on sampling of what’s available in the two-wheel world.
The spice of life
The rally also offered a multitude of other diversions, including motorcycle racing starting with the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, continuing at International Speedway with the Grand National Series flat track races, the Vance & Hines XR1200 series, AMA Supercross racing and culminating with the original raison d’être for the rally—the Daytona 200.
Women-friendly events took center stage at ROAR Motorcycles, a female-owned business in Daytona Beach that presented a week’s worth of activities such as their open house held after the 5th annual H-D Women’s MDA Ride (over 130 women raised $35,000 this year), a confidence-building course for women interested in learning to ride, a free basic maintenance class and a course for first responders at the scene of a motorcycle accident.
For those who appreciate fine arts, licensed Harley-Davidson artist David Uhl had set up a display in front of the Beach Street Harley store. On exhibit was his Leading Ladies painting of Cris Sommer-Simmons and her bike Effie, the 1915 H-D she rode in the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball Run. Cris was on hand to autograph her new book The American Motorcycle Girl’s Cannonball Diary. David also displayed his newest painting featuring Gloria Tramontin Struck, the latest in his Women of Harley-Davidson series. Gloria, now 86 years young, had just ridden with her daughter Lori from their homes in New Jersey down to Daytona, and she was also a featured guest at David’s booth.
On the second Friday of the rally, Robison’s Motorcycles celebrated 50 years of service to the Daytona biker community. Founder Joe Robison opened Robison Harley-Davidson in 1962, and it’s been at its current location on International Speedway Boulevard for the last 48 years, witnessing the rich history of Bike Week evolve from its racing heritage to the spectacle it is today. After observing the vision that Harley corporate had planned for the “older” dealerships, Robison decided not to renew the Bar & Shield franchise in 1993. Although the Harley logo has been blacked over, the shop remains open with Joe showing up every day to make certain the coffee is fresh and the customers’ needs are attended to. On this day, Robison’s annual Bike Week Party included a gathering of the faithful, with old customers coming in to revive memories of bikes purchased in years past with neighbors and friends presenting celebratory cakes and cards in appreciation of the shop’s continued presence. The man himself, Joe Robison, held court on the sofa in the far back corner, greeting customers and friends he has made over the last five decades.
MoCo hits the mark
Since Harley-Davidson moved its main exhibits from indoors at the Ocean Center to a group of tents and pavilions on Beach Street in 2010, the company has expanded its presence, offering even more attractions to rallygoers. One of this year’s changes involved the return of the H-D ride-in bike show as well as a block party that stretched into the evening. Somehow The Motor Company convinced local officials to block off a quarter mile stretch of Beach Street, and about 125 custom bikes lined the street in front of Harley’s display for the 11-class judged competition. Afterwards, H.O.G. members were invited to the hospitality tent where refreshments were available and, near sundown, the Blues Brothers Revue gave a kickass—and free—performance.
Harley-Davidson has been the presenting sponsor of Bike Week since 1988, and H-D Director of Customer Experience Steve Piehl described the scope of the effort needed to support the rally. He disclosed that more than 200 H-D employees from all over the world staffed this year’s Bike Week, and that 11 truckloads of materials and motorcycles were driven to Daytona, including over 100 Harleys used for demo rides and displays.
Yet another Harley-Davidson presence was found on Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard Thursday through Saturday, where The Motor Company set up shop during Daytona’s Black Bike Week festivities. In February, the H-D Museum in Milwaukee opened its “Iron Elite” exhibit to “celebrate the evolution of motorcycle culture through the eyes of African-American riders,” according to the museum’s website. And Harley’s “Black Bikers on the Boulevard” exhibit carried out the Iron Elite theme nicely, with a half dozen bikes on display, the Jumpstart Experience where a bike is secured to a dyno-like setup so prospective riders can get the feel of what it’s like to drive and shift a motorcycle without fear of dropping it or losing control, and flat-screen TVs airing video clips submitted to H-D.com/IronElite by African-American motorcycle clubs and riding groups. We’d have to guess that the free entries for a bike giveaway along with the shade and cooling fans that provided welcome respite from the hot sun helped encourage the crowds to hang around the Harley tent, too.
The scene along the rest of the boulevard was like a huge family reunion, with jazz, R&B, rap, hip-hop, funk and other musical genres playing from a multitude of CD stands. And we couldn’t leave without sampling some of the fine home cooking available—barbecue, fried fish and other Southern specialties. It’s a real party atmosphere every day and night during Bike Week, with folks riding in from all over the country to partake in the festivities.
The wearing—and spending—of the green
St. Patrick’s Day provided another grand excuse to party and parade around town in one’s finest biker-inspired greenery. We couldn’t figure out how riders were able to stuff their leprechaun-style top hats and other holiday attire into their Tour Paks, but there should’ve been prizes awarded for some of the more elaborate costumery.
And that wasn’t the only green in town, either. In fact, throughout the entire week both Bike Week visitors and merchants seemed more upbeat, with many local businesses seeing a more free-spending clientele than in the recent past. Hotel rooms were fully booked for most of Bike Week for the first time in at least six years, and only a few days into the rally Daytona Harley-Davidson was averaging sales of 20 bikes a day in all their stores. With Bike Week bringing a $300 million economic benefit to the greater Daytona Beach area, the community rolls out the red—er, green—carpet for riders.
We were also pleased to learn that next year and beyond Bike Week will continue to take place the second full week of March. Happily, Nascar has, for the foreseeable future, decided to run the Daytona 500 a week later than past years, and it takes a few weeks to transform International Speedway from sports car and stock car racing to motorcycle racing. Anything that brings Bike Week closer to spring and warmer weather is A-OK with us.