What would've been a rare sight a decade ago, today Harley riders and sportbike pilots can now ride together in harmony at Daytona's Bike Week.
Once again I sit looking out over the Days Inn parking lot. Only now there's just two bikes, a couple of trailers, a few oil puddles and countless strips of rubber painted on the asphalt as reminders of Bike Week 2004.
The sounds of internal combustion are merely a punctuation rather than an incessant flow, and people heading back to their homes are already retelling their best Bike Week stories. Buses full of Spring Breakers begin to stream in to fill the places of the giant transporters that are hauling their loads out of town.
By most accounts Bike Week 2004 was a major success, bringing some glory back to the celebration after last year's event was plagued by rain and 9/11 concerns tainted the 2002 experience. About 500,000 people (nobody really takes a count) took in this year's party, and estimates of the value pumped into the local economy run near $800 million. Something near 50,000 fans went to the Supercross race on Friday night, while attendance at the Superbike race on Saturday was pegged near 70,000. And after 10 motorcyclists dying on Daytona-area roads in 2001 and 2002, just five met their fate this spring.
Among this mass of motorcycle-appreciating humanity, there exists a strange division between riders, with the Harley clan on one end and crotch-rocket sportbikes on the other.
Ironically, Bike Week's history has been written by both groups. Back when racing took place on the sand at Daytona Beach, there were no such thing as sportbikes, dirt bikes and cruisers – just motorcycles, adapted as required for divergent uses. Race fans would cheer on H-D riders on the beach, then ride home or to campsite parties on their own Harleys.
But the motorcycle market has continually fragmented in the following years, growing ever more geared toward niche markets to the point where contemporary Harleys have nothing in common with the racebikes that circulate the high banks of Daytona.
But this hasn't dissuaded Harley riders from continuing their party on the Florida coast. In the recent decades, most of the partygoers who ride machines from The Motor Company don't venture near the speedway, and sportbikes were as welcome on Main Street as doorbell-ringing Jehovah's Witnesses.
"It used to be if you rode a sportbike down Main Street, you'd be booed off Main," said Florida resident Lynne Erickson, a vendor worker at 10 previous Bike Weeks.
"I've heard a couple of riders say they'd push their Harleys a hundred miles before they rode a Honda," piped in Erickson's friend, Jeannine Black.
"It's not just sportbikes," added Erickson, "It's Harleys and all other bikes. Harley is a distinct group of people. It's separate and distinct from anybody else that rides any other bike."
"They're all a bunch of idiots," spat one Harley-riding woman (who declined to be identified) about the sportbike population at Bike Week. "They're out there with their helmets and long Suzuki leathers and they're all stupid."
Overhearing our conversation, a young woman nearby noted that sportbike people shouldn't all be lumped into the same category. That riled up the original interviewee who proceeded to tell the sportbike chick to mind her own business.
"I asked her not to group us all together," Erika Bredeson explained a little later on. "And she just started with me, and I told her this is one unity, one love, you know. You gotta love everybody on two wheels."
Wyatt Crevier shows off a shirt that can be backed up at Daytona Beach, while father and road racing champ Steve Crevier is preparing to regain the Canadian Superbike title he lost to Pascal Picotte last season.
Bredeson, who goes by the stage name "Babe" in her job as a pro tandem rider for the team Evasive Actions stunt team, has seen a gradual shift in the types of riders coming to Bike Week in the five years since she's been attending.
"In the last two to three years, sportbike riders have pretty much doubled if not tripled."
Steve Crevier, the 1998 AMA Supersport champ, has also seen a shift in the makeup of the crowd at Bike Week.
"There used to be so many Harleys," commented the six-time Canadian Superbike champ, in town for the races. "And the good thing that I see is there's a little less Harleys and quite a lot more Japanese sportbike-oriented people. And even the (metric) cruiser market has seemed to expand a lot here. I see the difference and I welcome it. It's a lot more diverse than it was in the past, that's for sure."
Crevier noted that there's a difference in mindset between a sportbike rider and a cruiser rider.
"It's kind of funny because the Harley guys are always going 5 mph slower than the speed limit because they're usually drinking a little – I don't think I can say that – they're usually drinking a little and usually just cruising along and they're not in a hurry to get anywhere.
"And the sportbike guys, they're sportbike guys – they're always in a bit more of a hurry. There's some really great people but then there's some video guys or video idiots – they're just kinda a little too much action in public areas. I'm really happy to see the sportbike guys, but I actually just want to say let's horse around, but can we do it in a closed parking lot somewhere, not in the open streets screaming past the poor Harley cruiser that doesn't really know how to ride a bike in the first place. Ooh, that's bad to say that about yuppie Harley riders, but anyways…"
Babe Bredeson, who works at one of the largest non-Harley motorcycle dealerships in central Florida, agrees with Crevier's concerns about some sportbike riders.
"In my opinion, I think there are a lot of stupid people out there – a lot of stupid sportbike riders, I will say that. They have the biggest concentration of attitude, of ego, things like that. A lot of times a sportbike rider will get up next to a Harley rider and the Harley guy will get a salty face on, and they'll burn him out. And that's why we get the thing about us that all sportbike riders are assholes."
Babe noted that there's less of a difference in the personalities of cruiser riders and sportbike riders than what might be seen on the surface.
"I think the Harley riders ride to ride," said the 25-year-old. "I think they're riding for the whole touch to the wilderness, you know, being out of the cage. I think they have a lot in common (with us). I think a lot of sportbike riders as they get older go to cruisers because they're more laid back but they're still on two wheels."
Although she believes there will always be a divide between the two groups, Babe is convinced this has more to do with the generation each belongs to.
"It's got a lot to do with age. Like I say, there's some of us out here that ride sportbikes that once we get older then we'll probably switch to more of a cruiser style. There's a comfort level, you're still on two wheels, you're still out in the open, but you're not arched over into a race position."
John Warren, a parts and accessories fabricator for custom Harleys, has a similar take on why the two groups don't see eye-to-eye.
"Most of the people on their sportbikes are younger because they're less expensive and they're also bad-ass, quick – like a young kid, quick to react," said the 40-something Missouri resident. "The Harleys cost a lot more money, and more people have a lot more money when they're older. So you've got a generation gap, that if anything is the difference.
"My daughter is 20 years old, and she wants a lime-green crotch rocket. Me, I want a black Harley. Maybe a gray one," he laughed, referring to his transforming hair color as he ages.
Heather "Luna" Delarosa and Erika "Babe" Bredeson, tandem riders for the stunt team Evasive Actions, are together starting Backseat Boycott.com to support their move to the pilot's seats.
"My daughter is 21, and she just wants a sportsbike," concurred Jeannine Black. "The guys with pretty-colored bikes with matching jackets and matching helmets is all she's interested in."
"There's a definite distinction, but they're getting along better," added Erickson. "But I see that it's changing. I see people coming down to ride their sportbikes and people are respectful, getting more tolerant. Bike Week used to be a strictly Harley event, but now it's coming more the true to Bike Week as you would think it should be – every motorcycle in a common cause. People are not giving someone a hard time because he's in his sport jacket with his Kevlar-protected back. It's definitely changing and I think it's a positive thing, but I still think it's a hard-core Harley event."
Babe says she could see herself having a good time on a cruiser in the future. "Absolutely! I feel like when I get older in life that I'll probably end up getting myself a custom chopper – that would be my dream."
I wondered what Babe would like to say to the Harley crowd in an effort to help understand the generation gap between the two groups.
"I would say please understand that everybody is young once. Everybody has life experiences as they grow up. Granted, a lot of younger guys are going to be out there buying sportbikes, and that's our generation. And our generation in 20 years might be where your generation is now. But give us that time. We are unity; we're on two wheels, you're on two wheels."
Can't we just all get along? Yes is the short answer. Come on back to see how our Harley-Davidson project bike progresses.
In an effort to further explore the Harley us-versus-them mentality, whether divided culturally or demographically, we've arranged another long-term project bike for the MCUSA garage.
Many are under the impression that Harleys are too pricey for their wallets, so we've decided to start off with the 883 Sportster model that has a base price of just $6495. Completely redesigned for 2004, we'll take the entry-level Hog and show you what can be done to transform it into a unique and desirable custom machine.
I straddle the line between sportbike punk and middle-aged codger, so it will be interesting to see how we get along with this project. As always, stay tuned.