Daytona Beach, Fla., Oct. 16–19—Although the 22nd annual Biketoberfest didn’t officially start until Thursday, October 16, a large uptick in riders began much earlier in the week. And for good cause since the conditions were ideal Chamber of Commerce weather. After one of the most miserably wet summers the Sunshine State has experienced in a very long time, a solid three weeks of on-and-off rain was finally dissipating. The skies began to clear and, as Biketoberfest weekend approached, the forecast became more and more encouraging, nearing perfection with daytime highs in the mid to low 80’s, nights in the 60’s and no rain at all in the forecast making for a prime time to ride.
Instead of making a beeline directly to Daytona on that Thursday, I took a detour by way of the Orange County Convention Center for a few hours where the 2nd annual American International Motorcycle Expo (AIM Expo) was staged once again. It was Media and Press Day and since it was my first visit to the Expo, I wanted to check it out while the crowds were on the lean side (the Expo was only open to the public on Saturday and Sunday this year). It turned out to be a very enlightening experience and you can read my full article covering the expo on page ___. By mid-afternoon it was time to point the handlebars northeast toward sand, surf and motorcycles.
After checking into my hotel in Ormond Beach, I took some time to freshen up before joining an Industry Party at the Destination Daytona dealership being held from 7:00–9:00 p.m. Although they were celebrating 20 years of operation with barbecue, drinks and live entertainment, the party turned out to be a little quiet for my tastes. So I wandered over to the adjoining Saints & Sinners Pub to listen to the band and watch a team of performers with flaming hula hoops and batons. But I didn’t stay long there either since I had taken on the challenge of covering Biketoberfest pretty much single-handed and needed to be up early and on Main Street well before noon. I realized early on that I wouldn’t be able to catch everything but I had a carefully crafted plan of action. Unfortunately that plan didn’t leave much time for socializing. (Sometimes I hate being so responsible!)
Friday morning my first stop was at the Boardwalk to check out the entries for the annual Boardwalk Classic Bike Show, an offering that brings out some of the most beautiful and amazing rides on two and three wheels. Much to my surprise, this year there was actually one stretched-out red chopper that had four wheels—one in front and three in the rear. It was just an hour before noon when I crested the last steps up to the Boardwalk but the entries were already lined up with spectators swarming around them. I fell into the procession, taking my time to appreciate the workmanship and creativity it takes to build these incredible works of mobile art. There are 20 classes in this show that include everything from Vintage to Extreme Custom and almost 60 trophies are awarded every year. The Best of Show winner takes home a cool $500 cash prize.
It was nearing lunchtime so I headed for the Lucky Rooster, a little place that replaced the old Main Street Diner a couple years ago (a Daytona standard that everyone hated to see shuttered). I’d eaten at the Rooster before and, since it was pretty good the first time, I thought I’d get lucky again. Plus it was in the direction of my next destination, Main Street Station. I figured I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat and then catch one or two sets of The Living Deads, a very unique group consisting of three young, but extremely talented musicians performing at the Station. I’d seen them last year and was impressed by their special brand of rockabilly and an outward appearance that definitely lives up to their name. (The female bass player sports blue hair and some way-out eye makeup.)
Out the door of the Rooster, on Main and moving towards the Boot Hill Saloon, the stream of bikes heading in both directions was getting longer and parking was definitely a highly coveted prize. I stopped for a few minutes to admire the skill one rider had to put to use when backing his low-slung chopper into a tight spot. With an exaggerated rake and long forks, the front end extended over the curb so the maneuvering got a little more complicated for those on the street.
Falling into cadence with others doing the Main Street crawl, I made a quick stop at the Full Moon Saloon to catch a song or two by a popular central Florida band called Bad Mannerz and say hello to some friends I knew would be there. After the mandatory hugs and a few quick verbal exchanges, I headed on to Main Street Station to see the Living Deads and do a little dancing.
With the last few songs by the Living Deads waning, it was time to hustle back to the Full Moon to catch the Best Buns Contest. After all, there are numerous wet T-shirt contests all over town for the guys and I was pleased that someone had decided to offer up a best buns contest for us lady riders. A big letdown. It was female buns! So my stay was rather short and I headed across the street to Dirty Harry’s to check out what time the ever–popular Bobby Friss band would be on stage. I arrived just in time to catch the emcee, Cowboy, who was encouraging gals in the audience to have a couple shots of Jaeger and join the lineup backstage for the Wet T contest.
I discovered that Friss would be performing at 8:00 that night and I made a mental note to stop back by under “drier” circumstances. My plans for the evening were looking promising… Bobby at eight and then one of my favorite bands, Big Engine out of Jacksonville, would be at Main Street Station at nine. What wasn’t promising was the hefty $48 tab for the taxi to and from Main Street that evening since I can’t ride at night (vision problems stemming from a motorcycle accident). Nonetheless, it was a great night. The street was crowded but not packed and music was in the air—Bobby at Dirty Harry’s, Big Engine at Main Street Station, the RazorBacks at Bank & Blues, and The Accuzed at the Chrome Bar & Grill—a full night’s entertainment and well worth the cost.
Saturday morning came way too fast but I decided to tackle Beach Street to see how the recent real estate modifications had impacted that segment of the rally. The vendor tents along the east side of the street were still the same, offering everything under the sun. However, the west side of the street has certainly taken on a new look. The two car dealerships are gone from the area south of Carl’s Speed Shop and a block farther south, the original Harley shop is now a brand-new Indian Motorcycle dealership boasting some beautiful two-wheeled inventory.
After leaving Beach Street and taking a ride down US-1 to check out some of the other popular haunts, I was surprised to see that the popular motorcycle parts house, Miller’s in South Daytona, is no longer open and has been replaced with a locksmith shop. Further down US-1, the Sunshine Plaza was bare as a set of bones in the sun. Usually there are several vendors set up there since the fees are much less than other areas in town and it’s a good place to catch a performance by the Central Florida Drill Team. Not this weekend, though, as there was nary a bike, tent or food truck to be seen. The Last Resort seemed to be busy as there were several bikes out front but they pull in a lot of locals as well as the bikers in town for the rally so that wasn’t really a good indication of how the rally was sizing up in numbers. I decided to swing back by the Daytona International Speedway to check out what was going on there but by the time I got back to International Speedway, the sun was starting to set and I deferred, making my way back to the hotel for a shower and some much-needed dinner.
As I was pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the portion of the lot designated for bike parking was rather empty. This is unusual because I’ve stayed at this hotel for the last five years and it’s usually hard to even find a spot to wedge your bike into by this time of day. I’m not sure if it’s the economy in general or the fact that the hotel is under new management and has had several personnel changes. Or… maybe… those riders staying here were simply out enjoying the best riding we’ve had in months. I do not blame them.
Back in my room, I reviewed my plans to head to the Ormond Strip, running north on US-1 past the Iron Horse Saloon and on to Destination Daytona and the White Eagle in Korona. Unfortunately, I would miss the free Jackyl concert that was scheduled at 6:00 in the Destination Daytona compound. There was just no way I could make it through the traffic on the strip by that time—I’d be lucky if I made it by 9:00. So I settled for catching the last night of insanity at the Iron Horse with the band Jasmine Caine and a throaty female rocker by the same name. And full insanity reigned with adult beverages flowing like a mountain stream and burnouts clouding our lungs from the pit below the venue’s catwalk.
Sunday morning I readied myself to head back to the AIMExpo to check things out with the general public. It was much more crowded and it seemed to take on a different flavor than it had on Thursday when it was media only. Maybe it was because I ran into several friends. But then maybe it was because I snagged some cool stickers for my helmet from a company called Lethal Angel. (Shopping always seems to improve the experience.) Although the Expo was open until 5:00 that evening, I decided to call it a day. I’d been on the go for four days from Orlando to Daytona and back again and hadn’t stopped much in between.
While no official numbers have been released regarding attendance, local tourism representatives believe this year may be the largest crowd since at least 2007, right before the recession hit the U.S. economy. Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Volusia County, stated that a survey of area hotels showed an increase in room occupancy and average daily room rates (due to last-minute bookings). The two major factors cited as contributing to this year’s surge in attendance were the superlative weather and an increase in advertising by Volusia County promoting the event. Whatever the cause, everyone seemed pleased.
So with another Biketoberfest in the history books, I’m ready to take a break until next March when I’ll head back to Daytona again to hang out with a few thousand of my favorite friends. If you’ve never indulged yourself in this unique Florida experience (either the spring or the fall event), rest assured it is well worth the effort and money. 4