It was 20 degrees below in Montreal when Brian Henderson and his old lady got on his Harley Superglide and headed south for his fifth year at Bike Week. They did 300 miles the first day, which got them into New York State; 300 miles to Baltimore, where they laid over, 'cause there was snow. Then to Daytona Beach, 1,000 miles in 27 hours. Some would have stuck the bike in a trailer and hauled it on down, but Henderson disdains that sort of thing.
He has a sign next to his bike that reads "This is a real bike," meaning it didn't come down on the back of a trailer. He was holding forth on this out in the Hilton parking lot, where they have some of the more genteel events of Bike Week, the kick start contest and the shows where you get a chance to show off your iron. All around him were Knuckleheads and Sportsers and brothers in black T-shirts and leathers and their wolfies, in leather halters and T-shirts, too.
"The wind in your hair," Henderson was saying. "The bugs in your teeth," his old lady said. Henderson, a helicopter mechanic, allowed a small chuckle. "Not when it's 20 below," he said.
BORN TO DIE
Bikers and booze and brawling and brothers--that's what Bike Week, taking place the first week in March, is all about.
The chance to get the snow off the tarp and the tarp off the bike and the sun beating down on the gas tank in the first long haul of the season. The chance to get together with brothers and bikers from all over the U.S. of A., and show off your iron, and swap parts, and leave a message--"WEIRD HAROLD MEET ME AT BOOT HILL ANY NIGHT AFTER NINE"--at the Hilton parking lot. Chance to chase wolfies, too; sorry, ladies, but what we are talking about here is your mucho macho scene, allowing, of course, for your rightful position on the back. "I will always acknowledge male superiority," that's what Big Daddy Rat, a.k.a. Carl Smith, the 260-pound T-shirt entrepreneur who's the unofficial Godfather of Bike Week, says in his Ten Commandments for Lovin' Your Man, but maybe we're jumping the line. 'Cause wolfies, after all, are only a small part of Bike Week.
There's sand drags, down the stretch of beach behind the Old Timer's Bar at the far end of town, where the cops not only ain't on your tail, but help you out with their radar. There's partyin', at Boot Hill, opposite the graveyard. There's linin' up on Main Street, with upwards of 100,000 bikers in town, more iron and leather and black T-shirts than you've ever seen, and showin' your iron, though of course with all those "I'D RATHER PUSH MY HARLEY THAN DRIVE A RICE BURNER!" Main Street is a Harley-dominated scene. There's Big Daddy Rat's annual chopper show on the boardwalk, and if you were here last year you remember the highlights: the chopper in the shape of a dragon that shot fire out of its mouth; the chopper in the shape of a coffin; the chopper with the two toilets and a shower. There's--if you want to go out to what sort of started it all--the 41st running of the motorcycle races out at Daytona National Speedway.
There's even, if you want to get saved, the brothers from the Christian Motorcyclists Association, out in their leathers with the cross and prayerful hands on the back. "RIDING FOR THE SON," it says. Greg Heinritz, one of the brothers, was standing out in Main Street, next to his bike, the other night. It was a big Moto Guzzi, baby blue, painted up with Holy Scenes as pretty as a Hallmark devotional card. "MOTORCYCLE AND RIDER BELONG TO JESUS," it said. Three years ago, Heinritz said, it was covered with porn. Heinritz was testifying. "You a Christian, you love Jesus?" he asked a good-looking biker who'd stopped to admire his wheels. "When I'm in trouble, I give him a shout," the biker said.
Shortly thereafter, he peeled out. 'Cause you don't come to Daytona the first week in March to get saved, brother.
FLORIDA IS THE SUNSHINE STATE--COME STONED
Big Daddy Rat saw something this week that tickled him plenty. Guy out in Main Street in a 1,000 cc Kawasaki, hits the gas so hard smoke comes six, seven feet over his head and tears a hole in the pavement. Police come right over, say, "Okay, boy," wouldn't ya know, he does it again. Cops saw something this week, too. Girl on a motorcycle going 100 miles an hour. They give chase and she makes a bad turn over on the Volusia bridge and cuts off her leg on the guard rail. Sgt. Ed Shumaker made up the tourniquet. Turned out to be a stolen. Passenger's wanted, too.
That's some of the behavior in Daytona, Bike Week, the minority behavior according to both Big Daddy Rat and the cops, and really, not so bad when you consider the way the population of Daytona explodes.
It's a little bitty burg, Daytona, 58,000, many retired. That population quadruples during Bike Week and stays up there for the week following when the kids come down for the spring break. The beach, 20 miles of it, is the cause: geology being destiny, you might say. It is wide and it is hard and faced with such a gift of nature, Daytonians have a custom which, to outsiders, may shock: They drive on the beach and when they find a particularly fine place, they park. But what they historically like to do, according to Daytona Police Lt. Ed Frank, is race. They started years ago; running the old beach course from the south end of Atlantic Avenue. "If it had an engine, somebody had to run it fast down the beach," says the lieutenant.
These days, the law disallows speeds of more than 10 miles an hour on the sand. But during Bike Week, when the bikers in cutoff dungaree jackets line up behind the blue-haired ladies in the Winn-Dixie stores, and you can't hear the gulls or the waves for the motorcylce roar, there is, with the restrictions, a certain falling away. The bikers drive their bikes into their motel rooms to give them a shower. The cops claimed 900 arrests last year, mostly misdemeanors. For all the black T-shirts--and Big Daddy Rat makes up 24,000 a season--the brothers are generally more bark than bike.
Then again, occasionally, they're not. This year, with Bike Week into its final Saturday night swing, the police were claiming about 800 arrests and some of them, according to Shumaker, were serious. Four guys holding a girl, and one of them raping her, with 16 people in the room. Three armed robberies. The petty arrests where you run 'em through the computer and you come up with a felony rap.
All in all, nothing like what they had in '79. Had a time, there, says Shumaker, when the police actually lost the town. Made a couple of arrests; crowd tried to take the prisoners away; and they had to retreat to the west side, over the bridge. Got some dogs from the country; wanted some horses, 'cause they're good for crowd control, but couldn't manage to get them, too. Regained the town in an hour and a half, even so.
TOO OLD TO WORK, TOO YOUNG TO RETIRE SO ME AN' MY WIFE GOT THE HARLEY, AND SAID BYE-BYE
What with all these goings on you might think the good people of Daytona Beach have had it with Bike Week, but that's not the way it is at all. Early this winter, when it looked like some of the clubs were going to boycott the town, the merchants had a series of meetings to see about courting them back; and all this week, when the bikers were strutting their leathers and stuff, many Daytonians were out among them, taking a peek.
"I brought my Kodak," said Mrs. Frank Spitman, out in front of the Boot-Hill with her husband, in their his-and-her sweaters. "But I'm only taking the real outstanding pictures."
Thing of it is, those bikers, with their money in their boots, are a boon to business and picturesque, too. And often among the most photographed is Big Daddy Rat. He owns seven T-shirt stores in Daytona in which, during Bike Week, the predominant color is black.
Big Daddy Rat likes black, too. But that's not his trademark. His trademark is his "Cheesehauler," his custom trike with the raised rat on the tank and the life-sized rubber rats on the back. His personal trademarks are three: his goatee, his great big fat gut and his gold rat ring with two diamonds for what Big Daddy Rat calls his seein'-eye blonds.
He's an amiable guy, if not feministically enlightened. Got his nickname, he says, in his college days, playing ball, cause he was a "dirty" fighter. "Guy had to have an arm broken; a star break his leg, they'd send me in," he says. This same spirit lives on in his store. "Shoplifters will cheerfully be beaten to a pulp," it says.
This, of course, has to be taken in the same spirit as the leather-stud bracelets the bikers pick up on Main Street at eight bucks a throw--for Big Daddy Rat, after all, is a merchant first and a triker second. He runs interference between the clubs and the cops. He prints the local regs in his Ratty Rat broadsheet. And what he likes doing, as much as reminiscing about arm-breaking, is reminiscing about the time NBC's "Real People" came to film.
"Had me and the cheese-hauler out on the beach," he says. "Gulls went crazy when they saw those rats. Swooped right down on 'em--thought it was the real thing."
I'D RATHER HAVE MY SISTER IN A WHOREHOUSE THAN MY BROTHER ON A JAP BIKE
Thursday night of Bike Week and everybody's showing off iron on Main Street, or profilin', doing a slow ride down the main drag. Big Daddy Rat's chopper, the Cheesehauler, is sitting in front of his T-shirt shop, the Christian bikers are testifying in a borrowed store.
Out in the street it's a sea of black shirts and leather and the noise of the bikes is a continuous roar. The ones parked are maybe 12 inches apart, the owners sitting back proud, legs wide apart, or maybe--at a particularly fine bike--standing beside.
Al Bufano is beside his bike. It's about the brightest thing on the street, 1,000 chrome balls and lights on a big Harley Dresser frame, and Bufano--an old-timer at Daytona--is standing there, literally basking in the reflected glory. He waves and smiles and his mood only falters when a Japanese bike goes by.
"Listen to those damn things, you got a hog comin' down the street you know what you got," he says, echoing the popular sentiment on Main Street. "Like putting your fingers in your ears. It gets the job done, but no excitement."
The mood passes with the bike. The sidewalk strollers gather 'round. How many lights he got on that thing, they want to know, and how much money and hey, how about he flip the lights on?
Bufano takes his time. Fourteen thousand in the bike he says; nope, doesn't take much polishing--all chrome; nope, no hassles with the police--no law against lights.
Then, after much pleading, slow and cool as you please, he steps forward and--just for a few seconds--turns the key.
The bike lights up. GLORYOSKY!!!! It's got a set of V-shaped chromium pipes coming offa the front too sweet for a junkyard chopper and too mean for Detroit!!!! It's got six yalla lights sticking up on the rear end shooting up to the sky like rockets on the Fourth of July!!!! It's got more chrome balls and red and white lights than the White House Christmas tree. It's the baddest, the meanest, the hottest, the coolest, hot-shot chopper this boy-man has ever seen!!!!
The bikers gasp. A few cheer. Bufano, he's as cool as one of Big Daddy Rat's black T-shirts.
"You gonna get killed," he says, "you might as well do it first class."