Daytona is the center of the motorcycle world during Bike Week. Even though the event has evolved through the years, two-wheeled enthusiasts continue to flock to the Florida town to bask in the sun.
I almost can't believe that it's actually the 65th Bike Week already. The event is old enough to collect Social Security. What started as a beach race in the '30s, moved to the banked speedway in the middle of last century, and now, the racing, for most participants, is an afterthought. Even entering its convalescence, the event is undergoing new changes. With the addition of Destination Daytona north of town in Ormond Beach, the event is more spread out than ever, becoming way more of a Central Florida event than one strictly tied to Daytona.
Funny enough, local leaders are wholeheartedly endorsing the move north, as unlike events springing up in Orlando, at least Ormond Beach is in the same county, keeping the revenues flowing into the local coffers.
The point of this incredibly boring civic lesson is that, by most accounts, attendance at Bike Week is down. To which I say, good. The infrastructure can't really handle the morass anyhow, at least without allowing California-style lane-splitting. And having everything spread out makes it even more obvious. Maybe, just maybe, the hotels on A1-A will bring their prices back down to something like reality. They're obviously already feeing the sting, with vacancy signs lit up all week. With Main Street becoming just "a" destination, not "the" destination, there's no need to gouge.
Early estimates for attendance were between 350,000 and 500,000, which if you split the difference is somewhere significantly south of last year's 500k, and well down from the 2000-ish peak of 600k. Despite the drop-off and spread-out, there were less places to park than ever before. I understand local residents wanting to protect their parking spots to some extent, but it seems the resident permit areas were less to protect the empty streets and more to fill the local government's pay parking lots. Despite signs up all over stating "You're back, we're glad!" the locals are clearly only glad because of the money you generate for them.
Attendance numbers have been dropping in recent years, but there were still an estimated 350,000 - 500,000 participants in this year's Bike Week. The lowered attendance numbers, however, did not lower traffic incidents and this year's Bike Week carries the unfortunate distinction of being the deadliest ever with at least 18 deaths attributed to the event.
Despite relatively-low attendance figures, this was the deadliest Bike Week ever, with State Police giving figures between 18 and 21 dead over the 10 days of the event, the most since 2000. Guesses from local authorities are centered on the fact that, with a more spread out event, there was more riding on the highways. This ignores the fact that most of the fatal accidents happened on surface streets, and mostly from left-turning drivers. Perhaps the less-ubiquitous presence of bikes made them less obvious to car drivers. Ironically, it wasn't some kind of out-of-state tourist syndrome, most of the slain were Floridians, possibly paying less attention, because they were "home."
After all this gloomy news, you might be thinking, "Why would I ever want to do that to myself?" Actually, despite what might be bad for certain central Floridian municipalities, the situation will probably be good for the fan, at least for the next few years. Much like the motorcycle industry itself, this rally is getting more and more specialized. Which, in turn, is allowing for less-than-capacity crowds at many places. And what's funny, even though the crowds are more spread out and everyone seems to have their tribal gathering spots, it seems like there is more variety in bikes than I've ever seen before. More like a cross-section of what America rides than a bunch of Hogs with some other brands on the side.
Custom bike guys have Destination Daytona and a myriad of campgrounds and vendor areas. The Metric Custom crowd is getting more settled in at the vendor areas at the speedway, which is complete with demo rides from all of your favorite makers. And race fans have the speedway itself.
Actually, for race fans it's never been better. Besides a week's worth of events - kicking off with CCS races the first weekend, followed by AHRMA vintage racing, and Road racing and Supercross finishing off the week at the speedway - it seems like there are a slew of racing events in the surrounding counties as well. There's the AHDRA Harley drags and AMA Prostar drags on the first weekend, followed by a GNCC cross-country race out near DeLand. On the second weekend there's ATV MX in Gainesville. In the middle of the week, there's the famed Alligator Enduro and several nights of short-track racing at Municipal Stadium. Any one of these events is likely to feature some national-level talent, and the Bike Week crowd makes for a good time. And truly, no matter what kind of racing you're into, you're likely to find it on a semi-daily basis during Bike Week.
No matter what your racing preference, with Supercross, AMA Superbike, and GNCC races headlining a packed program schedule, chances are you can find it at Daytona.
Another good thing that I like about Daytona is that you don't really need a helmet lock. Since there's not much of a helmet law, most of the middle-aged rebels decide not to wear them, and, naturally, look at you funny when you do. So for an entire week I left my Scorpion EXO700 and a pair of Dainese gloves dangling from my right footpeg whenever I left my bike and not once had it even been touched. I noticed lots of other unsecured helmets perched on mirrors and sissy bars all week, so apparently it wasn't just me getting lucky.
Daytona is definitely about going for the spectacle. If you're going for the riding, well, it's a tad lame. Some say the "Loop" is one of the nicest rides around, but people who think that must have trouble cornering. There are wide, sweeping turns (to go with a 55-mph speed limit), but no elevation changes and only marginal scenery with palm trees and the Intracoastal Waterway to look at. That said, if you're into long, flat stretches of foliage, it's not too hard to get out of town, as long as you dodge the major routes. Even then, I-95 was rarely backed up like I've seen in years past.
One more thing: I'm not sure if some new decency law was passed, but there was a distinct lack of thong-clad backsides this year. Maybe it was the slightly cool weather, but while hot pants and cheek-exposing shorts were all the rage, not many females took it all the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just miss it.
You go to Daytona for the spectacle, not for the riding, and you never quite know what you'll see.
As I promised in my Day 7 update, some facts, figures, reprinted press releases, and other minutia to follow up my original from-the-cuff reports:
The AHDRA reported its highest-entered race ever, with 370 entries, including (according to Harley) about 10% of the V-Rod Destroyers produced thus far (over 30). Is the tail wagging the dog? With both a spec class and a number of other classes available for the turn-key racebike to compete in, maybe the Destroyer is just what the drag racing industry needed to kick it in the butt. The Gainesville race continues to gain in popularity compared to the poorly situated Orlando track that used to host the Bike Week event.
I mentioned on day one of my personal Bike Week experience that I'd avoided paying for parking that day to avoid racking up a couple hundred in parking fees by the end of the week. Well, between a little walking, creative parking jobs and lots of driving around Daytona's back streets, I avoided paying for parking all week long. My realistic estimate of the potential parking tab, had I just taken the easy way out every time, is in the neighborhood of $120.
I'm sure these fine upstanding gentlemen just asked this attractive woman to show them her eyes. This is a biker rally after all. The exhibitionist factor at Daytona was a little muted this year.
I had a caption on the first day's photo gallery about the hordes of dudes yelling at gals to "show your t!#$!" Well, I only saw one exposed breast the entire week, and I didn't even have to ask. Maybe it was the $4000 camera pointed at her that did it?
Day 2 (Monday):
I commented on the number of sportbikes I had noticed through the first two days. This trend only continued as the week wore on. In fact all sorts of motorcycle industry aberrations reared their heads at Daytona: more metric cruisers than I thought existed, more V-Rods than I had ever seen in one place, and a crapload of very customized Sportbikes. Is it any wonder that magazines like Two Wheel Tuner and Super Streetbike are so quickly and overwhelmingly successful? These guys were starving, and now it's feeding on itself and getting bigger. Trust me, when choppers go back to the back alley, these will be the custom bikes everyone talks about.
On the subject of custom sportbikes, I have a custom project sitting in my garage. Back when it was conceived (around 2000) I thought neon might be a nice, somewhat original addition. well it's not so original any longer. It seems like every pseudo drag racer sportbike (and quite a few choppers) is sporting colored lighting of some sort. It's almost like they'd need it to "pass tech."
Day 3 (Tuesday):
Nowadays if you want to park your ride at a rally you have exercise patience and creative parking skills, or just shell out the dough.
I also spent some time out at the Speedway checking out the AHRMA Vintage road racers. There are far too many classes to list, but some notable things stuck out. Jay Springsteen wins on the high banks (in Formula 750 and Formula Vintage) on a '72 Harley - pretty much what might have happened in the '70s the first time around if Kenny Roberts was sick or something. (Just kidding, Jay!)
The Class C Hand Shift class I was raving about riding sickeningly fast for being such antiquated machinery was won on both days of racing by Art Farley on a '39 WLDR Harley Flathead, and included several 1930s Indians. The Foot Shift C class that ran concurrently had a pair of '30s Nortons. I have a standing offer to a friend that, should he ever get his '72 H-D Sprint 350 vintage racer together, I'll happily race it for him. It's still on his coffee table, half assembled.
Complete AHRMA Daytona results at: www.ahrma.org
Rigid frames, springer front ends, 1930s technology, cranking through the International Horseshoe perilously close to the edge of a really hard compound tire. Some of the vintage racing machines have hand shifters.
The really cool custom bikes that were on tilted stands on Day 3 at Destination Daytona were actually the bikes of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino Roadhouse Tour. For a better look at any of them, check out the site: www.hrroadhouse.com
. You can check these machines out in person at the Republic of Texas Rally or Laconia Bike Week in June, Biketoberfest in October (right back here in Daytona), or at their final stop in December at the Ft. Lauderdale Bike Rally.
Speaking of Double D, I got some specs on the most massive monument to Harley-Davidson outside of Milwaukee: (from a press release)
"Upon its completion, Destination Daytona will encompass over 150 acres, stretch over 3/4 of a mile along I-95, and include in addition to the existing 109k foot Harley Dealer: over 30,000 sq. ft. of retail space (strip mall style), 10 acres of parking facilities with shuttle services; a "Love's Travel Stop" (expected to be the largest Love's Travel Stop in the country); a 35,000 sq.-ft. Coca-Cola Pavilion; an RV dealer (specializing in toy haulers); a J&P Cycles aftermarket parts and accessories store; 60,000 additional sq. ft. for motorcycle-related businesses; a 7,000 sq.-ft. Arlen Ness Motorcycles store; and 15 acres dedicated to the American Motorcycle Institute, as well as a future site for a high-rise hotel."
The Hess Station was the place for some interesting motorcycle displays, including this enterprising young man who strapped a dyno wheel to a trailer and did wheelie stunts without ever touching the ground.
One more item from Day 3, the Hess Station. Sorry that I never got back there...
The H-D Ride-In Show was my sole destination on this day, and here are the results. There are a slew of different categories (and no Best in Show), but probably the most prominent are Pro Big Twin and Pro Sportster, won by Zeel Design and Justin Collins, respectively. Contrary to my pick for top V-Rod (see the photo galleries), Keith Young inexplicably won with his mostly stock-looking mount. All the winners can be found at: www.harley-davidson.com
Results for the AMI Brute Horsepower Shootout can be found on AMI's website: www.amiwrench.com
The Harley-Davidson Ride-In Show was on our correspondent's itinerary for Day 4. He was able to scope out some fine specimens in the classics class, which featured an interesting mix of custom, un-restored and restored old machines, like this old Shovelhead Dresser.
What I should have been doing rather than watching motorcycles spin a hamster wheel is watching the racing at the Speedway, like the Supersport and Superstock classes. As good as the battle was at the front (by all reports), the Supersport class is far less deep than it was a few years ago. Does anyone else remember when "name" riders could conceivably be back in 12th? Does it still sound like a good idea to have the current class structure? However, I think it's pretty cool that back in 12th is a guy I used to pit next to at Willow Springs (and get my butt kicked by in Middleweight Twins), Jeff Tigert.
The depth formerly found in Supersport seems to have found its way to the more even playing field of Superstock, with national-caliber teams fielding riders that end up duking it out for. seventh. And other name riders like past Superstock winner Chris Ulrich finishing 14th. If only I had gone inside the stadium.
The AMI Brute Horsepower Shootout pits rider's bikes against one another on the dyno where they squeeze the most ponies possible out of the machines.
I'll admit a bit of an error in my reporting for Day 6. Black Bike Week (BBW) is actually known as the other Myrtle Beach rally, where it is, in fact, still segregated. That BBW takes place the week after the Myrtle Beach Bike Week.
The Road Bike-sponsored metric show I attended was won by Will Robertson of Mad Metrics in St Petersburg, FL. His drag-bike styled Road Star (complete with wheelie bar) was the star by far.
In Supercross, I didn't not stick around long enough to see Travis Pastrana bust a backflip over the finish-line jump. But one of the last things I did see before I left was Travis wiping out in spectacular fashion in the whoop section.
Who knows what you'll find at a rally these days. This creation looks like something George Jetson would ride around on the weekend.
Rat's Hole results?
Well, nothing yet, but the three bikes on the stage that I called past winners were actually contestants in the International Biker Build-Off.
Out at the track, I mentioned that the scene at the west end of the speedway was fun. It would have been even more fun with a pit bike. There were all sorts of people running around on the little things. And while the cops chased a few of them down for riding dangerously, they didn't seem to mind the impromptu grass track races that started up in one of the empty fields.
What happened to the big, bad Buells that Honda was so steamed about? Well, the last one to fall was also the fastest. Ex-GP star Jeremy McWilliams managed to wrangle the big hunk of American love around the track at an average lap time of 1:49; race-winner (and Honda rider) Jake Zemke's average time was 1:45. McWilliams best time 1:43 was faster than Zemke's average, but Zemke's best was more than 1.5 second quicker. None of this really matters, though, as the Buell lasted only 37 of the 68 laps. McWilliams did have the machine circulating in the top 10 early on.
To sum up:
The Daytona Speedway and the Daytona 200 are still a major part of Bike Week.
Despite the hassles and price-gouging locals, I'd do it again in a minute. If you're into racing and custom bikes, there just isn't a better place to go. There are at least 2-3 races and custom shows every day of the event, in a slew of different flavors for every type of biker. Same goes for people who just like to party (and be surrounded by bikes), it is literally nonstop, and a zillion different types of establishments up and down the east coast.
And it's that diversity which is perhaps the biggest strength of the event. I'm into a lot of different stuff (as you might be able to tell), and there were things to do every day, and I never needed to do the same thing twice. That is what (for me) makes Bike Week the epic journey that it is.