Last Two-Wheel Party of the Year
Daytona Beach’s Biketoberfest wraps up the season for most East Coast motorcyclists and those who come in from the Midwest. Officially lasting from October 18-21 this year, unofficially starting a week or so sooner and ending a day or so later, it falls in the middle of Florida’s hurricane season, not to mention the less worrisome but still wet rainy season.
So what’s the appeal that draws upwards of 100,000 motorcyclists to the World’s Most Famous Beach every fall? The same thing that will bring them back for Bike Week the following March, then send them on to Myrtle Beach, Laconia, Sturgis and all the rest: a good time!
If you come in from the north on I-95, exiting at Highway 100 near Bunnell and turning south on U.S. 1, it provides a good preview from a partygoer’s perspective. First up will be the White Eagle Lounge, a traditional Florida dive in the truest sense, and I mean that in a good way. The Eagle is real – no touristy contrivances.
Fans of wasted rubber and tortured engines should have little trouble finding burnout contests, while the more rational can enjoy live music, peruse the flash at come-and-go tattoo stands, and stroll past never-ending t-shirt and food vendors, the whole time being serenaded by an ongoing parade of motorcycles. The stops along Highway 1 may look rough and tumble, but they welcome all comers.
Waiting a few miles farther south will be a long line of frustrated motorcyclists who want nothing more than to turn left into Destination Daytona. The nucleus of Destination Daytona, which is actually in Ormond Beach and several miles from Daytona, is a Harley-Davidson dealership that owner Bruce Rossmeyer claims is the world’s largest. Join the waiting left-turners and you’ll find truckloads of new Harleys for sale, along with upscale versions of the same vendors and amusements you just left.
At some point, and you could either backtrack to Highway 100 or continue south and take Highway 40 or 92, you’ll want to turn east for the 23-mile strip of Atlantic coast that hosts the World’s Most Famous Beach and Biketoberfest.
Highway 100 ends at Highway A1A in Flagler Beach, where you’ll find several motorcycle-friendly bars and restaurants just across the street from the Flagler Pier and the Atlantic. If the view, ocean breeze, and laid-back surroundings don’t mellow your troubles away, you’re probably hopeless and need prescription medication. Arrive early enough, and you’ll find rooftop tables for enjoying burgers, beverage and, hopefully, lots of Florida sunshine. In all honesty, Florida’s Biketoberfest weather is usually great.
Daytona Beach and Main Street, another nucleus, wait just 20 miles farther south, straight down A1A. Like the homes of most major events, Daytona and the surrounding area have a unique history. Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss set a 136-mph motorcycle speed record on the beach at Ormond in – get this – 1907! Later, in the 1930s, Iron Man Ed Kretz and his competitors started racing on the sand in Daytona. Pretty much every American racer – motorcycle or car – who’s anyone has raced there since, though now more likely on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway than the beach.
It’s smaller in scale than some events, but Biketoberfest’s “People Circus” is world class. I seem to spend most of my Daytona time on Main Street even now, 45 years after my first ride in. But, as with Laconia, Sturgis, and Daytona Bike Week, there’s something worth seeing pretty much everywhere.
Biketoberfest’s main event is the Eight Hours at Daytona SunTrust MOTO-ST Series Race
The Speedway has a decent NASCAR museum, The Daytona 500 Experience, but that’s just the start. Motorcycle and accessory manufacturers set up their displays in the racetrack’s enormous parking lots, with test rides available for those who qualify and are willing to wait their turn. After passing into the infield through one of the tunnels that dip under the track, you’ll find still more vendors, along with a custom motorcycle display sponsored by the International Master Bike Builders Association. Several of the best-know names in the business display their handiwork there, with Cyril Huze, Doug Keim, and Troy Nichols being the stars for ’07.
And, yes, there’s racing at the Speedway, too! Biketoberfest’s main event is the (deep breath) Eight Hours at Daytona SunTrust MOTO-ST Series Race held on Saturday. This year, the team of Chris Ulrich, Gary Mason, and Cory West won with a Suzuki SV1000. Ulrich’s triple-rip summary of racing at the Speedway said it all: "It's huge! It's Daytona! It's the World Center of Racing!” Damn straight- always has been, always will be. The American Sportbike Racing Association holds events of its own, so there’s plenty to keep race fans happy throughout the week-end.
Biketoberfest doesn’t skimp on bike shows either. Backtracking from last to first, the biggest, glitziest and most glamorous of the bunch is the Rat’s Hole Show. Held at the Daytona Lagoon amusement park just north of the Ocean Center on A1A/Atlantic Avenue, it takes place on Saturdays. Entries range from the proverbial “mild to wild,” with domestic and metric entries usually competing in separate classes. The Boardwalk Classic Show is held just north of Main Street, right by the beach, on Fridays. It is more low-key than the Rat’s Hole show, but what’s not to like about a motorcycle show that takes place beside The World’s Most Famous Beach? It’s well worth seeing and it’s free.
Most of the motorcycles at the Boardwalk and Rat’s Hole shows are expensively built and as slick as fresh rain on an oil spot. Equally creative, if not always as shiny, are those at Willie’s Ol’ School Chopper Show, held on Thursdays at Tropical Tattoo on U.S. 1, in Ormond Beach. At Willie’s, backyard ingenuity competes heads-up with the best motorcycles money can build.
No one will ever convince me that Florida is the most scenic state of the 50, but I’ll admit there’s plenty to enjoy for those who enjoy going somewhere just to ride after they get there. The beautiful and historic Mantanzas Inlet (mantanzas being Spanish for “slaughter,” if that little teaser does anything for you) and St. Augustine, our country’s oldest city, are only an hour’s ride north of Main, with an ocean view to enjoy most of the way.
Volusia County’s 23-mile “Loop” is a certified scenic tour that also demonstrates how good the riding in Florida can actually be. Starting on John Anderson Drive in Ormond Beach and going north, it parallels the Halifax River for several miles, winding through tunnels of interlaced Live Oak branches that trail thick strands of Spanish Moss. If you’re interested in catching a glimpse of Florida as it once was, ride The Loop. Also worth seeing, and climbing unless you try it on a full stomach, is the 173-foot Ponce Inlet Light House, at the southern tip of the peninsula. Five bucks will get you inside, and 203 steps will get you to the top for one of the best views in and of the area.
While you’re on the south side of town, consider crossing the Dunlawton Street Bridge on Highway 421 for a quick ride up and down U.S. 1. To the south, you’ll find The Last Resort Bar. Like the White Eagle, it’s the real deal. It’s also the spot where serial killer Eileen Wournos, one of the few females to try her hand at the trade, was arrested before her execution a few years later. Rent the Monster DVD if you’d like to see inside The Last Resort without actually going there. A few miles to the north, you’ll find Miller’s Custom Parts and more vendor villages.
Biketoberfest’s venue and fall scheduling make it unique. But when you get down to it, Biketoberfest offers the same things any other successful motorcycle event does – days on end of motorcycles, motorcycle-centered entertainment, and the company of like-minded people. For more information, click up http://www.biketoberfest.org/ or http://www.daytonachamber.com/.