Plenty to go around
Fall favorite expands its horizons
Daytona Beach, Fla., Oct. 18–21—Despite a sagging national economy and motorcycle rallies battling a period of the doldrums, the lure of a beautiful coastline and temperate weather continues to beckon the two-wheeled addict to Biketoberfest each fall. And although Daytona Beach is still considered the center of the motorcycling world, a new word must be bandied about when we talk about Daytona: dispersion.
Between Biketoberfest and its big brother Daytona Bike Week in the spring, more than half a million visitors are drawn to Florida’s eastern seaboard each year. The resulting sales figures and dollar signs have started percolating, and Florida communities outside the area have realized the potential to tap into the biker bazaar. These new venues even had the unwitting assistance of Daytona Beach proper as the city tried to perfect its juggling act of maintaining a subdued tone by reining in perceived aberrant behavior without chasing everyone’s pocketbook out of town in the process. Now vendor tents, bars, concerts and contests continue to spring up from Bunnell in the north to Edgewater in the south and even as far away as Orlando; there’s plenty of room for everyone. And while none of this is especially new to the Florida biking scene, the Biketoberfest “sprawl” appears to be escalating at a fevered pitch. But then the bikers are happy to spread their money around, and willing to share it with anyone offering a fair shake and anything that might be perceived as lessened oversight. With loose estimates of 75,000– 100,000 making the trek to Biketoberfest this year, this rally seems to have a full life span still ahead—no matter how large an area it might encompass.
Celebrating its 15th birthday this year, Biketoberfest first saw light as the Daytona Fall Tour in 1992. It was created by the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and was one of the very first rallies to be developed by a community in an effort to attract visitors during off-season periods. Other cities have since followed this successful pattern over the years. The following year, the Fall Tour was renamed Biketoberfest with the Convention & Visitors Bureau’s London office (yep, they have an office in London) marketing the event to European enthusiasts, especially those in Germany where Octoberfest is a much-loved national event. So in the midst of a stronghold dominated by stock car racing, Biketoberfest has continued to grow, with throngs of bikers craving one last ride before winter.
Biketoberfest, then, has joined Daytona Bike Week to make Daytona Beach one of the biggest venues in the country for a huge range of motorcycle-related businesses and the hub of the industry’s marketing focus. (Their nearest competitor is that other rally held each summer up in South Dakota. And you know how spread out that thing has become.) All this notoriety translates into wonderful choices for all bikers. An abundance of custom bike shops are peppered throughout town with plenty of out-of-state talent making an appearance for the rally and some of the nation’s top professional builders being seen and heard over at the Speedway.
Although this year’s hurricane season decided to take it easy on the Sunshine State, the weather waffled over the entire weekend as the rains came and went. But by Saturday midmorning, the skies had cleared and soon the air was perfect for riding. While a multitude of bikes were on the streets, unfortunately there were also way too many cars. Tropical Willie’s Old Skool Custom Show and the Destination Daytona complex were exceedingly busy. On Thursday, however, Main Street and Ormond Beach were both easily accessible on two wheels.
Once again the place of highest visibility was Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona Harley-Davidson biker mall, at the Interstate 95/U.S. 1 interchange, just outside Ormond Beach. Billing itself as the world’s biggest Harley dealership, this gigantic store encompasses about 100,000 square feet of floor space and had 400 new and used motorcycles in stock as they geared up for Biketoberfest. The grand opening of J&P Cycle was held at the complex as well. Destination Daytona, which has been in development for several years, continues to be the biggest draw in town.
Biketoberfest remains a mix of out-of-town visitors, day-trippers and locals who pack the booths and stores on Main Street for a Southern fall weekend. With Halloween just a few weeks away, the costumes of the weird and whacky seep into the ranks of the road-weary but bar-happy crowds. I got caught in the Main Street shuffle after spending a couple of Saturday evening hours enjoying the sights and rock band sounds of the Full Moon Saloon. I hadn’t spent an evening downtown in many years, and while the parade of motorcycles looked much more modern than the bikes of earlier days, the party atmosphere prevailed and the cover bands played on.
Main Street will always be a mainstay and have special meaning to those of us who carry the rich history of this rally in our hearts. It remains the epicenter of the action. In the past, this was where all the cool stuff went down. Our ratty bikes lined the curbs while the biker women lined the bars. But a crackdown on public nudity, an influx of sportbike riders and the insinuation of Chamber of Commerce types into the planning have tamed this assembly considerably. Not a bad thing— just part of the evolution of Biketoberfest.
The Rat’s Hole Show was once again held at the Daytona Lagoon Water Park and drew impressive garage builders and professionals alike. Radical Randy, the show’s main man and all-around master of ceremonies, kept directing the flow of onlookers, bikers and babes alike to ensure everyone had a peek at every bike. The Water Park is over on Earl Street, just a parking garage south of the huge Hilton Hotel that dwarfs the beach, where riders used to venture. (Some sandy sections are still accessible to two-wheeled traffic, but it’s only in isolated commercial sections and nowhere near as crowded as it once was. Guess the new crowd is worried about their chrome.)
There were a few crashes this year, as usual, and one fatality, but compared to last year’s six motorcycle-related deaths it’s an improvement. And the “excessive noise” issue continues to be a point of contention. The city exercises its control over both of the Daytona Beach motorcycle festivals when it comes to noise, so while bikers are “invited” to come by the thousands, it’s also requested that they ride quietly. A city ordinance prohibits “any noise-creating device for the purpose of drawing attention to the source of the noise.” At the Thursday Biketoberfest press conference to kick off the event, many of the speakers talked about Daytona Beach’s success in keeping the roar to a minimum. “The bikers got the message,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey. “Please don’t rev the pipes.” One-time critic Frank Heckman, chairman of the Beachside Neighborhood Watch, recalled what it was like before police began enforcing the ordinance. “Residents were complaining bitterly about the noise,” Heckman said. More than likely, the issue has less to do with the “bikers getting the message” and more with the bikers paying the ticket for “not getting the message.”
No matter which bike event you attend, spring or fall, you’ll see the same vendors, and there is a definite limit to the number of times I want to browse the same merchandise. But, after the shirts and the always overpriced food, the variety of music on tap can be a relief. Once again, bands of every type of song and tune could be heard upon leaving the northern Boot Hill’s outside setup to the other side where a bluegrass band picked up the boots as we continued to tramp into the night. While the Iron Horse was slammed up in the trees, overall attendance was down. But that only meant movement through the crowds was a breeze and allowed a better view of the bands.
Private parties do seem to be the way of the future and a great way to hang out these days, with the surrounding towns and locales demonstrating their ability to offer the unusual mixed with the bizarre. So whether your tastes lean toward a hog roast that supported the troops at the Mousetrap Saloon or the bike blessing held daily at the Grace Episcopal Church in Port Orange (the holy water was not administered to anyone fearing spots or streaks to their paint job), you’re sure to find something you like and there’s definitely something new every fall. With added law enforcement cracking down and limiting the frequency of biker fun (i.e.: burnouts and female public bareness), the biker bloods have adopted these private properties and designer parties as part of what can only be labeled the “new face of Biketoberfest.” And while the activities at the Cabbage Patch, the Broken Spoke, Pub 44, The Wreck, the Boot Hills (yes, there are now two of them!) and Destination Daytona are siphoning crowds away from Main Street, traditional biker fun and friendship games remain strong as ever. Despite the vacancy signs, Daytona’s “little brother” rally once again gave her an opportunity to show her sunny side, drawing people from as far away as New Zealand to play on her famous beaches—even if no one went home with any sand in their boots.