Tens of thousands of bikers left town Sunday as merchants and local officials said the event attracted bigger crowds than they’ve had in years.
Over the course of the 10-day rally, hundreds of thousands flocked to the Main Street strip for the 75th installment of skin, beer, music and, of course, motorcycles.
“We all have a great time here,” said Jennifa “J-Roux” Leroux, who witnessed her first Bike Week from behind the bar at Froggy’s Saloon, where’s she’s a hostess.
The tavern featured go-go dancing shows, live bands and a throng of animated characters. Leroux said she saw people from the Netherlands, England, Australia, Germany, Spain and France throughout the week.
“This is the go-to spot,” Leroux said. “This is my first Daytona (Bike Week), and it was a blast. We had an amazing time here. It definitely won’t be my last.”
The 10-day celebration of motorcycle culture remains one of Daytona’s biggest draws. It typically lures about a half million people into Volusia and Flagler counties. Bike Week and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which held its 75th annual event in August, are regarded as two of the biggest motorcycle events in the country.
Sam “Shaggy” West began coming to Bike Week in 1990, and enjoyed his 30th jaunt at the showcase. He’s made several friends during the event over the years and looks forward to reconnecting with them every March. He said he attended Sturgis in 2012 but said he prefers the Daytona Beach festival.
“I love Bike Week,” he said. “I liked to think that this is the Super Bowl of (motorcycle rallies). You’ll get other people who disagree and say it’s Sturgis. But those are the two.”
Main Street serves as Bike Week’s ground zero, and business owners at the taverns, restaurants and storefronts that line the strip reported huge surges in foot traffic at their shops. Jill Abercrombie, head server at Lucky Rooster Pub and Eatery, said she estimated a $50,000 increase in revenue this week.
“I think it’s been the biggest Bike Week that we’ve seen,” she said.
The bikers trickled out to Flagler County’s oceanfront bar crawl as well, according to Finn’s Beachside Pub manager Grant Tarpley.
“It’s been busier than most years,” Tarpley said. “It’s been a great week.”
Officials predicted this year’s fest would be one of the biggest in Bike Week’s history. West expected larger than usual crowds as well. He said he spent several hours on Main Street throughout the week, and saw huge crowds Friday and Saturday nights. But he didn’t see the huge turnout he anticipated, noting the event reached its height in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“What I judge the amount of people by is the ‘getting-here traffic,’ ” he said. “What’s the traffic like getting to Main Street. If it’s not backed up to get here, it’s not busy. I’ve seen the bridge backed up a couple times, but barely on this side of the bridge.”
Although the attendance may have disappointed him, West said he had a good time soaking up the atmosphere of older women checking out the bikes, bare-skinned young women, “Bible thumpers” screaming at passersby and a man letting strangers pet his boa constrictor.
“It’s been a great week,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. Everyone I’ve talked to has said they had a great time.
“If you’re a people-watching person, this is the place to be if you want to people watch,” he added. “The people watching and what they’re riding down the road with, whether it’s a bike or a car, is better than — you can’t get that anywhere else. That’s what I like about it. I’ll sit here every day, all day and just watch the world go by.”
Nine days into the event, there has been only a single, though horrific, motorcycle accident involving a man being dragged by a car and a vehicle hit a pedestrian.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood noted a rough kickoff to the weeklong bash, which included four stolen bikes, but regarded this year’s tilt as a peaceful occasion overall.
“Last Saturday was hell day,” he said. “Good thing was, they were all in jail by Sunday. … Arrests have been very few. It’s been really calm. Everything’s been really good.”
During the 10 days of Bike Week last year, general manager for Bruce Rossmeyer’s Harley Davidson, Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe, said their Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach stores sold about 230 bikes.
When asked if those numbers would likely be up at the end of this rally, Pepe said, “Oh, yeah. We’re up across the board for sure.”
Janet Kersey, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Daytona Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said she’s received very positive feedback from area businesses and everyone has worked together to pull the rally together.
“It does take a village and our village has really come through for this event,” said Kersey. “Everyone’s saying their numbers are up