Every March the “Rolling Thunder” rumbles through the streets of Daytona Beach, Florida, as thousands of motorcyclists roar into town for Bike Week. Harleys and Hondas all come together every year for a loud and raucous celebration of two-wheel mania. Bike Week is a bit of a misnomer. It actually runs 10 days. The dates for 2021 are Friday, March 5 to Sunday, March 14.
In a typical year, as many as 400,000 motorcyclists will pack the streets of Daytona Beach. But 2021 is not expected to be typical. Even though this year marks the 80th anniversary of Bike Week, the Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event, expects crowds to be about half their normal size this year due to COVID. The city has limited hotel and business occupancy to 60 percent of capacity, and bars and restaurants are supposed to limit their service to outdoor venues as much as possible.
The outdoor trappings of Bike Week will be less affected. Bands will perform on makeshift stages in vacant downtown lots. Scantily-clad women will sell beer and beverages from tents lining the main streets. Empty storefronts are rented out as impromptu tattoo parlors and souvenir shops.
The first big event is the Supercross dirt track bike racing at the Daytona International Speedway on March 6. The organizers promise high-flying, handlebar-to-handlebar racing on the infield track.
If you like high-speed motorcycle racing, the annual Daytona 200 will be held at the Speedway on March 12, 13, and 14 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The racing takes place on a 3.5-mile paved course that twists and turns in the infield and around the high banks of the Speedway oval. Top straightaway speeds can sometimes exceed 200 miles an hour.
Another racing event is the Volusia Half Mile Doubleheader, which is held on American Flat Track, a short dirt track in Daytona Beach.
Where To Stay
Hotels line what’s known as The World’s Most Famous Beach, and many offer reduced rates for the Bike Week crowd. There is a full listing of hotels on the Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce’s special Bike Week website.
If you would rather be closer to the racing events than the beach, The Hilton Garden Inn is located close to Daytona International Speedway.
Not everybody stays in a hotel with air conditioning and a comfortable bed, though. The Fastlane Campground will be open throughout Bike Week at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand. There will be RV sites with full hookups and primitive tent camping sites. Wi-Fi will be available throughout the campground. There is entertainment scheduled nightly at the Fastlane Bar and Grill.
Of course, a big part of Bike Week is showing off the bikes, many of them highly customized. Riders cruise Main Street and other city streets around the clock. Bikes and bike parts are bought and sold at swap meets. Riders cruise The World’s Most Famous Beach.
One of the must-visit destinations during Bike Week is the famous, or infamous, Boot Hill Saloon on Daytona’s Main Street. It offers nightly entertainment and an “everything biker” gift shop. It is usually packed, with people waiting outside to get in. We’ll see how things work with social distancing this year. You can rest assured this is one location city COVID enforcement people will be watching closely.
If Boot Hill is too crowded for you, there are plenty of other watering holes along Daytona Beach’s Main Street.
The Vintage Motorcycle Alliance Swap Meet is scheduled for March 5, 6, and 7 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand. Motorcyclists, especially those with older bikes, may get lucky and find that just right spare part they’ve been looking for.
The 32nd Annual Daytona Beach Boardwalk Bike Show is scheduled for Friday, March 12, with an estimated 200 bikes expected to be entered, most of them custom built. There are 20 judging categories, about 60 trophies, and a cash prize for best in show.
Bike week isn’t just for gnarly guys with beards and long hair. Big Wheel Women is an event for women riders, especially those with custom-built bikes. It’s planned for Friday and Saturday, March 12 and 13 at the Hard Rock Hotel in nearby Flagler Beach.
The annual Leather and Lace Bike Blessing for women cyclists is scheduled for March 10 in Edgewater and includes a free pancake breakfast.
For vintage bike fans, there is the Giant Antique and Cafe Bike Show on March 13. If your bike is pre-1984 you get in free; otherwise, there is a $10 admission fee.
Several business owners say the 10-day period of Bike Week accounts for up to 40 percent of their business revenue for the entire year. They have pledged to adhere to occupancy limits, do temperature checks, offer hand sanitizer, and enforce social distancing. This comes under the threat by the city to suspend their Bike Week business licenses for the next three years if they don’t.
Even with reduced crowds, the city will be packed and social distancing difficult. Florida does not have a statewide mask mandate.
It may surprise you, but a significant number of the people at Bike Week do not come on motorcycles. There are lots of people who come for a day or two just for the spectacle and excitement. No bike, no problem!