- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bike Week was held just a bit later this year, and it made a difference.

By the time the last half of the usual 600,000 riders rode or trailered in, the shivers were history. So, almost, were the multiple hurricanes that whacked the Space Coast this year. There were repairs going on, and windows with that fresh installed look, but apart from the haggard palm trees, you had to be looking to really notice. It was easier just to glory in a respite from the East Coasts unending Big Chill.

That said, you didnt need to feel the photons to know you were here, you could hear you were here. Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden made another in a long line of valiant efforts to curb the noise, employing ubiquitous pretty blue signs shaped like houses, featuring the slogan: NO “WAKE” ZONE. The “O” in “ZONE” was meant to depict a local face dozing happily, something nigh unto impossible in the course of the 10-day event if you live beachside. Frank Heckman, leader of Beachside Neighborhood Watch, was saying this to any an all who bothered to listen.

With good reason the Sheriff called it “Mardi Gras on Wheels.”

One hears of loud bikers being pulled over and ticketed, more every year, but you never see it happen. It isnt hard to figure why. “The city does not want an adversarial relationship with our visitors,” Mayor Scarlett-Golden confessed during a news conference in The Wreck, a riverfront bar and restaurant co-owned by Bruce Rossmeyer, who just happens to also own Daytona Beach Harley-Davidson.

Why the noise tolerance? No mystery. A 2001 study by the University of Central Florida showed Bike Week (and Biketoberfest in autumn) pump $744 million into the region’s economy. Ear plugs, by contrast, cost 2 bucks.

The merchants were pleased to see the fabled beach & race town overflowing with the usual suspects. It was a cinch to spot every variety of motorcycle and rider, provided the venue varied from Main Street to the newly refurbished Speedway along Volusia Boulevard. On Main Street, row upon row of look-alike biker-lifestylers looked angry and rebellious, but oddly identical. Harleys were lined up handlebar to handlebar, like spoons in a Victorian drawer. At the track, wildly colored Japanese sportbikes zipped about in a two-wheeled version of Brownian Motion. The bikers were playing mean; the sportbikers were playing hot stuff, like characters in a medieval morality play.

For obvious reasons, they really don’t mix much. The black leather crowd cruises the redneck boutiques, where American flags, and Iron Cross regalia top the list. The guys on the fast Japanese bikes wearing SoCal surfer leathers pose at the track, or pop wheelies on tiny portions of open road.

The big, bad Bikers roll up and down A1A past the cameras in search of some lost romantic epiphany. A popular T-shirt shows a mustachioed chopper rider blowing down the beach hair trailing in the salt breeze.

In reality only a few bikers brave the surfside, given the abundant early spring breakers running in every direction, the salt air wreaking havoc on the chrome, and the 10 mph speed limit. Then too, there is also a vehicle charge to use the beach.

But looking at the jammed bridges over intracoastal waterway, even 10 mph would pass for a fast pace. Riders were again observed walking their roaring bikes up to the fabled Boot Hill Saloon, just across from the cemetery. All this to buy a thin two-color T-shirt souvenir. Potemkin village stores on Main Street hawked their usual semi-gothic biker wear, including the fingerless gloves for the tough guys and fishnet leggings for the ladies. The unusual combination of Iron Cross and rose tattoos is standard issue here, though not for the early spring breakers who shuffle by warily.

All this makes for crowded quarters, and an impossible challenge for the local police. Officers sat on their fat white Harleys, forced to ignore almost as much as they noticed. Chasing down a speeder was not an option. It was simply too much.

It comes as no shock that Florida’s most deadly times for riding a motorcycle is in March — during Bike Week — and October, when Biketoberfest comes to Daytona Beach.

Since 1999, about half the motorcycle deaths in Volusia County occurred either during the first two weeks of March or the last two weeks of October, according to federal data. During those four weeks from 1999 through 2003, 46 riders died in Volusia County. An additional 48 died

during the other 48 weeks of the year.

All this is by way of saying that, with the sun shining the last big weekend, the crowd was back to its notion of normal for Bike Week 2005. That meant the relentless, deafening sound of loud pipes from the Harley riders at all hours, drowning out the curses of the sleepless retirees. And of course the unremitting jangle of the busy cash registers of the smiling merchants. Every one was hawking official Bike Week this and that, including shot glasses, bandanas, do-rags,tank-tops, cigarette lighters, and T-shirts with slogans too rude to mention in a family newspaper.

There is racial tension too, with a least one black clergyman in a pickup truck involved in a nasty dispute with a pack of white bikers. The serious injury that resulted may resonate a good while.

Meanwhile, out at the racetrack, thousands of mere motorcyclists (as opposed to bikers) were watching dirt bike motocross events, time trails for the Speedway, and finally the newly reformulated Daytona 200 itself. It was like one big picnic, but unlike Nascars Daytona 500, the

bike races are relatively lightly attended. You can get to almost anywhere, provided you are willing to shell out for a pass. You get your fill of racing here and then some. Even Michael Jordan of NBA fame has caught the motorcycle bug, bringing his own hands-on team to the 2005 races.

While Jordan is known to sometimes place a bet or two, neither he nor most pits-savvy people were betting against Mat Mladin in the Superbike heat, or against many-time Daytona winner Miguel DuHamel in the 200. For once the experts were right too.

In the meantime non-race goers rode on up to St. Augustine on a sunny Thursday or Friday to see the old Spanish fort and the colonial stuff.

Others rode down to the Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island wildlife reserve. There was even much buzz about this years visitors pitching camp outside the Daytona city limits to avoid price gouging.

Non-Harley types in particular rode rather than trailered their bikes to Daytona, and could be spotted camped out in surrounding towns, with Honda Gold Wing riders to the south in New Smyrna, and BMW riders abundant in Flagler Beach up north. One thing was the same though. The hints about curbing Bike Week excesses remained just that: hints.

Perhaps it is comparisons to the much rowdier Spring Breakers who follow that serves to quiet the town critics, if not the loud pipes.

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