2008 Biketoberfest Coverage
Fall Break or Season's End?
We pushed off towards Florida on a brilliant Indian summer day, the old Moto Guzzi Twin feeling strong despite the fact that it was overloaded with two journalists and their associated cameras and computer equipment. Our destination was Daytona Beach's fall Biketobefest and we couldn't have chosen a better time to ride there.
I've never understood the term "riding season" when it is applied to motorcycles. In the mid-Atlantic, where I live and do most of my riding, there are less than 10 days per winter when the local DOT crews don't have the roads clear enough for the operation of a two-wheelers by mid-morning. I feel that if I lived further north I would invest in tire spikes, heated grips, a powered sidecar or whatever else it would take to not have to leave my motorcycle sitting in the garage from October to March (go to YouTube and search "motorcycle" and "snow" and you'll see what I'm talking about). If you're looking for an excuse to park for a few months, winter provides it, but if you're serious about riding, cold weather is a challenge and not a road block.
But for the majority of riders there is a yearly beginning and end for the period of time in which they will consider taking their bikes out for a spin. On the East Coast, these markers are conveniently provided by the motorcycle festivities that take place in Daytona Beach, Florida.
In March, it's Bike Week with its mix of parties, new models on display and the opening round of the AMA flat track and road racing seasons that get riders to wipe off the dust and air up the tires.
If Bike Week is the grand opening of the riding season, then Biketoberfest is the book end. Though only 16 seasons old, the "other" Daytona rally, held each October, continues to grow out from under the shadow of the spring rally. With crowds of nearly 200,000 (about of third of Bike Week's numbers), CCS and Moto-ST road racing at the Daytona International Raceway and all the same bars and hangout spots running at full steam, there's no lack of entertainment.
Just like the spring Bike Week, Biketoberfest straddles a season change. The mid-October week it's held on bridges the gap between the last gasps of warm summer days and the first frosts of fall. As we headed south, temperatures stayed warm enough to ride well into the night, the smell of the North Carolina pines that lined the interstate brought into our helmets by the chilled night air, a full-moon illuminating empty meadows and deserted country cross roads along our route.
By daylight we were greeted by the fluffy whiteness of ripe South Carolina cotton fields and southern road side citrus stands and were joined by other motorcycles, burdened with luggage and heading in the same direction. Rolling into Daytona Beach on Wednesday, one full day before the "official" start of the rally, the party was already underway. Though Biketoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday, bikers start arriving on Monday.
The unofficial theme of this year's Biketoberfest, like the presidential election, is the economy. By Wednesday hotel owners, street vendors and restaurateurs collectively chewed their nails and fretted over whether anyone had the cash to spend or if Wall Street woes would keep the crowds away.
By the following Monday, as the dust was settling, local news organizations estimated that the crowds had been down slightly and those who showed up were stingy with their purse strings. But if numbers were down, it was hard to tell on Main Street. On Friday night, when the rally was at its peak, Biketoberfest's main drag was packed shoulder to shoulder with people, street parking and nearby lots were full, and traffic jammed to a crawl providing a perfect parade for the crowds of people watchers.
Motorcycles are a luxury item and if you can afford to buy a $20,000 Harley and spend the several hundred dollars that each Biketoberfest attendee leaves behind in Daytona, you probably don't have economic woes. It was like a Y2K party on December 31, 1999. If troubles are coming, let's live it up while we can.
This year Daytona Beach attempted to make Biketoberfest safer, instituting a billboard campaign encouraging bikers and cagers to be on their best behavior ("Look twice, save a life" and "None for the Road") This, combined with a recently enacted Florida law that makes wheelies punishable by a $1,000 fine and the threat of having your motorcycle confiscated, seemed to work. Law enforcement reported no fatalities in Daytona Beach or the surrounding county during the rally's four official days, although one motorcycle passenger died in an accident heading to the event from Orlando and a rider from Ohio was killed in Daytona before the rally officially began.
Heading home we quickly realized that fall had arrived in our absence. Summer gloves were traded out for gauntlets, jacket vents stayed closed and the trees and grass that had been alive barely a week ago were now browning from the increasingly colder nights and killing morning frosts. We kept the zips closed on our jackets and gas stops changed from soda to coffee breaks.
Now the Guzzi is back in the garage with its saddlebags removed. It won't sit idle for winter, but it may be spring time and Bike Week before it sees another trip that changes four digits on the odometer. If Biketoberfest signals the end of your riding season, then it's a good way to go out with a bang. If winter only means a change in your riding wardrobe, then Biketoberfest is a great excuse to take a long ride and catch the last days of summer.