ORLANDO, FLA., MAR., 8-16—For a lot of riders, experiencing Daytona Bike Week is a once-in-a-lifetime event. For others it may occur on a more frequent timetable, and, for a rare few, it’s a yearly occasion. But what about those who only live 50–60 miles away from the biker hub of Florida? Seems extravagant to spend big bucks on beachside accommodations when your own digs are only an hour away. And while some find it difficult to leave their employment for a full week of frivolities, they still desire to be a player in the fever of Bike Week. For those folks, Orlando Bike Week fits the bill perfectly.
Orlando Harley-Davidson is owned by Steve and Anne Deli. Steve has become known as the “savior” of Harley when, as an investment banker in the late 1980’s, he saved the Motor Company from bankruptcy and led Harley’s IPO (initial public offering). Anne grew up in Milwaukee next to Bill Harley, son of the founder, who took her on rides in his sidecar. With backgrounds like that, these two have developed the ability to accommodate their customers’ needs. That attitude is what led to the founding of Orlando Bike Week.
Orlando Harley-Davidson (the Historic Factory Dealership off Interstate 4) has been presenting area riders a full week of motorcycle entertainment since 2001, running concurrently with its big brother to the northeast. This year’s offering kicked off on Saturday with the Hot Rat and Rod Rock-a-Billy Roundup that was to feature an assembly of rat bikes and hot rods, pin-up girls (a natural for such an event) and music by Slip & the Spinouts. And while there was a decent collection of hot rods and custom 4-wheelers, apparently the rat bikes must have ran out of baling wire on the way over since not a single rat was onsite. But no one seemed to mind, instead embracing the 50’s spirit and enjoying the interaction with the rodders and pin-up gals. And the day ended in fine form with a scorching performance by the most recognized rock-a-billy band in Florida, the Razorbacks.
There was live music each day of the event featuring several bands, a dozen or so vendors and a stunt show by a duo of riders determined to shred as much rubber as possible (and showering a City of Orlando squad car with black particulate on at least one occasion during an impromptu front tire to front bumper burnout). Thursday night was highlighted by a new addition, Bike Week Beatdown, MMA-style cage fights in the parking lot under the spotlights. But the best was saved for last with the final Saturday’s main attraction being an evening concert by the Georgia Satellites. And as has become standard with Orlando Bike Week, admission to the musical performances, stunt shows and even the cage fights were super reasonable—all gratis; no charge at all.
But don’t be mistaken; Orlando Bike Week appeals to more than just the locals. With free music every day and special attractions throughout the week, this rally lures a sizeable number of folks from Daytona as well. Some are out riding the countryside and decide to drop in, while others visit after checking out the varied activities on tap in Mouse Town. But one of the main draws has to be the extensive bike-rental facility available at this location. Talking with Andrew Chiles, Rider Support Services Manager at the shop, I found out that the dealership normally keeps an impressive fleet of 50 rental bikes on hand at all times. This year for Bike Week, Orlando Harley worked with corporate Harley and brought in an additional 26 bikes for rent. And according to him, most days they were all gone. Part of the reason for this huge turnover is that the dealership is located near the Orlando International Airport, and for anyone forced to fly and ride, it’s well known that flying into Orlando is much simpler than trying to make flight arrangements to Daytona’s much smaller airport. That was my battle plan for this year, fly in, pick up an Orlando rental, ride for a week and then fly home. (Many thanks to Jennifer Armstrong, head of marketing, for making the process totally painless.)
While checking in and standing in line, I met an old geezer from Italy picking up a Sportster, two guys from Boston scheduled to take possession of a couple of Street Glides and six kids from China (all wearing strange-looking Asian club colors) trying to hurdle the language barrier and secure their bikes. It should be noted that Mr. Chiles also prides himself on supplying his customers with only the latest Harleys available. How new? Mine was a 2014 Project RUSHMORE Limited Twin Cool—can’t get much more advanced than that model. As an aid for out-of-towners unfamiliar with the area, Orlando Harley-Davidson has developed 16 individual route charts with turn-by-turn instructions and mileage to Daytona, Ormond Beach, Lakeland and even as far distanced as Port Canaveral—a nice touch that is much appreciated by riders unfamiliar with the region.
After a great show on Saturday night by the Georgia Satellites, Sunday at Orlando Bike Week was a little subdued, giving everyone a chance to wind down from a hectic week. Of course it was still busy since a majority of those 76 rental bikes would come rolling back in today before everyone headed to the airport and home. But amazingly, just as fast as they were turned in, washed and prepped, there was another customer waiting in line to rent a ride, even if for just one more afternoon. And while Orlando Bike Week has few expectations of becoming the largest venue during Daytona Bike Week, they certainly shine when it comes to hospitality and customer service.