DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., OCT. 17-20–The main defense normally offered as to why Biketoberfest is superior to its springtime sibling usually focuses on timing and attendance—held later in the year, the weather is more predictable, milder and idyllic; being only four days in duration and attracting fewer riders, this fall event is less congested, more economical and, therefore, more appealing. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, but nothing concerning motorcycles is ever quite that predictable. Although I’m a Bike Week regular, this would be my first Biketoberfest and I was eager to compare the two and put those perceptions to the test.
Rolling down International Speedway Boulevard, the Daytona Speedway materialized as a skeleton, the grandstands resembling the ribcage of some giant beast as they are being ripped to pieces. It’s all part of a complete sportsplex renovation, the first $400 million phase of which is due to be completed in time for January’s Rolex 24. (Formerly known as the 24 Hours at Daytona before corporate sponsorship dictated a name change, this is part of the Triple Crown of sports car endurance racing, along with Sebring and Le Mans.) The Speedway’s new grandstands will accommodate 101,000 fans in more capacious and comfortable seating. Additionally, the stadium will have twice as many restrooms, three times the current number of concession stands, and offer 60 luxury suites for the high rollers. (A tragic accident occurred on Thursday when a veteran Daytona 200 racer and instructor for Team Hammer Racing school collided at high speed with a student while coming off a high bank of the track, killing both. The construction at the track was not blamed for the collision.)
The western side of the parking area was a mass of construction crews and equipment with the eastern edge reserved for Biketoberfest vendors and demo fleets from Indian and Victory. Not surprisingly, the Indian truck endured long waiting lines all weekend with riders anxious to test ride the three new models, the fully-faired, hard-bagged Chieftain winning out as the most popular of the trio.
Cruising Main Street and watching those cruising Main Street remain a central attraction during both rallies. Loud pipes, stretched bikes, big-wheeled baggers and lots of female jockeys made for some great photo ops while bouncing between watering holes. You even had the opportunity for a pit stop to help celebrate the birthday of the oldest bike bar on the strip when the legendary Boot Hill Saloon turned 40 years old on Saturday. Happy birthday, Boot. Throughout the weekend the bars were crowded but not overly packed, with both sides of Main offering up plenty of lively entertainment—and providing just a little more hustle from businesses trying to earn that extra dollar with a crowd estimated at only one-fifth the size of Bike Week and dwindling a little more each season. Jeffrey Hentz, executive director of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, which owns the Biketoberfest trademark, stated his company is investigating whether marketing would bring more attendance back to the fall rally, which has been in decline for several years. They have also altered their promotional outreach, relying more on social media in an effort to lure new markets such as trike owners and those riding imports. Over the past year the ad authority has also debated extending this four-day rally to span two weekends. (I cannot imagine that to be a sound move.) The inaugural American International Motorcycle Expo (AIMExpo) that was being held 65 miles away in Orlando from Wednesday through Sunday seemed to have little effect on Biketoberfest figures. The two crowds are vastly different with the AIMExpo appealing more to metric and competition motorcyclists.
Over on the mainland, the big news was that this would be the last time for the Bruce Rossmeyer dealer network to have a presence on Beach Street. After 20 years the original location of Bruce Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson, now a museum and retail store, will close by the end of 2013. All items relating to the museum will be relocated to the company’s Destination Daytona empire at the intersection of U.S. 1 and I-95. The new museum will be housed on the second floor of Destination Daytona and feature the late Bruce Rossmeyer’s personal collection of bikes, commissioned artwork and sculptures. The company will maintain a business building on Main selling Rossmeyer-related merchandise.
One of the most anticipated events during both the spring Bike Week and fall’s Biketoberfest is Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Chopper Time Bike Show held on Thursday during each rally. And although the rally may be smaller in October, this venue remains a showcase packed with bikes and people all eager to have their handiwork scrutinized and judged. Due to a website glitch on www.biketoberfest.org, I almost missed Friday’s Boardwalk Classic Bike Show even though it was within walking distance of my motel (seems the official website listed the Boardwalk as being held on Saturday, the 19th). So under sweltering and steamy conditions, my photographer and I made the short hike to the show where 64 bikes, trikes, scooters, antiques and rats were lined up along the Atlantic shore. (Although the temperatures during the first part of the rally were only in the mid to high 80’s, it felt like a sauna the entire time; even though I’m from Texas and used to heat and humidity, this stuff was torturous). At the same time as the Boardwalk Show, the Broken Spoke Saloon on Ormond Beach was holding their Cycle Source Chopper Show. The Spoke backed that up on Saturday with their 2nd annual Trike-Toberfest free ride-in trike show that included eight classes. The Rat’s Hole Ride-In Bike Show was once again held inside the spacious Daytona Lagoon water park on Saturday. And although it seems to be holding its own in a Florida economy that is still struggling, a regular Biketoberfest attendee reported that the number of bike entries appeared lighter than in years past.
The Ormond Strip corridor of outdoor party zones was busy throughout the event, but noticeably sparser than the spring event to which I’m accustomed. Lines of bikes and a large amount of foot traffic were present, yes—but ample parking within walking distance of all venues made easy access to all the entertainment offered. Sitting in front of Wild Bill’s Saturday afternoon, a minor rear-ender involving a citizen and a biker quickly escalated into a hit-’n’-run when the car driver attempted to flee the scene. With hundreds of witnesses in front of Bill’s and the Iron Horse Saloon, he didn’t get very far. The bike rider was treated onsite for minor injuries while the driver, after failing a field sobriety challenge by local police, was given a pair of shiny bracelets and a ride downtown—better that than to be left in hands of a bunch of amped-up biker vigilantes.
Taking a ride south to Ponce Inlet on Saturday evening for a tour of the lighthouse and a dockside dinner, traffic was moderate. And although there was a wait at the Hidden Treasure Bar & Grill, the fried soft shell crabs, crispy squid and icy suds were well worth the time spent. A light rain rolled in for a few hours afterwards, dampening Main Street’s profiling and curtailing what is usually the highlight of any bike rally, the last night.
All accounts state that numbers were down at Biketoberfest for this year. All I know is that I walked out of restaurants on two separate occasions since they were so swamped and I was so starving that my patience could not control my hunger pangs (at the favorite breakfast haunt I visit during Bike Week, I waited for more than 30 minutes for a menu before leaving. I was handed a coffee cup; just no coffee). And while the weather wasn’t as terrible as I’ve suffered during countless years of attending the spring rally, it was still hot, sticky and uncomfortable. But I will admit… it was not cold. Pricing for my beachside accommodations ran $200 per night during my stay. Two weeks later the same room was discounted from its “normal” $89 price tag to the “smart deal” special of $50. Fifty freakin’ bucks and I paid $200 and the only damn view I had of the beach was if I stood in the corner of my bathtub and, bending like a pretzel, could almost see a 40-foot section of famous Daytona sand. So much for Biketoberfest being anything resembling a bargain.
Do I like Biketoberfest better than its big brother counterpart? I like ’em both, and for different reasons. And for those same reasons, I can find plenty of justification for offering criticism for both. But they are what they are… something larger than simply a sum of their parts. With Biketoberfest reaching an important age, a decision must be made. Is bigger always better? Keep it small, little brother—Daytona does not need two Bike Weeks. I’ll be back if you cast your ballot in that direction.