…and the voice of the Harley is heard in the land.
September through December is off-season here. The tourists fill up the beach through Labor Day, then in January the snowbirds and race fans start arriving. In a tourism-based economy, a four month gap is a long time. Sixteen years ago, the local powers that be decided to do something about it.
Bike Week has been a tradition here for decades – I can’t remember if it’s 40, 50 or 60 years, but it’s a long time. It happens the first week of March. For that week, thousands and thousands of bikers, mostly Harley riders, descend on greater Daytona Beach. There’s a small but significant biker culture here year-round, but Bike Week is the biggie. Harley owners come from all over the world.
What happened 16 years ago was that civic leaders decided to add a mini-Bike Week to the schedule, to be called Biketoberfest, and to occur the third week of October. It’s supposed to only be a weekend event, but in reality it lasts all week. It does attract a fair number of bikers, and it has done what it was meant to do – stimulate the local economy during the off-season. This weekend is the peak of Biketoberfest for this year; it ends tomorrow.
Harleys are known for their loud pipes. Many riders customize their bikes to make their pipes even louder. The riders say that loud pipes save lives – that it causes car drivers to be more aware of where bikes are and leads to fewer accidents. I don’t think there’s any real evidence to back that up. I guess it might be true to a certain extent. But, above a certain decibel level, it can’t add any safety value. In my opinion, it just shows that the owner of the bike is a jerk. Especially when they rev them for no reason when stopped at a stoplight.
A tourism-based economy has several problems. One is the toll that it takes on the full-time residents of the area. The population of our entire county is about 550,000. During Bike Week in March, approximately 500,000 bikers arrive, effectively doubling our population. We don’t have the infrastructure for that, particularly roads; we barely have it for the full-time population. Traffic is terrible, and with all those loud pipes, the noise is tremendous. If you live near a major road, it never ends – except for a window from about 4 am to 7 am. Unfortunately, I live near a major road – A1A, the coastal route that runs the length of eastern Florida. I’m 1/4 mile from A1A, so I get to hear a lot of those loud pipes. There is also a house on our street that is a vacation home, and the owners only use it during Bike Week and Biketoberfest – they’re bikers. So they come and go right past my house.
Biketoberfest is not as crowded as Bike Week. The estimate is 125,000 bikers, which is still a lot but only a quarter of that during Bike Week. It’s a little more laid back too. This year, business is off a little – due to the economy, of course. That’s another problem with a tourist economy – when the economy is bad everywhere, tourism drops off and our economy suffers doubly.
Even though the locals suffer during Biketoberfest and other such “special events,” we have to have them. Some local businesses make enough money during Bike Week to carry them through the slow times of the year. And, bikers spend a lot of money. They buy a lot of stuff and eat out a lot. According to waitresses I know, they also tip extremely well. (As opposed to race fans, who are notoriously cheap, according to the same waitresses. But that’s another story.)
Bikers as a group are also extremely generous. They organize charity rides and get behind a lot of worthy causes. One year, a biker went to one of our local assisted living facilities and gave the residents rides around the parking lot. It was great.
So, for better or worse, the bikers go home today, and our off-season begins in earnest. Just so happens that today is going to be the first real day of fall – cooler, drier and breezy. The off-season, and our best weather of the year, begin today and last through New Year’s. It’s a good day. 🙂