DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. -- On Main Street, just a foot from the "Jesus Bike" painted with biblical scenes, a woman clad only in two laced-together strips of black leather poses suggestively on another motorcycle.

Cameras click -- at both.

Welcome to Bike Week '88, a clash and coexistence of road culture expected to draw as many as 200,000 people riding everything from cheap dirt bikes to a $100,000 all-chrome, gold-engraved Harley-Davidson.

For 47 years, thousands of bikers -- not the pedal pushers but the leather-garbed motorcycle jockeys -- have been coming here to hang out, once to race on the broad beaches but now mainly to party. This year, for the first time, the locals formed a committee to try to make sense, and more money, out of it.

In one major decision, they put out 40 portable toilets.

The problem is that all these men and women -- with their scraggly hair, tattooed bodies (no part is safe), overt sexuality, beer swilling and aversion to mufflers -- tend to scare away other tourists.

"You can't tell by looking," said police Lt. R.L. Wheeler as he strolled the Main Street drag lined with bikes, "but most of these people out here on the streets are professionals . . . people with jobs . . . . This is their fantasy." They will wear an earring, but only this week.

Like Halloween?


That is the official Chamber of Commerce line, but many of these roughcut, weathered folks appear not to have been in an office in years.

One group of bikers stand along a patio bar fence, as a John Belushi look-alike calls out to passing women. Some comply with his request to uncover a little more torso. Cheers. Some do not. Boos. Across Main Street, one of the dozens of temporary cycle shops opened for the week offers a 10 percent discount to any woman who does.

Exposed breasts are big among bikers; so are skeleton jewelry, snake and spider whatnots, handcuff keyrings and don't-mess-with-me stares. Everything to make middle America, the lifeblood of tourism here, feel right at home.

But take another look.

Crime is down. Sales are up. Bikers do not fall out of high-rise balconies like drunken college kids during Spring Break, another big draw that begins here next week. No biker has died during Bike Week in several years. Eight college students died from falls last year alone during Spring Break.

There have been six arrests this week, dozens fewer than anticipated during Spring Break.

"The bikers are the biggest spenders by far," middle Americans with money, said Alan Robertson, a photo-shop owner who helped ease police tensions and convert city officials to look at the potential of Bike Week. "The merchants generally speak good of {the bikers}, apart from anybody trying to sell a blue suit," Robertson said.

But, instead of only nonstop, open-air beer busts, cycle companies and groups are holding swap meets, antique shows and workshops. A safety group fights for better safety laws, the Christian Motorcyclist Association seeks converts and Harley-Davidson, the god of grease, donates the $2 admission to its exhibit to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"I don't have to watch my merchandise as much with them; these are grown people," said Chris (Big Daddy Rat) Smith, a founder of Bike Week and owner of an eclectic "Rat Hole" shop that seems to sell whatever beach people want.

Dozens of other business owners shared similar praise along A1A, the main Daytona artery. Motels are full, restaurants are hopping. The six-block strip of Main Street -- the center of the action -- is packed with bikes already. No car parking is allowed.

For now, every one of the 44 storefronts is open and busy. Come Sunday night, this area will revert to its down-at-the-heels reality. Only 13 of the stores are full-time businesses.

But none of that matters to Ruth and Harvey Harnden, who have just hit town from Massachusetts and are the dream of the Chamber of Commerce. Bikers for 20 years, they are dressed in casual clothes. He is a 48-year-old "radial communications technician" for American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in Leominster west of Boston. She is a 51-year-old housewife. The worst thing they look like they might do is let a parking meter expire.

"Real people ride motorcycles," Ruth Harnden says. And Harvey Harnden observes that bikers' leather serves a purpose, protection from wind and scrapes. Their 20-year-old son bikes. "I tell my son he's going to come out second best in an accident," Harvey says.

At midday Wednesday, a crowd of tough-looking bikers surrounded a police officer who was about to write one biker a ticket. "Your license and registration, please," the officer said as the bikers frowned.

Police harassment? Trouble brewing? No. The guilty biker was riding without a safety cover on his main drive belt. In an accident, the exposed belt could snag his clothes.

"Dumb, man, dumb," another biker said as the crowd dissolved.