Bike Week in Daytona – The Biker’s First Sign of Spring

To the Harley rider, or to any stouthearted motorcyclist regardless of affiliation, it’s the first official sign of Spring.

No, it is not the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher flying north to summer nesting grounds from it’s yearly respite in Mexico. Nor is it the Canadian Snow Bird, holstering the sandwedge for the last time and steering the big Buick across the bridge at Sanibel for that long trek home to Quebec.

To the snow weary two wheeler, the surest sign that Spring is just around the corner is the sight of fellow bikers flocking south. South from the frozen flatness of the Great Midwest. South from the dreary gray of the cold North East. From all points of the compass they are drawn like magnets down interstates I-75 and I-95 and I-Whatever. As bugs to a light they are heading for Daytona Beach and Bike Week.

The yearly pilgrimage that makes these cc riders as giddy as young children on Christmas morning all began back in 1937 and it continues today. In almost seventy five years it has paused only for WWII.

In those early days, in the 30s and 40s, it was a great place to watch motorcycles race along the packed sand in the Daytona 200, affectionately dubbed, the ‘Handlebar Derby’.

With the release of “The Wild One” in 1953, it was a great place to watch Marlon Brando wannabes roaring up and down Main Street on black Triumph Thunderbirds. Posing cooly in black leather jackets and rolled up blue jeans. Smoldering cigarettes dangling from their curled and defiant lips.

When the herd of wannabes was thinned of it’s weekend warriors, the motorcycle gangs of the 60s and 70s were begot and Bike Week then became a great place to get your ass kicked.

It is still, no doubt, a celebration of chrome, leather and testosterone, but it has also toned down a bit from those heady days of yesteryear. Some would say a bit too much.

Along with baseball players on steroids and pop singers on autotune, our current culture has produced a new breed of ‘biker’ who more accurately resembles a Trick or Treater gone wild.

Like men cooking before an open fire, the veneer of danger here can be a thin one. For many, the greatest peril they’ll face is when they return home. Trading the chardonnay for PBRs is a small cross to bear. Canceling an appointment with the hair stylist and setting the beard trimmer to 3 is a piece of cake. But referring to ones spouse as “my old lady” for an entire week carries a hefty price tag.

For me though, the saddest part is that the actual migration itself has changed.

I have been traveling up and down both I-75 and I-95 through Georgia and Florida for more years than I care to remember. At all times of the year. I have personally witnessed this yearly ritual from eye level. Unfortunately over time, I have also witnessed the sad regression of the once proud road warrior to the dubious station of mere passenger.

Once was the time when you were stirred from the mind numbing trance that is interstate travel by a low rumble coming from somewhere unknown. A sound you couldn’t quite identify. And then… before you could make any sense of it, a roaring, thundering pack of chrome and rubber, straddled by wild and dangerous looking men and women would engulf your car. A vision to remember and an unexpected thrill to race the adrenalin. Sure to keep you awake and between the lines for at least another seventy five miles.

And it was worth the the years it took from your life. That sudden jolt of reality. That glorious pageant of Americana.

Sadly those sightings have all but disappeared, and non de-script trailers pulled behind expensive and unsoiled pickup trucks, travel vans and shiny motor homes have taken their place. The only clue as to their contents is the occasional Harley sticker on back of a clean and carefully sealed trailer. No flashes of chrome. No vests embroidered with club emblems. If anyone is flying their colors, it’s out of sight and behind shatter proof glass. Gone is the noble roar of the big bikes. Just more vehicles joining in the flow and adding to the hypnotic hum of the highway.

There is even a bumper sticker that says

“I just got back from Trailer Week in Daytona”

So imagine my delight as I drove south along I-75 last week. I pulled off into a rest stop just north of Atlanta, and there they were. Like candy to a child. Row after row of big, beautiful, gleaming motorcycles. A crowd of unkept looking men and women milling about the parking lot and filling the lobby of the rest area completed the tableau. All clad in leather and denim. Bandanas, large leather wallets secured by long chains, oily boots with scuff marks on the toes. Everything old and used. Nothing new and shiny.

These were bikers committed to the act. Bikers who actually rode their motorcycles to Bike Week. All the way from the upper midwest. The entire route to Florida in the last week of February.

Who knows? There was probably a support van accompanying them. I don’t want to know. There may have even been an accountant or a lawyer in the bunch. For all I know they were all wearing clean shorts.

But they were riding their bikes. Not a trailer to be seen.

God bless them one and all.

I never would have believed that my faith in mankind would be renewed by a loud and scruffy bunch of bikers.