After having Billy file reports from Sturgis last summer, we've now sent him down to Daytona to sample motorcycling's kick-off event of the season. He'll be prowling Daytona from Main Street to the Speedway and providing daily reports in an effort to bring you the Bike Week experience without leaving your home.
Daytona Day 1
Legions of bikers descend on Daytona every year for Bike Week and the main drag can get mighty congested with the rumbling sound of idled hogs.
It's been five years since I've been to Bike Week, so for my first day here, I took a lap around town to get re-acclimated to the scene. The first big difference I noticed is that there is no longer much free parking. It used to be that if you were willing to hoof it a few blocks you could park for free. Well, between no-parking zones, resident-only zones and every other scrap of clear land fenced-off and getting charged $5 per bike, there is truly no such thing as a free ride.
My first stop was the belly of the beast: Main Street. If you're not interested in drinking and gawking at outrageous bikes and babes (or dudes, if you swing that way), then Main Street is definitely not worth the traffic. There are some back ways around town, but if you're five years out of practice, they take a little while to come back. If you're following along on a map, the spot to be is the intersection of Main and A1A, and all the way down Main to the drawbridge. The trick is to arrive there by not taking either of those streets. Trick number 2 is to then avoid paying for parking.
On a bike you can either do this by parking right on Main (good luck finding a spot) or finding a place to jam your bike into that will not get you towed or tipped over. I found just such a spot a half mile away on Seabreeze. It was only a 2-hour spot, but how long did I really want to gawk for, right? I guess just long enough to shoot you folks some pix, then off for the rest of Daytona.
The Intracoastal Waterway is something you'll become intimately acquainted with should you ever come to Daytona. It separates the barrier island from the mainland, and picking the right bridge to cross is critical in times of traffic.
Just over the Intracoastal Waterway, on the mainland is Beach Street. Here, between Main and International Speedway Blvd., there used to be a booming vendor area to rival Main. But no longer. I wouldn't call it dead, but that's the first word to come to mind. In the face of $5 parking despite the less-than-booming scene, I moved on.
He's something like 100 years old, has a bad liver and a skeletal structure which holds itself together out of sheer will, but you just know that Evel could still kick some ass if he felt like it.
Out to US-1, then north brought me to what I'll call Temporary Biker Bar Row. Broken Spoke, and all the rest out here in the swamp for your entertainment and alcohol needs. As out here in the swamp, parking is even easier to control (and get $5 for), I decided to spend an afternoon here later in the week, so as not to rack up $200 in parking fees before the week is out.
To be honest, I didn't even know about Temporary Biker Bar Row before leaving, my real target was Destination Daytona. At the junction of US-1 and I-95, it's a massive edifice to all things H-D. Not only is there a magnificently huge dealership, there is also hotels, condos, restaurants, and more. Best of all, free parking. During Bike Week, however, the free parking lot fills, and it's $5 to pay the neighboring business to park in their lot. You have to get out on the freeway to see just how huge the full parking lot was. I would have snapped a shot, but the freeway is not the best place for photography. Again, I'll have to oblige some other day.
I'm sure these fine upstanding gentlemen just asked this attractive woman to show them her eyes. This is a biker rally after all.
My last stop, before a dash back to the secret Daytona pad that I'm crashing at, was a run past the speedway. This time I was armed with a pass and parking would be free. But I arrived long after the Sunday CCS program had completed. Talking to Factory Yamaha Rider Eric Bostrom (blatant name dropping) at dinner, he said he couldn't believe how fast they wrapped things up today after struggling to finish up the program on Friday and Saturday before having to turn on the lights.
For those of you who are into insider road racing stuff (in case you're still with me after all this biker stuff), Eric said his R1's setup was coming along slowly. He dropped a second this weekend but is still trying to get on the pace for next weekend's race. See, Daytona reports aren't all fluff...
Daytona Day 2 - Happiness in Nowheresville
The scene here on US-1 near Miller's is typical Bike Week - bikes of all size, shape, and function gathered to see and be seen.
After scoping out my spots for the week yesterday, I was prepared to seize the day and hit one of them today. However, all that got tossed in the bin when I spent the morning and into the afternoon trying to find a wireless connection to upload yesterday's update. It was only at my second wireless hot spot that I realized I had the connection settings wrong on my computer, and had wasted an extra hour. So instead of all day, I had a couple of hours before a dinner engagement/press conference at five.
So rather than retread old territory and go to Main Street (which is right near where I was going for dinner), I instead hit a couple of old spots I knew to be prime rally photo hunting grounds. To keep it in hunter's lingo, they had been hunted out. While still good for getting shots of folks strolling around doing the bike rally thing, there were far fewer industry giants than there were in previous years.
The first place I hit was Miller's, which is out on US-1, just south of town. There had been a huge "industry" presence here in the past with bike shows, live bands, and some well-known builders. Now it was mostly what insiders (like a former editor of mine) liken to "trinkets and trash." If you're into going shopping, it's all good; if you're looking for more than a couple really cool custom bikes, perhaps not.
The bikes at Daytona arrive in all different sizes, shapes, and in this case condition. The sign reads: "1930 H-D, with title $6300. Needs Tires."
That said, I got some pretty good people photos (if I do say so myself), including some of the ever-present bikini bike wash. In fact there were four of them in the vicinity of Miller's. In case you're wondering, the whole name of the business that is the center of this activity is Millers Custom Parts, aka Miller's Harley, as it used to be called, but as you can imagine H-D doesn't let that sort of thing fly for too long.
My next stop was Beach Street. While it was looking pretty dead when I went by yesterday, that was really only by comparison to back at the turn of the century when I last came here regularly. Today it had a decent amount of bikes and people to gawk at. In fact, it was kinda cool, before I could seriously spend a day or two on Beach Street, while now about an hour is about all it takes to check it all out. Ford, Victory, Simms, KuryAkyn, Young's Choppers, and Daytona Harley-Davidson are still here, so there's some marquee stuff. But overall it's about a third of what it was.
One nice thing about both of today's destinations: plenty of free parking.
Sportbikes are making up a larger part of the motorcycle contingent in Daytona.
To finish off my day, H-D had a presentation to announce their racing program for '06. To be brief: The flat track team has gone from one man, Rich King, to two, now with Kenny Coolbeth. NHRA Pro Stock is soldiering on as before, with a two-rider team.
A few quick notes:
I included some night shots from Main Street in this update as I already had too many photos for yesterday's daytime Main Street festivities.
There are so many more sportbikes than I've ever seen at Daytona. and there were a lot before.
There's also way more women riding their own bikes, which is a known industry trend. However, now they're more diverse, instead of riding just Sportsters and metric cruisers, they can be seen on big-inch cruisers and sportbikes more and more.
Daytona Day 3 - Once I was lost, but now I'm found. Or, how much can I pack into one update?
Voodoo choppers had no shrunken heads or chicken sacrifices anywhere near their booth. Although the sacrificial virgins were on full display.
So today, I decide to hit the track for the first time. Due to Daytona's draconian credentialing procedures, I didn't get a press pass. Luckily my friend Hank knows this guy who has a friend, grease a few palms, and now I'm a VIP infield pass holder. Not quite the all-access pass that would be ideal, but bums like me take whatever charity we can get.
So arriving at the West side of the speedway, I noticed that many of the horde of vendors I was missing other places has apparently set up shop right here at the speedway right next to the big boys and their demo fleets.
Speaking of which, kudos to Big Bear Choppers who were the only smaller builder to offer demo rides. Considering how many micromakers get by on looks alone, it's bold statement to say, "Here, go ride one." By comparison, there were a ton of other small makes on display on this end of the Speedway outskirts, some with some beautiful machines, but none you could ride.
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 these machines have hand shifters.
After checking out all the eye candy outside of the speedway, I stepped across the portal to the altar of speed. Inside, it was the last of day of vintage racing. AHRMA rules the speedway every bike week on Monday and Tuesday. Today I caught the 350GP, 250GP, and Class C hand- and foot-shift classes. There's something special about watching a flathead Indian circulating on the high banks, it's almost surreal.
Next up was a quick shot up I-95 to Destination Daytona. With slightly slimmer crowds today, I was able to slip right onto a good spot and walk right in. Even more than the Speedway, here was the scene I know and love. The Hard Rock bikes were here, more cool customs than you could point a camera at, a bar every 50 feet (not that anyone was operating machinery of any sort), the Easyriders bike show, the H-D Traveling Museum. oh yea, and the world's largest Harley shop.
Capturing the true magnitude of Destination Daytona was hard to do even with wide angle lenses, so I took a few shots to attempt it. This is the inside of the H-D Dealer.
The thing about Double D (as I've been calling it, since Destination Daytona is too many syllables) is that it's not just a Harley shop, it's also currently a condo development and a mall, with more stuff coming including a hotel, gas station, J&P Cycles aftermarket shop and all sorts of other craziness. From what I hear it was all a reaction to the City of Daytona Beach getting more and more demanding and confrontational with the various vendors, or, in particular, the owner of Daytona Harley-Davidson. So he took his pile of cookies up to Ormond Beach (one town to the north).
Okay, if you thought that was quite enough, I got one more treat for ya. After a killer dinner at the tastefully named Billy's Taproom, I stopped by the infamous Hess station (next to the speedway) that is the epicenter of the Daytona custom sportbike universe. It was dead, but the inhabitants assured me that if I came back on Friday, I wouldn't be disappointed. But even dead there was some fine equipment there, including, what I'm assured is one of the only GSXR-RR homologation models from the late '80s equipped with some pretty cool carbon brakes. Enjoy.
Daytona Day 4 - Life in Harleyville
Today was my day to get down to business. To let you a little into my world, my bread and butter is finding the coolest bikes and shooting them for magazines. All this event coverage stuff is fun, but it only covers the costs. The best place to score feature bikes is bike shows.
The Harley Expo inside the Ocean Center.
Today, I woke up early and got over to the Harley-Davidson Ride-In show, one of the older shows that usually brings out the best unknown builders. Unknown is best, because - other than the copycats - you tend to get to see more original designs.
The Ride-In show tends toward bikes that are more bolt-on oriented, at least in the stock classes. Actually there's good reason for that. Harley tends to reward builders with high marks for using a good number of Genuine H-D parts. Got an aftermarket engine? Good luck winning this show. However, since it's known as one of the "easier" shows, it also brings out a number of first-time builders, some of whom totally kick ass.
The Ride-In show is situated at the Ocean Center, which is on A1A, about a block north of Main. Also at the Ocean Center (on the inside) is the Harley Exposition. You should have seen (which in this context means: I should have shot a photo of) the hordes of HOG members who were waiting in line on Tuesday for their exclusive preview of the expo.
The Expo itself is like the super-sized version of your typical company's Semi truck display. All of the current H-D models, and just about every accessory and piece of gear is on display, along with the only place to buy the official H-D-licensed shirts of the rally.
After the expo and bike show, walked over to Main Street again to check out the one vendor area I missed at the west end. Some of the bigger builders set up in a lot down by the Waterway, and no rally is complete without checking out the latest and greatest from builders like Exile, Indian Larry Legacy, and Choppers Inc.
Those sportbike aficionados who are waiting with baited breath (what the hell does that mean?!) for more extreme machines like yesterday's Hess station trip will have to wait for Friday. Starting on Friday, I'll be practically living at the Speedway, so I have to get all of this biker stuff taken care of now. To make it up to you the accompanying photos feature a bumper crop of Beer Booth Bunnies, and Biker Babes.
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