DAYTONA BEACH — Seated on a comfortable ledge in front of Froggy’s Saloon on Main Street, motorcycle enthusiast Greg Owndy surveyed the early-bird Biketoberfest crowds on Wednesday, a parade of chrome, leather and rumbling exhaust pipes under sunny skies.
“I’ve been coming to Biketoberfest about 18 years,” said Owndy, 54, owner of a printing business in Knoxville, Tennessee. “The weather’s always super-nice. It’s good to get away from home and it’s nice and warm here, you can still get in the water and swim. I like watching the people.”
Over the years, Owndy’s people-watching also has encompassed changes that he has noticed on Main Street, where a debate has been growing recently about ways to revitalize businesses and cultural attractions outside of signature events such as the spring Bike Week and this week’s 25th anniversary “Chrome” edition of Biketoberfest.
What has Owndy seen?
“People are disappearing,” he said. “The shops are closing up. There’s nobody down here.”
Owndy and his friends like to come early for the four-day motorcycle rally that officially opens with a 10 a.m. press conference on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. Through Sunday, tens of thousands of bikers will be entertained by musical acts and vendors will be out at street festivals on Main Street, in Riverfront Park and Midtown, as well as at Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson at Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach.
On social media, riders can take photos and label them with #25YearsBold using Instagram or the Biketoberfest SnapChat filter at four of the rally’s major hubs: Main Street, Destination Daytona, Downtown Beach Street and at Daytona International Speedway.
Roadways will be filled with motorcyclists on day trips that stretch from the scenic Loop in Ormond Beach to the historic Lighthouse in Ponce Inlet.
In a new wrinkle, riders also can find technological assistance in planning such excursions on Rever, a free motorcycle trip planner app that provides smart-phone users who follow “Biketoberfest Rally” with turn-by-turn directions on rides that originate in Daytona Beach and stretch as far north as St. Augustine.
There also will be live music at the Iron Horse Saloon on U.S. Highway 1 in Ormond Beach through the event. On Thursday, the Journey Tribute band Don’t Stop Believin’ will perform a free concert at Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club, 960 S. Williamson Blvd.
Earlier this week, however, the quiet on Main Street hardly foreshadowed the coming crowds, Owndy said.
“On Monday, you couldn’t even get something to eat down here, but I guess some things you just have to live with,” he said. “I still enjoy coming down here.”
As visiting bikers from around the world roar into Daytona Beach and other areas in Volusia and Flagler counties this week, they arrive against the backdrop of an ongoing debate among merchants, local officials, developers and residents about the future of one of Daytona Beach’s landmark thoroughfares.
On Monday, for instance, the notion of potentially closing Main Street to vehicles was introduced by members of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, formed by the county in June to consider ideas to revitalize beachside areas from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores.
The committee also suggested taking a hard look at the rules that govern Biketoberfest and Bike Week on Main Street, including parameters for itinerant vendors.
Such discussions concern the street’s business owners that rely on big crowds from special events, said Phaedra Lee, who runs Main Street Station at 316 Main St.
“We built this place for events,” Lee said. “If they change the rules, I don’t know what will happen. We put on a good show for our guests and they’re spending a lot of money to come to Daytona Beach. If we’re not going to put on a show for them, I think we shouldn’t invite them.”
The combination of a growing homeless population and more vacant buildings owned by out-of-town landlords has contributed to Main Street’s decline, said Johnny Sanchez, owner of John’s Rock ‘N’ Ride, a merchandise shop that has been a fixture on Main Street since the 1980s.
“The city took Main Street and shoved it under a bus,” Sanchez said.
At Humphreys & Son jewelers, a Main Street presence since 1971, owner Helen Humphreys has seen a variety of “hard-hearted attitudes” on all sides toward both bikers and businesses over many decades, she said.
“There’s no reason we can’t have a viable street and fully enjoy Bike Week and Biketoberfest,” said Humphreys, who is frustrated that more isn’t done to improve the aesthetics on Main Street. “These people come from all over the world. It’s literally a worldwide event and we should cherish that.”
For Owndy, the biker from Tennessee, the Main Street debate hasn’t dampened his love of Biketoberfest.
“We still have a good time,” he said. “It’ll be a madhouse.”