2009 Daytona Bike Week Report

From 5-mph crawls to 200-mph brawls


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Daytona’s Bike Week is a motorcycle spectacle of the highest order, serving up a cornucopia of radical bikes and eccentric characters. It’s a pilgrimage of bikers that kicks off the springtime motorcycle season, bringing in an estimated $300 million to the local economy of Daytona Beach and the surrounding area of Florida.

Fonzie and I flew out to Florida in the Motorcycle.com G5 to attempt to capture the flavor and excitement of the annual riding-season-busting event. If you’re not much of a reader and just want to check out the Bike Week scene in pictures, you’ll want to go directly to our ultra-extensive gallery full of babes, bikes, stunts and the many oddities seen this year.

The chatter surrounding the 2009 edition of Bike Week centered on how the current dismal economy would affect attendance at Daytona. In its best years, Bike Week drew in somewhere up to 500,000 riders and race fans. Although official (and/or accurate) figures are impossible to come by, this year’s event definitely saw a reduction in attendance. The majority of hotels along the beach’s A1A had vacancy signs illuminated, which wasn’t the case a few years ago.

The 2009 edition of Bike Week rolls in to Daytona.

Demo-licious!

Demo rides during Bike Week had a surprisingly strong demand considering the reduced attendance this year. Here Duke adds one more to Victory Motorcycle's total, riding the Corey Ness Signature Jackpot.

With a gloomy economy looming over the motorcycle industry’s head, it would be easy to slip into a mild depression. But there are some bright spots that point to a slightly rosier outlook.

Case in point: Demo rides during Bike Week.

Harley-Davidson set a new record of 1,905 rides on their 104-bike fleet on March 5 then shattered it again the next day with 2,034 spins. The total number of demo rides was a record, even not including Saturday’s sums. This positive news comes on the heels of a Harley shareholder’s meeting that announced domestic sales for the first two months of 2009 are down 9.4%. Still, The Motor Company is projected to sell between 264,000 and 273,000 bikes in 2009.

There were also a lot of requests for demo rides from Victory Motorcycles. It reports 1,250 unique riders (many of them sampling more than one bike) taking advantage of their test rides, the same number as in ’08 despite one less day of ride opportunities.

On the metric cruiser side of things, Kawasaki also saw a modest but significant 3% increase in demo rides. Team Green gave just under 2,000 demo rides on its 23-bike fleet this year at Daytona, with strong attendance even during mid-week days.

Even if attendance was down, you’d barely know it by taking a spin down Main Street – the place to see and be seen for bikers who don’t care about the roadracing going on at Daytona International Speedway at the other end of town. In fact, I doubt if even 5% of BW rally-goers ever set foot inside the hallowed banks of DIS.

Too bad for them, as there was some fresh new action on tap in the AMA roadracing ranks. On Thursday, for the first time in many seasons, no less than three brands of bikes led a Superbike race, as Larry Pegram’s Ducati and Neil Hodgson’s Honda both took turns leading laps before the Suzuki of Mat Mladin regained his usual place at the front and took the win. Second place was decided by a photo finish. Get the whole story here.

Daytona 200 racers competed under the lights for the first time.

Friday’s Daytona 200 also provided plenty of excitement, though not all of it good. Roadracing’s featured event was held for the first time at night, and the sparse crowd in the stands indicated that not all race fans liked that idea. Then a lighting outage in the track’s chicane caused a multi-lap caution period during which a collision of riders occurred. This resulted in a red-flag race stoppage that severely interrupted the race’s flow. A second caution flag late in the event set up a sprint race to the checkers you can read about here. The short version is that the speedy Yamaha R6s took to the top two positions, with Ben Bostrom bagging his first victory in this legendary event.

Saturday’s Supercross race at the track was much better attended, with a grandstand flush with race fans. A warm evening was a welcome change from the rain-soaked 2008 event. The SX points lead was shared by James “Bubba” Stewart and Chad Reed going into the race, with many pundits believing Bubba would take the win in his home state of Florida. However, the Yamaha rider suffered a first-turn crash that opened up the win for his rivals. Wild child Jason Lawrence led most of the race in his SX class debut, but the Suzuki-mounted Reed recovered from a poor start to take the race victory and the points lead.

Most Bike-Weekers disregard action at the racetrack in favor of checking out the wild machines scattered all over Daytona. In the foreground here is “Rocket Ship,” an innovative one-off chopper built by Joe Palermo at World Class Customs. Fuel is held in the upper frame rails, while oil is contained in the frame’s downtube.

But all this racing excitement was lost on the hundreds of thousands of bikers cruising the streets at the opposite end of Daytona. For them, Bike Week is the place to see and be seen – a parade of what’s cool and what’s not, depending on one’s perspective. Oddly, for what’s supposed to be a party atmosphere, there aren’t many happy-looking faces on Main Street – I guess it’s difficult to look like a bad-ass biker while wearing a smile.

On the Streets of Daytona

As you might expect, Harleys and their derivatives make up about 90% of the bikes at Daytona, and there are tons, literally, of baggers that make up the bulk of motorcycle types. Here are some other notes of the kinds of vehicles we saw during Bike Week.

A Monster indeed. That's a big-block Chevy V8 with open headers in this Goliath.

What did we see at Bike Week?
• The bobber movement was supposed to be the next Big Thing in the cruiser industry, but they weren’t nearly as well-represented at Daytona as the ubiquitous chopper.
• At Daytona, we saw more of the V8-powered Boss Hosses than I thought were built.
• Of the Japanese cruisers, it seemed like Yamaha’s Stars and Kawasaki’s Vulcans were best represented.
• Victory Motorcycles continues to gain wider acceptance among bikers at Daytona.
• Honda Gold Wings had a significant presence at Bike Week, and there were also quite a few BMWs.
• Among the sportbike crowd, Suzuki’s Hayabusa seemed to be the mount of choice, with the majority of them modified and lowered close to the ground.
• Kawasaki’s ZX-14 hyperbike, though not as prevalent as the ’Busa, was a fairly common sight.
• The new Can-Am Spyders – lots with women riders – were frequently seen.
• It was astounding to see the plethora of trikes – the typical ones with dual rear wheels – at Bike Week. It seemed like there may have been more trikes at BW than there were Suzuki Boulevards or Honda VTXs!

The wild and the whacky fill the streets of Daytona during Bike Week.

There is a Jamaica-like, no-hurry mentality for riders cruising Main Street and A1A. After all, the faster you ride, the less you can take in visually, and fewer bystanders can check you out. All over Daytona, riders often traveled at speeds below the posted limit.

Judging solely by what we saw at the biker end of town, the level of rider skill at Bike Week is disappointing. There is more foot paddling going on than at your local walk-a-thon, and many riders looked ungainly as they precariously wobbled about. One night we came around a simple corner to find a big-boned African-American female rider and her Harley dresser on the ground for no apparent reason. Ba-donk, ker-plonk!

There is a definite difference in the kinds of riders we’re used to seeing on the West Coast. In Daytona, the majority of riders don’t bother wearing helmets, and what passes for riding gear is usually no more than a fashion statement of vests and t-shirts.

If you’ve never been to Bike Week and know of the event only through pictures of it in magazines, you might expect Daytona to be packed with hordes of smokin’-hot women. And we will help perpetuate that myth with our extensive galley of Bike Week babes you can see here!

Don’t forget to check out our babes gallery!

But if that’s your perception, you might be disappointed by the reality. Most of the babes seen at BW are selling beer, t-shirts or bike washes and aren’t interested in pot-bellied, middle-aged dudes. Desperate single women would do well here – there will be hundreds of thousands of guys who will adore nearly anything with breasts.

We came away from Bike Week 2009 with many indelible memories to accompany the sounds of un-muffled V-Twins still ringing in our ears. Attendance may have been down this year, but the party still rages at Daytona.

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