The big talk after Daytona Bike Week was about attendance. "I heard the numbers were down" was echoed in conversations quizzing me over my impressions of the rally. But "down" is relative; down from what? The motorcycle industry is down, so what do we expect?
Kevin Killian, senior VP of the Daytona Beach/Halifax Area Chamber of Commerce, indeed confirms that attendance was flat or a little down from last year. But the rally is spread out over several eastern Florida counties now, and it's difficult to get an accurate count as a result.
Many rally-goers this year ventured north 15 miles to Ormond Beach and Bruce Rossmeyer's Destination Daytona. One could spend the whole day browsing the monstrous showroom of Daytona H-D, as well as the many aisles of vendors filling up the parking lot. J&P Cycles' new retail location is right next door; so is Arlen Ness' Daytona dealership and The Trike Shop. Küryakyn has set up shop at Destination Daytona since it opened three years ago. Marc Wolfram, director of marketing at Küryakyn, says it's the perfect vendor spot. "There is a lot for a visitor to see here."
Boogey Lights was back for a third year as well, with its hydraulic racks busy all week with technicians installing the lighting systems. (LED lights on motorcycles are popular these days. LED has replaced neon in recent years, as it draws less current from the battery.) Company president Scott Maentz this year was pleased: "We used to be on Beach Street," he says. "This spot at Destination Daytona has done well for us."
Crowds were a lot thinner elsewhere in Ormond Beach, and here is where the overall dip in rally attendance was evident. Corbin's new location, in a strip plaza on U.S. 1 about a mile from Destination Daytona, had a nearly empty parking lot (three bikes, usually) several times I drove by during the first half of Bike Week. Further down Highway 1, The Broken Spoke Saloon, usually known for its large, raucous crowds, was tame during the first weekend and in the early part of the week.
Over at the Daytona International Speedway, there was no shortage of people interested in taking demo rides on the various OEM bikes. You'd be hard-pressed to say that overall rally attendance was down, judging by the heavy foot traffic at the demo and new product display areas. Even during the usually slower midweek timeframe, the demo rides remained busy.
Blue skies held out until Thursday, when the storm clouds unloaded. Many people who may have stayed for the second weekend left early; one person told me that he saw a lot of bikes heading north on Interstate 95 on Friday before the final weekend. Rain has that effect on motorcycling events.
The last time I attended Bike Week was 2002, just as the crowds at the larger rallies started to swell to record numbers before peaking in 2004-05. To me, this year's attendance looked similar to 2002, a whole lot of bikers coming to one place at the same time. Half a million? Three hundred thousand? Whatever the number, it's still a lot of riders.