DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., OCT. 18-21—It was back in 1992 when the folks at the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau got the idea to create a fall motorcycle rally to coincide with the end-of-season racing events at Daytona International Speedway. The goal was simple: Bring in some additional visitors to “put some heads in the beds” at a time when the tourist season was at an ebb. The first year it was called the Fall Tour and was a modest success. In a short time the event was rechristened as Biketoberfest and has grown into an annual party that attracts more than 100,000 people for the official four-day run. They say that timing is everything and the creation of Biketoberfest seemed to be in the right place at the right time. The Harley craze was just beginning to take hold in the suburbs across America and money for toys like motorcycles was easy to obtain thanks to those home equity loans the banks were throwing out. There were also, at that time, about a million bike builders, and they were all looking for events like Biketoberfest where they could market their custom creations along with T-shirts, hats and drink coozies.
The Daytona Beach community hasn’t always embraced the crowds and noise that are part of the influx of bikers during Biketoberfest and again for Bike Week in the spring. But listening to the speakers at the Thursday morning media conference that kicked off the 20th annual Biketoberfest celebration, it was obvious that the economic impact of the biker community is now recognized and appreciated by many of those who live and work in the area. I’ve attended many of these media briefings for past events and the tone has definitely changed over the years.
Representatives from the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Daytona International Speedway, Main Street and Second Avenue Merchants Associations, the Chief of Police and others all put forth positive messages about the rally and the visitors. Even the representative from the Beachside Neighborhood Watch noted that many of the residents’ opinions had changed and they now recognize the need for the revenue that the bike events bring to their community. I think they’ve also seen the success that other Florida communities have had with bike events and that has helped somewhat to alter their thinking.
Daytona Beach exclusives
These days there are many, many more local bike rallies than when Biketoberfest started. In fact, Biketoberfest probably gave impetus to many of the new startups. And for some bikers, spending a day at a local rally is enough and they’ll forego riding a couple of hundred miles to pay the inflated food, drink and lodging prices you find at the larger events. Fortunately for Biketoberfest 2012, there were more than 100,000 of us who couldn’t resist another party. The other towns might put on a decent party, but Daytona Beach has some features that just can’t be duplicated.
You can start with Thursday’s Old School Chopper Show at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo. This is just as much a party (with a rocking band and food and drink in the back lot) as it is a bike show and you’re likely to find some of the big-name builders checking out what the next generation is bringing to the table. Creativity and ingenuity take precedence over chrome and biker bling in this show. Though the show had a few less bikes than during Bike Week, the crowd seemed just as big throughout the afternoon as everyone jostled for camera space to capture the bikes and the moment. Another plus for this show: It’s for adults only.
But there were also several other opportunities for picking up a bike show trophy during the event. On Friday, many were basking in the ocean breeze at the Boardwalk Classic Show, which unfortunately had the one and only rainstorm during the weekend blow through during their afternoon trophy presentations. Saturday, the Rat’s Hole Chopper Show was held again at the Daytona Lagoon Water Park and, according to Head Rat Ted Smith, the 45 entries in the show drew in over 800 paying customers. He also announced a new trophy design is coming for the 2013 Bike Week show. If you were a triker, the Broken Spoke on the Ormond Strip had a contest for you and the Cabbage Patch in Samsula also had a bike and hot rod show on Friday.
Trophies aren’t for everyone, but the music offerings at the various venues seemed to cover just about every genre and age range. Runaway girl Lita Ford was rocking the Coca Cola pavilion at Destination Daytona, where they also had a G-string bikini and sexy costume contest. South of town in Edgewater, the No Name Saloon featured a free concert on Friday night by Quiet Riot. In between those two locations were bands like the Razorbacks, Bobby Friss, Saliva, David Allen Coe, Jasmin Cain, Warrant and a handful of tribute bands. On the plus side, most of the music is free.
Another feature you won’t find at any other event is a venue like Daytona International Speedway. Some of the manufacturers brought out demo rides (though you had to head to Destination Daytona to test out the 2013 Harleys) and the Thunder Alley vendor area featured many of the big names. There were also races (the original reason the bike crowd came to Daytona) and a first-ever all-electric motorcycle race on Sunday. I was told the battery-powered banshees can top 200 mph, but distance is limited to the length of the extension cord.
Missing on Main Street
Perhaps the biggest sign of our economic state of affairs was the absence of several longtime businesses on the party strip known as Main Street that runs from the Halifax River to the Atlantic shoreline. That big restaurant along the river? Closed. The Dog House Saloon and Main Street Steak House? Closed. The Main Street Café, which had been there for 23 years? Packed up and gone. (Thankfully, they kept open their other shop, The Koffee Kup, on Nova Road where many of the same smiling faces deliver the best breakfast in Daytona.) There were also a couple of large parking lots open for business directly on Main Street where you’d usually find the Dog Pound stage and, down the block, the Iron Gate Saloon with their offerings of food, vendors and live music. Vendors seem to be a dying breed, but at least you didn’t have to go as far for a parking spot.
It’s not just Main Street that’s caught in the downward trend. Along the oceanside boulevard, there are many businesses that have been closed for years. But on a positive note, the Pier has been refurbished and reopened. The old space needle has been removed and there’s now a Joe’s Crab Shack on the pier providing the locals and tourists with a beachside dining destination. They even added an eye-popping light show to the beachside Ferris wheel.
Across the river, Beach Street was once again showing some signs of life, though the fenced-off and demolished auto dealerships gave it a somewhat barren look on one side of the street. The plans for building residential condos and such in this area disappeared when the market tanked, but it does have an advantage over Main Street in that there are honest-to-goodness, year-round motorcycle businesses here. Carl Morrow returned his Speed Shop to his old location a few years back and, just a few months ago, Roar Motorcycles (specializing in bikes for the ladies) moved in a few doors down the street with their shop and showroom. In between you’ll find a trike shop and an Indian dealership. There’s also a BMW dealership at the end of the street and a helmet store along with a few other independent shops just a couple blocks away. And in the other direction, the former Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson location is still undergoing the transformation from dealership to a museum, housing items from the family’s collection of motorcycles and memorabilia. It’s not yet complete, but they did have a few of the displays open for viewing during Biketoberfest. And I found a little economic relief just off Beach Street, across the street from the back of the Harley dealership, at the Lyndhurst Motel, where hot dogs and cold draft beer are offered for a buck apiece. Over the years this has become one of my favorite places to kick back and take a break.
This being an election year, and with the voting just weeks away, there were political signs on cars, in store windows and even scattered along the scenic loop ride in Ormond Beach. So I wasn’t too surprised when it was announced at the Thursday morning media conference that candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would be stopping by for a visit. The Republican candidates’ entourage made their appearance with country singer John Rich on Friday evening at the beachside Bandshell. The event was open to the public, but an area in front of the stage and extending back to include the Daytona 200 Memorial was fenced off for the few thousand who had obtained free tickets. I checked the area out on Friday morning, and along with the audio and video gear and a few hundred chairs, I noticed that there was one single funnel cake and soft drink vendor who was allowed into the restricted area. The secret service dude wasn’t talking, but I’m thinking that vendor must have some serious connections somewhere. That night, sitting along the boardwalk before the event began I saw quite a few bikers headed that way, but the majority of people appeared to be non-riders who had braved the Friday night biker gridlock to see and hear the candidate. The real winners this night were the parking lot owners in the area who must have made quite a killing from the crowd.
A longer Biketoberfest?
I’ve heard some rumors and read an article in the local newspaper that reported that next year the Biketoberfest Development Committee will ask for permission to extend the event to 10 days. Biketoberfest is usually just a long weekend event, but was lengthened following the 9/11 attacks and again after the 2004 hurricanes. According to the report, the extra days didn’t mean extra attendees. As a permanent change, it may work, or it may not. I’m sure the proponents believe that a longer event would mean more overall revenue for the community, but I don’t think they’re giving full consideration to the additional expenses that would be incurred by those in the industry who are needed to support a longer rally. The hotel cost (especially at those “special event” rates) and meal expenses add up fast for those working and staying at a rally. And a stroll down Main Street, or through the other vendor locales, provides hard evidence of the shrinking pool of vendors who are left in the motorcycle industry. I’m also not convinced the draw is there for many northern riders to pack up and head south like it is for Bike Week when a cold winter has left them itching to ride. However, the ace in the hole might be the inaugural American International Motorcycle Expo, which is scheduled October 16–20 next year in Orlando, just a short ride down I-4. That means a lot of industry people will be in the area and it gives riders an additional reason to head south in October.
As for myself, a four-day party is just about right. But if they do expand the party, I think there needs to be a restriction placed on the prices on the first weekend and the special-event prices wouldn’t go into effect until the second weekend. Try something like that, and you might have another winner at Daytona Beach.