By Erika Webb
Bike Week 2014 — it was a big one.
Whether frigid temperatures and relentless snow in the northern states or a less dismal economic forecast than in recent years prompted them — bikers suited up and showed up in droves, coming from all over the U.S. and as far away as Japan and Australia.
In the early evening hours of March 14, a procession on U.S. 92 seemed to be a mile long, and traveled east toward the event’s hub.
But they do fan out.
Ed Poplin of Edgewater has been in and around Daytona Beach Bike Week happenings since the early ’80s.
The U.S. Navy veteran often would schedule his leave or liberty to visit family in the area around the annual event.
“Once I got out in '89, (Edgewater’s) been my home, so Bike Week and Biketoberfest have become a way of life,” Mr. Poplin said.
Over the years he’s observed expansion in some areas, such as Ormond Beach, and the decline in others, such as his home city, Edgewater, despite being home of the No Name Saloon.
“But in the most recent years, the Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach, Samsula and Osteen areas are starting to get back on the travel routes of the folks that come to Bike Week,” he said.
As for this, the event’s 73rd year, he said, “Honestly, I don’t think I have seen this many people, bikes and venues opened up for us since the 50th anniversary event; it was great to run into people I haven’t seen come down in years.
“The weather cooperated which is always a plus,” Mr. Poplin said.
Unable to speculate on the actual numbers of visitors, he came away convinced it was a “big year for the area.”
“I was really happy to see some of the local iconic places, like the Pub 44, and the No Name saloon, start catering back to the visitors,” he said. “Also, great bands and food and, of course, who can leave out the Cabbage Patch? Always a great time out there.”
A favorite ride for Mr. Poplin is “the Loop,” which runs through Daytona Beach and out around Tomoka and Flagler.
“I’m not sure whose idea it was, but now we have a southern ‘loop’ as well, which is also a great ride,” Mr. Poplin said.
It includes Edgewater, Mims, Osteen, New Smyrna Beach and the Samsula areas, he said, “great roads good sites and many places to stop and feel the life.”
No Name Saloon owners, father and daughter Jim and Susan Kelly “had something to do with” creating the loop.
“My dad, Jim, and Ronnie (Luznar) at the Cabbage Patch have been working together to get people to this area, setting up things like poker runs,” Ms. Kelly said.
“We also have dart leagues, pool leagues, barbeque, and every Friday night we have steak night and karaoke, which brings a lot of people,” she said. “We try to have something going on every weekend and every day during the week.”
Patrons are kept updated through the saloon’s Facebook page and website.
“We definitely did good this year,” Ms. Kelly said. “There were a lot more people than we expected. I think it was the weather, people just wanted to get away from the cold.”
Bike Week is hosted and organized by the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Chief Operating Officer Janet Kersey said she talked to many chamber members during the wind-down week following the festivities.
“Most businesses tell us it takes a while for all of those invoices and bills to shake out but (comparing) raw numbers to raw numbers this year went very well,” Ms. Kersey said. “We didn’t have anyone say it was terrible, or anything like that. Most said weekends were busier and mid-week a little softer but overall it went well.”
“Hoteliers said they did well,” she added. “And chamber members have reported great success this year. They said it was well managed. We actually had a lot of people say they have great confidence in our staff, which is always good to hear.”
Organizers are starting to “fan out activities,” to appeal to various demographics Ms. Kersey said.
“Baby Boomers are still riding and they’re not quittin’ anytime soon,” she said, laughing.
Millennials are forming a new audience and, therefore, new attention grabbers must be developed.
“Their parents and grandparents rode and they want to ride, too, but they do things differently,” Ms. Kersey said. “At the welcome tent we had a selfie section where people could do selfies with the official Bike Week logo as the backdrop.”
They may not ride the same bikes as their older family members and their interests may be different but they want to be part of Bike Week in their own way, and they are welcome.
Ms. Kersey said it is very important to recognize the national and international sponsors that come in and organize events, market and promote the area.
Harley-Davidson, Amsoil and Ram Trucks are a few of the corporate sponsors that spread the word about Bike Week through their websites, publications and mailers.
The Chamber and area businesses are very grateful.
“We hosted a sponsor party for them at the Shores Resort and Spa,” she said. “They all really seemed to enjoy that.”
Mainstreet DeLand Association’s annual bike rally during the first weekend of the event brought music and bikers aplenty.
Longtime downtown bar and restaurant owner Frank Jennings, co-owner of Bill and Frank’s Brick House Grill, has decades of, some sunny and others rainy, Bike Weeks under his belt.
“We had a good Bike Week,” Mr. Jennings said. “It was comparable to the past, the weather cooperated and people seemed to enjoy themselves.”
Castaways Bar and Grille on the St. Johns River off of State Road 40 in Astor is popular for the view and menu items too numerous to mention but biker favorites include lobster bisque, oysters on the half-shell, little neck and whole belly clams.
Server/bartender Shaina George, also known as Socks, worked hers off this year and enjoyed every minute of it.
"We had a very successful bike week this year! The weather was great! The floating dock stayed full all week and all the customers left full and excited to return,” she said. “This year was a little busier than last year — busy enough that we even rented a porta-potty trailer. We also had outside and inside music.”
The scenic ride, beautiful view, lengthy menu, huge outside deck with live music always attract the motorcycle crowd to Down The Hatch in Ponce Inlet but General Manager Deland Kolewe said this year was even busier than most.
“The weather was nicer, which was great,” Mr. Kolewe said. “Talking with other businesses and watching the news, I think people are spending a little more, and they know along with the great ride and great view, we have great food and drinks!”
Beaver Bar in Ormond Beach has a five-star rating on Trip Advisor, but General Manager Jessica Cooley said the $2 beers, free bike parking and free bull-riding did the trick during Bike Week.
“It was busy, the numbers were bigger than last year,” Ms. Cooley said. “But it didn’t seem as busy because the first part of the first week it was cold and rainy. Both weekends were very good, though.”
The leisurely, picturesque ride out to Swamp House Grill on the St. Johns River in DeBary has caught the attention of bikers.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” General Manager Courtney Storey answered when asked if this year brought more business.
“Last year we didn’t get much of it,” Ms. Storey said. “Now they’re starting to expand during the daytime through the week, so we had big lunch crowds. At night and on the weekends they go back to Daytona for the events, but Monday through Thursday we were really busy.”
The Daytona Flea and Farmers Market typically is open Friday through Sunday but Promotions Manager Shannon Woodrum said three weeks of the year the market stays open all seven days — Christmas week, the week of the Daytona 500 and Bike Week.
“We had a good amount of foot traffic. It was very steady all week long,” Mr. Woodrum said. “It really started picking up on Wednesday when, I think, the bulk of the bikers seemed to arrive. We saw a lot Wednesday through Sunday.”
Mary Ann Curry’s excitement was palpable via pictures and updates posted on Facebook throughout her adventurous week.
“The Kid Rock show at No Name Saloon and Molly Hatchet at Pub 44 were favorites, especially since we love to support our locals,” Ms. Curry said.
But overall: “I just love the feeling of the wind in my face and the sun shining down on us,” Ms. Curry said. “I'm a born and bred Floridian and know why everyone loves to come here--it makes you feel so free and happy!”