Words by Joy Burgess
Photos by Joy Burgess and Kali Kotoski
If you’ve been reading my stories, heard me on the “Off the Groove” podcast or follow me personally on social media, you probably know that I’m newer to the motorcycle industry than my Thunder Press colleagues. It was just five years ago that I fell in love with motorcycles, and I’ve really never recovered. Next to Editor Boehm – who we jokingly refer to as Master Yoda around the office – my experience is a mere drop in a bucket. But what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm, passion and a desire to learn.
When I got the chance to go to Daytona Bike Week this year I jumped at it. Living a mere 90 minutes from Daytona Beach, it’s surprising I’ve never been. But you have to understand that most locals avoid Daytona like the plague during Bike Week, Spring Break and Biketoberfest, and for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is the high cost of hotel rooms, which can run you $500 or more a night (no joke). Even seedy motels that will leave you with bedbug bites (or worse) can cost crazy money, too. And if you read Thunder Press founder Reg Kittrelle’s April column you’ll find out you can even pay for the chance to sleep on couch cushions (or a couch without cushions) in some stranger’s room if you’re in a pinch. And let’s not forget the traffic, which is significantly less fun to navigate for those poor souls in cars.
I headed to Daytona Beach a couple days early and checked into the Hilton across from the Convention Center – and just a block from Main Street – with my son in tow. As luck would have it my bellhop noticed my camera bag and asked what I was doing there. When I told him he let me in on a hotel secret – an outside staircase that went up on the roof. He took me up and told me that with a big zoom lens I should have no problem shooting Main Street from atop the Hilton. He also said I might be competing with police and FBI on the rooftops above me…I was never quite sure if that was a joke. Turns out he was right about it being a great place to shoot photos, not to mention it was a killer spot to take panoramas that let you see all the way from the ocean across the entire city.
One of the first things I noticed was that the city was already rumbling with the sounds of motorcycles coming into town from all across the country. Bike Week was two days away, but no one told all the folks who’d already gathered to start celebrating. The next day, with one day left to go before the official start of Bike Week, the rumbling got even louder, and by the end of the day the ‘thunder’ of motorcycle engines was nearly constant.
That evening I was joined at the hotel by some of my Thunder Press colleagues, and a couple of us were able to meet up in the Rum Room downstairs, which was packed to overflowing and rocking the bar and the hotel lobby (and beyond) with the sounds of drunken karaoke. We won’t discuss the number of drinks we knocked back that evening (although we did avoid getting involved in the drunken karaoke), but the good times definitely left us in need of coffee and aspirin the next day.
With my DSLR in hand and my camera bag over my shoulder I took my first adventure down Main Street, ready to capture what I saw. I couldn’t stop grinning because everywhere I turned there was motorcycle eye candy calling out to me, and I spent so much time clicking the shutter that some kind fellow saved me from inadvertently walking into traffic as I shot the scene. At one point I took the chance that no motorcyclist would purposefully hit a photographer, jumped into the street and captured some of the interesting motorcycles coming straight at me down Main Street. Surprisingly, no one had a problem with me taking their photo; in fact, they seemed to love having the camera aimed at them.
I’d shoved a credit card into my pocket that morning – rookie mistake – and the 87-degree weather exacerbated by all that concrete was taking its toll. I was parched, and those cold three-dollar beers looked inviting. But since I’d left all my cash in my room and no one seemed to be taking credit cards I was out of luck until I finally arrived at a tiny, and sketchy, gas station where I grabbed some water. Lesson learned. Next time take cash!
Although mainstream media often stereotypes the people who attend bike rallies, one of the first things that grabbed my attention was the diversity of riders who’d shown up for Bike Week. I saw people, both on and off the bikes, in every age group on Main Street, and even captured a photo of a little girl who had her eye on the gleaming bikes parked in front of the Cruisin’ Café at the corner of Main Street and Atlantic Avenue (look for that one in the April issue of Thunder Press).
Recent statistics tell us that women now make up about 20% of riders (even more among Millennials), and the ladies were representing at Daytona in force. Obviously I was loving that, especially knowing that we had a killer women’s issue coming up for May. While roughly 75% of the bikes I saw were V-twins, there were scooters, Japanese and Euro bikes, custom bikes I couldn’t even identify, and sport bikes of all makes and models galore, too. It was a reminder that this family – the motorcycle family – is huge and includes a lot of different people, and yes, like any family, there were a few nuts thrown in. Of course, I have to admit, nothing got my blood going quite like the deep rumbling sounds of those V-twins riding by me as I captured the various bikes and faces cruising along.
While I’d planned to bring Daytona Bike Week to a close enjoying the Daytona 200 and the American Flat Track Daytona TT races, fate had other plans. Those events were canceled and many parts of Daytona began to empty out early as the COVID-19 outbreak suddenly became scarier than any of us anticipated. It’s only been a couple of weeks since my first visit to Bike Week, but the world feels like an entirely different place all of a sudden. But what hasn’t changed is that motorcycle family I mentioned.
All around the biker community I see people reaching out to help others. Kind words from people about Thunder Press have filtered in giving our entire team a boost, encouraging words from biker friends bring a smile when the lack of human contact feels a bit overwhelming, and small acts of kindness encourage us all.
I don’t pretend to have a clue what’s going down in the next few months, but I do know that it’ll take more than a virus to hurt this amazing group of people we call our motorcycle family. So, 2020 may have been my first Daytona Bike Week, but I plan to be back next year for a bit of a ‘family reunion’ when all this craziness blows over. Hope to see you there!
Stay tuned for more Daytona coverage in the April issue of Thunder Press!