DELAND, FLA., MAR 9–DeLand is a pretty town—home of the prestigious Stetson University, as well as some stately examples of “Old Florida” architecture. And although it’s only a quick jaunt to the bustle of Daytona Beach, DeLand retains its quaint ambiance. Over the past few years, they’ve promoted a nice little rally during the first weekend of Bike Week and I’ve enjoyed attending as a way to sort of prime myself for the craziness of the following week.
Although not one of the larger events in the Sunshine State, in the past the DeLand Bike Rally has offered a nice middle-of-the-road diversion to the throngs of people and crowded streets of Daytona. Always set up right downtown in the heart of the city, the rally encompasses the main street, Woodland Boulevard, that runs north and south along with four of the side streets that intersect it. These streets offer the perfect location for the bike show, and the food and merchandise vendors, along with any other opportunity to spend money on things you’ll never use after the day you buy them. One of the most positive moves has been the decision to close off the main drag to all four-wheeled vehicles and designate about six blocks of prime real estate for bikes only. This allows four rows of great parking and room to walk around and check out the sea of chrome and leather on display.
Riding up I had my doubts about how the day was going to turn out. In the past, DeLand pulls a few hundred riders and usually has a good bit going on, but the closer I got, the more my concerns grew. I only saw a few riders heading in the same direction and none of the normal traffic snarls that I usually encounter a few miles outside of town.
But when I arrived and rolled up on Woodland Boulevard, my hopes soared as I saw several-hundred bikes lining the street. I was even more excited when I was able to immediately find a good parking spot when I noticed a duo mounting up to leave. I spoke to them briefly while I waited to pull in and asked why they were leaving so early. The gal told me they were headed to Daytona because there wasn’t much going on at the DeLand rally. Uh-oh…
Everyone has different expectations of a rally, so I remained undaunted and not discouraged. I locked up my bike, grabbed my camera and set out on my mission. As I strolled along, I stopped occasionally to snap a picture of a beautiful scooter and observe the overall crowd. I headed to get something to eat at one of my favorite little Irish pubs down on West Indiana Avenue. This is the same street where the popular Central Florida Motorcycle Drill Team usually performs one of their choreographed two-wheeled routines in one of the large parking lots behind the courthouse. I thought I’d check out the show times while I was in the area since they weren’t listed in the event brochure. Much to my surprise (and disappointment), there were no show times on tap at all. The Drill Team would not be performing this year!
I diverted my attention to lunch and took a little time to peruse the brochure more closely to see where my next stop should be. But since the brochure seemed to be rather lacking in information, I decided to follow the crowds and see where they were headed.
I crossed over Woodland and headed to East Indiana Avenue where the bike show usually offers up some nice custom bikes and ideas on what new chrome additions I could spend my additional funds on (if I had any additional funds). And there, another surprise awaited me just past the Yuengling Beer tent… no bike show, either! At least no official bike show, although there were plenty of beautiful, impressive bikes parked along the streets. My undaunted spirit was beginning to waver.
By now, I’m starting to rethink my path through the side streets and my search for a party. After all, this is a bike festival and so far the only thing I’ve seen are some crowded restaurants and a few vendors offering the usual bike rally apparel and miscellaneous items that I’d seen before, only with a different name and date emblazoned on it. So I passed on making any purchases other than a Diet Coke. But just as I was starting to let my wandering mind find its own path, I faintly recognized music coming from the distance. I headed in that general direction because, after all, if there’s music, there’s got to be something else going on, too.
The bandstand is usually set up at the far end of East Indiana where it dead-ends into Alabama Avenue. And there are usually three or four bands playing through the day and into the early evening, but… not so today. Today, the stage had been relocated to about halfway down Indiana just outside of the Issues Bar and there was one band, “White Buffalo,” booked for the whole day. They were an average country music band, probably local and although they weren’t bad, they certainly weren’t rocking the crowd, either. There were a few gals dancing in front of the stage and about 20 or 30 people standing around, but the majority of the traffic was heading to or from the bar.
I watched the band for a few minutes and proceeded to scope out the terrain to see what mischief I could get into and decided to park myself under a canopy where I could just enjoy people watching for a while and take in the local color. By midafternoon, I had departed from my perch on the bench and made my last lap through the downtown quadrant. I decided to go see what was going on up the road in Daytona. Even if I couldn’t get into any trouble, I could at least be on my bike and enjoying the beautiful spring-like weather. I sent a quick text to my friend on the drill team that was missing from the lineup in DeLand and headed over to the Sunshine Mall in south Daytona to try and catch their last performance. He had promised a late lunch, and I’m all over that any day.
As I headed to Daytona, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the DeLand event and why it was so lean this year. One vendor I spoke with told me he heard there was some loss in sponsorship. I’m not sure, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s usually a good rally with plenty to do. I’m hoping that whatever the problem is, it will be remedied by next year so I can start my Bike Week off in the pretty little town of DeLand to get mentally set for the insanity further up the road.