2014 Daytona Bike Week – Wrap-Up

The conclusion of the annual start of riding season.

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The 73rd Daytona Bike Week is now part of motorcycling history, and by all accounts it was a success, with both vendors and attendees leaving happy with the week. After a slow start, most likely due to cold weather on the first two days, the crowds picked up mid-week and reached the usual epic proportions by the time Friday night rolled around. In the latter half of Bike Week, although breezy enough to blow riders around on the interstate, the exceptionally warm high temperatures made for perfect weather to enjoy riding both in and outside of Daytona proper.

While many folks attend for the craziness and various events held within Daytona and the neighboring cities, those who like to ride will find central Florida an enjoyable place to ride. While you won’t find lots of corners to lean through, you will find plenty of scenery and nice little spots to grab a bite to eat. I always make the time to go for a ride on “The Loop” out of Daytona. This 30-mile ride is the perfect antidote for a busy Daytona schedule. This year, I arrived at the most scenic part of the ride at sunset and parked the bike for about 40 minutes to just enjoy the view.

This is Daytona? Yes, it’s nice to get out of town to enjoy the scenery.

This is Daytona? Yes, it’s nice to get out of town to enjoy the scenery.

Black Bike Week was still pretty slow on Wednesday, but by Friday, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd. was packed with all kinds of bikes and friendly people. The vibe is much lower key than on Main Street, where the emphasis seems to be on toughness, rather than simply enjoying the atmosphere and savory food. And the food? Wow, I had the most amazing curried chicken, red beans and rice, and cabbage dinner I’ve had in years. When I asked if there was a place to sit and eat, the cook took his chair from under his tent and set it up for me to eat at one of his tables. Nice folks, great food, great music and tons of bikes. What’s not to like?

Food that will tickle your palate and stick to your ribs!

Food that will tickle your palate and stick to your ribs!

With just about every manufacturer having brand-specific events for their owners, the schedule was packed with events both at and away from the vendor area at the Daytona Int’l Speedway. Moving the vendor area did seem to confuse some visitors who were trying to find the location of various manufacturers once they had been moved from their usual location. However, the new location of the demo rides way behind the back straight of the speedway didn’t seem to damp the enthusiasm for the opportunity to ride everyone’s latest and greatest bikes, which translated into lines of people waiting to sign up for a ride.

All of the OEMs were trying their best to attract the eyeballs of attendees, but Harley-Davidson, with its location slightly off from the others, managed to create the most hubbub in the form of music and other goings-on under its main tent. They even had a Street 500 on display. Responses to the Street were pretty much what you might expect, with the old guard weighing in on the skeptical end of the spectrum while younger riders appeared more open minded or downright interested in the new bikes. Both Victory and Indian seemed to have events all over Daytona. Clearly, they have their sights set on competing with the Harley owner’s experience.

Black Bike Week has grown in importance to the point that Harley has a display at the venue.

Black Bike Week has grown in importance to the point that Harley has a display at the venue.

On Friday afternoon, Kawasaki held its Bike Nite in Daylight show for Kawasaki owners. While there were four categories (Best Sportbike, Best Cruiser, Best Vintage Bike, and Best Unique Bike), only the Best Unique Bike should matter to MO readers, since I was there to present this class’ winner with a trophy and a free set of Metzeler tires. Attracting close to 40 bikes, the show featured some primo examples of Kawasaki motorcycles, ranging from pristine vintage bikes to sharp looking but still functional cruisers to some over the top custom sportbikes.

Billy Ray Bryant 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000

Billy Ray Bryant took home both the Most Unique Bike and Best of Show trophies from Kawasaki’s Bike Nite in Daylight show with his 1977 KZ1000.

While the Most Unique Bike entries covered a wide variety of machinery, the class of the category was a 1977 KZ1000 in streetable drag-race trim. The bike’s owner, Billy Ray Bryant, had raced the bike for many years before converting it back into a streetbike. Look for an article about the Kawasaki show and Bryant’s bike in the near future.

I capped off the week by attending the AMA Flat Track races next to the speedway with my buddy Andy Cherney, editor of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. While the new track lacks the character of the old venue, the location’s easy access can’t be beat. The racing was close on what looked like a fairly slick racing line. By the time the checkered flag waved for the Grand National Main Event, Kenny Coolbeth rode his Honda across the line a full four seconds ahead of his closest competitor. In the AMA Pro Singles main, the racing was about as exciting as it gets, with a red flag forcing a five-lap dash to the finish. Brandon Wilhelm fought for the win after seeing his one-second lead evaporate due to the restart.

Daytona Flat Track

This is what $25 gets you: Perfect seating in Turn 1 at the Daytona Flat Track! Perhaps the best deal in all of Daytona during Bike Week.

Although I didn’t attend the AMA Pro Road Racing at the Speedway, the event featured two Superbike races, a couple support classes, and the Daytona 200. Despite the series’ struggles at the hands of the Daytona Motorsports Group, the racing was exciting and it bodes well for the remainder of this year’s extremely limited schedule. One good development that has occurred in recent weeks, helping to reduce DMG’s embarrassment over the lack of television coverage of its racing events, is the live streaming of the AMA meets on fanschoice.tv. Additionally, the races may be available on YouTube after the live broadcast, if the posting of the 200 is representative of the remainder of the season.

Finally, Bike Week ended with only one additional fatality after my mid-week update. The accident involving a 27-year-old North Dakota rider who crossed out of his lane into oncoming traffic was the fourth and final Bike Week-related fatality. While having any fatalities associated with the annual event is bad news, this total represents a lower number than in years past.

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Bike Week-related fatalities were down this year but remain a concern, as does the lack of proper riding gear on many attendees.

After taking a few years off from Daytona, this past week has made me come to a simple conclusion: Time to start making my travel plans for next year’s Bike Week!

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