Contrarian Bastard: Daytona Bitch

Daytona Bike Week was on my bucket list but life always found a way to keep me from attending. That is, until I started Thunder Press. Then it — and dozens of other such events — became my life. My strongest memories of Daytona are about evenly split between the people I met and the motorcycles I rode. A couple of examples…

A Room With a Few

Given that the dime was pretty thin during our early years, attending DBW had to be done with both eyes on the budget. The “seasonally adjusted rates” of the motels in the area had me seeking out the cheapest digs, usually miles from the action and cleaning solvent. To give you a feeling for this there was one place that asked me —through a thick plexiglas shield— how many hours did I need the room for and did I want an extra-cost towel? I didn’t want to think about that too much, so I passed.

On one of those trips I was unable to find a room rate less than the forfeiture of a future child. I had just about run out of options when a rider approached me as I left a motel office and asked if I’d like to share a room with him and his buddy for one night. I wasn’t big on the idea, but desperation had me saying, “Sure. Why not.” It had a separate bedroom, which he and his friend took. I was offered the couch for $50. Except for the cushions; those were ‘rented’ to another guy for $25. A third lucky rider got the overstuffed chair for 20 bucks. 

It actually worked out OK, though I did have to use a T-shirt (mine!) for a towel. We were all there to party (them) or work (me), so it was late by the time we returned to our luxurious accommodations. The last in were our ‘hosts’ with a woman in tow. They went straight to the bedroom. After all the event-appropriate noises were finished, she emerged from the den of iniquity, looked at the three of us and asked, “Anyone interested?” The cushion rider mimed a gagging action. She left.

Tattoos and choppers. Some Harley-Davidson rider traits will never change.

A Varoom That Won’t Do

For the moto-press, DBW is all about new bike intros, press conferences and face time with the current movers and shakers. And of course, time is set aside for the numerous mud/oil/tapioca wrestling events. I’ve attended dozens of these happening, but one bike intro stands out. In 1997 — if memory serves — the Hanlon family, primarily brothers Dave and Dan, re-introduced the Excelsior-Henderson motorcycle, last heard from in 1931.

The Hanlons splashed ads and billboards (“Re-Born to Be Wild!”) around town and flew a huge banner trailing a plane about the area. I showed up at the appointed place to snag my Super X test bike. Another journo was on-hand but as I haven’t cleared this with him, I’ll just call him ‘Art.’ They rolled out two bikes and fired them up. Art, a man of some renown in moto world, was immediately pissed, as the bikes sounded much like the barely muffled Harleys that so tick off the neighbors. They were loud and obnoxious and illegal. I asked if they were going to be sold sounding like they did. They were pre-production units so I expected the excuse to be wrapped around that. Instead, we were told that this is “the sound the customers want.” Oookay…

My test ride was memorable for how really bad and unfinished that Super X was. At close to 700 pounds performance was weak from its 1386cc V-Twin, and vibration harkened back to the bad old days. The slightest bend in the road had parts etching the tarmac, and the sound of the exhaust announced the bike’s presence to most everyone in the same ZIP code. The production Super X ($18,500 plus) wouldn’t appear for about a year after this, so some of its failing could be excused. Excelsior-Henderson managed to hang around for a few years, but finally died a somewhat ignominious death. A sad ending for a storied marque.

Or maybe not. Legal rights to the E-H brand were put up for auction a couple of years ago but, apparently, did not meet the reserve price. Still, someone actually placed a $1.9 million bid, so there is some interest out there. Might we yet see a resurrection?

If you’d care to explain to Kittrelle why his existence on this planet is no longer required, email reg.kittrelle@comcast.net

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