2013 Daytona Bike Week Report
The granddaddy of them all turns 72
Daytona Bike Week. All winter long, those three words inspire dreams of bikes, sunshine, bikinis and more bikes in the minds of motorcyclists all over North America – and perhaps the world. After a tumultuous offseason that included Superstorm Sandy, a contentious election and another senseless school shooting spree, bikers everywhere were more than ready to kickstart the 2013 rally season, put the past behind them, and just ride. And party.
Beyond the revelers, an industry that’s clawing its way out of an economic chasm was eager for Daytona as well. In addition to the hundreds of vendors that count on Bike Week to make a splash with their latest and greatest products, three OEMs, including two storied American marques, used the stage to unveil brand new machinery.
Motojournalists from all over the world were invited to “The World’s Most Famous Beach” a couple of days before the rally’s official start to be the first to ride Harley-Davidson’s Breakout, a new bare-knuckle Softail designed to appeal to an audience grown weary of bling. Check out our take on the new FXSB here.
On Saturday at the Speedway, Star Motorcycles pulled the wraps off its latest creation, a stripped-down, Sportster-esque 950cc “performance bobber,” the Bolt. You can read what we know about the $7990 Bolt here, but rest assured until we get to wring it out side-by-side against an Iron 883, we’ll admit that the Bolt looks cool and leave it at that.
On Saturday afternoon, the famous Budweiser Clydesdales delivered some serious horsepower to Main Street, galloping down the thoroughfare flanked by hundreds of motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, and thousands of rally-goers who stretched that shape-and-size envelope even further. By 4 p.m., traffic all over town, from the Speedway to Beach Street to the boardwalk, had slowed to a rubbernecker’s crawl. For the 72nd straight spring, Daytona Bike Week was officially in full swing.
By 9 o’clock Saturday night the sidewalks were clogged with revelers bounding from one Main Street bar to the next. Trikes, sportbikes, cruisers and everything in between roared for attention as rock 'n' roll cranked out of barroom doors and from outdoor stages, the cacophony building as the din reverberated up and down the street.
By the time we arrived at Dirty Harry’s, the legendary downtown saloon, a palpable buzz wafted through the air. A cover band jammed rock classics, and one particularly resolute admirer rocked out in the front row with a beer in one hand and his prosthetic leg in the other. When the band wrapped up its set, the riled-up throng, which included dignitaries such as Polaris Vice-President Steve Mennetto, blogster Cyril Huze and American Picker Mike Wolfe, turned our attention toward the bandstand.
As the lights dimmed and the bodies crushed the stage, Wolfe joined Indian’s Robert Pandya on the riser to pull the wraps off of the powerplant that will drive a new chapter in Indian’s heritage, the Thunder Stroke 111, a story we covered here.
Wolfe gripped a mock handlebar and thumbed a start button, and the highly polished V-Twin fired right up. Pandya held the microphone to the exhaust and broadcast the Thunder Stroke’s roar to the assembled masses, and the rowdy audience went completely bananas. The lanky Picker (and renowned Indian aficionado) whooped and pumped his fists in exaltation. High-fives were thrown, fists were pumped, glasses were raised, and everyone at Dirty Harry’s knew they were in the presence of something special.
Next, the Spirit of Munro tribute bike, the new engine idling smoothly in its nose, parted the crowd like Moses as it nudged its way to a display near the venue’s entrance. Huze smoked approvingly.
Promising a new era in American motorcycling, the new Indians are scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of 2013. We can’t think of any cruiser enthusiast who wouldn’t like to wake up Christmas morning to find an iconic $35,000 (give or take) Indian parked next to his or her tree.
Beyond the constant carousing on Main Street, Daytona International Speedway was the epicenter of Bike Week, with events that appealed to bikers of all persuasions. Big-name vendors such as J&P Cycles and GoPro flanked the famous Midway in semi-trailers with interactive displays featuring product demonstrations, dyno runs, and full-blown mechanical services, while between the trailers hundreds of independent merchants hawked every imaginable farkle and trinket.
Several OEMs offered factory demo rides and displayed their latest and greatest motorcycles. Kids flitted everywhere, stopping only to stuff their faces with carnival-esque junk like corn dogs and funnel cakes. And all the while scantily-clad women suggestively offered everything from cocktails to insurance quotes to the thousands who trolled for bargains in the hot spring sun.
This cruiser-friendly scene was mirrored at Riverfront Park on Beach Street in downtown Daytona, as well as smaller community rallies in nearby DeLand and Holly Hill – and in seemingly every bar, saloon and tavern in the appropriately named “Fun Coast.” Throughout the week, the Iron Horse Saloon in Ormond Beach lived up to its reputation with blistering live music, custom bike shows and general rowdiness.
The nearby Broken Spoke Saloon refused to be outdone, celebrating its 25th anniversary with live music from Molly Hatchet and Jasmine Cain, a custom trike show, the Chop-in Block Ride-in Bike Show and a daily happy hour sponsored by Victory. At Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach, dozens more vendors plied their wares, and Waylon’s boy Shooter Jennings wowed the crowd with a rollicking Saturday night set that would have made papa proud.
Bike Week envelopes the entire Daytona Beach region, as motorcyclists rode the Loop (including Beach Haven Road, perhaps the only somewhat curvy road in central Florida) and visited biker haunts north to Flagler Beach and beyond, and south to Cape Canaveral. In fact, the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau predicted Bike Week 2013 would deliver more than $250 million to the area's economy.
Bike Week, which began on the beach in 1937, is arguably the nation’s second-largest motorcycle rally – more than 400,000 attendees were expected this year – largely because its appeal extends far beyond the cruiser world into racing and sportbikes.
Inside the Speedway, Daytona Bike Week offers what other bike rallies do not: killer non-stop AMA-sanctioned action. On Opening Day Saturday, Supercross kicked off the week with Ryan Villopoto scoring his third straight victory in the 450 class, while Marvin Musquin won the 250cc tilt. In Flat Track action, Honda flat dominated: on Thursday, CRF450R-mounted riders captured eight of the top 10 spots, with Mikey Rush earning the checkered flag. On Friday, Brandon Robinson won aboard his Kawasaki KX450F – but Big Red riders roosted on seven of the top 10 perches.
The Superbike season opened on Friday with favorite Josh Hayes succumbing to clutch issues five laps in and the checkered flag going instead to his young Yamaha teammate Josh Herrin, who notched his first-ever Superbike victory aboard his R1. In Race 2 on Saturday, Martin Cardenas’ Suzuki GSX-R1000 got the win. We give a shout-out to veteran racer Larry Pegram, now riding an R1 after a couple of years racing a BMW, who carded a pair of third-place finishes.
Saturday’s penultimate race was the Daytona 200, and while the contest wasn’t nail-biting, the result was history-making. Yamaha’s Cameron Beaubier capped a flawless week aboard his R6 with a masterful performance that resulted in a 22.254-second victory and the checkered flag in the 200-mile main event. Elena Myers and Melissa Paris finished ninth and tenth, becoming the first two women to ever finish in the top 10 of the Daytona 200. Congratulations, ladies.
In perhaps the most anticipated event of Bike Week, dozens of pre-registered enthusiasts lived out their fantasies by taking their bikes for a couple of laps around the revered 3.56-mile road course after the running of the 200.
Besides the races, there was plenty of other action to entertain even the most jaded biker. On Monday, Suzuki hosted its first-ever Ultimate Hayabusa Contest, a bike show that featured dozens of tricked-out ‘Busas in full regalia. Tuesday featured hundreds of women riders rumbling through Daytona in the annual MDA Women’s Ride to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Harley-Davidson hosted a Ride-In Custom Bike Show on Beach Street on Wednesday; in a welcome twist, all brands were invited to enter and the craftsmanship on display was beyond impressive. Saturday featured the 5.25-mile Bike Week Community Appreciation Parade, an iconic event for decades that was absent for a while but returned for its second year of rebirth with hundreds (if not thousands) of participants.
Still, there is another undeniable fact worth reporting. With the average age of motorcyclists steadily rising, the age of rally-goers is obviously increasing as well. So as OEMs struggle to keep pace with trends and attract younger enthusiasts, motorcycle rallies are clearly fighting the same battle. Daytona Bike Week is no exception.
During the rally, the Daytona Beach News-Journal ran an extensive story on its front page that highlighted ways local officials are working to keep Bike Week viable as the older generation of riders gets smaller and the younger generation changes the face of the 72-year-old event. The paper reported the Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce is reaching out to neighboring communities in an effort to coordinate Bike Week activities going forward, as well as using social media and live webstreams to keep young bikers engaged. Motorcyclists should also expect to see Daytona Bike Week officials pushing the event at rallies like Sturgis and Laconia in 2013.
But none of that stuff mattered to the hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists of all ages and persuasions who attended Bike Week. The sun was (mostly) bright, the beer was cold, the races were hot and the fun was nonstop. We can’t wait till Bike Week’s 73rd birthday.
For the rest of the fun, check out our photo gallery from Daytona Bike Week 2013.