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Biketoberfest 2008 - Day 1 Report

Friday, October 17, 2008

 

Though Biketoberfest is only about one fourth as large as Daytona s spring Bike Week you can t tell by the crowd on Main Street.
Though Biketoberfest is only about one fourth as large as Daytona's spring Bike Week you can't tell by the crowd on Main Street.

I have to admit, I've never had much interest in Daytona's fall Biketoberfest rally. For the past seven years in a row, I've attended Daytona Bike Week, the October rally's big brother. The spring Daytona event has all the things that I'm interested in; new models and the chance to ride them, industry insiders, custom builders, factory reps, and most importantly, the big names and teams from all forms of two-wheeled racing; road, flat track and motocross.

My impression of Biketoberfest was that it lacked all of the things that drew me back to Bike Week year after year. All that was left, I assumed, was sardine-can parking on Main Street, "been there, done that" t-shirt vendors and overpriced food and hotels. Then came the e-mail from Motorcycle-USA. Would I be interested in covering Biketoberfest for the website? I quickly responded with a "yes."

I accepted the assignment for two reasons. First, as a freelancer in a tough economy, I don't have the luxury of turning down work. But second and most importantly, MCUSA's e-mail gave me an excuse to give Biketoberfest a fair shake and apply a "don't knock it until you try it" attitude to the event.

A custom chopper turns down Main Street to enter the parade of bikes that draw spectators from across the globe to Biketoberfest.
A custom chopper turns down Main Street to enter the parade of bikes that draw spectators from across the globe to Biketoberfest.

I did my research leading up to the rally, trying to find the angles and the stories to bring to Motorcycle-USA readers. First, a little background. This year's Biketoberfest will be the 16th annual. The first fall rally in Daytona Beach was held in 1992. Originally called the "Daytona Fall Tour" the idea was cooked up by members of the local chamber of commerce as a way to infuse some last minute cash into the local economy in the waning weeks of the summer season. The first year drew a crowd of nearly 5,000 bikers, mostly local. Over the years, through word of mouth and clever marketing (the name "Biketoberfest," drawing on associations with the German beer festival, was added in 1993) the event has grown from one day to four and become one of the top ten motorcycle rallies in the U.S., bringing in motorcycle fans from around the world.

So I packed my saddlebags and headed south, determined to discover the ends and outs of the motorcycling event that I prematurely crossed off my list. After one day on the ground, here are my first impressions of Biketoberfest.

Four Reasons to Attend Daytona Biketoberfest

2008 Biketoberfest Day 1 and the fun is already out of control - or at least above 0.08.

2008 Biketoberfest Day 1 and the fun is already out of control - or at least above 0.08.

4. Crowds - Maybe you go to rallies for the camaraderie of being packed shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other bikers. Or maybe the prospect of having your thighs barbequed from the heat coming off your air cooled engine as you wait for the light to change for the third time doesn't appeal to you. For those who lean towards the latter, Biketoberfest may be your best bet. In the past few years, the event has drawn between 125,000 to 175,000 attendees. Certainly not a casual crowd at your local biker hang-out, but a huge difference compared to the half-a-million bikers that will descend on the beach town during the spring Bike Week. The difference is subtle at popular spots, but lines, from the gas stations to the demo ride sign-ups are noticeably shorter, traffic a little less hectic and crowds slightly less claustrophobic.

3. New Models and Demos - As Biketoberfest grows, so does OEM interest in representing themselves there. While the factory presence isn't felt as strongly as it is during Bike Week, the big guns are here, with Kickstand City, the vendor area around Daytona International Speedway, well populated.

Biketoberfest’s October dates coincide with the release of many manufacturer’s new models. For attendees it’s the first chance to throw a leg over new bikes  like these ’09 Star VMAXs.
Biketoberfest’s October dates coincide with the release of many manufacturer’s new models. For attendees it’s the first chance to throw a leg over new bikes, like these ’09 Star VMAXs.

One way that Biketoberfest has an advantage over Bike Week is the fact that it occurs in the fall. If you keep up with your favorite bike mags you'll know that fall is the time when manufacturers release their new models. Biketoberfest presents some of the first opportunities to see them and in some instances, take them for a test ride. From Harley's Tri-Glide to Buell's new 1125CR cafe racer Biketoberfest gives an early chance to throw a leg over next year's models. That new and improved V-Max that you just read about on MotorcycleUSA.com, how about being the first one in your neighborhood to ride one? Tired of being teased by photos of BMW's new mid-weight F800GS, go to Biketoberfest to get an onboard impression.

2. Racing - Yes, there is racing at Biketoberfest and it's some of the best you'll see all season. While dirt-oriented riders have nothing to watch, road race fans will be more than satisfied. Motorcycle road racing in Daytona in October pre-dates Biketoberfest. During the event, Daytona International Speedway plays home to two major events. The first is the Championship Cup Series (CCS) season finale Race of Champions. This year's CCS races will mark their 25th at Daytona.

Though the AMA is absent there is road racing at Biketoberfest. These CCS racers  pictured at the series opener during Bike Week  return for their season closing Race of Champions.
Though the AMA is absent there is road racing at Biketoberfest. These CCS racers (pictured at the series opener during Bike Week) return for their season closing Race of Champions.

The second is the season finale of the Moto-ST season in the form of the 8 Hours of Daytona endurance race. Moto-ST throws a competitive event that is unlike anything you see anywhere else in the US. Where else will you find twin-cylinder machines, from Aprilias to Kawasakis, spending eight hours on the banks (the race concludes under the lights). The eclectic mix of machines is matched only by their pilots. The names on this year's 8 Hours of Daytona pre-entry list include former World Superbike champion Doug Polen, dirt track legend Jay Springsteen and Melissa Paris, wife of AMA pro Josh Hayes.

1. Weather - The average October temperature in Daytona Beach is nearly 10 degrees warmer than the March temperature you'll encounter during the spring Bike Week. For those who come to the ocean to do more than stare, the water temperatures are 15 degrees higher than the spring. Short of a late season hurricane, you'll experience better weather at Biketoberfest.

But the weather in Daytona isn't the whole story. Average October temperatures in my home base in the mid-Atlantic run 15 degrees warmer than March. As I rode down to this fall's Biketoberfest I noticed something different than my March ride. I wasn't cold. March in the northeastern US seems to always present the last dying gasp of winter. In the last seven Bike Weeks I have left for Florida either in the midst of inclement weather or under the threat of it. Some years the ride can be right down miserable. Once I spent the first two hours riding in freezing rain that solidified on my Ducati as well as my body. Another time I waited on the North and South Carolina border for the sun to get high enough in the sky to melt the black ice off the road.

If there s anywhere that Biketoberfest lives up to its family friendly reputation  it s on the beach.
Wish this was the weather outside your front door? It would be if you were at Biketoberfest.

October, by contrast, gives the last glimpse of summer throughout the eastern US. In my fall ride to Florida I encountered warm Indian summer days and temperatures that allowed for riding long into the night. Put simply, for those who value the journey rather than the destination, Biketoberfest offers a nicer ride.

So there it is. You don't have to work hard to find plenty of reasons to head to Daytona's Biketoberfest. Give it a chance and you might just discover what you've been missing.

This article is the first in a series of four reports I'll make from this year's Biketoberfest. Stay tuned to Motorcycle-USA.com for the daily updates.

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