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Average age of participants in Daytona Beach's Bike Week creeping up

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — A cover band played current hits and revelers balanced cold beverages in one hand, using the other to toss bean bags at corn hole boards.

It wasn't a college party, but the scene at HT's Pub 44 in New Smyrna Beach recently seemed like an open invitation to 20- and 30-somethings. Go to most of the favorite local watering holes during Bike Week, though, and you'll find the crowd is filled with gray hair and beards. That was the case at HT's Pub 44, too.

Middle-aged and older riders have long been the backbone of the 73-year-old event, and the average age may be slowly ticking upward, tourism officials say. Middle-aged bikers comprise the event's biggest demographic, and the average age of that group is 57.

"I've got to say they do seem to be aging," said Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research Inc., a Daytona Beach firm that conducts monthly occupancy and room rental rate surveys for local hotels. "In fact, I think the bikers in general, nationally, are aging."

Bike Week markets itself to riders of all ages, said Janet Kersey, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce. But the event will evolve with participants' tastes. For example, she said, older bikers like to stick pins in a map to mark their hometowns, while younger adults tend to prefer taking selfies.

"I think it's like anything — you've got to make new friends but keep the old," Kersey said.

And that's part of the reason why business owners and tourism officials say they're trying to reach riders of all ages. HT's Pub 44 boasted a Bike Week entertainment schedule that was heavy on classic rock bands. But the venue also tries to offer music that will resonate with other generations.

"The majority (of Bike Week customers) are over 40 — but not all — and we'd be foolish to ignore that," said Judy Alfonso, office manager at HT's Pub 44.

But even with an appearance by Chris Fillmore, a 26-year-old professional motorcycle racer, and a showcase of sport bikes from Volusia Motorsports, the baby boomers far outnumbered the millennials one recent night.

Munching on a sandwich in the bar's dining room, 26-year-old Tim Shiar said he'd spent his first Bike Week cruising between hot spots like The Iron Horse in Ormond Beach and Hidden Treasure in Ponce Inlet. Many of the Marion, Indiana, resident's peers aren't so lucky, though. Bikes are pricey toys, he said, with Harley-Davidson models starting at $8,000 or more.

"When you go back home, people are like, 'If I could have a bike, I would, but I can't afford it,' " said Shiar, a Harley rider.

Up the coast a few miles at Daytona International Speedway, families with young children mingled with young adults at the amateur motocross competition. Several riders said they'd driven over to Main Street — their bikes aren't street legal — and it wasn't their scene.

"They're more into drinking and partying," said Dylan Propst, 19.

"They all wear those leather jackets, beards and tattoos," added 22-year-old Hunter Poe.

The Mississippi State University classmates, along with friend 19-year-old Mitch Phillip, spent their Spring Break camping in the infield at the Speedway. Propst and Poe compete in motocross events but they didn't sign up for the Daytona races.

"We didn't have enough money to get our bikes down here," Poe explained, saying he once spent $1,000 to participate in a race in Gainesville. "We wanted to scope it out and see what it was all about. We'd never been down here before."

The three say they'll be back with their bikes next year, however. But will young adults graduate from Spring Break to Bike Week? The business owners hope so.

"Our experience has been that although bikers do get older, they get replaced by younger bikers," said Alfonso of HT's Pub 44. "It's an ongoing thing. They're never going to die out."

The under-30 set accounts for less than 1 percent of bike sales during Bike Week at Bruce Rossmeyer Daytona Harley-Davidson, general manager Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe estimated. But she adds that she saw a mix of ages at this month's events, and many people start riding closer to middle age.

"We all have to depend on these younger kids to be our future customers," Rossmeyer Pepe said. "I think it's in our best interest to continue to invite the young adults into our culture here."

The business owners can rest assured, Fine said, that Bike Week won't ride off into the sunset when grandpa turns in the keys to his Harley.

"It's not going to go away, for sure," she said. "There will always be that core group for who Daytona Bike Week is a pilgrimage event and they will always come."


Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

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