By Marissa Baecker
When I was first assigned to go to Daytona Beach for Bike Week – all I could think about was “A week with bikers?” I am not a ‘biker’ by the stereotypical definition. I don’t have any tatoos. I no longer own a Harley (although I did at one point). I don’t wear a beanie. In fact, I proudly sport a full face as I have had a face to face meeting with the pavement while sliding down the road and my full face kept my jaw in tact. I don’t have a leather vest that is decorated with every patch or pin from every event I have been to (that’s not to say I don’t have a patch collection-I just don’t wear it). However, when I put on my leathers, grab a helmet and throw a leg over the latest cruiser – I feel like one with the bikers – but I stick out like a sore thumb. Daytona was no different.
My memories of Daytona come from my childhood where we annually spent time at bike week with the North American Yamaha dealers. My parents owned a two Canadian dealerships. I can clearly recall the beach, the motorcycles riding the beach, the characters parading around with their fully inked sleeves, the girls in leather and even one strolling with a 10 foot python around her neck like a feather boa.
I recall being fascinated and frightened by what I encountered each year while minding my own business in my day long efforts to build a sand castle.
Returning to Daytona as an adult, I expected it to be dominated by cruisers and bikers but there were all types of rides from scooters to Can Ams and everything in between but the event itself is dominated by the cruiser. You will see some of the best custom rides and even a few side car machines.
You have to hand it to Daytona Beach. They invite the riding demographic that other communities refuse and they are rewarded for it. The nightly news anchors were all smiles as they acknowledged the presence of 500,000 bikes filtering approximately 74 million dollars directly into their community.
There is a plethora of entertainment and things to do that, even if you stay the full week, you won’t see it all.
Of the many hubs of activity throughout Volusia County, Main Street in the heart of Daytona, is a favourite hangout. Whether you ride or not, the streets are packed, the bike parking is full, the cafes, bars and restaurants are at capacity. There is a constant parade of motorcycles and characters that draw crowds of people to pull up a sidewalk chair (or the seat of their motorcycle) and watch the world of two wheels go by. You think you are people watching but you are equally a part of what is being watched by everyone else.
There is always music no matter where you go. Vendor tent cities pop up and offer some of the coolest gadgets, jewellery and other unique creations that you may not find anywhere else. For instance, Second Face On, a face shield unique to its rider that incorporates eye protection for those riders that choose to ride with their legal free flowing hair (helmets are not mandatory in Florida). Second Face On offers light-weight tinted or clear eye protection that covers the whole face to protect you from the sun, wind, bugs etc. and each one is customized to suit the rider’s personality. No sooner did I meet and chat with the company’s founders, a gal went by on her sport bike wearing one.
Another hub of activity was the World’s largest Harley-Davidson dealership – Bruce Rossmeyer’s HD just off Highway 95. Another huge tent city of vendors, food, music and the highlight of that centre for me . . .the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Burt was their gracious caregiver and was also kind enough to let me take an up close and personal look at this stunning creature that was taller than I was. When I stood beside it, I couldn’t see over its back to the other side. When I reached up to touch its mane, the horse bent down and cuddled along side my neck. That’s it! I was trading in my chrome v-twin for a different type of horsepower right then and there. In fact, I go so occupied with the horses, I forgot about all the other activities going on and next thing you know, I had to head back.
For those of you interested in CHL Hockey, Burt did mention that the Clydesdales were opening up Memorial Cup in London, Ontario in May and then he politely asked, “What is Memorial Cup?” As the team photographer for the WHL Kelowna Rockets, who have been in the No. 1 position in the CHL for 12 weeks, I quickly provided Burt with an education on Canadian Junior Hockey.
Did you know that the Clydesdales are guarded by a Dalmatian named Brewer? After seeing the Superbowl commercial with the golden retriever puppy, meeting Brewer was a bit of a surprise. Burt advised that it took six golden retriever puppies to make that commercial.
Bike week attendees show up from all over the world. I met three riders from Norway, a few from Costa Rica, people from California, Germany, Hawaii and I even met five fellows from Montreal in the parking lot of the Ocean Deck beach club. They had shipped their Ducati’s to Florida and got out of the cold Eastern Canadian winter just ahead of a huge snowstorm.
The Ocean Deck beach club doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it is home to the best Mahi Mahi Burger I have ever eaten. Sitting beach side looking at the Atlantic while enjoying great food is yet one more perk of bike week. If the Ocean Deck is full, walk out to the pier and have a seat at Joe’s Crab Shack.
Back to the riding. There are so many beautiful places to ride in Florida. In and around Daytona Beach you can ride ocean side for miles. St. Augustine is a beautiful historic town about an hour’s ride away. You can go to the Kennedy Space Centre or ride to Orlando for a day at Disneyworld. If you get really ambitious, you can ride for a few hours South to Sunrise and take in a Florida Panthers game. When bike week is over, you can keep going South to the Keys.
If you are looking for a new ride, the Speedway is the place to be. All major manufacturers appeared to be present and even offered full fleet demo rides all day including Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Victory, Indian and Can Am.
The Speedway is the centre of the major events. Supercross kicks off bike week. Flat track racing follows week’s end and the wrap up main event is the Daytona 200 motorcycles races.
As for accommodation, Daytona Beach offers some great hotels right on the ocean. I was lucky enough to be at the Speedway. A word of caution however if you are booking near the Speedway – it’s big! I thought I was in the perfect spot – hotel across the street from the Speedway where I could put on all my gear and walk across the street, pick up a bike and go ride. Well the walk across the street and to the vendor area was 5 miles long. I had to flag down a golf cart.
You can take an official guided tour of the Daytona International Speedway and it may surprise you to find a fully stocked carp lake in the infield where they actually conduct fishing derbys.
For the amount of people that descended unto Daytona Beach, and the amount of nightly partying over the course of 10 days, the Associated Press reported very few problems.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told the Daytona Beach News-Journal (http://bit.ly/1iVHjWf ) that Bike Week wrapped up Sunday with only handful of arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct. Also over the course of the 10-day event, three motorcyclists died in crashes and about three motorcycles were reported stolen.
“It’ll be like an incredibly low number of motorcycles stolen,” Chitwood said. “When there’s this many people here someone’s going to act like a knucklehead, but really, no major things to report.”
After spending the week with the stereotypes of the biker phenomenon, I have to say, I would do it again. Daytona Beach is a place that passes no judgment on who shows up. The destination is just happy to have you.