DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., OCT. 13–16—October is a great month for riding in Florida. The blistering heat has subsided but it’s still warm enough to ride in a tank top or T-shirt during the day and a light jacket late at night. However, this year, just a few days before Biketoberfest, riders, along with everyone else in Central Florida, were hunkered down for a couple of days waiting for the Category 4 storm to work its way up from the Bahamas and along the coast. There were doubts as to whether the event would even take place after watching the mayhem Hurricane Matthew created in Daytona and further north along the east coast of Florida.
Many Biketoberfest events were canceled just days before they were scheduled to take place. We got word on the 13th that the Sons of Speed Vintage Motorcycle Races on the 14th and 15th were postponed but would take place at Bike Week next spring. I wasn’t surprised, though, as I remembered that’s a dirt track so it must have been a big mud puddle after the storm.
I had planned to head to Daytona Beach on Wednesday but Tomoka State Park where I usually camp was closed due to storm damage so I postponed my ride until Thursday morning. After numerous calls and a lot of BS, I finally decided to cancel my reservation altogether but was told I couldn’t because it was past my check-in time. I’ve stayed there for years but I won’t again.
Frustrated to the max, I pointed the handlebars north and headed to Daytona. My first stop on Thursday was at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo for Willie’s Ol’ School Chopper Show. There are always a lot of very cool bikes there varying in models and age so it draws a big crowd. I rolled in about noon and was surprised to see that there were plenty of parking places along the side roads and across the street in the Publix parking lot. The number of folks milling around the show was also surprising since I could actually move through the crowd. It was busy enough to be enjoyable, though, and there were some good-looking bikes so I took advantage of the situation. There were over 20 classes of bikes being judged so the announcements take a while to get through. Some of the winners were: Best Twin Cam, ’99 Dyna owned by BD Swanberg; Best Shovelhead, ’77 bobber owned by David Reidingo; Best Panhead belonging to Shirley Johnson, and Willie’s Choices were Gary Luke’s ’59 bobber and a ’73 Shovel owned by Tom Jablon.
From Willie’s I headed further north on US-1 to one of my favorite places, the Iron Horse Saloon. Along the way I noticed several trucks from energy companies outside the state and there seemed to be a lot less bikes on the road than in past years. I’d heard that several of the hotels were completely closed due to damage and others had limited rooms available.
Arriving at the Iron Horse I had even more surprises awaiting me. I pulled right in and got a place up front—don’t think I’ve ever been able to park there. Inside there was no line at all for a beverage and I worked my way up to the catwalk which is usually three deep by late afternoon. Not so today; there was plenty of room and I took advantage of it to enjoy the breeze and listen to the band.
I made my way to Main Street and was overjoyed to see that here it actually did appear to be a rally weekend and the bars were lively with music and adult refreshments. I stopped in Main Street Station and then wandered over to Boot Hill next door where the crowd was wall-to-wall inside the bar and outside as well. Then, at Dirty Harry’s, a wet T-shirt contest was in full swing and the gals were on the stage showing their stuff and trying to win the cash prize to cover their bar bill.
Friday morning, I stopped at Daytona Speedway where plenty of vendors were set up. The Harley Davidson pavilion, a.k.a. Thunder Alley, displayed some new models along with some bikes used in recent movies and offered refreshments. Then I checked out the Iron Horse again, which was a bit more crowded than it had been on Thursday but still not the usual crowd; it seemed that the usual liveliness of the party goers was also missing.
I decided to go find some fun and headed to Destination Daytona. But just a bit north of the Horse I stopped at the Broken Spoke which was a shambles—trees were down with only a few larger ones still standing. I was told by security that it would back open in time for Bike Week. Back on the road I headed toward Rossmeyer’s and was there in just minutes; no long lines of traffic up US-1 or upon entering the parking lot at the complex. The lot by the dealership and the entertainment venue was full of vendors selling everything to make your bike faster, louder or shinier. The strip of small stores across from the dealership was offering different purchases—ways to make you look or feel better—possibly a new tattoo or a new shirt or boots. I took a seat at Saints & Sinners and kicked back for a bit to listen to the band.
Saturday morning, I was up early and ready to hit the road for the last full day of the rally. While having my coffee I caught the weather forecast and it was again a promise of a beautiful day with just some spotty showers. I decided to take a back road instead of I-4 and I had only gone a few miles on SR-415 when I hit about five miles of torrential rain. There are only a few big trees along that road to take shelter and they were already taken by other riders so I just took a big deep breath and rode on.
Once in the Daytona area, I wanted to take a few side streets and check out any damage from the hurricane since I’d only seen a few bushes and trash along the roads. I grew up in central Florida so I know the area well and I decided to ride into some of the neighborhoods and take a closer look. I was upset by what I witnessed. Many streets were blocked off completely with huge piles of trash and tree cuttings along the side of the road. In several areas power lines were hanging from the poles and there were other signs of streets that had flooded up into yards.
There’s a road called The Loop that winds through Tomoka State Park and offers a beautiful meandering path through a canopy of old oaks and cypress trees. Following one side of a fork in the road leads down to US-40 in Ormond Beach and the other one leads out onto A1A and along the coast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very refreshing ride this time. There were numerous trees down and some of the areas along the road where you can stop to rest or take pictures were just large standing pools of water. Several of the trees that provide such a shady canopy were broken and split by the mighty power from the heavens above. Out on A1A heading north to Flagler Beach the road was completely blocked at one point since part of it was missing and there was a steep drop-off where it had once been.
I took a quick detour along Beach Street just to check things out. The east side of the street along the Intracoastal was lined with vendors as usual but the area behind the Indian dealership was rather sparse. However, that seemed to have worked out well as it opened up more room for the popular Rat’s Hole Bike Show. This display of colorful machines is different from Willie’s where there are more old-school bikes and those that love them. At the Rat’s Hole, you’re apt to see the extremes in design—the V-8 trikes and the custom baggers with rear fenders that drop to an inch off the ground. All are beautiful to me in their own way, like a pasture of beautiful horses.
Curiosity appeased and a bit sad from what I’d seen on The Loop, I needed some fun so I headed south back to Main Street to catch one of the bands I wanted to see—the Bearded Brothers at the Main Street Station. I’d seen them the first at a bike build-off event in Clearwater and enjoyed them very much. Since that time, they’ve shown up at more events and been very well received. Four talented young guys, all with beards (of course) and barefoot! One young man plays a fiddle very well and I have fond memories as a child when my father played one as well.
I parked at one of the church lots and headed for the street with my first stop at Froggy’s, another favorite for most of us on our Main Street crawl. There was no band playing at that time but the gals were on the stands dancing and enticing the guys to spend their money, whether it was putting it in a bra or another more personal area.
I checked my watch and had just enough time to dodge the people on my way to Main Street Station and I arrived in time as the Bearded Brothers were taking the stage. Unfortunately, their first couple songs were of a Gaelic nature and a far cry from their usual Southern Rock. The audience didn’t seem to appreciate the change in style, either. I was rather disappointed as they were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing and I didn’t stay around for a third song.
Next door, Boot Hill was crowded but the inside bar is rather small so it doesn’t take many people to fill it up. Outside the announcer was calling guys up for the oldest Boot Hill T-shirt contest. This is usually a popular contest with some of the shirts dating back many years and bearing holes and faded designs. Not so this time; the winner’s shirt was from 1994 and two others with the same logo were from 1999.
Sunday, there were still plenty of people roaming up and down Main Street looking for special sales and good deals on event merchandise. The numbers dwindled slowly but the Main Street Station geared up for one last effort to wrap up the weekend on a positive note. The Survivors Party started mid-day and ran well into the night with Big Engine and an AC/DC tribute band rocking the stages.
Next year October 19–22 will be the 25th anniversary of the event and we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for better weather in the weeks before, and that any bad storm will come after those dates have passed or, better yet, not visit us at all.