Ah, the artistry of iron. Daytona’s International Speedway has been overrun by every conceivable manufacturer, with everybody displaying their latest wares at an open air biker bazaar.
The A1A and the International Speedway have been overrun by thundering herds of two-wheeled invaders as the 67th Daytona Bike Week has gotten into full swing. With a swiftness that Ghenghis Khan could appreciate, the masses have converged on the land of palm trees and powdery white beaches in the quest for camaraderie and commotion, eager to shake off the doldrums of winter and to feel the warm Florida sun on their skin. And while there are more hotels with vacancy signs on than in years past, a sure sign of the uncertain economic tide, bars and restaurants are still bustling with unbridled revelry as those that could make it carry on the tradition while others watch the networks and kick themselves for not being here.
On a somber note, as of Wednesday five motorcyclists have paid the ultimate price. Bike Week is inherently dangerous by the sheer volume of people that must share the roadways. This danger is compounded by helmetless riders and visitors that are unfamiliar with the area and who recklessly try to navigate foreign roads, creating chaos with wild dashes against traffic in desperate attempts to make turns on streets they accidentally passed. I saw a Jeep in the left hand turn lane at the airport decide he was going to dart into the parking lot of the shopping center to the right of the intersection, cutting across four lanes of traffic with nary a glance, unaware of the big bagger on the far inside lane. Only deft maneuvering by the seasoned rider kept the fatality statistic from growing.
Motorcycle USA started out the week at The Shores as the guests of Pirelli. The R&D department of the Italian manufacturers of premium rubber has been busy creating the Night Dragon, a performance tire aimed at giving the cruiser segment more grip and a higher level of confidence on the occasions when we do get to lean it over and do our best Ben Spies impersonation.
To test the merits of the new Night Dragon, Pirelli slapped its latest creation on a variety of Harley-Davidsons, from the behemoth Ultra Classic to the svelte Sportster for a road trip to the Kennedy Space Center. What better way to start the week than with our first ride? The only bad part was that there is a dearth of twisty roads in the region to aggressively put the rubber side down on. When we did chance upon a roundabout at the convergence of two highways, a rogue band of motojournalists attacked the turn with the zeal of a squadron of Japanese Zeros, eager to get the big bikes leaned over to see what the tires could really do. Our desire to test the Night Dragons was appeased by an afternoon storm. Those Pirelli guys are good. They expounded on the tire’s ability to provide grip on wet surfaces, then dialed in a quick afternoon downpour to prove their point. Keep an eye out for the full report and review coming soon.
While approaching the 140,000 acre wildlife refuge that the Space Center resides on, a sense of being watched filled the group. A quick glance at the canals running parallel to the road into the base confirmed our suspicions as gators bathed in the shallow warm depths of the nature preserve. This was definitely not the place to plant it in the ditch without becoming bait.
What better way to draw a crowd for your benefit than kicking it off with a bikini contest? The Biker Fusion party at the Dog House brought ‘em in, boozed ‘em up, and raised some serious dough for the Soldiers’ Angels.
We survived the excursion after a gracious tour of the Space Center which included a head-rattling shuttle launch simulation, then made our way back to the beach just in time for our first night of festivities on Daytona’s famed Main Street.
Thanks to our friend Ken Conte, we had an invite to the hottest scene on the strip that night, the Biker Fusion party at the Dog House Bar & Grill. It was elbow to elbow in the open air arena as we arrived just in time for the start of the bikini contest. A bevy of Southern belles from as far away as North Carolina and Atlanta worked the crowd into a giving mood, as the event was a benefit for Soldiers’ Angels, a program aimed at giving our brave men and women that serve our country faithfully a little respite and support. Strutting to the sounds of Motley Crue’s ‘Looks that Kill’ and Van Halen’s ‘Hot for Teacher,’ it was a savvy maneuver to pack the house. Chopper Inc.’s Billy Lane and the popular Paul Cox hosted the fundraiser, encouraging the entourage to dig deep into their pockets to support the cause.
As the money raised reached $8,000, the duo worked the crowd to contribute what they could to reach their goal of $10K. Sucker Punch Sallys stepped up with a $500 donation. The owner of the Dog House matched them with a $500 donation of his own, followed by Bruce Rossmeyer’s announcement that he would match any funds raised amongst the raucous crowd. As a pitcher began to be stuffed with bills by the crowd, Rossmeyer said that he would contribute the balance to reach their $10,000 goal. A giant check was made out to Soldiers’ Angels in that amount as the biggest group of custom builders I’ve seen on one stage took the spotlight to celebrate the moment. This was followed by an auction and poster signing which raised even more revenue and made for an overall successful event.
We caught up with Paul Cox after he got off stage and asked him how the Custom Bike Association (CBA) was coming along. He admitted that it is still in the developmental stage, but it’s gathering steam. Creating a homologous association in a group that has long been defined by independent thinking is no easy task, but interest is growing. As more builders become aware of what the CBA has to offer, we’re confident more people will come on board. Keep up the good work Paul.
As we navigated the throngs crowding Main Street, sounds on the street from the band at the Boot Hill Saloon drew us in. We entered the dimly lit interior, crushing peanut shells beneath our feet as the boom from the band’s amps vibrated through my chest. Faded business cards and rustic pictures painted a menagerie of Bike Weeks of yore on the walls of the venerable venue. The rails and bar top were carved and scratched with the initials and names of visitors past and present, indelibly pressed and preserved with a lacquer-type finish in a makeshift biker’s sign in book. The female lead of the band Crush belted out hot licks inside, while another band played bluesy southern rock on the outdoor stage. The smell of BBQ ribs and pulled pork permeated the entire venue, giving me a good case of the munchies even though I had already eaten. It was an environment where long hair and leather were the norm, and doo rags and denim were in abundance. It is an environment which strangely makes me feel at ease.
When you’re a famous custom builder who happened to be a former model, you can’t help but be a chick magnet. Such is the life of Russell Mitchell.
We followed that up the next day with a trip to the Ocean Center for the famous Harley-Davidson Ride-In Show. White blimps emblazoned with the Bar & Shield flew high overhead, a virtual X marks the spot that was visible from blocks away. Palm trees swayed in H.O.G. paradise as a gentle breeze off the Atlantic stirred the red, white and blue stripes of the American flag at the entrance to the affair.
A steady stream of The Motor Company’s fans streamed by a collection of some of the most creatively customized Harleys around. Though the quantity of bikes entered into the contest wasn’t what I’d anticipated, the quality of the craftsmanship more than made up for any shortcomings. It was a little surprising though, seeing as how Harley-Davidsons outnumber any other manufacturers on the strip. What I’ve deduced though is that most owners don’t want to give up their bike for a chance to ride, even for a day. This didn’t stop crowds from forming around Willie G. and Bill Davidson as they mingled with H-D admirers and owners, stopping every few feet to shake hands and to pose for pictures.
I caught up with MCUSA’s resident dirt devil, JC Hilderbrand yesterday. He was still on the mend from a brutal GNCC race the day before. He said that it was one of the most demanding races he’s ever run, between the unforgiving palmetto roots and humidity that bears down on you with an invisible weight. He said the Yamaha he was on was rippin’ and a little time in the hot tub and a good night’s sleep was just the salve he needed before hitting it up again today. Look for JC to dish the scoop on his exploits in an upcoming article.
We’re still only at the halfway mark, so tune in for more as MotorcycleUSA bravely brings you the best Daytona has to offer. AMA roadracing action kicks off today, and word is we might get to take in some flat track racing tonight. We’re also headed down to the Rat’s Hole to visit Ted Smith in anticipation of the 36th Annual World Famous Custom Show.
So much to do, so little time, but we will continue our vigilant pursuit to keep you abreast of the spectacle that is Bike Week.
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