Daytona Bike Week: The Legend Turns 75

I was sunburned from a week in the Florida sun, I smelled like a carburetor, and I really should have headed back to the hotel room.

Instead I found myself with thousands of others at Destination Daytona singing and stomping along to Charlie Daniels’ Band playing their signature hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Chills went through me as the searing tones of Charlie’s fiddle cut through the sweaty crowd and into the psyche of everyone within earshot.

Even at the age of 79, he’s still the legend he’s always been. But Charlie wasn’t the only one to fit this description. The concert was a great crescendo to a week of the life-changing, soul-enveloping, motorcycle experience that is Daytona Bike Week which, at 75 years, is still the legend it’s always been.

What started as a small-time racing event has grown to become one of the world’s largest gatherings of motorcycles and fans. I’ve walked down one side of Main St., admiring a thousand bikes gleaming under that blazing, Florida sun. I’ve stopped to talk with a few owners about everything from carbs, to suicide shifters, to custom paint. Then I’ve turned around at the end of the street, only to discover a thousand new bikes that have taken their place. All at once, the town has taken on a whole new persona.

But it’s not just the town – everyone here comes to Daytona to escape their daily lives and adopt a slightly cooler persona, even for a short time. No conference calls are made. Meetings are impromptu gatherings at a roadside burger stand. And the only schedule to keep is waking up with the sunrise, and remembering to sleep when you get tired.

One of many I met along Main Street was Lee, a tall, silver-haired gentleman with a black leather riding jacket that stretched across his broad shoulders. He, too, was trying to escape his daily life for a while.

Back in Louisiana, Lee was a loving husband with nine grandchildren and a thriving building contractor business. Along with four friends (including an early-‘70s Elvis impersonator), they’d left Louisiana earlier in the week, packing only what would fit into the saddle bags, and headed to Daytona. They spent the next several days riding their Evos and Shovels, talking motorcycles, and eating as much bacon and bratwurst as they could find from the endless array of sidewalk vendors.

Even I felt a bit cooler. After all, I got to hang out with two of the baddest custom bikes that have been built in the past year.

GEICO and Misfit Industries unveiled these custom-built beauties at Daytona Bike Week 2016.

To honor the 75th anniversary of Daytona, GEICO asked Misfit Industries to put their Dallas-sourced swagger into two Harley-Davidson Road Kings. Tearing both down to a bare frame, these Softails were slicked down into two different personalities. One became a lightweight, hardcore racer, giving a nod to the early bikes that raced along the beach at Daytona. The other a smoothed-out, ultra-modern custom with a vintage silhouette. Both painted in deep blues that would make the nearby sapphire-hued ocean weep with envy.

As Sunday morning rolled around, I sat in a nearby café sipping coffee, killing time until the cab came to take me to the airport. I’d changed back into khaki shorts and flip-flops, and I was once again myself. I was no longer part of a wonderful brotherhood – I was just another beach town tourist. Or was I?

As I left the shop to walk to the corner, I saw three riders cruising my way, their bikes loaded up and ready to head across the bridge out of town. Instinctually, I flashed them a “Peace on the Road” sign, which was returned to me with thumbs raised high.

I guess you never really lose that biker spirit. It’s just stronger in Daytona.

By Christian LeHew