By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

A week of sweet parties and sweeter rides

It started with a whimper instead of roar. Rains pummeled Central Florida Thursday, a soggy precursor to the start of Daytona Beach Bike Week 2014. Friday followed suit, the morning misty while heavy gray clouds blocked out the sun, temperatures never creeping out of the 50s. But by Saturday morning, glorious Florida sunshine graced the skies and bikers flooded the streets. Main Street once again became the epicenter of the motorcycling universe, Supercross fans filled the stands of the Speedway, and universal order returned to Bike Week 2014.

Motorcycle USA hit the ground running with a 170-mile ride with our friends at Harley-Davidson. The Motor Company did a midyear release of two new motorcycles, bringing back the popular Low Rider and outfitting a Sportster for light touring duties in the form of the Super Low 1200T. Harley went over the 2014 Low Rider with a fine-toothed comb, updating its suspension, bolstering its braking power with dual discs on the front, and spooning its 1690cc Twin Cam 103 engine inside so it has plenty of both rock and roll. Harley also added varying degrees of adjustability to its rider’s triangle to give it mass appeal. The targeted demographic of the Super Low 1200T is a little narrower, as it has one of the most compact rider’s triangles and easy-to-reach bars around. Saddlebags and the addition of a removable windscreen give the Sportster the capacity to be more than an around-town motorcycle. We thumbed our nose at Friday’s inclement weather by riding the bikes hard through moss-draped groves and over countless waterways. Taking a spin on the new Harleys was a great way to kick start our 2014 Daytona Beach Bike Week experience.

The following day we headed for the Speedway to talk with flamboyant custom bike builder, paint master and owner of Strokers Dallas, Rick Fairless. Fairless had the honor of building the Allstate Insurance Sweepstakes Motorcycle this year, putting his spin on a Victory Vegas 8-Ball. The result is one mean machine, as Fairless created some wicked engine guards for it, something we hadn’t seen before. The custom Vegas 8-Ball features plenty of drilled-out tidbits, like the front pulley cover and chain guard, and a mean two-into-one exhaust. The build also features a variety of aftermarket Victory parts Fairless created and offers through the retail side of Strokers. But the best part is that the winner of the Allstate Sweepstakes bike gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Fairless’ shop in Dallas, where they’ll get to brainstorm with Rick on a custom paint job for the bike. Fairless’ artistic vision and what he can do using a motorcycle for a canvas is right up there with the best, such as Arlen Ness and Ron Finch.

Saturday night we took our first trip down Main Street. That initial adventure down the world-famous avenue is always sensory overload, from the crush of bodies to the rumble of engines. Indian Motorcycle Co. was holding a party at the Full Moon Saloon, giving Indian owners the VIP treatment with a special area set aside and tickets for a couple of free drinks. American Picker and Indian spokesman Mike Wolfe mingled among the crowd. Wolfe is a kindred soul, always greeting fans with a handshake and smile, never refusing requests for an autograph or photograph. Soon Indian’s External Relations Manager Robert Pandya climbed on the Full Moon Saloon stage along with Wolfe to announce that a new Indian Motorcycle Riders group was being formed.

But that was just the beginning. Indian was also holding a contest where people could sign up to win the lease of a 2014 Indian Chief for a whole year. There was one simple rule – you had to be present to win. People were given one minute to fight through the crowd to get to the stage if their name was called. So if you’re name is Pete Gerer or Lori Morris, you should be kicking yourself in the butt right now because you were the first two names called that night. This worked in the favor of Donnie Donahue of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who was the luckiest man at Bike Week 2014 after winning a 2014 Indian for a year. Clad in his leather chaps and wearing an Indian pullover, Donahue admitted he hadn’t ridden a new Indian yet but was all smiles as he took the stage in a state of disbelief.

Getting to bed late after celebrating with our friends from Indian Saturday night, we cursed the hour lost springing forward for daylight saving time and our early morning wake-up call Sunday morning. But we had a date with Victory Motorcycles at the Speedway to be among the first to ride the 2015 Gunner. We proceeded to spend the afternoon flogging Victory’s latest cruiser around Daytona Beach and beyond, dishing out healthy blasts from its Freedom 106 engine at every opportunity. The Gunner is even lighter than the Victory Judge, tipping the scales 11 pounds leaner, and the 1731 V-Twin really rockets this bike. Sitting behind the bars in its low-slung seat, it is the type of bike that wants to be ridden fast and hard. We’ll bring you details of our ride at a later date, but know that it’s one fun bike to ride.

Our tenure on the 2015 Gunner lead to De Leon Springs State Park, rumored to be where explorer Ponce De Leon believed the “Fountain of Youth” was located. Looking at my graying temples, I was thinking I could use a shot or two of the magical waters myself. The area is home to some of the most magnificent oaks around, trees with centuries-old histories. People sunbathed on the green grass surrounding the spring, children playing in its shallows while scuba divers explored its depths on the other side. The area is rife with history, from Seminole Indians to the Civil War, and it once was the home to a thriving sugar cane mill. Now it’s home to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House, a unique little eatery with griddles in the middle of tables where you get to make your own pancakes. The staff brings out pitchers of batter and goodies like strawberries, blueberries, chocolate chips and bananas, and everyone proceeds to create their favorite pancake. It proved a great pit stop during our Victory Gunner ride.

Our day ended with a trip back to the Speedway. There’s heavy construction going on at DIS; new stands are being erected, which required rally organizers to shift the standard arrangement. All of the demo rides are now at a separate area, down between gates 50-70. Many of the OEMs that formerly set up outside the front gates are now squeezed inside the Midway and offer shuttle rides down to the demo area. Even with the newfound OEM presence, the number of smaller vendors at the Speedway feels light in comparison to years past. But there’s still plenty of good stuff to see. We got a chance to inspect the EBR superbike up close for the first time and found the version with the carbon fiber treatment to be particularly fetching. Over at the Yamaha stand, custom builder Jeff Palhegyi has already put his touch on the brand new 2015 SR400, making a wicked cool scrambler out of it.

While Bike Week 2014 has been all fun and games for the most part, sadly the first fatalities have been reported. According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, a West Virginia man was killed in a single-vehicle crash Thursday in Bunnell while a man from Springfield, Massachusetts, also died after crashing in New Smyrna Beach, with speed and alcohol feared to be contributing factors. We relay this information because we want rally attendees to squeeze in as much fun as possible in Daytona Beach, but party smart and be safe. If you’re going to drink, park the bike for the night. We want everyone to get home to their loved ones once it’s all said and done.