Vintage Motorcycling at Daytona Bike Week

Welcome to the digital-only Handlebars. Hopefully we can soon be killing trees again and rubbing toxic ink off onto your fingers.

This winter has sucked; there's really no way around it. Even Mr. Ride-Every-Day Geoffrey Greene would agree. I check the Accuweather.com five-day forecast hoping for a dry 44-degree weekend day, so I can get a ride in. That's pitiful for East Tennessee, a region I personally have touted to friends in the far North as offering "year-round riding." This year, electric gear has been my friend, but more than the cold and snow, TDOT's road salt has kept me off the bikes. My sacrificial-anode '82 Renault has borne the brunt of the saline-caked travels this winter, and as a result it's slowly disintegrating in the driveway. A tearful "au revoir" may be near.

The poor weather has provided plenty of shop time, albeit all of it flavored with torpedo-heater fumes. My previously barnacled Guzzi Le Mans is assembled and running, and several other projects are moving along nicely. Surely spring will arrive: I saw a cardinal on the back porch, digging around in the crusted-over snow for something to eat. But screw it, I'm going to Daytona

When we have a "normal" winter, there are generally enough decent days to allow some riding, and almost always Knoxville will get several glorious "gift" days in December, January and February, with sunshine and temps in the 60s. The winter of 2009-2010 is payback for those gifts, I suppose. When March rolls around following those "normal" winters, it's tough to get motivated to make the haul down I-75 to Daytona, but this year I'd go twice as far for the opportunity to ride around in warm temperatures, eat fresh seafood, and see some old friends and old bikes.

Mention "Daytona" or "Bike Week" to motorcycling friends and you will get one of several distinct responses. Iron-butt types give you the "ride all the way or don't go" reply, and their sentiments are reflected in "I rode my bike to Trailer Week" stickers. Road-race fans, more than eager to stick it to AMA Pro Racing, bemoan the current state of US road racing after the sale to Daytona Motorsports Group, which of course is the only reason they would ever wade into the craziness that is Bike Week. They are boycotting DMG, period. A lot of cruiser riders go every year, and 2010 is no different. Main Street, custom bike shows, coleslaw wrestling at the Cabbage Patch, etc.; bring it. BMW guys just stop in Daytona on the way down to Key West for their traditional gig.

A far smaller Daytona demographic are the vintage motorcycle fans. There's plenty to do for us too, although excepting the AHRMA racing at the International Speedway early in the week, much of it is located outside of Daytona proper. The vintage bike swap meet and Bator International auction are located on the grounds of Stetson University in Deland, the AHRMA flat track racing is at the Ocala Speedway, and the Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) meet is in Eustis. All are perfect excuses for a ride, of course. Like we need one.

We have some rather odd Bike Week traditions, this group of Guzzisti and old-bike nuts who camp together at a secret spot under the live oaks near Sanford. Early in the week, we run into the citrus groves around Sanford and stock up on fresh oranges and grapefruit, and then gorge on vitamin C all week like a bunch scurvy-ridden sailors. A Tampa local who camps with us brings fresh gator, and we eat it. Another regular, from Milwaukee, brings cheese and home-brewed beer, both easier to choke down than the gator. Someone inevitably drags a hulk back from the swap meet and it ends up being parted out in the campground. We cruise Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and check out Black Bike Week.

And we always visit Bucky's Crab Shack at least once. Bucky's really is just a shack, a corrugated steel box containing huge steamers and sweating order-takers. Place your order, then go sit outside on the inlet and await your stone crab claws or Cajun shrimp or whatever to be walked out to you. As long as you're eating, the beer is free but soft drinks are a buck. Thankfully, most riders are wise enough not to overdo it before plowing back out onto the road. If they turn north out of Bucky's towards the gauntlet of saloons on Route 1 (Deadwood, Iron Horse, Kick Start, etc.), they'll sober up idling in traffic.

I may ride across the peninsula to the Gulf coast side, to check out the old homestead where I grew up. The Google Maps street view shows the house is still there (with an old VW Beetle in the driveway, no less), and my mom would love some better photos. But mostly I just want to relax in warmer weather with like-minded peeps.

The riding in Florida, sacred land of my birth, isn't anything to write home about, unless home is covered in snow or salt. It's flat, most of the roads are arrow-straight, and the ratio of blue-hairs to "us" is freakishly high. Sugarloaf "Mountain" is nearby, with its gentle peak 312 feet above sea level, but after the roads in East Tennessee it's a little underwhelming. But any road that leads to Bucky's Crab Shack is worth riding. So I will. Maybe by the time I get back the salt will have been rinsed off the roads, but based on 2010 so far, it'll still be snowing.