Once more unto the beach
Riding season ends where it began
Daytona Beach, Fla., Oct. 16–19—It’s true that Florida’s fauna can’t compete with the bright splashes of color that blanket the countryside of our northern brethren during the month of October. But while they’re preparing to winterize their bikes, that’s when the true riding season begins for us subtropical bikers, and we have our own unique method of celebrating autumn’s arrival. It’s called Biketoberfest, and it attracts tens of thousands arriving upon motorcycles and trikes adorned with every color to be found in the visible spectrum. Even Mother Nature can’t equal some of these paint jobs.
The extended weekend party (Thursday through Sunday) was held for the 16th time this year and gave people a chance to forget about the tanking economy and put the focus on having some fun. The country’s political concerns melded into the one unifying “We Ride” party affiliation (though it should be noted there was also a large representative group from the closely aligned “We Drink” party lending their support). As a united front these two groups insured that political incorrectness was not only tolerated, but also encouraged. Grand old party, indeed.
As with any good civics lesson, you have to understand the past to appreciate the present. Biketoberfest started out as a relatively small event, with about 5,000 attendees, back in the fall of 1992. That was when Janet Kersey, who still works for the Daytona Visitor and Convention Bureau, was assigned to develop a motorcycle-related event that would help fill the void between the tourist and snowbird seasons. The Daytona Fall Tour debuted and, as the years passed, the name was changed and it began to grow into a big-time motorcycle party. Crowds have been estimated to exceed 100,000 in recent years and for many it has become the preferred Daytona bike party, especially for those who aren’t all that fond of the crush of the crowds during Bike Week in March.
Even though the nightly throngs filling the bars along Main Street might not be as large in number as Bike Week, the urge to party is by no means any less intense. And while the overall market conditions may be down, the “beer girls” stock seemed to be on an upward trend, with smaller crowds meaning less wait time to stuff a dollar or two into the garter belt of any one of these dancers at Froggy’s. It was even possible to find a space along the rail on the party balconies atop Wise Guys and the Dog House, where you could watch the shuffling crowd below. However, at the Bank & Blues Club, once the Razorbacks took to the stage it was hard to believe that attendance was any less than the spring gathering. They pack the place like no other group.
Every good biker party needs a good bike-builder party and for Biketoberfest ’08 the premier event was held on Thursday night at the Doghouse Bar and Grill on Main, where the Seminole Hard Rock Roadhouse was set up. In the back of a large tent, alongside a display of Michael Lichter’s photography and several custom bikes, many of the builders who were in town showed up to mix with the media and the general public at the Biker Fusion event. The official party hosts were Billy Lane of Choppers Inc., Shelly Rossmeyer of Destination Daytona, and Sucker Punch Sally’s Christian Clayton. Food, drink (including Wild Turkey specials), a bikini contest, and loud (make that very loud) music made this the party of the week. It was more than just a meet and greet though. Through ticket sales ($50 per person), donations, and an auction that included a 360 Brake system and a Dave Perewitz custom-painted bucket, over $10,000 was raised for Soldier’s Angels. The money will be used to buy recreational items for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Carrie Repp of R&R Promotions, who helped to stage the event, “Biker Fusion was designed to maintain and support the camaraderie of our industry, while having a good time and raising support for a good cause. This year’s turnout was great, and we’re excited to send the proceeds to an organization that supports our military men and women.”
If it wasn’t for racing, both auto and motorcycle, Daytona Beach might have developed into just another little oceanside resort. And if it wasn’t for Daytona Beach, stock car racing might still be just a little southern backwoods tradition. But that’s not the way it turned out and the Daytona International Speedway is now considered one of the crown jewels of racetracks in the country for cars, trucks, and motorcycles. The 2.5-mile tri-oval is normally off-limits to the general motorcycle public so when I heard there was a way to take a spin on the same asphalt as Yarborough, Petty, and Earnhardt, I decided to give it a try. It’s called the Monster Dash and was held on Friday evening under the lights. Tickets to participate were $30 per person and included two laps, a souvenir shirt, two drink tickets, and some entertainment after the ride. Apparently, I wasn’t the only guy in town who thought riding the Speedway was a cool idea as more than 500 people were already ahead of me when I took my place in line behind the backstretch grandstands. There were so many people that the riders had to be split into two groups for the trip around the track. For all you speed freaks out there, this is not the place you’ll find your fix. We were instructed to stay on the lower apron during our run. Failure to follow those rules got you a quick reprimand from one of the security police stationed around the track. Looking up at the track’s very steep 31-degree banked corners, I was quite content to keep it down low. Photo ops at the start/finish line slowed the parade temporarily but then it was full throttle to the first turn.
But the track offered much more than just the Dash. There was a variety of motorcycle racing going on all weekend with the season ending events for the Championship Cup Series and the American Sportbike Racing Association. Saturday was the third Annual 8 Hours at Daytona, which wrapped up this year’s SunTrust MOTO-ST series. Camping was free on the infield at the speedway with your racing ticket purchase and infield access was free to everyone during the day. Even the Daytona 500 Experience offered free admission on Friday and Saturday. Outside the track, there were free demo rides from all the major manufacturers. The 90-minute wait to take a spin on one of Harley’s new trikes was too much for me so I took some time to check out the vendors and builders who were set up in the parking lot. Again, it was not as crowded as in the springtime but still featured major players such as Big Dog, American IronHorse, Boss Hoss, Victory, and others. I don’t buy much but I enjoy seeing what new gadgets are being offered. The one that caught my eye on this trip was something called the Butty Buddy. It’s an extrawide, portable passenger seat that gives some extra side support for those seeking relief from those narrow pads that are normally passed off as a passenger pillion.
As usual, the party stretched out for miles north and south of town from New Smyrna to Ormond Beach and beyond. One of the problems is that there are so many party places to visit that it’s just about impossible to hit them all. On the south side of the party the Cabbage Patch in Samsula had the usual side of slaw on the menu for Saturday and at the Stone Edge Skate Park on South Ridgewood Avenue, Spectro Oils set up the Limpnickie Lot with skateboarding, paintball competition, and professional dirt bike jumping. The southern end of the Daytona peninsula features the Ponce DeLeon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest in the state and a consistent riding destination. There are several good places to hang out and grab a bite to eat, listen to some music, and enjoy the coastal views. The wife and I spent Friday afternoon in this area drifting from place to place and discovered one of the more unusual musical acts at the Inlet Harbor Restaurant. At night the Bobby Friss band was tearing up the place but during the day the biker crowd mixed with the locals to listen to guitarist Reben Cuartas, who’s style was described as “New Age Flamenco.” It’s the first time I’ve heard anyone segue from a traditional Greek dance tune into Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” The important thing to remember when in this area is there is usually a heavy police presence and they strictly enforce the speed limits.
The traffic lines along the Ormond Strip to the north, around places like the Iron Horse, Broken Spoke and the other party places, were moving along at a reasonable pace.—at least until you got close to Destination Daytona, where the lines began to lengthen. Along with the humongous dealership, the parking lot was about half filled with builders and vendors. I made my visit on Thursday before most of the crowds arrived and found popular builders like Eddie Trotta mixing it up with the public. I also found V-Force Customs (the new venture of Vinnie DiMartino and Cody Connelly from the American Chopper show). They had their first theme bike on display, built for the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team. The also had an entourage of camera people following their every move in preparation for a new television show they are planning. (Wonder where they got that inspiration?) The Coca Cola Pavilion here was the setting for concerts featuring Kansas, Jo Dee Messina, and Candlebox on successive nights. Once you wore out enough shoe leather here, you could saunter across the street to the Battle Grounds venue and find more builders, vendors, and entertainment.
A bike show a day keeps things interesting and the three Biketoberfest shows were each unique. Willie’s Tropical Tattoo kicked things off on Thursday with the Old School Chopper Show. Forget the chrome and biker bling, this show is for real builders. Cheap cold brews and a rockabilly band makes this event stand out from the rest. That was followed on Friday by the Boardwalk Classic Bike Show, using the Atlantic Ocean as a setting to lure the attentive crowds. And Saturday was the time for the Rat’s Hole Custom Show at the Daytona Lagoon Waterpark, where more than 100 entries were parked against a backdrop of waterslides and wave pools. As an added twist, the folks from Discover Card were handing out free $10 money cards to everyone. Promoter Ted Smith noted there were a few no-shows but his overall assessment of the day was positive. He pointed out that these economic times might actually be helping him in landing builders who can’t afford to set up their own promotional space but can get plenty of exposure by being in the show.
Unfortunately for some people riding custom bikes, a very expensive lesson in design economics was taught from the street classroom courtesy of the local constabulary. A new state law prohibits motorcycle license plates from being displayed in a vertical position. While it may look good, the forces that be say the sideways placement makes it difficult to read, so they charge an outrageous $1,000 fine if stopped. That was one of three new motorcycle laws that went into effect on October 1. The other two laws impose stiffer penalties for popping wheelies or riding faster than 50 miles over the posted speed limit. The good news on the traffic front was zero fatalities.
There’s always that certain moment on every bike trip when you’re wishing for that one particular piece of gear that you didn’t bring along, the item you passed on because there wasn’t enough room and you figured you could get by without it for the weekend. For me, that time arrived late Saturday afternoon as the wife and I were sitting in a line of traffic working our way back to the hotel as the light rain turned to a steady drizzle. I had triple-checked the weather reports all week; this was not supposed to be happening. Fortunately, the drizzle dissipated pretty quickly and was gone by the time the line of traffic had reached our hotel parking lot. The rain wasn’t much but the wind then kicked into about third gear for the rest of the night. A coating of sand from the World’s Most Famous Beach covered the bike on Sunday morning when I brought the bags down to load up for the trip home. I guess that’s a cheaper souvenir than a T-shirt.
The dates are already set for Biketoberfest 2009, October 15–18. (www.biketoberfest.org)