February 28, 2014
It has become a spring pilgrimage for motorcyclists, a reason to take their bikes off the trickle charger, put gas in the tank, air in the tires and heed the call of the white sandy beaches of Daytona Beach. By the time Bike Week rolls around, American riders have borne the wrath of winter and are itching to ride. Annually it attracts almost a half million bikers from around the globe eager to get their party on in Volusia County every spring. Daytona Beach Bike Week provides the perfect conduit to another great riding season. The Florida coastline holds the promise of sunny days and a chance to get out, feel warmth on your skin and to run your toes through the sand. Daytona Beach Bike Week gives average Joes an opportunity to ride like a king down Main Street, to roast some tires on the plywood platform in front of the stage at the Broken Spoke Saloon, or to take a ride on the beach itself, a luxury that you don't get many places any more.
What has blossomed into one of the mothers of all motorcycle rallies is rooted in racing. These roots run deep, hailing back to January 24, 1937, date of the first Daytona 200. Picture watching Harley Flatheads and Knuckles dicing it out with Indian Fours and who knows, maybe a Crocker or two. Imagine the sound the big bikes made at full tilt barreling down the beach for a mile-and-a-half before sliding around the quarter-mile long sandy bank that served as the first turn. Then it was on to the highway for the run south before hitting another big banked turn that spit racers back onto the sand for another run up the beach. When the roar of rumbling V-Twins finally faded, it was Ed Kretz on an Indian who etched his name in the record books as the first winner of the Daytona 200 and one of the world's most prestigious motorcycle races was born.
And racing is still at the heart of Daytona Beach Bike Week. In addition to the grueling Daytona 200, Daytona serves as a springboard for the rest of the AMA Pro Racing paddock, from Superbike to Supersport. The best off-road riders in the land kick off their season during Bike Week, too, as the Grand National Cross Country Championships take place. Then there's the ever-popular AMA Supercross series on a track traditionally designed by the GOAT himself, Ricky Carmichael. Catching at least one race should be on every Bike Week visitor's itinerary. If nothing else, it's worth the trip to visit the historic high-banks of Daytona International Speedway. Then again, if you are not a sportbike fan maybe the thunder of AMA Pro Flat Track season will appeal to you. Top-tier steel shoed riders take to the limestone quarter-mile at the Daytona Flat Track for the first two races of the season.
But Daytona Beach Bike Week has evolved into much more than motorcycle races. The spectacle that has spawned around the races has a life of its own. No trip to Bike Week is complete without making a trip or two down Main Street. Yep, it's going to be loud, elbow-to-elbow, gritty and even a little seedy, but damn there's fun to be had. Whatever your vibe is, you can find it on Main Street, be it dancing at Froggy's or catching some blues at the Boot Hill Saloon. Lots of events center around Main Street, from benefit rides like Harley-Davidson's annual Women's MDA ride to public debuts of new motorcycles at hot spots like Dirty Harry's. You never know who you're going to bump into there but inevitably you always run into someone you haven't seen in a long time. Just posting up to people watch and check out all the cool motorcycles rolling by is a popular pastime. When it's time to get the party going, Main Street on Daytona Beach is the place to be.
You'll want to get out to the Speedway, too, even if you're not going to the races. Just about every OEM sets up outside the gates of the stadium, bringing along the latest motorcycles on the market for people to see, sit-on, and in most cases, demo ride. You get to do this with the ambience of superbikes screaming from the infield of the Speedway as they conduct practice and qualifying runs throughout the week. In addition to the manufacturers' presence, Thunder Alley and the Midway have rows and rows of vendors, food booths, and fun events like the annual Hooters Bikini Contest going on, too.
We highly recommend setting a day aside to visit Destination Daytona as well. And we do mean a full day, as there's so much going at Bruce Rossmeyer's Harley-Davidson empire that you'll need a day to take it all in. Big name vendors surround the premise, the smell of meats grillin' fills the air, and a continuous stream of shows provides continuous entertainment. Destination Daytona has its own on-premise hotel, Saints & Sinners Pub, and tattoo parlor. J&P Cycles has a Destination Daytona Superstore there as well, and it's worth a trip inside just to check out all the cool collectible motorcycles spread about the facility. Not to mention you can buy a new part for your bike inside and have it installed almost immediately by one of the techs they have at the ready outside. It's a mini-rally within the rally, so be sure to set aside some time to visit Destination Daytona during your trip.
While you're in the Ormond Beach area, hop on US 1 - South and stop in at the Broken Spoke Saloon just down the road from Destination Daytona. From the Spanish moss covered oaks that cover the property to the choppers that hang like Christmas ornaments from the trees, the Broken Spoke offers a biker-friendly party atmosphere. Tattoo and loud pipes contests are held daily, live music and killer tribute bands play every night, and there are always special events happening like the Baker Drive Train Smoke-Down Showdown. Be sure to pay a visit to the Iron Horse Saloon, too, because the Bike Week bar has plenty of history and is just down the street from the Spoke. The Iron Horse puts on a great party in its own right, with acts like the Wall of Death, bike shows, and live music generally on the docket.
Another Daytona Beach Bike Week institution is the shenanigans that go on out at Sopotnick's Cabbage Patch. If you've never seen coleslaw wrestling before, check it out. The Cabbage Patch spreads out blue plastic sheets over a giant earthen mound, oils up a couple thousand pounds of green slaw, and puts up a $500 cash prize to the winner. While the silly contest is worthy of a Jeff Foxworthy punchline, it has grown into a Bike Week staple. But don't tell the ladies wrestling for the cash prize it's a silly competition. When it's time to throw down, the girls are all business in the ring. Again, there's plenty to see and do at Sopotnick's. The venue doubles as a popular campground, too.
Be sure to catch a custom bike show while you're at Bike Week. Many custom bike builders use the rally to debut their latest projects. The Harley-Davidson Ride-In Bike Show always has a good turnout, showcasing to what extremes a Harley can be customized. Willie's Tropical Tattoo Old School Chopper Show is another not to be missed event. If you have an affinity for garage builds, rat bikes, bobbers and vintage choppers, this show is for you. Then there's the granddaddy of them all, the Rat's Hole Custom Bike Show. With over 40 years of experience, it is one of the most prestigious shows around. Founded by Karl Smith, AKA Big Daddy Rat, the Rat's Hole started out as a t-shirt shop but has grown into one of the most acclaimed gatherings for custom bike builders and their fans.
Taking in all of these activities will work up a hunger. While there's plenty of great places to grab some grub while you're at the rally, here's a few establishments we frequent that never disappoint. If you're looking for a hearty breakfast, check out the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle House located inside the DeLeon Springs State Park Recreation Area. Each table has its own griddle, the staff brings out pitchers of homemade pancake batters, there's blueberries, bananas and chocolate chips to make them even tastier, and you grill them yourself at the table. Plenty of sides like bacon and sausage, too. One of the hidden gems of the Bike Week gastronomic experience.
A couple other places we highly recommend include Hull's Seafood Market/Restaurant. Another lesser known place off the beaten path, you won't find any fresher, tastier seafood at the rally. Caught in the Atlantic that morning and on your plate by lunch. Honest prices and regional side dishes seal the deal. Ker's WingHouse Daytona Beach is a great place to meet up with friends, chow on some spicy chicken wings, sip a cool one from the tap and enjoy friendly banter with the beautiful Florida girls that work there. There's plenty of BBQ joints to choose from too, but if you're in the Main Street area, Hog Heaven Real Pit BBQ across from the Ocean Center can't be beat for fall-apart-good brisket and lip-smackin' sauces. If you're looking for a great little dockside bar filled with plenty of tropical Florida ambience, head out to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and stop into the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill. Located right on the water, we've watched dolphins swimming close by while grubbing on fried gator tail and enjoying a cocktail there. It's another one of those places slightly off the beaten path you might not know about unless you heard about it from a friend.
And of course, be sure to get in as much riding as possible while at the rally. Everyone needs to cruise down Main Street on a motorcycle at least once in their life. They also need to take advantage of being able to ride on the beach itself. Pack a lunch, park your bike, and enjoy an afternoon listening to the waves or watching boogie boarders catch waves.A spin on "The Loop" is also a great way to escape the lunacy of Main Street and get away from snarled traffic around the Speedway. Beginning on John Anderson Drive in Ormond Beach, in minutes you're out of town and into the salty marshes and moss-draped trees that define the area. Be sure to stop at Highbridge Park to see if you can spot any manatees in the Halifax River. A great way to clear the mind, it even has a few curves in the road! Just be sure to obey the speed limits because the area is usually heavily patrolled.
If you're looking for a day trip, the Kennedy Space Center is about 70 miles south. Home to America's space program, it houses wonderful exhibits, has an IMAX 3d theater, offers guided tours of the facility, and is rife with history from our country's space exploration endeavors. You can even schedule to have lunch with an astronaut. Head in the opposite direction and you can visit the oldest city in the nation, St. Augustine. It has a historic fort and lighthouse and landmarks like Castillo de San Marcos and Ponce de Leon's "Fountain of Youth" that's popular with visitors. It also has its own nature loop ride.
As you can tell, Daytona Beach Bike Week has its own unique signature among motorcycle rallies. It kicks off the motorcycle rally season with a bang, all against the backdrop of the green waters of the Atlantic Ocean and white sandy beaches. With a history over 70 years strong, Bike Week continues to be a bastion of biker revelry.