DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They put the vroom in Volusia.
Every year they come to the county’s iconic beach city to ring in the fall with full throttle. They come from Kissimmee, Kansas City, and Kalamazoo — any place that can support a kick stand. They come to look at bikes, talk about bikes, and be with bikes.
And they’re back for Biketoberfest.
“This is where it’s at,” said Jim Ness, who rode down with a buddy from Spartanburg, South Carolina. “If you’re a biker, you come to Daytona …”
Biketoberfest is the annual Daytona Beach festival that embraces Harleys, road trips, and RPMs. The 2020 event started Thursday and continues through Sunday.
This year, bikers say they’re especially embracing freedom. More on that in a moment.
Biketoberfest, the two-wheeled little brother of the area’s Bike Week in March, emphasizes that it’s not so much of an event as a “collection of activities” throughout mainly Volusia County — with adjustments and limitations this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Daytona Beach on Thursday, the stage remained Main Street, where mainly 40-something to 60-something bikers and biker couples lined their bikes facing the street in tight rows. This made you think of the domino effect that you thought you once saw in a movie: If you did something to make one motorcycle fall down, they’d all fall down. And then you’d run for your life.
Other bikers rode past slowly, often in groups and sometimes barely beyond idle. This allowed them to look at bikes and be looked at by bikers.
“It is about the bikes,” said Renee Carroll, who rode down with her husband, Mark, from Phenix City, Alabama. Yet she added: “We look forward to meeting new people and meeting the locals, so it is about that biker community.”
But the pace Thursday seemed slower, quieter, and less lively than previous years, participants said. They attributed that to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Some bemoaned reports that the Daytona Beach City Commission declined this year to approve vendors and live music — driving some festivities to venues outside Daytona Beach, they said.
“I think the freedom has been taken away this year,” Ness, the South Carolina rider, said as he sat at the Boot Hill Saloon on Main Street. “We used to have a band next door. We can’t have it now.”
A bit down the street, Roger Bateman, who details motorcycles, lay on the sidewalk and polished up a Harley.
“They call me Detail Roger,” he said.
He said he was aggravated because he usually works on up to eight motorcycles a day during Biketoberfest. By midday Thursday, he said, he had done only three.
“Too many rules,” he said. “America ain’t free no more. I never thought I’d see it. You have to wear a mask to go anywhere.”
That wasn’t the case Thursday on Main Street, where masks may have occupied minds but few faces.
“We don’t need to wear a mask unless we feel like we need to wear a mask,” said Bruce Yerkes, who rode down with Ness from South Carolina. “And somebody shouldn’t be telling us, ‘You can’t do this or you can’t do that’ for no reason. They’ve been doing that without any numbers. That’s why we came down here.”
He added: “Of course, we always come down here.”