March 6 2014 by Jason Fogelson
Holy Cow! How did this happen again? It's March already, and it's time to drop everything and get down to Daytona, Florida for Bike Week!
Holy Cow! How did this happen again? It's March already, and it's time to drop everything and get down to Daytona, Florida for Bike Week!
One of my big challenges when traveling by motorcycle is over packing. I'm constantly paring down my gear and equipment, trying to get it down to the essentials. The thought recently occurred to me - why not reverse engineer the packing process? Instead of figuring out what I don't need and getting rid of the extras, let's figure out what I absolutely do need, and build up from there. Here's my list of five pieces of gear that no traveling motorcyclist should be without.
Some day, your motorcycle is going to break down. You're going to try to start your bike, and it's not going to work. You'll try everything you know how to do, starting with the simple and obvious steps and progressing to the more complicated, and it's still not going to work. You need a motorcycle mechanic.
The easiest thing to do is to call the dealer where you bought the bike in the first place. But that's not always practical, nor is it the only option. Before you blindly hand your pride and joy over to a dealership wrench, take some time to discover whether or not it's the best way to go.
I bought a new helmet this winter. To save money, I bought a plain, solid colored lid. While shopping for my helmet, I noticed that race replica or decorated helmets of the same helmet were 20%, 30%, even 50% more expensive than a solid, single color version. They may have been way cooler than my boring new helmet, but the more expensive versions offered zero improvement in safety, comfort or functionality. I decided to go for the best helmet with the least expensive cosmetic treatment. I will personalize it and make it cool ‒ and I'll still save money over the fancy factory versions.
I'm fascinated by anything that has wheels and a motor, but I've never been much of a watersports guy. My father had a small powerboat when I was a kid, but switched to sailboats soon after. I was always welcome to ride along on his boat, but it was always work to ride on a sailboat is to crew, and I never found it all that relaxing or fun.
The Harley-Davidson Owners Group (H.O.G.) celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year, and it looks like Year 31 is going to be even more active. H.O.G. Rallies are the major events for most chapters. Did you know that as a national H.O.G. member, you are welcome to attend any of the state rallies across the country? You could plan a tour that takes you to more than one rally, and really make a trip of it.
January's almost over, which mean riding season is approaching again, quickly. I've put together a list of some of the significant motorcycle event around the country to help you plan out some trips now! Visit BestWestern.com to start booking hotel rooms before it's too late.
If you've ever wanted to own a motorcycle fit for the Pope, your opportunity approaches. On February 6, 2014, Bonhams will handle the sale of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Papal provenance at auction at their event at the Grand Palais in Paris.
After Pope Francis blessed a gathering of 800 motorcycles as part of the celebration of the Motor Company's 110th Anniversary in St. Peter's Square on June 16, 2013, Harley-Davidson presented the Pope with a motorcycle jacket and a pair of its motorcycles. One of those bikes, a 2013 FXDC Dyna Super Glide Custom 110th Anniversary Edition, will be auctioned off to benefit the charity Caritas Roma. According to the listing in the Bonhams auction online catalog, "the funds raised by the sale will go to Caritas' Don Luigi di Liegro hostel and soup kitchen at Rome's Temini railway station."
Winter is planning time for motorcyclists. We spend time working on our bikes, reliving past adventures, and planning future trips. I've spent some time searching around for smartphone apps that I'll actually use when I travel on my motorcycle. Actually, they would come in handy for car travel, too, if I ever do any. Here are a few I'll be trying out this year:
I entered this year in motorcycling with a few simple goals: ride further, ride longer. I achieved both, and I had a fantastic time. I rode some great bikes, I saw some amazing sights, and I met some fantastic people. All along the way, I stayed in Best Western Hotels. I was consistently delighted with the comfort, cleanliness and friendliness that I discovered along the way. The rides were great; the hotels enhanced the experience. Some of my favorite human encounters were with the folks who work behind the desks of the hotels. They spend all day meeting and greeting travelers, and turn out to be great resources for local information, stories and lore. If you don't spend a few minutes chatting with the desk clerk in Ely, Nevada or Caldwell, Ohio or Garberville, California, you're missing out on the spice of travel. The real adventure isn't on the road, it's in the stops.
Looking back over a great year, I can pick out a few highlights.
That's right – it's time to prepare your bike for its winter rest.
Spend an afternoon doing this correctly, and you'll be able to avoid an even worse dread – the springtime ritual of trying to get your bike started again, and correcting all of the flaws that neglect caused over the winter months.
Here's a step-by-step guide for preparing your bike for winter storage.
As I tumbled down the freeway behind my sliding motorcycle, my helmet banged against the cement. My jacket skidded, my gloves slid. My pants and my boots skimmed the surface. When I was able to glimpse the bike ahead of me, I saw showers of sparks and tufts of flame. I was in serious trouble, but I was surprisingly calm.
Finally, I came to a rest in the number two lane. I jumped to my feet, adrenaline pumping through my system. "Get out of traffic," my brain said to my body. I looked to my left, made sure I was clear, and ran to the median to assess the damage. Nothing seemed seriously hurt -- yet. My left ankle was a little wonky, and my left thigh was going to be sore. But as I looked up and down my body, I was relieved to discover that there was no blood, and as far as I could tell, no broken bones. I had just survived a motorcycle accident on a Los Angeles freeway at over 50 miles per hour.
I love motorcycle travel. Not just for the riding. The riding is a given. And not just for the destinations. I love motorcycle travel because I get to meet the most interesting people, and the fact that I'm traveling on a bike opens up great conversations.
This morning, I met Shyam Patel, who is the Manager of the BEST WESTERN Topaz Lake Inn. Shyam is not a motorcyclist, but he could be a traveling motorcyclist's best friend. He knows the roads and attractions in his area like the back of his hand, and he loves talking about routes and day trips. He says that motorcyclists are among his best customers, and he'd love to see more bikes at his hotel. The BEST WESTERN Topaz Lake Inn is perfectly situated for great motorcycling, right on the Nevada/California border, south of Lake Tahoe and north of Death Valley. Some of the best roads in the United States are just minutes away from Topaz Lake, fantastic mountain twisties through the eastern part of the Sierra Mountain Range. Shyam can suggest a myriad of routes, from short loops to long, and his enthusiasm is contagious.
Back in 1986, Life magazine called US-50 "The Loneliest Road in America," and rather than feeling insulted, Nevada took it as a rallying cry. Today, I'm going to ride most of the lonely road as I depart Eureka and head to Topaz Lake.
I stoke the fire with a free breakfast in the lobby at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Eureka Inn. I slept really well last night, exhausted after a long day yesterday. I remembered to drink plenty of water before going to bed. In the high desert climate, it's easy to become dehydrated overnight, even in an air conditioned hotel room. I've found that if I don't drink plenty of water when I'm above 6,000 ft, I wake up every hour, and in the morning, I'm not rested. I feel great this morning, and ready to ride.
I'm up early this morning. I think it's the elevation -- Ely is at 6,437 feet above sea level, higher than Denver, Colorado. The air is thinner, and it can definitely have an effect on you. It does on me, anyway.
I have a great chat with Larry and Brenda, the BEST WESTERN Park Vue Motel's managers, while I eat breakfast in the lobby. Larry is a real character. He wouldn't be out of place in any Old West scenario you could imagine. He's a wiry guy with long grey hair and a quick wit, and Brenda, his wife of 27 years, is his laconic foil. They tell me all about Ely, and what a great place it is to live. Larry came to town to work on the construction of the nearby prison -- his specialty was as a carpenter, hanging doors. The town has gone through a number of booms and busts, with the mining of minerals and precious metals from the rich earth in the area. When a mine hits big, the town flourishes; when the vein is depleted, the town sinks back into its doldrums. From the look of things, Ely is in a bit of a slump right now, with a lot of businesses and properties sporting "For Sale" signs. Larry is positive that things are about to turn around again, as a local mine is on the verge of a hot streak.
A good night's sleep. That's what we all really want, and need. I got one last night, at the BEST WESTERN Pahrump Station. Now I'm ready to ride into the high desert in Nevada -- right after I eat a free hot breakfast in the hotel's Draft Picks Sports Lounge.
Yesterday, I rode from my home in Los Angeles to Pahrump, a distance of about 315 miles, on a 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited. I've been looking forward to this ride for weeks, because the new Electra Glide really is new. It's a product of Harley's Project Rushmore, an initiative that the Motor Company just unveiled this fall. As a result of extensive customer research, the entire touring lineup has been redesigned, with the biggest changes coming to the top of the line Electra Glide Limited. The batwing fairing has been reshaped, and ventilation has been added below the windshield. New gauges, and a new Boom! audio system with a color screen and GPS navigation now lives in the dashboard, incorporating Bluetooth audio, a USB input and a 12-volt power port. The bike's ergonomics have been subtly improved, with revised geometry and a more comfortable seat.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about "The Five Worst Motorcycle Movies of the 21st Century (So Far)." Well, I certainly heard from a bunch of you. Apparently, not everybody relishes a bad movie the way that I do. A lot of people wanted to discuss the best movies — not the worst.
I get it. Really, I do. I should clarify my position: I love movies, all movies — almost as much as I love motorcycles. Sometimes, I prefer a bad movie to a good movie. When I'm flying on a plane, or stuck in a bus or in a waiting room, I don't want to watch a good movie. I don't want to waste it. A good movie deserves to be enjoyed on a good screen, with decent sound and without distractions. A bad movie is a distraction.
I love bike shows. I can't help it — I love to ride, and I love my bike, but I really love looking at new bikes. So holiday season for me is bike show season. And the biggest of them all, the one that travels across the country, is the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.
When I travel from Best Western hotel to Best Western hotel on a Harley-Davidson, I like to bring my own entertainment with me. I load a few movies into the iPad, and then when I get to my room, I'm not bound by what's on the local television -- I've got a film festival right there in my hands. And when I'm done with a day of riding, I like to watch motorcycle movies.
There have been some great motorcycle movies over the past 100 years. By motorcycle movies, I mean a movie that features a lead or significant character who rides a motorcycle, and motorcycles are a big part of the scenery and/or plot. For some reason, I'm fascinated by -- and attracted to -- the worst motorcycle movies.
There's a little bit of a chill in the air. Thoughts turn to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's beyond. For many of us, that means putting the motorcycle away for the season, and counting the long nights until it's time to ride again. There's still one big riding event before it's time to huddle up with our parts catalogs, and that's Biketoberfest.
Held every year since 1992 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Biketoberfest is a weekend of riding, parties, music, food and vendor fairs, all directed at motorcyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts. The 21st annual Biketoberfest will be held from October 17 - 20, 2013. Events take place in and around Daytona Beach, and all throughout Volusia County.
Manny, my Harley-Davidson Sportster, just spent a couple of weeks resting in a warehouse. I had to leave him behind when I picked up a mega scooter that I was testing for another website. The motorcycle company's headquarters were located about 50 miles from my home, so I rode Manny down and rode the mega scooter home. Then I spent two weeks testing the new bike -- a 650 cc step-through scooter with an automatic transmission -- around town, on the freeways, and on the back roads near my home.
Guess what? I didn't hate riding that scooter. I wasn't self-conscious in the least. I wasn't embarrassed to be seen on a scooter. I was just thrilled to be riding on two wheels.
Back in '83, Harley-Davidson created one of the most successful marketing schemes in history, founding the Harley Owners Group. H-D had always had a very loyal following, and in the early 1980s, that following was perhaps the brand's greatest asset. The previous decade had been tumultuous for the Motor Company. In 1969, H-D merged with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF), a company best known as a bowling equipment manufacturer. In 1981, a group of 13 Harley executives banded together and bought H-D from its parent company. 1983 brought two significant events that helped sustain Harley until the Evolution engine was ready in 1984: A U.S. government tariff on Japanese motorcycles over 700 cc; and the birth of H.O.G.
I have the shopping gene, but mine is mutated. I love shopping for motorcycles, parts and accessories. Without even meaning to, I find myself idly leafing through parts catalogs, haunting Craig's List, trolling eBay Motors and checking prices at Kelley Blue Book. I'm not actively in the market for anything -- I just can't help shopping. Not buying. Shopping.
In all of the excitement of the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary, it was almost possible to miss the really big news from the Motor Company. The 2014 Harley-Davidson lineup has been announced, and eight of the new bikes benefit from an initiative that has been named "Project RUSHMORE."
Project RUSHMORE is the largest scale new model launch in H-D's history. The project "encompasses eight new motorcycles that feature improved and braking performance, enhanced rider ergonomics, and dramatic styling updates that completely redefine and fundamentally transform the touring motorcyclist's experience," according to the company.
I wake up early after a good night's sleep at the BEST WESTERN PLUS North Canton Inn and Suites. I pack a little carelessly. I'm headed home today, so I'm not worried about finding things in my luggage anymore. Everything's going to get washed, so I don't care about segregating clean from dirty. It's just a matter of stuffing things into the bags at this point, and making sure that it'll all balance from side to side in my saddlebags. I enjoy a quick breakfast of eggs and sausage in the lobby of the hotel while I reflect on the ride ahead. I check out, thanking the staff for an excellent stay. This was a great hotel for my last night -- clean, comfortable and, most of all, very friendly.
I load up the Blue Glide for the last time, and hop on the freeway for a 90-minute ride to Cleveland. I'm riding directly to my first destination of the day, and another longtime dream visit. I'm going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.
More rain. That's the forecast for today. I don't mind. I've got some cool destinations today, and several of them are indoors. The temperature is scheduled to be moderate, in the low 80s, and though the rain will be constant, it should be light. No problem.
Breakfast for the BEST WESTERN PLUS Caldwell Inn is over at Lori's Family Restaurant, which is fine by me. I wolf down a portion of sausage and eggs, washed down with a few cups of hot coffee and I'm fueled up for the ride. I check out of the hotel, load up the Blue Glide, and ride out into the misty rain.
I wake up in my beautiful room in the BEST WESTERN Mariemont Inn with the great realization that I have a day ahead where the agenda is simply to ride. No appointments, no landmarks -- just me, some great roads, and another Best Western Hotel at the end of the day. I'm completely relaxed, at ease and in the zone. This is what motorcycle travel is all about.
I dawdle a little bit over breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, the National Exemplar. I study my maps, and contemplate the weather. Maybe if I wait another half hour, the rain will pass. But the longer I wait, the warmer the air temperature gets. I'd better saddle up and ride.
I think about the state of affairs as I have some sausage and eggs in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN Richland Inn-Mansfield. A hearty hot breakfast always helps me to sort things out. My original plan was to return to Mid-Ohio and watch some of the final day of the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days activities. If the weather was a bit more pleasant, that's exactly what I would do. But the weather is horrible -- heavy rain and temperatures predicted to rise into the 90s by noon. It's going to be another muddy trudge at the race course. I check the weather prediction on my iPhone, studying the Doppler radar map like a meteorologist. It looks like I can expect clearing to the south. So, I'm heading south.
I wake up to the sound of rain pattering against the window of my room at the BEST WESTERN Richland Inn-Mansfield. Uh-oh. I get geared up and head to the hotel's breakfast room, where a hearty buffet is on display. I weave my way through the pipeline workers, load up a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage, and find an empty table where I can figure out my day's plans.
I'm headed to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days. It's only about 8 miles west of the hotel, a quick 15-minute ride in perfect conditions. But conditions are far from perfect. The forecast calls for heavy rain, occasional thunderstorms and overcast conditions all day, and temperatures in the 90s. I make a mental note to stay hydrated today, promising myself that I'll drink water at every opportunity.
Ohio is the "Birthplace of Aviation," but I'm having a hard time getting there by plane to begin my motorcycle ride.
I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in plenty of time to make my direct flight to Cleveland, scheduled to depart at 6:02 am. It's now 9:00 am, and we still haven't departed. We've loaded on to the plane, then back off of the plane again. Mechanical issues. I'm beginning to get concerned about schedule. When I land in Cleveland, I have to take a cab across town to Avon, a western suburb of the city, in order to pick up my bike for the week at Lake Erie Harley-Davidson. The dealership is scheduled to close at 6:00 pm, and if my flight gets delayed much further, I may not make it there in time. My carefully planned itinerary will fall apart before I even hit the ground in Ohio.
Safety is the topic this week. Motorcycle touring is a great activity. It's a fantastic way to see the world while really experiencing the environment. But it is also an activity that is full of risk. By continually thinking about safety, and honing our skills, we can help to mitigate our risk. When the rewards outweigh the risks, it's time to ride.
Folks in Minneapolis don't have that option. Most riders reluctantly admit that they get between six and seven months per year of good riding conditions. Sure, there are the extreme riders who make a point of putting spikes on their tires and riding across the ice in the dead of winter, but those guys are the exception that proves the rule.
The 73rd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place from August 5 - 11 this year, in and around historic Sturgis, South Dakota. If you've never been, there's no better time than right now to make your plans.
When I go on motorcycle trips, I almost always wind up renting a bike from Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals. My bike Manny is a 1993 Sportster, which is great for quick solo blasts around town, but not really conducive to two-up riding. I've been looking for a bike that would entice my wife to ride along with me, and maybe even a bike that would be fun for my dogs.
Last week, I discussed how you can replace your motorcycle seat in order to improve comfort and ergonomics. The only problem with that option is that it costs a few hundred bucks to start, and that could be more money than you're willing (or able) to spend.
Luckily, there are other, less expensive options.
There are three places where your body is anchored to your bike, and all three can be adjusted. We've discussed handlebars in the past. You can swap them out for wider, taller, shorter or narrower bars, with an almost infinite variety of styles and bends. Your foot controls can also be changed and relocated fore and aft, up and down. Before any of those changes take place, though, I would start with the third anchor: The seat. Once you find a seat that is comfortable and that works for you, handlebar and foot control decisions will fall into place.
I wake up to the sounds of V-Twin engines revving, just moments before my alarm goes off. Looking out the window, I see a group of leather-clad riders warming up their bikes and getting ready to ride off. By the time I am showered and dressed, the parking lot has thinned substantially. I make my way to the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Humboldt House Inn and enjoy my sausage and eggs. It seems like everyone staying at the hotel this weekend is here for the Redwood Run. Excitement is high, and I'm eager to get going.
Last night, however, I set my alarm for 6:00 am, and when it goes off this morning, I leap out of bed. I want to get on the road before the heat sets in, and I'm very eager to spend some time exploring today. I'm on my way to the Redwood Forest.
I wake up from a sound sleep in my plush room at the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Ivy Hotel Napa Valley, thankfully free of any lingering effects from yesterday's wine tour. I was careful to drink plenty of water during the day yesterday, and plenty more before bed last night. I feel fresh and alert this morning as I join the crowd in the hotel's breakfast room. It looks like everybody else has been out jogging or exercising already this morning, and they're now gobbling down fruit and granola for nourishment. I go right for the sausage and eggs, thankful that I'll get some real fuel for my ride today. I gulp down a couple of cups of coffee, and I'm ready to ride.
Spending a day touring California's Wine Country is not what comes to mind when most people picture a motorcycle trip. But why not? The average motorcyclist is remarkably similar, demographically, to the average wine connoisseur. The only challenge is that wine tasting and motorcycling do not mix. Not safely, anyway. But I found a solution to that challenge in Platypus Wine Tours. For $99 per person, you can join a wine tour. The price includes visits to four wineries, a picnic lunch, shared cheese tray and water along the way. Tasting fees at the individual wineries (usually $10 or $15 per person) and driver gratuities (optional) are not included. All you have to bring is your camera and credit card. A sense of humor helps, too.
There's a myth that California is one state. It's really many more than that. Southern California, where I live, is dominated by the urban megalopolis, Los Angeles. Northern California has its own dominant city, San Francisco. But there are vast stretches of California that live outside the urban influence. There are the deserts, the mountains and the coastlines. There is farmland, there are forests. And there are great motorcycle roads crisscrossing all of them. I'm exploring the northern half of the state on this week's ride, and I'll just have time to hit some highlights.
This year is flying by, and Americade is already upon us. From Saturday, June 1 to Saturday, June 8, riders of all brands of touring motorcycles will converge on Lake George, New York to meet, socialize, learn, shop, eat and drink with their fellow riders.
The weather seems to be following us. A light mist falls over Alton, Illinois as we eat the first meal of the day in the breakfast room in the BEST WESTERN PLUS Parkway Inn. I stoke the fire with scrambled eggs and sausage, along with a few cups of hot coffee. I'm sure I'm going to need it today.
I usually ride alone. Alone, or with my favorite companion, my wife Robin, riding pillion. This trip will be different. I'm joining a group of journalists and a few Best Western and Harley-Davidson executives for a group ride from Kansas City to Milwaukee. There will be eleven bikes, all 2013 Harleys -- a mix of Electra Glides, Street Glides, Road Glides, Road Kings and a couple of Heritage Softails. A chase van will follow us with most of our luggage, emergency supplies and a tool kit.
The exciting part of a motorcycle trip is jumping on the bike and riding. But if you want your trip to be safe and uninterrupted by bike failures, spend just a little bit of time and energy on maintenance before you ride away. You'll be able to ride farther and faster -- and you'll be able to concentrate on the ride, rather than on your bike.
Another dive into science today in an effort to figure out how this whole motorcycling thing actually works. I am not a scientist. I don't even play one on television. So, I have to really start with the basics in order to understand scientific concepts. Luckily, gyroscopic force is a pretty easy one to explain and understand -- and it's one of the major forces at work keeping motorcycles upright and safe to ride.
I'm a lucky man. I have to admit that. My wife not only supports my love of motorcycles, she shares it. She has no desire to operate the bike. She wants to be the best pillion possible, and she succeeds. When it comes to decorating the house, we have more of an equal-to-equal relationship, though I must admit that I take the back seat in many matters, especially matters of color.
If you find yourself in the doldrums because of April showers after a long dreary winter, there are few better remedies than a trip to sunny Nevada. Laughlin is a resort town on the Colorado River, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas on the Nevada/Arizona border.
It's probably been a few months since you've been for a ride, so you have to expect to be a little rusty at first. Don't just throw leg over and head out on that big trip -- spend some time to make sure that you're back up to speed first.
Motorcycling hit a significant milestone last month. The American Motorcyclist Association's Board of Directors elected Maggie McNally as its first female chair. The AMA has been in existence for 89 years, representing the wide range of motorcycling. McNally, an AMA Board Member since 2009, is from Albany, New York. According to her bio on the AMA website, McNally is "an avid motorcyclist and is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach. In addition to her motorcycling activities, McNally is active in Albany's Irish-American community, as an Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival board member, Albany St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee member and an assistant instructor at the Farrell School of Irish Dance."
Do you ever wonder what is really happening inside your engine when you pull in that clutch lever and stomp your heel down on the shifter? I'm going to try to shed a little bit of the light of knowledge into that dark space, with the hope that a little bit of understanding will help you ride better.
I'm no mechanic -- I've proved that with several projects on my poor old Sportster, Manny. But I have learned that if I don't force anything, and if I take the time and read all of the directions, I can figure out a few things. I still leave the big projects to the professionals, but I got tired of seeing mechanics rubbing their hands together with glee every time I pulled in to the shop for a minor repair. I decided to gain a basic understanding of how my motorcycle works -- so now when a mechanic says "Seems like we might need to tear this down and get a look at the dogs," I know that he isn't referring to fence removal.
The Harley-Davidson lineup consists of five families of motorcycles: Touring (FLT), Softail (FLS), V-Rod (VRS), Sportster (XL) and Dyna (FXD). Touring is the workhorse; Softail is the pretty one; V-Rod is the hooligan; Sportster is the kid brother. Dyna is the middle child -- sometimes forced to struggle for attention, but truly remarkable in its own way.
The distinguishing feature between the families is the frame. Dyna frames are formed from tubular steel, and like the Touring, V-Rod and Sportster frames, are designed to accept twin external rear shocks, attached to a double-sided swingarm. A Softail frame harbors a single, hidden rear shock, giving the appearance of a rigid suspension.
Finally a morning without frost on my motorcycle -- but today is the day that I head home. Oh, well. I've got the perfect excuse to return to Nevada later in the year: Undiscovered country. I'm still eager to ride up to Ely, and I really want to take that ride across the state on US-50, "The Loneliest Road in America." Carson City beckons, and then there's the whole northern part of the state that I didn't even plan to touch on this ride.
The first major motorcycle event of the year is on the horizon. Bike Week Daytona Beach roars into town from March 8 to 17, 2013.
Morning comes to Tonopah, and the temperatures are still well below freezing. I bide my time by lingering in the warm, friendly breakfast room off of the lobby at the BEST WESTERN Hi-Desert Inn. Eggs and sausages, yum.
By 10:00, the thermometer has crept up into the low 30s, and I determine that it is safe to ride again. I say my goodbyes to the Tonopah crew, bundle up and roar out of town, back south on US-95.
I'm all packed and ready to go. I study my weather apps and my maps. I'm planning to ride to Carson City today. There's pretty much one route available -- US-95 North, through the desert along the Nevada/California border and the east edge of Death Valley. I can't ride any further east -- that's where all that nuclear testing took place back in the day, along with Nellis Air Force Rage. No public roads available -- and I don't want to get too close to the testing sites, anyway.
I check out of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Vegas West Hotel. I've been particularly impressed with the staff here -- they've been uniformly friendly, professional and helpful. I far prefer the atmosphere here a few miles off of the Strip to the hyper-charged megahotels. I liked being able to visit the Strip without feeling trapped by it.
It's 28 degrees in Las Vegas when I wake up. My bike is covered with frost, and the parking lot is decorated with patches of ice. I go to the breakfast room of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Vegas West Hotel and have some food as I consider my options. The current temperature in Ely, Nevada is 17 degrees, and there are snow flurries.
I make a decision. I check with the front desk, and there's no problem with extending my stay here for another night. I call the BEST WESTERN Park Vue Motel in Ely and cancel my reservation for the night. I could have used the Best Western to Go app on my iPhone, but I wanted to double check the weather. The operator in Ely confirms the conditions -- and tells me that I'm making the right decision. Ely is no place for motorcycles today.
I have postponed my ride to Nevada for long enough. I originally scheduled this ride for October, but life has a way of getting in the way of our best plans. Finally, I've cleared the decks and I'm ready to hit the road.
I'm riding a 2013 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic on this trip. The Classic is the least-adorned of the Electra Glide lineup -- no fairing lowers, heated grips or power ports, but still nicely equipped with locking hard saddle bags, a TourPak and a batwing fairing with a sound system. My Electra Glide wears a coat of Big Blue Pearl paint, and it looks absolutely great.
Your Bike, or Theirs?
Is your dream destination more than 500 miles from your home? You may want to consider flying to the area and renting a motorcycle, and starting your ride where you want explore. Motorcycle rentals are surprisingly affordable through Harley-Davidson Rentals and other vendors.
Motorcycles have always been the symbol of coolness in the movies and on television. Anyone who has seen Marlon Brando on his Triumph Thunderbird in "The Wild One" (1953) can attest to that. Even when Fonzie was jumping the shark on his Triumph Trophy TR5 in television's "Happy Days," he was still the coolest dude on the screen. Actually, there's some debate about which motorcycle Arthur Fonzarelli rode during the series. Apparently, he switched off from a Harley-Davidson Sportster to a Triumph or maybe even a BSA later in the series. Some claim that he rode a Knucklehead, and not a Sportster. What is true is that Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie, was not a motorcyclist. When filming early scenes, Winkler had to be hounded by the crew when he performed low speed parking lot maneuvers. "Feet on the pegs! Feet on the pegs!" Perhaps they read my blog...
I made a New Year's Resolution this year to plan ahead, and to not miss great motorcycling events. Here's a list of some of the biggest bike events and rallies coming up for this year. It's not too early to start planning now! I'm going to visit BestWestern.com to start booking my hotel rooms before it's too late.
I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret among motorcycle riders. We have all fallen down. I don't mean that we have all crashed our bikes. I mean that every motorcyclist who has put miles on a bike has had a parking lot tip-over at some point in their riding career.
Parking lot incidents are not necessarily dangerous or disastrous. Sometimes they're just embarrassing and inconvenient. And the truth of the matter is that they're not always avoidable. But 99.99% of parking lot tip-overs and low speed accidents can be averted with proper riding technique and practice.
This year, I traveled over 7,500 miles on Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles (not counting the miles I put on my own bike on local trips). I stayed at 34 different Best Western Hotels, including three BEST WESTERN PREMIER locations. And I loved every single minute of it. Every time a trip came to a close, my only thought was, "Where can I ride next?"
A lot of car guys trace their fascination with automobiles back to their Hot Wheels or Matchbox car collection from childhood. They learned to appreciate automotive design, and even to recognize different kinds of cars and trucks, from playing with the little die cast models.
Hot Tops: Harley-Davidson's Dual Source Heated Jacket Liner can be added to any jacket. It's designed to be worn over a base layer, like long underwear or compression gear, and under a regular riding jacket. The liner can be powered by the bike's 12-volt electrical system, or by an optional 12-volt lithium rechargeable battery. List Price $260.00 - $270.00
When I'm on the road, all of the rules get left behind, in exchange for one new rule: No chain restaurants.
I know plenty of fellow riders who will do anything to avoid riding in the dark, and for good reason. First of all, any problems being seen during the daytime can be even worse at night. Second, it's more difficult to see obstacles and hazards. Third, it's generally colder and less comfortable to ride at night.
They call it the International Motorcycle Show (IMS), but if you're lucky, and live within shouting distance of one of the 13 venues, it's your local motorcycle show.
It's that time again -- it's show time! Every year, the major manufacturers put together their displays, load some bikes on the truck, and bring their wares to a series of convention centers to show off the new year's offerings. Some of the smaller bike makers skip the smaller venues, and just go to a few of the big city shows, but there is always an overwhelming collection of new bikes to look at, sit on and dream about at each stop on the tour.
We don't have a lot of extra space on our bikes. In fact, some motorcycles, like my Harley-Davidson Sportster, have no built-in storage at all. But we should all make room for a basic first aid kit, especially when we ride long distances.
But that stretched out riding position is not for everybody. In fact, for long distances and for sport touring, that stretched out riding position can be as uncomfortable as time on the rack was during the Inquisition.
If you really want to enjoy your time on a bike, and -- even more importantly -- you want to feel good while you ride and after your ride is over, you need to address your bike's ergonomics.
Today, I'd like to talk to you folks who drive cars.
There are a few things that you ought to know about motorcyclists. I hope that the things I share with you will inspire you to share the road more happily, and I know that they'll keep both you and the motorcyclists you encounter safer if you'll just keep them in mind.
This week, I was playing the guitar, practicing a particularly difficult solo with the help of a video lesson on my computer. Onscreen, the instructor gave some potent advice about how to conquer a passage that had a flurry of notes. He said, quite simply, "Slow down to go fast."
If you haven't left for Biketoberfest 2012 yet, you're probably going to miss it. The last big motorcycle rally of the year takes place from October 18 to October 21 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
You've missed the opportunity to ride the 2013 Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The HD Demo Ride Event will be making a stop at Bruce Rossmeyer's Harley-Davidson in Ormond Beach from October 18 - 20. If you're a H.O.G. member, you've also missed a Pin Stop at the Demo Truck.
Motorcycle rodeo competitors weave in and around a short course of cones in a parking lot, striving for the quickest laps with the fewest cones displaced. The courses emphasize maneuverability, cornering and changes of direction. In police competitions, the bikes are 1000 ccs or bigger, usually a Kawasaki, BMW or Harley-Davidson police model.
You're ready to buy your next bike. You've narrowed down your choices, and you've decided to buy a used motorcycle -- the economy is in tough shape, which means prices are down a little, making this a good time to buy if you can afford it. You've got the cash, you find the bike, and it's time to buy. What do you do next?
Before you close a deal on any used motorcycle, you've got to take it for a test drive.
I've got a few tips that will make that test drive safer and more effective, helping you evaluate a motorcycle before you buy.
The wind rushes at your face, carrying dust, dirt and debris. The pickup truck in front of you kicks up gravel as its wheels spin from a start. A bug splatters against your headlight, spraying legs, guts and antennae in your face as you speed through the night. If you're wearing proper eye protection, these are all minor inconveniences. If your eyes are bare, your sight might be impaired, either temporarily or permanently.
Many states require proper eye protection every time you ride on the road. You can check the specific laws in your state and states where you plan to ride on the American Motorcyclist Association website. Even if your state doesn't require eye protection (my state, California, doesn't), I strongly advise you to wear some every time you ride.
After I go away for a motorcycle trip, I always want to tell my friends and family all about what I saw. I take a lot of photos, which helps me to share my stories. But it doesn't convey the sense of motion that makes a motorcycle ride so invigorating. In the past, I tried a lot of different ways of mounting my video cameras to my bike, and all I wound up with was a lot of duct tape messing up my paintjob, and some very shaky video (and more than one camera shaken to death).
All that has changed with the latest generation of miniature HD video cameras.
It's the last day of my trip, and I've got the day to explore Bainbridge Island before I cross the Puget Sound and head for home. I wake up in the BEST WESTERN PLUS Bainbridge Island Suites, pack up my gear and go down to the lobby for a good free hot breakfast. I picked up a bunch of brochures from the rack last night, and I study them while I drink some coffee. Bainbridge Island is home to 23,000 residents, living on 27.6 square miles of land -- it's about five miles wide by ten miles long. There are over a dozen sizable parks on the island, and numerous bays and coves. There's one bridge to the Olympic Peninsula on the west side of the island (the Agate Pass Bridge), and one ferry stop to the mainland on the east side of island.
I hate to ask for directions, but I love to ask for advice. I stop by the front desk, and ask the front desk clerk a leading question. "If you had just one day on Bainbridge Island, where would you go?" "Oh, that's easy. I'd go everywhere. You're on a motorcycle, right? You can go everywhere."
Last night's fog still hovers over Ocean Shores when I wake up this morning. I've had some interesting riding experiences in heavy fog. This fog won't be a challenge to my riding, but it is a bummer that I can't get a good look at the beach before I ride off, leaving the BEST WESTERN PLUS Lighthouse Suites Inn in my rearview mirrors. I had a wonderful night's sleep last night, with the sound of the ocean wafting across the room from my balcony. One night was not enough in this vacation spot.
I will follow the coastline as much as possible today, in hopes that the fog lifts and I can get some good ocean views. I've got a long ride today, as I'm tracing the outline of the Olympic Peninsula, the largest such body of land in the state of Washington. Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the lower 48 states, is on the Olympic; so is Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point. A good portion of the Peninsula is still wilderness, including Olympic National Park, over 900,000 aces of land that belongs to you and me. The Park includes some coastline, temperate rain forest and glaciated mountains within its borders. A little bit of something for everyone.
The BEST WESTERN PLUS Park Place Inn and Suites went up another notch on my personal ranking system this morning, when I discovered that they have an omelet station in their breakfast room every morning. In addition to the regular hot breakfast selection, there's an actual chef there to make you an omelet to order. All included in the price of a night's stay. Excellent.
You know those racks of brochures that you walk past in just about every hotel lobby? They promote local activities and attractions, and I'll bet you walk right by in a hurry, luggage in hand as you rush to check in to your room. Not me. I stop. I look. I pluck a handful from the rack, and bring a bouquet of brochures to my room. Because I always make discoveries, no matter how carefully I have planned my trip.
There's the easy way, and there's the fun way. I try to pick the fun way when I can. My destination today is Chehalis, about 91 miles away as the crow flies up the Interstate. That's the easy way. I'm going to take a big detour, riding a loop that will take me all the way to the Pacific Ocean before I swing back inland to Chehalis, tripling my riding distance in the process. I'm eager to see the Washington Coast, and I will put my feet in the sand today.
We're supposed to be seeing the peak of the heat wave today, so I eat a light breakfast in the lobby of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Parkersville Inn & Suites. I double down on the water, and I make sure that I have some water in my TourPak when I load up the Road Glide for the road. Hydration is everything in the heat.
When it's going to be hot, get on the road early. I keep moving my alarm clock earlier and earlier this week, as I am caught in the middle of a heat wave that threatens to break records. It's very tempting to shed the gear in the heat -- lose the heavy jacket, lose the Kevlar riding pants, swap out the full-face helmet for a shorty. Don't do it. Not only is it risky, leaving you unprepared for a crash, it also makes you more vulnerable to the heat. You get hot, you sweat, and the hot wind speeds evaporation. You get dehydrated more quickly, and your body never gets cooled off the way it's supposed to with perspiration. Before you know it, you're looking at a case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a very dangerous condition made even more dangerous by the fact that you're operating a motorcycle. Gear up. All The Gear All The Time. End of sermon.
The weather report calls for extreme temperatures today, especially at my destination. We're talking triple digits extreme. So, I get an early start this morning. I usually hit the trail by 8:30 am. This morning, I'm down in the lobby breakfast area of the BEST WESTERN PREMIERE Plaza Hotel & Conference Center at 7:00 am, wolfing down the hot food and drinking a few extra glasses of water. I'm going to need to stay hydrated.
I'm a creature of habit. I know this about myself. I try to find opportunities to escape my routines, and that's one of the reasons I travel by motorcycle. But even within my adventures, there's still a healthy dose of habit involved.
For instance, packing for the trip. I have honed packing down to a system, and I have checks and double-checks built in to my system along the way. I make lists, I check them, and then I second guess myself and check them again. I still forget things at home sometimes, but it's pretty rare.
Ten Harley-Davidson models will be available as 110th Anniversary Editions, with unique serial number plates, Anniversary Vintage Bronze/Anniversary Vintage Black paint (CVO models get Diamond Dust/Obsidian paint), solid bronze commemorative fuel tank badges and anniversary badging and trim. The Anniversary Editions will each be loaded with all available factory-installed options as standard equipment with a premium price of between $665 and $2,495 over the corresponding non-Anniversary models.
I'm pretty sure that folks who live in Seattle exaggerate about the rain just to keep the rest of us away. In reality, Seattle receives less precipitation than New York City, Atlanta, Boston and Baltimore, and doesn't even rank in the Top Ten in the US. Seattle's rainfall tends to be more misty and drizzly. It's also seasonal -- summers are mostly dry, winters are mostly wet, spring and fall are mostly grey.
A little bit of rain doesn't keep a serious motorcyclist down. Seattle motorcyclists can keep their bikes on the road year-round, with very few freezing days and rare days of snow.
I know that it seems like I've been complaining about the heat a lot on this particular trip, but it has been scorching hot all week, easily over 90 degrees and approaching 100 degrees on most days. The forecast calls for more of the same today, so I'm getting an early start.
I don't have far to ride today, but I've got plenty to do along the way, so I stoke the boiler with a good hot (free) breakfast at the BEST WESTERN Horizon Inn in Medford, Oregon. I'll be leaving here after staying for two nights, which is one more than my usual on a motorcycle trip. I haven't lost the knack for packing, and I'm ready to ride.
I'm up and at 'em. I'm spending a second night here at the BEST WESTERN Horizon Inn in Medford, and that means that I don't have to pack up all of my gear and load the bike. I can leave my luggage in my room, and travel light, just carrying what I need for the day. I enjoy the hot breakfast in the hotel's lounge, using the time to study my maps and plan my ride. It's funny -- when I'm at home, I'm addicted to the daily newspaper. I feel like I can't really start my day until I've digested the news of the day. When I'm on the road, I couldn't care less. I completely disconnect from the rest of the world, and immerse myself in my travels.
One thing that I love about the High Desert climate is that no matter how hot the day is, once the sun goes down, it's nice and cool. Yesterday was a scorcher, touching triple digits. Today promises to be just as hot. Last night, I was able to turn off the air conditioning in my room in the BEST WESTERN Skyline Motor Lodge. I opened the windows and enjoyed the cool desert air, and I slept like a desert log. This morning, I feel great. I wolf down some of the free hot food in the breakfast room, and I study my maps.
I wake up early, and head to the breakfast room in the BEST WESTERN Inn & Suites of Bend. I have my iPhone with me, as I do on most trips. While I eat breakfast, I read a series of emails that promise to put a bit of a crimp in my trip. Someone has hacked my American Express account, and has tried to buy a bunch of software downloads from a major retailer. Both Amex and the retailer flagged the attempted purchase as fraudulent, which is good. What's bad is that Amex has frozen my card. I spend the next hour on the phone cancelling my card, confirming some charges and figuring out what to do next. Luckily, I always travel with a backup card -- in this case, a Visa -- so I'll be able to continue my trip without interruption. I'll have to deal with other consequences and inconveniences of this fraud when I get home, but for now, it's handled. Thanks to a good, free internet connection at the BEST WESTERN Inn & Suites of Bend, I'm able to resolve some issues and get on the road again.
I'm returning to Oregon again, and I couldn't be more excited. Last year, I explored Western Oregon, and I had a great time riding along the beautiful coast. The year before that, I rode through the Northeastern part of the state. This time, I'm starting out in Bend, and riding in Central Oregon. I'll see high desert, deep forest and beautiful lakes. I can't wait.
Every year in early August, every serious biker feels a rumbling in their blood. It's the urge to ride, the siren call of the biggest, baddest biker rally of them all: Sturgis.
If you ride a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle, you should join the American Motorcyclist Association.
The AMA was founded in 1924, and has spent the past 88 years lobbying for the rights of motorcyclists and promoting the motorcycle lifestyle. The organization advocates for riders' rights with local, state and federal government offices, and also sanctions motorcycle races and recreational events. Motorcycling is subject to plenty of regulation, and there are those who would have our favorite activity banned outright. It's too noisy, too dangerous, too threatening for many people, and they'd be a lot more comfortable if we weren't out there having fun on two wheels. The AMA is a sane, responsible voice for the rights of all riders.
Over eggs and sausage in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN Berkshire Hills Inn & Suites, I study my maps and brochures. I flip through the local newspaper, and notice that there are numerous local attractions to consider.
I amaze even myself sometimes when I'm on a motorcycle trip. After that belly bomb of fried seafood that I ate at Al's Seafood last night, I can hardly believe that I wake up hungry this morning. Must be all that fresh ocean air. Lucky for me, a good hot breakfast is included with my stay at the BEST WESTERN PLUS The Inn at Hampton.
I load the Electra Glide, thumb the engine to life and snick the gear selector into first. Soon, I'm cruising along Interstate 495 -- just for a few miles -- and I cross into Massachusetts for the first time on this trip. In case you're keeping track, that's the sixth state in six days. Cheating a little in this part of the country, but it still counts.
The cool ocean air makes for a great night of sleep. I wake up totally refreshed in my Maine Lodge room at the BEST WESTERN Merry Manor Inn. I'm a creature of habit -- I always pack up my gear before heading down for breakfast, then make a final inspection for anything I missed when I return to my room after eating. I've always found that having a system keeps me from leaving important things behind. I stay in so many different hotel rooms that if I left one item behind in each room, I'd have to replenish my travel supplies before every trip. So, I have a system.
Breakfast is served in the Merry Manor's restaurant, and is included with my night's stay. It's nice to get table service instead of buffet every once in a while -- it gives me more time to relax and plan my day.
Do you stop at those "Welcome" centers at the state line? I do, almost always. First of all, they usually have clean bathrooms and water fountains, so that's a plus. Second, they are almost always staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people who can point you toward interesting sights and routes. They're always up to date on current road conditions, and they'll highlight a map that leaves little to the imagination.
I had a filling and delicious breakfast in the dining room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Executive Court Inn & Conference Center this morning before I checked out and got on the bike to ride. I looked around for the bullfrogs who entertained me with their songs last night, but alas, they seem not to be early risers.
My internal clock would have me sleeping until noon every day if I let it. When I'm on a motorcycle trip, I set an alarm every morning, and I always find myself waking up before the buzzer. I do love to ride.
This morning, I peek out the window to see grey skies, as I expected -- but no rain! That's very good news. I dress quickly, then head to the lobby for some free hot grub. Will I ever get tired of the breakfast that's included with my stay at the BEST WESTERN? I don't think so. Especially not when it's free.
As if riding a motorcycle isn't enough of an adrenaline rush, waking up in Times Square ready to ride a motorcycle is enough to get the blood pumping quickly. I slept like a rock in my comfortable room at BEST WESTERN PLUS President Hotel at Times Square, Jack and Jackie Kennedy keeping watch over me all night long. I was concerned that the street noise from busy 48th Street below my fourth floor window might keep me awake, but the room was as quiet and serene as a room in the country, a true haven in the middle of the most populous city in the United States.
I have just flown across the country from my home in California to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. I lined up for a taxi to Queens Village to pick up a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic at EagleRider Rentals. Vinnie from EagleRider sped me through the signup process, and together we inspected the 2011 Touring motorcycle. A few bumps and scrapes and 20,000+ miles on the odometer, but the Electra Glide looked good and ready to go. I moved my gear from my suitcase to the saddlebags and TourPak, and paid attention as Vinnie ran through a checklist of operating instructions for the bike. I've put a lot of miles on Electra Glides in the past, but I still listened intently as Vinnie ticked off the items on the list. I used the time to focus on riding, as the most challenging part of the whole ride was probably these first few miles.
I bring a lot of electronic equipment with me on every motorcycle trip. I have at least two cameras, two video cameras, an iPhone, an iPod, a MacBook, a Kindle and a GPS unit. Each piece of equipment seems to have its own cables, plugs and chargers. And cables love to tangle, which annoys me and wastes my valuable time.
I used to consolidate all of my cables in one small carrying case to make sure that I didn't lose any. Cables being how they are, I discovered that every time I went to get a cable out to use it, a whole tangle of cables came out at once. No matter how neatly I put them away, the cables took on a life of their own and tangled up.
Billed as "the world's largest motorcycle touring rally," Americade is an all-brands, family-friendly event set along the shores Lake George in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York.
The staff at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Tulsa Inn & Suites impresses me as a very cheerful, friendly group. Everyone I encounter, from housekeeping to front desk to the gardening crew out front, shoots me a big hello and a sincere smile. Is that the way people behave in Oklahoma, or just here at the BEST WESTERN?
I wake up fully rested this morning in my room at the BEST WESTERN PREMIUM Speedway Inn & Suites. There's nothing like a touch of luxury to add to a pleasant night's sleep. After a filling hot breakfast in the hotel's modern lobby bar, I'm ready to load up the Road Glide and ride off.
My first stop today is not far away, but it is back over the river on the Missouri side of Kansas City -- a slight bit of backtracking. I don't mind. I'm headed for a tour of Harley-Davidson's Vehicle and Powertrain Operations factory in Kansas City, Missouri.
I wake up at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Landing View Inn & Suites still thinking about meeting Jim Stafford last night, and seeing his show. I never would have believed that riding a Harley-Davidson would lead me here, but that's part of the magic of motorcycling. You never know what might be around the next bend.
I pick up a bunch of brochures in the lobby of the hotel before loading up my plate with hot eggs, sausage and toast. While I drink my coffee, I plot a route through Branson that will take me past some more of the theaters and attractions.
I'm already in Hot Springs, after a long ride yesterday from Dallas. After a good night's rest at the BEST WESTERN Winners Circle Inn, I stroll across to the hotel's breakfast room for a good hot breakfast. As I shovel in some eggs, sausage and toast, I study my maps and try to plan my day. It's going to be another hot one, but that's okay. I don't have a very long ride today, and I'm getting an early start.
It seems like this time of year, everything collides, and this trip sneaks up on me quite quickly. I get a late jump on my planning, and an even later jump on packing. I hope I didn't forget anything important.
I love a good spy story. I love to read John Le Carre, Ian Fleming and even Donald Hamilton novels. But I'm not interested in the heroes, like George Smiley or James Bond or Matt Helm. Don't get me wrong; those guys are great. But I read spy stories for the gadgets. Give me a whole book about MI6's Q Branch (they're the ones who make all the gadgets), and I'd be very happy.
When I travel on a motorcycle, getting ready for each trip starts to feel like I'm preparing for a super secret mission. I'm always in the process of testing a new piece of gear, or a newly miniaturized gadget that is designed to make my riding safer, easier and more fun.
It's spring, so you might be thinking about getting a new battery for your motorcycle. If you didn't take the time to put your battery on a smart charger for the winter, you're definitely going to have to do more than just think about it. Motorcycle batteries are much smaller than car batteries, which is one of the factors that contribute to their shorter lifespan (and warranties). I've had good luck with my batteries over the years, mostly because I'm kind of obsessive about keeping them hooked up to a Battery Tender smart charger in between rides, even during good weather. My most recent battery lasted almost ten years, thanks to careful maintenance, and the fact that I live in a very moderate climate.
This is an article about motorcycle safety, but it could be an article about automotive safety, or bicycle safety, or just leaving your house safety. It's an article built around a simple concept: Think like a pilot.
Pilots approach every flight with a clear agenda -- take off safely, fly safely, arrive safely. The very first thing a pilot does, before ever flying the plane, is to complete a safety checklist. Every important system and backup is inspected, every setting noted, every detail attended to. All before the engine is started, long before takeoff occurs. A pilot who does not complete a safety checklist will not be a pilot for long.
The man who has led the direction of Harley-Davidson's styling for the past 49 years is retiring on April 30, 2012. Willie G. Davidson, the dashing 78 year-old Senior Vice President and Chief Styling Officer for the Motor Company, will segue to a lesser role as Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, and will remain involved with Harley-Davidson as a Brand Ambassador.
The final push home means that I'll get to see my wife, my dogs and cats and my house this evening. I could just ride straight down US 101, and be home in 90 minutes or so. But where's the fun in that?
I have breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Pepper Tree Inn's adjacent restaurant, the Treehouse Restaurant and Lounge. The restaurant also provides room service and poolside service for the hotel, but I decide to mingle with the regular folk instead. Fueled up for the ride home, I decide to detour into downtown Santa Barbara before I leave town.
The sound of seals barking on the rocks greets me when I step out onto the patio of my room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Fireside Inn this morning. Seals are particularly vocal animals, and they have no problem expressing themselves at full volume. They're hilarious to watch, as they spend many of their waking hours telling each other who's boss. Moonstone Beach's seals look very well-fed and healthy, and seem to enjoy having an audience.
I pop into the breakfast room at the hotel for a quick breakfast -- scrambled eggs and sausage from the free buffet, and a few cups of coffee to shake off the morning fog.
For such a small town, Lone Pine really is in the center of a lot of special locations. Death Valley National Park is to the east. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are to the west. The portal to Mount Whitney is right outside of town. A few miles north of Lone Pine is Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese nationals and Americans of Japanese descent were interned during World War II. The BEST WESTERN PLUS Frontier Motel is a great base camp for exploration to any of these remarkable places.
Palm Springs is a sleepy town in the morning. I like that. The Club Room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is bustling, however. Breakfast is served, and it's included in the price of the room. A chef is on duty to prepare omelets to order. She's an artist with a pan. I linger over my ham and cheese creation, and study my maps. I want to make sure that I don't hit any snow today. I check the weather and elevations on my route until I'm confident that I'll be safe. No problems manifest themselves on the maps or on the internet.
I pack up the bike and check out of the hotel. In a town full of hotels, the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is a discovery, with a very intimate, friendly feel. I wish I could stay longer. It's a great place to relax.
Rain. It's still raining when I wake up and peek through the shutters. A heavy fog sits over the bay, obscuring any view of the San Diego skyline. I get packed and dressed, and dodge the raindrops over to the Blue Wave Restaurant & Lodge off of lobby of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Island Palms Hotel & Marina. I study the weather app on my iPhone as I eat my ham and cheese omelet. It looks like most of the storm has passed, and I'm just dealing with the lingering effects. It's time to ride.
"Seems it never rains in Southern California..." The lyrics of Albert Hammond's 1972 hit echo in my head as I load my gear on the 2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra that sits in my garage. I'm about to head out on a six-day ride that will take me on a tour of Southern and Central California, and the ground outside is still wet from last night's downpour. The forecast calls for thunderstorms today, though the skies show signs of clearing right now. Rain won't stop me from riding, but it does force me to adjust my plans a bit.
If you've ever visited the Harley-Davidson website, you've probably noticed that the motorcycles on the site are divided into groups or families, including Sportster, Dyna, Softail, V-Rod and Touring. Each category is pretty much defined by its frame and engine, with plenty of variation within the category.
The family that I'm most interested in (most of the time) is Touring. The H-D Touring family includes the Road King, Electra Glide/Street Glide and Road Glide motorcycles, in all of their trim levels. Each bike is built around the same basic Touring frame, the latest version of which was introduced in 2009. Each bike is powered by a fuel-injected 45-degree V-Twin engine, displacing either 103 or 110 cubic inches, depending on model.
I just finished reading The Big Roads by Earl Swift, and I couldn't wait to write about it here. The book's subtitle is "The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways," and as a denizen of the road, it filled in many blanks, corrected misconceptions and entertained me at the same time. If you've ever wondered about those wild interchanges, long stretches of straightaway and gentle curves and the people behind them, The Big Roads will help unravel the mystery for you.
Earl Swift is an experienced journalist based in Norfolk, Virginia. The Big Roads is his third non-fiction book. In addition, his newspaper and magazine columns have been collected in a volume called "The Tangierman's Lament." I heard Swift interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered last summer, and I immediately placed an order for his book. Time being the fluid instrument that it is, The Big Roads took its place in my cue, and I just got around to reading it this winter. It was worth the wait.
I'm getting ready for my next motorcycle trip. When I'm planning a trip, I'm generally a paper map kind of guy. I like the maps from MadMaps when I can get them; they're great for discovering motorcycle roads. I've installed the Harley-Davidson MadMaps App on my iPhone, and that's great, too. But I have found that having a good handheld GPS unit with me on my ride is a great safety net.
A smartphone with a GPS application can work fine, but it's not a dedicated GPS unit. Dedicated GPS units generally have bigger screens, more useful integrated functions and quicker response times.
I'm no mechanic. That's been proven to me many times, in most unpleasant ways. But, I still think that it's important to understand how my motorcycle works. That way, I can recognize small problems before they become catastrophes, and I can work with my mechanic to make things work properly. This week, I decided to look deeply into my motorcycle's clutch to unravel its mysteries.
The job of the clutch is to temporarily disconnect the engine from the transmission. This disconnection is essential to safe operation of a modern motorcycle. Otherwise, you'd have to turn off the engine at every stop, and you'd never be able to change gears. Your car has a clutch (or more), even if it has an automatic transmission. Even your electric drill probably has a clutch. On a motorcycle, we pull in the clutch lever in order to disengage the transmission, then slowly let the clutch lever out in order to engage the transmission gears with the engine -- and the bike moves under power. But what's happening inside the clutch when we pull and release that lever?
Gentlemen, start your engines! Even though this winter has been very mild throughout much of the United States, it's always great to see the first signs of spring. For me, spring means Daytona Beach Bike Week, and this year that's March 9 to 18. Actually, that's more than a week -- it's 10 days. But who's counting?
Every year since 1937 (that's 75 years), Bike Week has been held in Daytona Beach, Florida, coinciding with the Daytona 200 motorcycle race. The race was suspended for a few years during World War II, but the party continued. The Daytona 200 is held at Daytona International Speedway on March 17, and is the first race of the AMA Pro Racing season. Tickets for the race start at $30, a bargain for a great day of racing.
Based on the Softail platform that includes the Fatboy, Blackline and Heritage Softail Classic, the new Softail Slim is a back-to-basics stripped-down old school motorcycle. "It's time to make the engine the focal point of the motorcycle," says Harley-Davidson Senior Designer Casey Ketterhagen, "so we put a Softail on a diet to get the proportions back in check. Scale down the rear with a narrow tire and chopped fender and the heart of the bike, the motor, once again becomes the focus."
Today's our last day on the road. We linger over breakfast at the Acapulco Restaurant, adjacent to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Hacienda Hotel Old Town. The hot breakfast buffet is included with our stay, and it's a really great start to the day. The views from the dining room across Old Town and to modern San Diego beyond are quite spectacular, and it's a perfect Southern California day today. San Diego may have the best weather in the United States. It's never too hot, never too cold, with less than 12 inches of rain per year. It has only snowed in San Diego five times in the past 125 years, so it's pretty safe to bet that you'll get good weather here if you hang around for a few days. We've hit a sweet spot in January, an absolutely clear, beautiful morning.
After breakfast, I go back to Old Town to look around before the crowds arrive. I get a chance to read the plaques, explore the buildings and soak up the vibe without bumping into people. Because it's San Diego, runners and dog walkers power through while I stroll with my camera. Fitness is like a religion here.
We eat a quick breakfast in PJ's Cafe and Bar at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Inn Suites Yuma Mall Hotel & Suites. A hot buffet with eggs and sausage - yum. We're going to explore Yuma a little bit before we ride back into California.
I'm not sure why prisons are such an attraction. I hope never to be incarcerated, but I love visiting old jails and prisons, and hearing the stories about the men and women who lived in them. Back in the day, working at a prison was almost as bad as being a convict. Guards and inmates shared conditions, and an isolated jail was as much of a hardship on the employees as it was on the prisoners.
Our stay at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Royal Sun Inn & Suites includes breakfast at the adjoining Royal Sun Restaurant & Lounge. We have a nice hot breakfast, and spend some time planning our day's ride. We have some distance to travel, and plenty of things to see along the way.
Looking at the map, I'm continually surprised to realize just how close we are to the U.S./Mexico border. Nogales, Mexico is just 70 miles south on Interstate 19. We're not going to cross the border on this trip, but it is possible to cross into and out of Mexico with ease. You and your passengers (including children) need to bring your U.S. Passports, and it's a good idea to purchase Mexico vehicle insurance before entering the country -- your U.S. policy will probably not cover you in a foreign country. It is also advisable to check the U.S. Department of State's website for up-to-the-minute information about travel to Mexico. Mexico is a beautiful, amazing country, but there are some definite dangers for tourists. Forewarned is forearmed.
At some point in the middle of a motorcycle trip I always begin to feel like I've been on the road forever, and that the ride will never end. It's a great feeling, and it means that I'm getting into my groove and really living in the moment. Today feels like that.
The BEST WESTERN PLUS InnSuites Phoenix Hotel & Suites has a big, bright breakfast room right off of the lobby, and we take advantage of the hot food buffet. I don't eat a lot of eggs at home, but for some reason there's nothing better on the road.
Breakfast is my thing. There's nothing better than waking up in the morning and knowing that a good breakfast is on the agenda. Breakfast at Juicy's River Cafe is included with our night's stay at the BEST WESTERN Colorado River Inn. Good, stick-to-your-ribs eggs and bacon starts our day the right way.
We check out of the hotel, load up the bike and get back on the Mother Road. We'll be tracking along a short section of the original Route 66 today, and we're excited to explore a piece of travel history.
I'm always excited to go on a motorcycle trip. When my wife Robin can get the time off of work to join me as a passenger, I'm over the moon. She's great company, and the best pillion rider I've ever met. A ride with Robin is the best.
We're starting out from home this time, which is great. While I enjoy exploring the country on a bike, eliminating the travel days to and from a remote starting point gives us more time actually riding, and less time in airports.
I just got back from a week-long ride from Southern California into Arizona and back, which you'll be reading about here very soon. Luckily, my wife Robin was able to take time off from work to ride along as my passenger. We took the opportunity to test a new Bluetooth communication system, instead of using the onboard intercom system on the 2012 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic that we rode. We've used the H-D system in the past, and it works like a charm. The only downside to the H-D system, if there is one, is that it is not wireless. Bluetooth wireless systems have spoiled me. I use a Bluetooth stereo headset every day when I'm not on my bike, so I figured it would be fun to try one on this trip.
Most of the time, I like to pass through life without attracting attention. When I'm riding my motorcycle, though, I do my best to make sure that other motorists notice me. I don't clown around or make funny faces: I use HiViz.
In 1933, Bob Switzer sustained a head injury and was forced to spend months recovering in a darkened basement room. Bob and his younger brother Joe used the recovery time to experiment with paint that would glow in the dark under fluorescent light. In 1935, they accidently discovered a combination of pigments that seemed to glow under ordinary light. They named the color "Fire Orange," and it was the first "Day-Glo" paint color. Subsequent colors included "Saturn Yellow" and "Signal Green."
Last year I asked, "Did you ride as much as you meant to in 2010? Me, either. Do you plan to do something about it in 2011? Me, too."
Even though I live in Southern California, I find myself contemplating how to keep my motorcycling jones fulfilled during the winter. I can only imagine the depths of despair that my motorcycling friends in the Upper Midwest are enduring right now. So I decided to collect a few random thoughts about your motorcycle in winter to help keep hope alive.
As long as the roads are dry and the skies are clear, you can conquer the cold and keep on riding.
Nothing warms me up like a visit to the International Motorcycle Show (IMS), which tours the United States every winter. In past years, it has been sponsored by Cycle World Magazine, but this year Progressive Insurance has taken the reins -- so the show is officially known as the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.
I found myself in Miami Beach on business, and decided to extend my stay for a few days. I went online to the Harley-Davidson site and booked a 2011 Softail Deluxe from Peterson's Harley-Davidson of Miami. In just a few minutes, I was out of my rental car, and back on two wheels, ready to explore the city.
Is it Christmas time again already? Then it must be time to shop for the biker on your list. Lucky for you, there are plenty of cool, affordable gifts that will put a smile on the face of your favorite motorcyclist.
Here are a few cool gift suggestions:
You will probably never ride a thousand mile day on a motorcycle. Neither will I. But if you're eager to understand why some people ride a thousand miles a day and more -- indeed, if you're eager to understand why people ride motorcycles at all, The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing by Melissa Holbrook Pierson gives valuable insight into the practice of long-distance motorcycling.
Ms. Pierson is an essayist and non-fiction writer. I have recommended a previous book of hers, The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles (1998), many times.
I'm a big advocate of motorcycle rider training. I took my first motorcycle training class, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced RiderCourse, after I had already been riding for a decade. When the one-day class was over, my head was spinning. I realized how little I actually knew about riding a motorcycle, and how lucky I was to have survived without proper training. I decided then and there to devote myself to being a better, safer rider, and to make sure that I kept on top of my skills at all times. I view each and every ride as a training session, and I pay constant attention to my riding while I'm in the saddle. Between rides, I read articles and books about motorcycle safety, and I seek out new inspiration for safe riding.
The latest Chopper craze has waxed and waned, but that doesn't mean that the Chopper is dead and gone. In fact, the 2012 Harley-Davidson lineup includes several bikes that I would consider "Factory Choppers": The Nightster, Iron 883 and Forty-Eight from the Sportster family, the Street Bob from the Dyna family and the Blackline from the Softail family.
But where did this whole Chopper thing come from? And what is a "Chopper" exactly?
As far as I'm concerned, the best time to buy a used motorcycle is right now -- at the end of the riding season, when owners are considering winter storage. The holidays are right around the corner, and that used bike looks a little like an ATM sitting in the garage. The weather hasn't turned so much that you can't get in a good test drive, and if you buy now, you'll have the whole winter to make any alterations that you have in mind before spring rolls around.
Doing some homework before you start shopping for a used bike will help make the experience better. First, examine your finances, and figure out how much you want to spend on a bike. If you're planning to finance your purchase, go to your lender and get preapproved for a loan amount. Talk to your insurance agent, and find out what factors you should consider in order to make sure that you can afford proper motorcycle insurance. Engine size, motorcycle style and other factors can greatly affect your insurance bill -- so find this out before you buy.
Motorcycles can be incredibly fuel efficient, especially compared to cars. Still, even the most efficient bikes (and riders) can stand some improvement to make sure that they are getting the most out of every drop of fossil fuel.
Get to Know the Enemy
You won't know if you're improving your gas mileage unless you track your fuel usage. Start keeping a log of fuel purchased and miles driven. Keep notes of driving conditions, special situations and other information that will help you interpret your data. Make a habit of recording data with every fill up, and continue to record data as you make changes to your bike and your riding habits so that you can figure out what works and what doesn't.
Buying a motorcycle can be a significant investment. While generally less expensive than cars, the tab for a new, fully featured bike can easily approach figures that eclipse the price of a mid-size sedan. In the best of all possible worlds, you've got enough cash put aside so that you can buy your next bike outright. In the real world, that's not always the case. Does that mean that you have to put your dreams on hold? No, it does not. There are sensible ways to finance the purchase of a motorcycle.
I've always dreamed of owning a classic motorcycle. Not just any classic: I've always dreamed of owning a 1958 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide. It was the first Harley with a genuine rear suspension, so it was the first H-D that I would consider "touring-ready." It is supremely comfortable, and remarkably smooth in operation. The Duo-Glide is a gorgeous bike, with elegant lines and striking details, the kind of bike you can spend as much time admiring as you can riding it.
But I've never bought a Duo-Glide, even though I've come across many affordable, well-maintained examples over the years.
Check out the video footage of Best Western's Travel Blog writer Jason Fogelson and his trip through Washington state!
After a good night's rest, I wake up for a quick breakfast in the BEST WESTERN PLUS Harbor Inn's dining room. They have a cool, build-your-own egg sandwich system that everyone is trying, and I can't resist, either. An egg fried in the round, a sausage patty, a slice of cheese and an English muffin, assembled and tossed in the microwave for a minute, and you've got a breakfast that McDonald's can only dream about.
I check out of the hotel and load up the Electra Glide for the last time. I'm pretty proud of my packing this time. I have worn every item of clothing that I packed. The only way to get more efficient is to start wearing clothing twice, or a mid-trip wash. For a six-day ride, I'll stick with the "just enough" system. Next, I'll need to hone the other junk I carry.
The BEST WESTERN PLUS Icicle Inn sets out a great breakfast buffet in J.J. Hills Fresh Grill, and the great model train runs the whole time. By the way, Jerome James "J.J." Hill was the head of the Great Northern Railroad, and pressed for its route to pass through Leavenworth. So there's some logic to the restaurant's name and railroad theme -- not that it needs logic, anymore than Leavenworth itself needs logic. It's just fun and cool, that's all.
I load up the Electra Glide under the big hand-painted sign that bids me "Auf Wiedersehen," then bid farewell to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Icicle Inn. If I were a snow skier, I'd be marking this location on my map. I'll bet it is stunning in the wintertime.
The heat wave seems to have broken when I wake up this morning at the BEST WESTERN Othello Inn. I share the hotel's breakfast room with a group of power company linemen, and we all compliment the morning's fare. Excellent biscuits and gravy, just the kind of stick-to-your-ribs food to keep you going as you climb poles all day -- or ride a motorcycle through beautiful countryside.
I load up the Electra Glide, and depart town in the direction of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is a 30,000-acre area administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Refuge was established in 1944, and much of its land is that unique canyon and eroded hillside that was formed by the great floods that created the Columbia River Basin. The area is an important stopover for migratory waterfowl, and is famous for its population of Sand Hill Cranes. I didn't see much wildlife during my ride through the Refuge, but I did see great, unspoiled natural beauty in every direction, miles and miles of land untouched by human habitation. It's a fascinating place, a desert terrain that seems to have abundant water at the same time. I've never seen any other place like it.
It's already hot in Omak when I wake up this morning. The weather lady is calling for temperatures in the upper 90s. I hope she's wrong, but I'll be fine either way. I just have to remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
After a fortifying breakfast in the elegant breakfast room/library of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Pepper Tree Inn at Omak, I'm ready to move on. I'm getting an early start today, on account of the heat. I kind of wish I could hang out in Omak for another day, and swim in that great pool while I wait for the heat to pass. Oh, well.
Today is a big day on my Washington State ride. I'm meeting up with a group of riders at Mt. Baker Harley-Davidson, and they're escorting me on a ride and joining me for lunch along my route.
First, I fuel up with a delicious breakfast in the Oboe Cafe at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Lakeway Inn. A choice of several breakfast meals is included with my stay, and it's a luxurious change over the usual buffet. Sometimes it's nice to relax and let someone take care of you.
I pack my gear carefully for this trip, as always. I'm honing my gear down with each trip, trying to do more with less. Everything must have a purpose, and anything that didn't get used on the last trip gets left at home on the next one. I have this down to a science now.
I used to carry a tool roll on every trip, an old habit from the days when motorcycles were much less reliable. This time, I'm only packing a small flashlight, a Leatherman multi-tool, a roll of duct tape and the universal tool - my iPhone. I probably won't ever use the first three.
I've been on a few long rides in the past few months. I've been all by myself on most of them, but I've been part of a group on others. When they are not riding, riders talk about riding. Where they've ridden, what they've ridden, how they've ridden. Who they've ridden with.
And frequently, riders talk about how far they've ridden.
Check out the video of the latest Harley Davidson Canada Road Trip!
Okay, so this morning I don't have fruit for breakfast. I break down and have some eggs, bacon and toast. So shoot me. The breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Coeur d'Alene Inn just looks too good.
I check out of my room, noticing again just how friendly and efficient the staff at the hotel is. This is a very well run establishment, and I will definitely be back again for a third visit in the future. I'm a little bummed that we won't get a chance to explore downtown Coeur d'Alene, which is so charming and interesting. I really enjoyed wandering around there on my last visit -- it's like an unspoiled Spokane, hip and cool without the attitude. Oh, well -- next time.
We've got some serious riding to do today, so we have all agreed to get up an hour earlier than usual, and meet at 7:00 am in the breakfast room of the BEST WESTERN White Oak Grand. I stoke the fires with fresh fruit and some yogurt, knowing that I'll need long-lasting energy for the road ahead. We check out of our hotel rooms, and meet in the parking lot.
Breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Columbia River Hotel is served in the dining room, and it is delicious. I'm feeling good this morning, and I also feel virtuous, because all I have for breakfast is a big bowl of fruit, while my Canadian friends all seem to be carbing up with eggs, pancakes and other heavy foods. I'll wait for lunch and dinner before I fill up.
The sun is shining as we saddle up to ride, and the skies are clear and blue. We're going to be crossing the border into the United States today, and I'm kind of curious how that will work on a group of motorcycles. I suddenly realize that I've never crossed an international border on a bike, so this day will mark a significant occasion.
This is going to be a different kind of road trip for me. I'm going on a group ride with Deeley Harley-Davidson of Canada and a group of Canadian journalists. We're going to be riding a collection of 2012 Harleys, starting off in Kelowna, British Columbia and dipping down below the border into my home country of the United States. We'll be staying at BEST WESTERN hotels along the way, both in Canada and in the U.S.
I'm looking forward to the ride. We'll be riding through some beautiful areas, including one of my favorite spots on Earth, Montana's Glacier National Park. I'm very excited to return there, as it was the highlight of one of my trips last year.
I've been using Santa Barbara as an escape from Los Angeles ever since I was in college in the 1980s. The rich and famous have been drawn to Santa Barbara since the 1920s, as the area is uncommonly beautiful and temperate. Santa Barbara County has been called "The American Riviera," and looking at the way that the shore communities are carved into the hilly coastline, it's easy to see why. Santa Barbara is heaven for motorcyclists, with great roads in every direction, and fantastic attractions in town when the riding day is done.
Every biker has a pile of these pictures. "Here's my bike in Sturgis.... Here's my bike in front of Mt. St. Helens... Here's my bike in front of my family..." If you're going to take pictures of your bike (you know you are), here are a few tips to help make your motorcycle photographs even better.
Consider the background.
One of the toughest things about photographing a motorcycle is all of the negative space. Even on a fully-faired bike, you can still see plenty of the background through the body, through the wheels, and through the basic outline of your motorcycle. A black motorcycle can virtually disappear in front of a dark background. Pay attention to what is behind and around your bike, and arrange your photo so that your bike stands out.
I got up early this morning. I wanted to have time to enjoy my last full day of riding. So, I rushed through a quick hot breakfast at the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites, then hurried back up to my room to gather my belongings and get onto the bike. I'm still amazed at how close Forest Grove is to Portland. Just 30 miles up the road, the big city seems worlds away. Forest Grove may be at commuting distance, but it doesn't feel like a suburb. It is a community in itself, and the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites is a great vantage point from which to explore.
Oregonians take their summers seriously. Whenever the sun is out, so are they. Today, they're out on two wheels -- mostly of the bicycle variety. They're also very fond of Farmers' Markets. I pass several during my journey today, and they're bursting with produce and people. It's a beautiful day for riding.
While I eat a hot meal today in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites, I do a bit of research. I don't know much about Forest Grove, but what I have seen so far intrigues me.
I discover that the school that inspired the name of the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites is Pacific University, a prestigious liberal arts school. Its main campus is downtown in Forest Grove. Pacific University is the oldest university in Oregon, having been founded in 1849 -- ten years before Oregon became a state. The beautiful little campus educates over 3,200 students per year in undergraduate and graduate studies. It would be a very nice place to go to school, especially with its close proximity to Portland.
I wake up refreshed from a great night's sleep at the BEST WESTERN Grand Manor Inn. On my way to the lobby for a hot free breakfast, I stop and chat with Ivy at the front desk. This is my first-ever visit to Corvallis, and I don't need to rush away so quickly. Ivy gives me a map of the city, and points out some highlights. I study the map while I drink some coffee and nibble daintily on a toasted bagel.
I load up the Electra Glide and set out to tool around the city. 50,000 people call Corvallis home, and another 100,000 folks live in the surrounding area. Still, Corvallis retains a small town feel, with a real sense of the natural environment and a respect for history.
I jump out of bed at the BEST WESTERN Inn at Face Rock, get dressed and get packed up. I've got an appointment to ride this morning. "Bandon Bill" Clark has promised to take me to a place that every biker must visit.
I make time for a hot breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuit and gravy in the breakfast room at Bandon Bill's Grill on the hotel grounds. I remember the great meal I had in the dining room here last night - I wonder if I could extend my stay, just one more night? No - I've got places to go, promises to keep. You know the story.
I'm up early this morning. I pore over my map while I eat my hot breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Landmark Inn. I really like Lincoln City, and this hotel. I could see the ocean from my balcony, and I slept with the balcony door open so that I could enjoy the sea breeze and the sounds of the surf. I slept very well, and I'm raring to go. I've got a lot to see today.
First up, I ride back into town to see the town's namesake. Lincoln City was born in 1965, when the towns of Cutler City, Taft,Nelscott, Delake, and Oceanlake merged and incorporated. At about the same time, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876 - 1973) was looking for a home for "Abraham Lincoln on Horseback," a big bronze that depicted youthful Abe astride a steed, reading a book (Lincoln's reading - not the horse). The statue now sits on the corner of NW 22nd Street and Quay in Lincoln City, outside of the Lincoln City Community Center.
Rain is a fact of life in Oregon, and the locals welcome it as a treasure. Lawns are lush here, flowers grow in abundance and vegetable gardens burst with bounty. None of this would be possible without the rain. Everything looks clean, fresh and healthy. I'll take a little rain early in the day in exchange for such beauty.
Logistics have determined that my ride through Western Oregon has to begin in Seattle, Washington. Not Oregon. That's okay - I love Seattle. It's a good starting point for any excursion, especially during the summer.
I land in Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, and take a car service to Bellevue's Eastside Harley-Davidson. I've located an Electra Glide Ultra Limited for rent through Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals. In the past, I've used the Harley Owners Group Fly and Ride, but the Motor Company has merged the two programs. Everything works out fine. I'm in and out of the dealership in 45 minutes, saddled up on a fully-loaded 2011 bike. The bike is beautifully detailed, black in color, and has a few extra features, like heated handgrips and a 12-volt outlet in the Tour Pak. That may come in handy.
This year marks the 71s annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This year, the bikers are gathering from August 8-14. The party is already underway as I write these words.
So, when new products hit the market for automotive detailing, I take notice, and think about how I might use them to keep my motorcycle sparkling.
Before I start prattling on about new products, let me remind you of the Detailer's Hippocratic Oath -- Above all, do no harm. There are few worse feelings than discovering that you've just discolored your chrome when you were just trying to get some bug juice off. Before you apply any chemicals or products to your bike, try a little bit of good old-fashioned water first, and see how that does. Always work in the shade, and if you must try a new product, test it in an inconspicuous spot first (inside a saddlebag, on the bottom side of a pipe). You'll be surprised how often "no product" works as well as "new product."
When I got my first Harley-Davidson back in the early 1990s, I brought it out to Dover, New Jersey to show to my cousin David. Dave is a lifelong biker, and he was my inspiration to ride in the first place.
After Dave gave my Sportster the once over ("Pretty cool -- for a Sporty."), I pulled him aside for some words of wisdom. Dave thought for a minute, then emitted two words: "Ride solo."
I got a call from the dealership's service manager, Tom. I had left my Sportster, Manny,with Tom that morning to get a new set of tires spooned on, and had ordered up some routine maintenance at the same time.
"I've got some bad news." You never want to hear that from your service manager. "I've only ever had to make this call one time before, and I had hoped never to have to make it again." My heart was racing. What had they discovered? What was wrong with my beloved Manny? "We dropped your bike off the lift. Your bike was up on the lift, and it fell off."
When a designer conceives a bike, the frame has to be one of the first elements to consider. The frame determines a bike's structure, and every decision about frame design will determine function down the line. So, if you look at your own bike's frame, you can reverse-engineer your bike, and figure out how and why it is built the way it is. Once you understand that, you'll be able to evaluate any possible repairs and/or modifications that you might consider in the future, and you'll know whether or not they are compatible with your bike's very essence: its frame.
"Synthetic oil? Isn't that for new high-tech engines?" I asked. "Doesn't my old-fashioned air-cooled V-twin need thick, sludgy 40-weight?"
Tom took the time to explain why synthetic oil was a better choice for my Sportster and my riding style, and I decided to change over. I have never regretted my choice.
Riding a motorcycle is all about managing traction, so it's important to understand what traction is and how your riding style, choices and your motorcycle itself affect the traction that you have available.
First, some basics. As it relates to motorcycles, traction is the resistance between your tires and the ground. Traction results from friction (surface resistance) combined with your tires' footprint combined with your bike's (and your) weight. If the available traction is less than the torque that you apply to your wheel, the tire will spin. When your wheels spin without traction, handling can be unpredictable, and very bad things can happen.
Motorcyclists who visit a Best Western Hotel and upload a photo of their bike in front of a Best Western sign will be entered to win prizes, including Best Western Rewards points and Best Western Travel Cards. Photos must be uploaded to Best Western's Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/BestWestern) between now and July 15, 2011 in order to be eligible.
Often, the simplest solution is the best one. If you own a pickup truck, you already own a great motorcycle transporter. A 2011 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited is 98.6" long (just over 8') and weighs 901 lbs. A compact pickup, like a Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier is capable of hauling a big bike, but you'd be better off with a full-size pickup like a Ford F150, Chevy Silverado or Toyota Tundra, equipped with a long bed.
Even the most passive motorcycle owner will need to use a tool on their bike eventually. By their very nature, motorcycles need more attention than cars. Things vibrate, shake loose and need to be tightened all the time. Using the right tools can help avoid major problems. You don't have to sell the farm to fill your tool chest - just a few carefully selected tools will help keep your bike in tip-top shape.
Tools for the Garage
I'm going to go off-topic a little bit here, but not really. This warning is about motorcycle travel, and travel in general. It's a cautionary tale that unfortunately emerges from my personal experience.
I was just diagnosed with Deep-Vein Thrombosis, or DVT. Following a cross-country flight, I noticed some pain in my lower leg. I ignored it, figuring it was just another sign of aging. I have been traveling a lot in the past few weeks, and by coincidence, getting booked in middle seats on crowded flights.
But there's something to be said for the urban crawl. And one of the best places to ride, with some of the best destinations, is Chicago, Illinois.
Two things make Chicago a great riding destination: Architecture and Culture.
A few months ago, I made a promise to myself to read more books. The piles of magazines that arrive at my house, along with the distraction of television, movies and other entertainment, kept me from reading as many books as I once enjoyed. I was determined to make a change. A book in the saddlebag is always a good thing on a motorcycle trip. You never know when you're going to find yourself holed up in a diner, waiting for the rain to stop so you can continue on your journey. A book can be a great companion.
I live in mortal fear of having my motorcycle stolen. Sure, I've got insurance, but I would never be able to recover the time and energy, blood, sweat and tears that I have invested in my ride. Not to mention the hassle, and the feeling of violation that accompanies a theft. I just don't need it. So, I've been looking into different forms of motorcycle security.
The best security for your bike is parking it indoors in a secure garage or parking lot. If you can park indoors rather than on the street while you are on your motorcycle trip, do it. It's hard to steal a bike that you can't see.
For motorcycling's first century, men have dominated the field. In recent years, women have discovered that the joys of riding don't have to be limited to the pillion, and more female motorcyclists have taken to the road.
The Internet has become a great gathering place and resource for women riders.
Motorcycle travel used to be simple. Load up the bike with a tarp and a sleeping bag, get out the map and ride. Simplicity has given way to technology, as there are now GPS solutions designed specifically for bikes.
"GPS" stands for "Global Positioning System," shorthand for the satellite-based navigation system that forms the basis for live mapping. A network of 24 NavStar satellites was completed in 1993, and became operational in 1994. Four satellites signals are needed at any given moment to calculate a user's position. Until 2000, non-military users only had access to a degraded signal, which limited GPS's accuracy. Since 2000, GPS accuracy has been greatly improved for consumers. The U.S. Department of Defense is responsible by law for maintaining GPS as a national resource, under the direction of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee.
San Diego has a rich history that stretches back into the 1700's, and a living history that still stands in the form of Old Town, which dates back to 1821 -- antiquity in California terms, where homes from the Twentieth Century are considered significant landmarks.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America are collectively donating $10,000 to the Japan America Society's 2011 Japan Relief Fund, and each organization is encouraging its members to make their own donations. The MSF, MIC and SVIA have each added links to their websites in order to make it easier for members and the general riding public to help out in this time of great need.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a motorcycle helmet is "by far the most critical piece of safety gear a motorcyclist can use."
Twenty states and Washington, DC require that all motorcycle riders wear a helmet. Twenty-seven states have some helmet laws, usually requiring riders under a certain age to don helmets. Three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no laws requiring helmet use.
My cousin Adam and his wife have a favorite vacation. They load up Adam's Harley-Davidson Road King, and go motorcycle camping. Last year, they went for a two-week tour of Nova Scotia, pitching a tent and cooking on a campfire all the way.
A few months ago, I wrote about a few new books about motorcycling that I was planning to read. When I got back from my recent trip to the Gulf Coast, I finally got a chance to sit down and read one of the books on the top of my list, and I just had to tell you about it.
Big Sid's Vincati by Matthew Biberman is subtitled "The Story of a Father, a Son and the Motorcycle of a Lifetime." It's the true story of how motorcycling helped to bring a family together, and how the love of a motorcycle can help to heal old wounds.
After you have bolted on all of the handy accessories and cosmetic add-ons to your scoot, after you've tweaked the ergonomics and made your bike as comfortable as your La-Z-Boy recliner, you may still be looking for a way to make your bike stand out from the crowd.
It's time to explore the world of custom paint.
I wake up bright and early, the sound of the Gulf waters drifting gently into my sixth floor room. It's a bittersweet day - the last day of my six-day ride through the South. I'll be glad to get home, but I'll miss my time on the road.
I make time for breakfast in the BEST WESTERN Fort Walton Beachfront Hotel lobby. Hey, it's free, after all. It's also hot and delicious. The lobby is very cool, with terrazzo floors and mod furniture. It has a great beach feel, with nautical accents, and kind of a Miami vibe with pastel colors and interesting geometry.
I manage to avoid the waffles this morning at breakfast. I do not manage to avoid the biscuits and sausage gravy that the BEST WESTERN Capital Inn & Suites provide, however. Delicious, and quite filling. I'm ready to ride.
I'm growing quite attached to this Electra Glide Classic. A fellow guest buttonholes me in the parking lot while I'm gearing up to ride, and we have a great conversation about his work for Harley-Davidson, as a supplier for electrical parts. We both stand and admire the bike in the morning sun. "I bet that'll do just about anything you want it to," he says. He's right. I feel like I could ride around the globe on this bike, just in time to start another loop around again.
I wake up, get ready and load the Electra Glide for the day, then head to the lobby of the BEST WESTERN Columbus for breakfast. I decide to make myself a waffle this morning. I probably haven't had a waffle in 10 years, and I can't figure out why. Delicious and filling. I'm ready to ride.
I wake up an hour before the alarm this morning. I can't go back to sleep - too eager to ride. So I get up, get showered and dressed, and pack my gear. I load the Electra Glide, and then go back in to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Two Rivers Hotel & Suites for the free breakfast. Fried eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, all on tap. A real Southern breakfast, and it's included with my night's stay. Now that's BEST WESTERN PLUS.
While I check out, I ask the manager, Jay, for advice about what I should see before I leave Demopolis. Jay is a virtual Chamber of Commerce, whipping out a sheet of paper and drawing a map to several highlights in town. I asked the right guy!
There is frost on the Electra Glide while I load the saddlebags with my gear. The poor bike has sat outside the BEST WESTERN Executive Inn in Jackson while I slept inside, nestled in a very comfortable bed. I feel a little guilty.
Even though the BEST WESTERN Executive Inn serves up a very nice free continental breakfast, I heed the siren call of the Waffle House across the street for a freshly cooked omelet. We don't have Waffle House at home, and I passed at least a dozen of them on my ride yesterday. I can't resist the greasy goodness, and I'm not alone. There are over 1,500 Waffle House locations in 25 states. There's even a Waffle House Museum in Avondale Estates, Georgia, where the chain was born. The Jackson Waffle House is packed with a mixture of locals and cowboys this morning, relics of the Dixie National Rodeo from last night.
The bad news: The temperature is 27 degrees Fahrenheit outside when I wake up at 7:00 am in my room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS St. Christopher Hotel in New Orleans.
I can't pick up my motorcycle until 9:00 am this morning, so I get ready, pack my things, and head down to the lobby for breakfast. I keep it light, just a bagel and some coffee (okay, and a muffin). The lobby cafe is abuzz with activity, a nice mix of young and old, tourists all sharing stories of their nights on the town, making plans for the coming day.
I've spent the last week watching the weather. I don't mind cold; I don't mind rain. I've got good gear, and I can stay warm and dry. But combine cold and rain, and it spells trouble for a motorcycle trip.
I have installed a couple of weather apps on my iPhone - WeatherBug and the Weather Channel. I check them obsessively over the past few days, and it appears that the cold front that has been moving through the South is on its way out. Hope it keeps moving.
It has been a particularly harsh winter across much of the country. Record snow storms, frigid temperatures, frog-drowning rainfall. There have been times when it seemed like we'd never get to ride again.
Hope is on the horizon. Bike Week runs from March 4 to March 13 this year in Daytona Beach, Florida.
This year is the 70th Annual Bike Week in Daytona, and they're pulling out all the stops for a great celebration. Here are just a few of the events to look forward to:
Drop by any Harley-Davidson owner's home, and chances are, you're going to see at least a few decorative items featuring the Harley Bar & Shield logo. I'm not embarrassed to admit that there's at least one H-D item in each room of my house, not to mention my garage and tool room.
The Harley-Davidson Bar & Shield logo first appeared in 1910, and it hasn't changed much since. 1910 was early in the Art Deco period of art and design, and the Bar & Shield fits in perfectly. It has aged particularly well, in my opinion. The logo looks both modern and classic. Everything looks better with the Bar & Shield on it.
Most of my motorcycle touring is done on rented Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
I don't own a touring bike, for one thing. My personal ride is a 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster Deluxe named "Manny." Manny is a great bike, but he's just not designed for touring. A 200-mile day is about the limit, and back-to-back long days are unthinkable. When I want to go for a week-long ride, I want to be on an Electra Glide, Road Glide or Road King.
I'm very excited. The airplane tickets have been purchased, the bike has been reserved, the BEST WESTERN Hotel reservations have been confirmed. I'm getting ready to ride.
This time, I'm a little bit ahead of schedule, for a change. I usually feel rushed when I'm planning a motorcycle trip, because things take a long time to come together. A motorcycle trip is a little bit like a Rubik's Cube, with a lot of moving pieces that have to align properly before the trip clicks together. This particular trip has been clicking, which leaves me more time than usual to research routes, things to see and do, and pre-trip preparation.
Here are a few of the major motorcycle events scheduled for 2011. Take a look at your calendar, and see if you've got room for a trip! Even though there are BEST WESTERN Hotels near each of these events, rooms often book up well in advance, so plan early!
I'm lucky -- I live in Southern California. We ride here during the whole year. I actually moved to California in order to extend my riding season. I was living in New York City with my trusty Sportster, Manny, and my work situation changed. I became a freelancer, and my clients were as likely to be in Chicago or Los Angeles or Dallas as they were in New York. I realized that I could live anywhere -- so I chose the part of the country where I could ride all year long. I have never regretted that decision, even when I miss some of the cultural and business advantages of living in Manhattan. I love to ride, and just knowing that I can jump on my bike in the middle of January makes every day feel full of possibility.
Did you ride as much as you meant to in 2010? Me, either.
Do you plan to do something about it in 2011? Me, too.
First of all, I really love planning. So, I'm going to start a "To Do" list for my motorcycle, so that all of those fleeting ideas about where and when to ride don't slip away.
Once you have learned how to ride a bicycle, your body doesn't forget. It remembers, and it just takes a few moments to regain your ability to ride after a long layoff.
Don't make the same mistake with a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle is much more complex, and much riskier, than riding a bicycle, and if you haven't ridden for a while, you should consider taking a training course before you attempt to ride on public roads again.
This winter, I'm going to revisit Bill Hayes's history of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, The Original Wild Ones. Hayes is a great storyteller, and his book really brings the atmosphere of the post-WWII biker club to life, dispelling rumors and misconceptions in the process.
The truly mechanically inclined motorcyclists relish the winter, because that's when they can attack major projects. Top-end rebuilds, carburetor jet swaps, transmission overhauls, or even engine blueprinting might be on the agenda for December through March.
Not at my house. My mechanical abilities have been generously described as "basic," but I still find time for simple bike projects over the winter.
Ugh. Cold weather. It's bad for cars, worse for motorcycles. Every year, I write to remind you that putting your bike away for the winter is an essential part of motorcycle care. This year is no different. I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but if you don't care for your bike, your bike won't be there for you when the weather turns nice again.
There are two basic aspects to long-term motorcycle storage: cosmetic protection and mechanical protection.
When it's time to think about putting your bike away for the winter, it's time to start thinking about projects for the spring. I'm always considering my next bike purchase, and I'm always thinking about what parts and accessories I might need to add to my current ride. So, every winter, I make sure to attend the International Motorcycle Show.
It's that time again. Hard to believe it. The holidays are upon us.
If there's a motorcyclist on your holiday list, you're probably starting to think about a bike-related gift. If there isn't a motorcyclist on your holiday list - feel free to add me.
I'm going to suggest a few gifts for the traveling motorcyclist, for the biker who really enjoys putting on the miles.
If you ride a motorcycle, you probably like going fast. Even the most laid-back cruiser goes from zero to 60 faster than most sports cars, so your need for speed can be fed at every stoplight. But in most situations, smooth trumps fast. In fact, smooth comes before fast in the list of skills you should be concentrating on in improving your riding. And, best of all, smooth leads to fast, so you don't even have to choose between the two.
I'm not a fast rider by nature. I actually kind of enjoy tooling along at the speed limit, relishing the ride and taking in the sights and sounds of the road. I firmly believe that the best place for speed is on a track or closed course, not on a public road. Safety first.
Few things are as reliable as bad luck. Put enough miles on your motorcycle, and no matter how careful you are, no matter how diligent you are about maintenance, eventually you are going to get a flat tire. If your bad luck is good, your tire will go flat while your bike is parked. If your bad luck is not so good, you'll get a flat while you're riding.
It's actually a little bit tricky to tell if your tire has gone flat while you're in motion. Usually, you'll notice a bit of a wobble at first, and you may hear a humming sound at speed. If your rear tire is the one affected, it might feel like your bike is losing power. If you notice any of these conditions, it's time to slow your bike down and get it to the side of the road safely.
Motorcycles and motorcyclists used to have an image problem. A leather-clad biker symbolized danger, lawlessness and anti-social impulses. Television shied away from using motorcycles, except as shorthand for "bad."
There were the rare television characters who rode bike in the '60s and '70s -- I'm thinking of Jim Bronson on his Sportster in Then Came Bronson; Dr. Steven Kiley on his Bonneville in Marcus Welby, M.D.; Fonzie on his Triumph in Happy Days; and Ponch and John on their KZ-900P Police Specials on CHiPs. B.J. Hunnicut rode into the sunset on an Indian Scout in the final episode of MASH. If there's any unifying theme there, it's about characters marching to their own beat, individualists who don't care what others think about them. They were all riding against the tide.
I know that you haven't been counting, but I have: This blog entry is my hundred and first about motorcycle travel for You Must Be Trippin'. A milestone like that puts me into a reflective mood, and right now I'm thinking about why I ride.
I can look back at three significant moments in my childhood that pushed me toward motorcycling.
The ocean air was cool and moist. We had slept with our window open last night at the BEST WESTERN San Marcos Inn, and the soothing sounds of the surf mingled with the barks of the seals to produce a relaxing night of rest. Robin and I were both eager to get home, but bittersweet to end a ride that had been so rewarding. We had a quick cup of coffee at the hotel's breakfast buffet, skipping over the pastries and dairy products this time. We had a brunch destination in mind 160 miles away in Ojai, so we were saving our appetites.
We loaded up the bike, and rode out in the direction of the Pacific Coast Highway, California's Route 1. Due south of the Monterey Peninsula, PCH traces the coast along a stretch known as Big Sur.
We woke to a beautiful crisp morning. Breakfast at the BEST WESTERN Sonora Oaks Hotel's Pine Tree Restaurant was included with our stay, so of course, we filled up our tanks before heading out on the road.
This day's ride was the most urban of our six days on the road. We headed west on Route 120, down a very pleasant stretch of undulating road through several small towns and farm villages. After 50 miles or so, the houses started piling up beside the roads, and we were riding through suburbs instead of countryside. Soon, we jumped into the broad spaghetti dish of freeways that lead toward San Francisco, and our urban adventure commenced.
We ate breakfast in LewMarNel's Steak and Spirits, on the grounds of the BEST WESTERN Station House Inn. The staff has been there for years, and they really pull out all the stops for hotel guests. Instead of the usual breakfast buffet, the restaurant features a real menu, cloth tablecloths, daily specials and great ambiance -- all included with the price of a night's stay at the hotel. The place is charming and comfortable, with lots of personal touches, like signed wine bottles lined up along the dining room's rafters. According to Jimmy, our waiter, guests who order a bottle of wine with dinner are invited to sign their empty bottles and add them to the room's decor. Some guests return year after year to visit their bottles, and to add to the collection. LewMarNel's Steak and Spirits also serves lunch and dinner.
There's nothing like a 300-mile motorcycle ride through the desert to assure a good night's sleep. A nice, clean elegant room at the BEST WESTERN High Sierra Hotel doesn't hurt much, either. We packed up our gear, then went down to the hotel's adjacent Cafe 203 for eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage, coffee and juice -- all included with our night's stay. We ran into Gary and his girlfriend as we were loading the bike for the road. They were going to dip into Yosemite National Park through the Tioga Pass on their way to Lake Tahoe, a detour that we had considered. We had other plans, so we wished each other well, keep the rubber side down, and went our separate ways.
I rolled the 2011 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide out of the garage, and out onto the street in front of our house. The two-tone Root Beer paint sparkled in the morning sun. I loaded our jam-packed liners in the hard saddlebags on each side of the bike, and carefully placed a third liner in the Tour Pak at the back of the motorcycle. We were packed, and ready to begin our six-day ride through the heart of the Golden State.
My wife, Robin, took some time off work to join me on this ride. I planned a counter-clockwise loop up the eastern side of California, from Los Angeles up to Mammoth Lakes, to South Lake Tahoe, to Sonora, across to Monterey, down the coast to Morro Bay, and then back to Los Angeles. Though we have lived in California for ten years, we have never explored this part of the state. We're very excited. We'll be staying in BEST WESTERN Hotels all along the way, and making as many interesting stops as time will allow.
Ever since the 1999 model year, Harley-Davidson has produced a limited number of very special, premium motorcycles out of their Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) unit. More than just mules for bolt-on accessories, the CVO bikes are showcases for the talents and abilities of Harley designers and engineers. They feature unique paintjobs, hopped-up powertrains and acres of chrome. Each CVO bike has become an instant collectible.
The first CVO bikes were the 1999 FXR2 and FXR3. Two CVO models followed each year until 2005, when the program expanded to three models. In 2007, the number of CVO models increased to its current level, four models.
For some of us, the riding season is coming to an end, as nights grow longer, days grow shorter and temperatures drop. When real riding season ends, bench-riding season begins. That's when I start looking at brochures and websites, planning out which new motorcycle I'm going to add to my stable in the spring. Never mind that I make the same plans every bench-riding season, and I still have the same 1993 Sportster in my garage.
The official start of bench-riding season is when Harley-Davidson announces their new model lineup. Including CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) models, there are 32 bikes to choose from for 2011, and I'd be pretty happy with pretty much any one of them.
I have to be honest -- most times, changing my oil is a two-step process. First, I call the dealer. Second, I drop my bike off and slap down my Amex. I'll bet most of you use the same simple technique.
But I actually believe that it's important to know how to change your own oil, even if you choose to pay a professional to do the job for you. Then, you will be able to make sure that your mechanic is actually performing the service properly; and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to change your own oil, you'll be able to.
Times are tough all over. Everybody's looking for ways to make their dollars go further (or farther, depending on your grammatical bent). I have a suggestion: Get a motorcycle, and ride the wheels off it.
Motorcycles are less expensive to buy, less expensive to insure, less expensive to operate than cars. You don't believe me? Let's examine a few scenarios.
Where did the summer go? I know that the official end of summer isn't until the autumnal equinox, September 23 at 3:09 am here in the Northern Hemisphere this year. But Labor Day is the emotional end of summer, when we put away our white shoes and belts and get back to the grindstone. Labor Day Weekend is also a great time for a motorcycle ride, a final getaway before the days get shorter, temperatures drop and the rush toward the end of the year fills our face shields.
As motorcyclists, we have a great advantage over other travelers. We don't need airline schedules, or freeways, or tons of planning in order to have a successful trip. All we need are a few back roads, some good road food and a change of scenery to have a great trip. The journey is the point, not the destination. Still, may I suggest a way to find unexpected destinations for this Labor Day?
After tires and wheels, I would have to say that brakes are the most critical component on your motorcycle. So, we should spend a little bit of time understanding brakes so that we can get the most out of them.
Most modern motorcycles, in fact all current Harley-Davidson models, arrive from the factory equipped with disc brakes front and back. A few entry-level bikes and scooters still have drum brakes in the rear, but disc brakes are pretty ubiquitous. You may have a single disc up front, or you may have dual discs. It's a matter of function, design and cost. You'll get more stopping power from dual discs, but you get a clearer view of the front wheel (on one side, anyway) with a single disc. And a single disc brake is a less-expensive setup, obviously.
Have you ever wondered who Harley was? And just who was Davidson, anyway?
William Sylvester Harley and Arthur Davidson sold their first motorcycle out of a shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1903. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle grew out of Harley's efforts to fit an engine into a bicycle frame, and indeed, the first Harleys looked a lot like motorized bicycles. The first examples were single-cylinder models, with the first production V-Twins turning up around 1909.
(A neat piece of trivia: Henry Meyer, a childhood friend of William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, was the first customer for the fledgling company, buying a 1903 model.)
I love a nice long ride on my motorcycle. Over the years, I have gotten smarter about how far I go on any given day. I'm also in better touch with my body and my motorcycle, which really helps. If you're interested in taking long rides on your bike, I've got a few tips that may help make your riding more enjoyable, safe and fulfilling.
You're a good rider. I'm going to skip over the obvious stuff, like wearing the right gear, making sure that your motorcycle is in top condition, and getting enough rest before your rides.
As I write this blog entry, the mercury has just hit triple digits outside for the first time this summer. In this kind of weather, automobile air conditioning systems struggle to keep up, as temperatures inside vehicles can hit 140 degrees or higher in direct sunlight. On a motorcycle, you don't have to deal with the greenhouse effect of a car cabin, but you do have to contend with direct sunlight and radiated heat from the road surface, as well as heat rising from your own engine. Ignore the heat at your own peril.
So, what is a rider to do?
The biggest party of the year for bikers is the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the rally that everyone knows as "Sturgis." I wrote some tips for riders headed to the rally last year on this blog, and most, if not all, still apply. In rereading last year's tips, the only thing I might change is more of an emphasis on safety. The atmosphere at the Sturgis rally can be very seductive. You'll see many riders who feel that a tank top, shorts and flip-flops represent proper riding gear. You'll see novelty helmets that wouldn't protect you in a chair tip-over, let alone a highway speed get-off. You'll see outrageous burnouts and impaired riding. I hope you'll maintain the safe gear and riding habits that you practice at home, and not be swayed by the crowd. Some behavior makes a better spectator sport than a participant's event. 'Nuff said.
The "good old days" of roadside repairs and home engine rebuilds are behind most of us nowadays. Motorcycles are better, more reliable, and more complicated than ever before. Guys out on old Knuckleheads used to ride with tool kits, spare parts and mechanic's wire in their saddlebags. Today, I'm more likely to head out on the road with just my cellphone.
Despite increased reliability and robust build quality, modern motorcycles still require maintenance and attention in order to remain trouble free. I've put together a few tips to help you organize your maintenance, and keep you on the road more than beside it.
If you're going to travel by motorcycle, eventually you're going to have to ride through the rain. It's not the end of the world. It's not even the end of the fun. If you take precautions, prepare properly and practice, riding in the rain will just become part of the story.
I looked out of my window at the Best Western Columbia River Inn this morning, and you'll never guess what I saw: Rain. How'd you guess? I huddled in the breakfast room over my coffee and maps, trying to figure out what my best alternatives would be. I had to be in Bend, Oregon by 3:00 pm to return the Electra Glide, so I didn't have time to linger too long waiting for the weather to clear. My trusty iPhone app, WeatherBug, didn't hold out too much hope, anyway. So, I resigned myself to a wet, foggy ride.
Never take a beautiful day for granted. I finally got one, from start to finish today. Temperatures ranging from the low 60s up to the low 80s, clear skies and a light breeze. Perfect motorcycling weather.
I wolfed down a quick breakfast at the Best Western Pendleton Inn, loaded up the Electra Glide and checked out of the hotel. Did I need those biscuits and gravy? Well, at least I skipped the waffles this time.
When I woke up this morning, the rain was falling so heavily that it obscured the view out of my window at the Best Western John Day Inn. I went to the breakfast room for a cup of coffee to consider my options. The fresh hot coffee went down well with a bowl of cereal and a muffin, and I began to feel better about my day right away. Nothing like a free breakfast to lighten your mood.
Bright rays of sunshine and clear blue skies greeted me when I awoke this morning at the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge. I packed up my gear quickly, and headed for the breakfast room for a quick bite and a cup of hot coffee. And of course I had to make one last visit to my friends the llamas with a bowl of llama treats. General Manager Paul Haggerty greeted me to talk about the Sisters area, and I made him tell me all about the llamas. They live on about 4 acres of the 14-acre property. Several of the animals were actually born and raised right on site. The Lodge has even taken in an abused llama, and nursed him back to health. The herd has slowly accepted the new guy, though he is low man on the totem pole for now. The llamas have a big mound of dirt in their enclosure, and Haggerty told me that they often play "King of the Hill" on it, having great fun pushing each other off of the high point. I'll have to return to see that.
Okay, that's a little bit of a cheat. Bend and Sisters, Oregon are only about 20 miles apart. But I flew in to Redmond Field Airport today to begin my motorcycle tour around eastern Oregon. Rather than riding off into the distance, I stayed around Bend for the day.
Bend, Oregon was incorporated in 1905, and spent most of the 20th century as a logging town. Something happened in the 1990s. Logging died out, and Bend was discovered by a whole new group of people. Blessed with a mild climate and easy proximity to great skiing, fishing, camping, hiking and rock climbing, Bend became a magnet for a dual-pronged influx of young outdoorsy folk, along with refugees from the California real estate market.
It's time for another motorcycle trip -- finally! It's been months since I've done any significant motorcycle travel, and I'm raring to go. I'm heading to Oregon, where I'll explore the central and northeastern corner of the state.
A few weeks ago, we explored the history of the Harley-Davidson Sportster. Now, it's time to dive into the deep end. We're going to explore the Big Twin.
One of the big issues for motorcycle travelers is cargo. What do you bring, and what do you leave home? And, even more importantly, if you're going to bring it with you, where are you going to put it?
For many of us, the best solution to cargo hauling on a bike is a pair of saddlebags.
I've got plenty of dream rides on my agenda. One that I'm sure I'll get to soon is to ride the ALCAN Highway.
The Alaska-Canada (ALCAN) Highway was constructed in the 1940s, and ever since then, it has represented a significant challenge to long distance motorcyclists. Though it is open year-round, the wise biker will not attempt to travel the length of the ALCAN Highway in any season other than summer. You may be able to make it from the southern end of the route in Dawson Creek, British Columbia to the northern end near Delta Junction, Alaska, but the trip is sure to be challenging in ways that will not be rewarding.
Harley-Davidson is the iconic American motorcycle brand. But it is also an international icon, with dealerships around the world. In my fantasy of world travel by motorcycle, I'm always on a Harley, and I drop in at the Harley-Davidson dealership for some maintenance, along with some friendly conversation about a shared interest -- motorcycles, of course.
Maybe I'll stop in at the fabulous facility at Casablanca Harley-Davidson in Morocco. After all, I've always wanted to hear my exhaust note echoing off of the Moorish architecture, and I'm eager to park outside of Rick's Café American. I think I'll stay at the Best Western Hotel Toubkal while I'm in Casablanca. Good thing Best Western is a global company as well.
I like long motorcycle rides. Really long motorcycle rides, measured in days, not in miles. The limiting factor on my rides is not fuel. It's not distance. It's not money.
The limiting factor on my rides is comfort.
If I'm comfortable, I can ride forever. If I'm uncomfortable, I'm ready to quit before my garage disappears from my mirrors.
The single most important feature that controls comfort on a motorcycle is the seat.
Harley-Davidson owners are divided into two camps: Those who love and respect the Sportster, and those who deride and dismiss the Sportster. I own a 1993 Sportster Deluxe, and I am definitely a Sportster lover. If you're a hater, I hope that you'll read on so that I convert you.
The Sportster, or XL in Harley alpha-parlance, traces its roots back to the 1950s. Harley introduced the Model K in 1952, and it was the most technologically sophisticated bike the company had built to date. Capable of 16-second quarter miles and with a top speed over 100 miles per hour, the Model K was the best-performing Harley of its day, and quickly became the bike of choice for adventurous young riders. The bike evolved over the next few years, and in 1957, the Sportster name and XL designation was attached to the line.
You've spent a lot of time setting up your garage. You've cleared out the clutter. You've arranged your tools. You've stowed your gear in a convenient, secure spot. You've made space for your motorcycle(s). Everything's perfectly functional.
Now it's time to have some fun. It's time to decorate your garage.
One of my favorite cities in the United States is Atlanta, Georgia. And it happens to be a fantastic motorcycle city.
Atlanta is a sprawling metropolis, with a wide range of attractions and activities. I love the contrast of modern business center, with gleaming skyscrapers and sparkling glass towers, mixed with the elegant, verdant charm of the Old South. Riding around Atlanta can feel like traveling through time, with stops in every century from the eighteenth on.
Last season, we talked about "Putting Your Bike Up for the Winter." Hopefully, you were a good student, and you took some time to make sure that your bike has a safe, uneventful hibernation. Now that the weather is turning pleasant again, it's finally time to bring that sleeping beauty back to life. It will take more than a kiss, but not much more.
Whether you live in a state with a helmet law, or in one where helmet use is optional, I advise you to wear a helmet every time you ride. And if you're going to follow my advice, take it one step further, and wear a full-face helmet. You will never regret it.
A full-face helmet doesn't have to be plain and boring. By adding some simple, inexpensive enhancements to your helmet, you can create a piece of equipment that not only protects your noggin, but also expresses your personality. And some of the changes and additions you can make will have the added bonus of making you safer on the road.
Motorcycles and leather go together like -- well, they go together really well. Leather seats, leather saddlebags, leather jackets, leather pants, leather boots... a lot of cows have given their lives to make your riding accessories. We owe it to those noble animals to take proper care of their hides, and to get the longest possible useful life out of them. Properly maintained leather can last for a lifetime.
Leather maintenance consists of four stages: Cleaning, conditioning, polishing and protecting.
Before we start, a few general statements about leather care. Leather is an organic product, and even though it can be tough and rugged, it is also very easy to damage with chemicals and moisture. Before you jump in with any leather treatment method, test it out on a small, inconspicuous area of your leather. You don't want to discolor your leather, or accidentally change its texture or feel. Be very gentle.
I have to warn you in advance -- this article might get a little technical. Don't be afraid, though. I promise to keep it to a minimum.
The subject is motorcycle wheels.
There are several good reasons to think about your wheels. On a purely cosmetic level, the look of your wheels can radically change the stance, appearance and attitude of your ride. Changing the style, diameter and width of your wheels can turn an ordinary-looking bike into a hot rod.
Performance is an important consideration when selecting wheels, as well. Adding some width to your wheels can improve straight-line stability. Choosing narrower wheels can affect turn in and handling. Altering wheel diameter and width can have a dramatic effect on your motorcycle's performance, both for good and for bad. You have to really know what you're doing to ensure proper fit and calibration of your instruments.
I love reading motorcycle magazines almost as much as I love riding a motorcycle. Some years, I discover that I've subscribed to a dozen or more bike magazines at the same time. Then, I cut back, let some expire, and vow to keep my subscriptions more manageable. Lo and behold, a few years later, I'm back up to a dozen again, and I have to do the hard cull. That's where I'm at right now -- evaluating the motorcycle magazines, and trying to decide where to put my money and time.
Spring is just about here. And motorcycle-riding season is not far behind. Now is a good time to think about your riding skills. One of the most important aspects of riding, and one of the least understood, is countersteering.
According to David Hough's great book, Proficient Motorcycling , countersteering is "a method of controlling and balancing a bike as it initiates a turn in which the handlebars are momentarily turned in the opposite direction the rider intends to go."
One of the first tools I reach for when planning a trip is a map. And my map of choice for a motorcycle trip is one from MAD Maps . "MAD" stands for "Motor Adventure Destinations," and MAD Maps is a different kind of map company. Founded by a motorcyclist, the company puts out a variety of state and regional maps that cater to motorcyclists. The maps highlight the best motorcycling roads, the coolest biker destinations and fun, out of the way places that don't always stand out on an "ordinary" map. When you're out riding, the shortest distance between point A and point B is not necessarily the best route. And MAD Maps knows it.
While much of the East Coast of the US is digging out from under record snowfall, Daytona Beach, Florida is getting ready for the kickoff event for motorcycle season: Bike Week.
The 69th Annual Bike Week celebration in Daytona Beach will take place this year from February 26 - March 7, rain, shine or snowfall. If you haven't already made your plans and reservations, you may not be completely out of luck yet. There are 11 Best Western Hotels within 50 miles of downtown Daytona Beach, and as of this writing, most still have rooms available during Bike Week. Check on the Best Western website , and you might just get lucky with a good room.
Usually, I plan an easy itinerary for the last day of a trip. Not this time. I had a jam-packed day ahead of me, and I got started early.
I couldn't start without a good, hearty breakfast, though -- right? The Best Western Atrium does an especially good one, with eggs cooked to order, biscuits and gravy, sausage and bacon, and other goodies. I wolfed down my food, loaded up the bike, checked out of the hotel and rode across town to the campus of the University of Texas. I had another president to check off my list, and this one was a humdinger.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum opened in 1971, with President Johnson's words describing the institution's mission:
Today was supposed to be a short day of riding, so I decided to take it a little easy on myself. I set the alarm for a leisurely 8:30 am, instead of my usual 7:30. Of course, I woke up at 7:30 anyway. I was excited about riding.
My first stop, as always, was the Best Western Atrea at Old Town Center lobby for a delicious complimentary hot breakfast. Biscuits, cheddar cheese scrambled eggs and some hot coffee, and I was ready to ride. I checked out, and loaded up the Electra Glide. My first stop was just a few miles away this time, in the next town over, College Station. Home to the campus of Texas A&M University, which also hosts the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. I've been to seven presidential libraries so far (Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Eisenhower, Truman, Carter and Kennedy), and I hope to visit them all.
I woke up in Galveston eager to ride. I had planned a route that promised to take me past some very beautiful scenery today, from the Gulf waters to wildlife sanctuary to National Forest lands. I skipped the complimentary breakfast in the Best Western Beachfront Inn's cafeteria. I just slugged down some of the free coffee in the lobby, loaded up the Electra Glide and checked out of the hotel.
I was ready for the cold weather today, more ready than I had been yesterday, anyway. I had two additional layers of clothing on top, purchased at Academy Sporting Goods last night: A good thermal ski shirt, and a long sleeve cotton t-shirt. Total investment: under $10. Perhaps the best $10 I've ever spent.
Okay, I just thawed out. Finally.
The temperature when I woke up in Corpus Christi this morning was 35 degrees. Not bad if you're in a car, but a little chilly if you're on a motorcycle. More than a little chilly, actually.
I went up to the eleventh floor of the Best Western Marina Grand Hotel and had a good, complimentary hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, flour tortillas and refried beans, along with plenty of hot coffee. I was going to need it.
The skies were clear as I loaded up the Electra Glide. I fired up the engine, and pointed the wheel north.
Overcast skies covered the city of Laredo when I woke up this morning. A quick check of the forecast gave me some encouragement, though. I've been using the free Weatherbug app for my iPhone, which gives great hour-by-hour predictions, along with live view Doppler radar maps of each area. I spotted an area of clear skies down the length of the Rio Grande all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, so I charted a course that would take me near Brownsville, then back up the Gulf Coast to Corpus Christi. My other option would have been a much more direct route across the desert, which promised to be shorter, less eventful, and much less interesting. Longer, more eventful and more interesting won out. But first, breakfast.
The day did not start out with promise. When I looked out the window of my room at the Best Western Ingram Park Inn in San Antonio, the rain was coming down in sheets.
After a quick shower, I packed my luggage, then availed myself of the free continental breakfast in the hotel lobby and weighed my options. I watched the Weather Channel, and noted that the southern end of the storm seemed to tail off somewhere between San Antonio and Laredo, my destination for the day. I decided that my FXRG gear was going to get a good road test.
I checked out, and asked the desk clerk to call a cab for me. Despite the rain and traffic, a taxi arrived within five minutes, and ferried me over to Caliente Harley-Davidson. In just a few minutes, I had the keys to a black 2010 Electra Glide Classic. I loaded my gear into the saddlebags and Tour Pak, and hit the road by 10:00 am.
The day has finally arrived. I'm in San Antonio, Texas.
After weeks of preparation, I headed to the airport this morning lugging my rolling duffel bag full of motorcycle gear, and boarded a plane for the Lone Star State.
Yesterday was a flurry of activity, as always before a trip. Flying off for a motorcycle trip is different than a normal trip. I always travel light, but the definition changes when you have to carry your gear with you. My helmet alone takes up a good portion of my luggage.
I hope that you are more mechanically inclined than I am. I hope that for your sake. I do okay, but when it comes to complex work, I turn to professionals. But even with my limited skills, I have been able to tackle a number of projects related to my motorcycle.
Winter is the best time to get work done on my bike. I'm more patient, and less distracted by the opportunity to ride.
The first project that I tackled this winter was organizing my workspace. I tore out some clunky old cabinets and shelving in my garage, and replaced it with a more efficient system. I didn't spend a ton of dough -- I refitted my whole two-car garage for under $500. But I made better use of space, clearing floor space for my motorcycle, and organizing my stuff in the process. Now all of my motorcycle tools, supplies and spare parts are in the same area, easily accessible and ready to use. I've even got a workbench to help with staging work comfortably, up off of the floor.
I've written about how much I enjoy planning a trip. I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy the trip itself, if truth be told. Well, the beginning of a new year is always a great time to take a look at the calendar to figure out when and where we'll be riding as the pages flip.
Here are a few of the major motorcycle events scheduled for 2010. Take a look at your calendar, and see if you've got room for a trip! It's never too early to start planning.
February 26 - March 7: Bike Week 2010, Daytona Beach, Florida.
Known as "The World's Biggest Motorcycle Event," Bike Week is a 10-day festival that was originally built around actual motorcycle racing.
March 5: The Daytona 200 , Daytona, Florida.
A great chance to see world-class motorcycle racing in person.
April 14 - 18: Arizona Bike Week , Mesa, Arizona.
This has turned into a wonderful venue for music, with appearances from major bands planned.
April 21 - 25: Laughlin River Run , Laughlin, Nevada.
Great weather, great riding and a wild atmosphere.
I actually really do believe in New Year's resolutions. I don't believe in driving myself nuts over them, but I do believe that setting some goals for the coming year can help to focus my efforts and can help me make decisions when I'm not sure which way to turn.
One area of my life where I make resolutions has to do with my motorcycle riding. Here's a list of some of my Rider's Resolutions for 2010:
I'm a year-round rider. I don't put my bike to sleep for the winter; I keep riding. I'm lucky. I live in Southern California, where temperatures rarely drop below freezing. But that doesn't mean it doesn't get cold on my Sportster. It gets very cold, and besides being mighty uncomfortable, it can actually be dangerous. Cold temperatures can raise your reaction time, reduce your ability to control your bike, and generally make you a worse rider. The wind chill factor amplifies the effect of cold air on your body, and riding at 60 mph on a cold night will feel like standing in a 60 mph windstorm. In a word, cold!
In mild weather, layering is the smart way to go. Start with a wicking fabric next to your skin. Cotton is good, but a high-tech microfiber layer is even better. Add thin layers of clothing on top -- clothing designed for skiers and snowboarders is great for this. Each layer will add insulation, and will also trap a layer of air, which is fantastic insulation as well. Finish off with a breathable windproof layer, like a Gore-Tex jacket, underneath your regular riding gear. Make sure not to overdo it, and layer just enough to keep warm, but not so much that you lose mobility.
Bundling up can help, but there's a limit. Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue.
For me, there are two seasons -- riding season and show season. And I'm happy in either one.
Right now, we're in the middle of motorcycle show season, as the manufacturers bring out their new models to show to the public. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the towns where the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show makes a stop, trek on out to the convention center and see the new bikes. If you don't live nearby, why not plan an overnight trip?
I love going to the motorcycle show because it's a chance to actually sit on a wide variety of bikes, to talk to the experts and to mingle with other motorcycle enthusiasts. There's always a great vendor's area, where I can look at new accessories, apparel and product innovations (and maybe even buy a few things). Several vendors bring clearance and closeout merchandise, and there are often deals to be had. In warmer climes, the manufacturers even bring out demo bikes and offer rides on their new models. It's a great big biker Wonderland, with something for everyone.
That special motorcyclist in your life deserves a special gift this holiday season. My non-biker friends know that I'm into motorcycles, and when they think about a gift, they fall back on knick-knacks. Now, I like a die-cast Harley-Davidson as much as the next guy, but I've kind of reached my limit, and I'm almost positive that anyone who has been riding for more than a few years has all they can handle, too. So, to help out my fellow riders, and to help out those who wish to buy gifts for riders, I've got a few suggestions that will make this year's gift season better than ever.
Great gifts under $50:
The Jimi Wallet: Bulk is the enemy when you're riding a motorcycle. The Jimi is a slim, lightweight plastic wallet that is made of 100% recycled and recyclable materials. It's designed to be carried in your front pocket, and will only hold the essentials. I switched from a conventional leather wallet to the Jimi a few years ago, and it's the best wallet I've ever had. ($15)
The Sculpted Skull Belt Buckle : Bikers love belts, and bikers love skulls. So this one is a natural. The best feature on this buckle is that it doesn't have any sharp edges to dig in when you're sitting on the bike. And it's cool looking. ($30)
Compact Tire Gauge and Tread Depth Indicator with Braided Stainless Steel Lead : Sure, your biker friend has a tire gauge. But this is a better tire gauge, with the added advantage of tread depth gauge and a long lead that makes taking readings much easier. One tool no biker should be without. ($30)
I've heard this story every spring, and so have you. My riding buddies call to ask for some help -- it's the first nice day of the new season, and time to go for a ride. Except their bikes won't start. Dead battery, or bad fuel, or gunked up oil. Who knows? All I do know is that they didn't take the time to get their bikes ready for the winter, and now it's springtime, and now they're suffering.
So, you know what's coming: My tips for prepping your motorcycle for the winter.
The weather is starting to turn, even here in sunny Southern California, where I call home. Even though temperatures are pleasant during the daytime, in the 60s and 70s, after the sun goes down I can expect 40s and 30s. It's hard to figure out what kind of gear to wear, what to carry, whether to ride or to take the car. I have to admit, there are times when I wimp out and ride in the cage, just to avoid the discomfort. I'm not proud of it. But it's the truth.
Which got me thinking - when it's getting colder here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's getting warmer down in the Southern Hemisphere. I started to do more than fantasize about locations below the Equator where I might like to ride.
Winter is coming on, and the riding season is winding down for most of the country. This is the absolute best time to shop for a used bike.
Think about it -- the holidays are coming, cash is tight, and that motorcycle in the garage starts to look like an ATM to many people. Maybe they didn't ride that much this summer, maybe they have plans to buy a new bike next spring, maybe they're just tired of debating with their spouse about that motorcycle taking up valuable space in the garage. Whatever the reason, plenty of bikes go up for sale this time of year.
At the same time, there are fewer buyers to compete for used bikes. Impulse buyers will be less likely to spring for a motorcycle when Old Man Winter looms on the horizon. With the economy being so tight, even hardcore bikers will be inclined to save up their dough for family gifts rather than adding a bike to the stable.
All of which adds up to the perfect time to buy a used motorcycle.
I own two motorcycles. One I've had since 1980; the other (my new one) I bought in 1993. Recently, I've been thinking about buying a new touring bike like a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic. If I decide to pull the trigger on a new bike purchase, my other bikes will have to go. So, researcher that I am, I've been studying up on what steps to take in order to sell my motorcycles.
First, I'm going to perform an inspection. I'm going to decide which repair items will get fixed, and which items will remain unrepaired for the new buyer. One of my bikes has a very faded paint job. It would cost about $500 to repaint the bike, but repainting the bike would not increase its value. So, I won't repaint. But, I will repair that torn seat, tidy up that loose clutch cable and polish that rusting chrome -- all necessary maintenance that will cost me little more than elbow grease but could impact the sale price significantly. I'll also remove any accessories or extra equipment that I might want to keep or sell separately -- sometimes, a bike is worth more in pieces than it is as a running whole.
I don't know if you saw the news recently, but Brad Pitt had a little tipover on his motorcycle while evading the paparazzi. He was unhurt, but it made me think about how many celebrities ride motorcycles.
Pitt is well-known for his love of motorcycling. So is his buddy George Clooney, who rides with a posse of friends on a regular basis. Other big-time actors who are unrepentant motorcyclists include Aaron Eckhart, Adrien Brody, Antonio Banderas, Jeremy Irons, Billy Bob Thornton, Scott Glenn, Bruce Willis, Ewan McGregor and Tom Cruise, just to name a few. Motorcycling and movie stars have always gone hand in hand.
Marlon Brando and Clark Gable rode bikes, but the golden age of celebrity motorcycling may have been the 1960s. That's when Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and every cool guy in Hollywood was on two wheels, influencing an entire generation of motorcyclists. Arnold Schwarzenegger redefined motorcycling onscreen as the title character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and rides prominently in real life, even as he serves out his term as Governor of California.
When you're riding your motorcycle, in the best of all possible conditions, the only thing that touches the road is the contact patch on your tire. And yet many riders pay little or no attention to their tires before heading out for a ride.
I'd like to encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking about your tires right now; a few minutes inspecting your tires later; and a few minutes checking your tires before each and every ride.
What should you look for when you check your tires?
We all know that it's important to check tire inflation pressure. Your bike should have a VIN sticker or VIN plate that displays recommended tire pressure and GVWR. Your owner's manual will also have a page detailing correct tire pressure, front and rear -- the numbers are frequently different, depending on the size and type of bike you ride. Try to check your tires and add air (if necessary) when the tires are cool. Once tires heat up from riding, air pressure readings will rise, because hot air expands.
Don't overinflate or underinflate -- both conditions can lead to handling issues, and possible tire failure.
I write about riding around on two wheels. That's my passion.
But there's another step between two wheels and four: Three wheels.
There are two ways to get on three wheels with Harley-Davidson. Since 2009, the Motor Company has offered a factory Trike, with one wheel and a traditional fork in front, and two wheels in the rear. For 2010, you can choose between the Tri Glide Ultra Classic (starting at $29,999), which is basically a three-wheeled version of the Ultra Classic; or a Street Glide Trike (starting at $26,999), a more stripped-down version of the Touring platform.
The other option is to add a sidecar to your bike. Harley makes a sidecar rig that's designed to hook up to the Touring lineup, and there are aftermarket manufacturers who will build sidecars for other bikes in the lineup. When a sidecar is hooked up to a bike, the resulting three-wheeled contraption is called a "rig," or a "hack," probably based on the tradition of horse and buggy hacks.
You've spent some time on that new motorcycle. You took the Rider's Edge New Rider Course. Then you spent some more time on your scoot. You took the Rider's Edge Experienced Rider Course. And then you rode some more.
Now, you're looking for a new challenge, a new way to build your skills.
Maybe it's time for Track School.
The best riders on the road have usually had some training and experience on the track. Time on a racetrack is the safest, quickest way to build riding skills, and it's actually much more accessible and affordable than you might imagine.
We all know someone who has been hurt in a motorcycle accident. It's the first thing that comes up when our friends find out that we ride. We deflect, we change the subject, we reassure - we're safe riders, riding is all about managing risk, everything in life is dangerous, you can get killed walking down the street. You know the conversation.
Every once in a while, though, it hits hard.
My cousin Dave and his wife Linda were in a motorcycle wreck last week. Riding two-up on a 2006 Harley-Davidson through a small New Jersey town near their home, they collided with, or were hit by, a pickup truck driven by an 18 year-old boy. Dave and Linda have sustained major injuries. They will both survive, but each has had their left leg amputated. The pickup truck driver was not injured in the accident, and a police investigation is underway.
Dave and Linda will survive. Their injuries, though severe and life altering, are no longer life threatening. The impact of that collision will resonate far beyond that New Jersey street.
I live in Southern California now, so I get to ride my motorcycle year-round. But one thing that I miss about living in the Northeast is the change of seasons, especially the arrival of autumn. Green gives way to gold, red, yellow and a spectacular explosion of color just before the trees give up their leaves. Already beautiful scenery becomes outrageously, fleetingly mind blowing. The show moves from north to south, as fall creeps slowly down from Maine to Georgia. Florida doesn't get as much of a show, but then Florida has a show year-round anyway.
When I lived in New York City, I had three favorite routes out of town for great day rides to see the foliage.
My favorite route was always directly to the north. We'd ride up the West Side Highway and onto the Taconic State Parkway. Almost immediately upon leaving the border of New York City up in Yonkers, the Taconic becomes a beautiful divided highway, with long stretches of curvy, tree-shaded two-lane road carved into the rocky hillside. There are even some challenging sections for a motorcyclist, with changes in elevation, decreasing radius turns and off-camber curves. Mostly, it's a beautiful country ride through the Hudson River Valley that can make you forget you were ever in a crowded city. We used to ride up to Lagrangeville for brunch at the Daily Planet Diner then tool around Poughkeepsie, looking at the architecture and admiring the campus of Vassar College before heading back to Manhattan.
Today is going to be a real motorcycling day. We're going to ride the Tail of the Dragon .
The Tail of the Dragon is one of the most famous motorcycling roads in the United States, and has become a real destination ride for people from all over the world. The main reason is its layout: 318 curves in 11 miles of smooth blacktop, winding through beautiful tree-lined hills in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Officially known as US 129, the Tail of the Dragon is a lovely, challenging road that emits a siren call to bikers the world over.
A word of warning about the Tail of the Dragon: Any road this famous will attract its share of idiots, morons who forget that they are on a public road with other traffic. A search of YouTube will reveal a myriad of moronic behavior, hooliganism and wrecks that could easily be avoided with a touch of common sense. I wouldn't ride the road on a busy weekend - it wouldn't be any fun. The key to enjoying a safe ride on the Tail of the Dragon, as with any ride, is to ride safely, ride within your limits and respect the rules of the road. 'Nuff said.
The skies are threatening as we eat our breakfast in the solarium at the Best Western Villa Inn. Looks like this could be the day that we have to break out the rain gear.
As we saddle up on Melvis, a guy waves us down, running across the parking lot. I flip open my visor.
"Ya'all been in weather before? Because we're about to get some weather."
I thank the guy for his concern, and assure him that we've been in weather before. Because we have ridden through some real gully washers in our time, and we actually kind of enjoy it.
"Ride safe, now."
Looking at the sky, I figure that if we head out now, we can avoid the weather and stay dry. The front seems to be moving from north to south, and we're going east. So we ride off, knowing that our rain gear is easily accessible should we need it.
History is all around as we ride. In place and street names, we see reminders of David Crockett, Tennessee pioneer and statesman, revered throughout the state.
We ride toward living history in Lynchburg, a tiny town in the center of Moore County. Since 1866, the principal industry in Lynchburg has been the making of Tennessee Whiskey at the Jack Daniel's Distillery . They've been doing it there (with a short interruption for Prohibition) the same way Jack Daniel started, with the same water source and the same recipe for nearly a century and a half. Tours of the Distillery are free, and take about an hour. Our tour guide, Billy, is a squat man with a big grey beard spreading over the front of his overalls. He looks a little bit like a troll, and he's got a sharp sense of humor. He gives a great tour, rife with company history, lore and insight, along with a real passion for the product. There are no samples on this factory tour - good thing, too, because we've still got riding to do.
Another big day today. We're going to Graceland.
We check out of the Best Western Suites after a quick free breakfast in the lobby. It's been a nice stay, but we've got places to go, and the King to see.
A short ride on the Interstate, and we're piloting Melvis down Elvis Presley Boulevard. On the south side of the street, there are the famous gates with Elvis's silhouette and musical notes. We pull in to the Graceland parking lot on the north side, and sit Melvis alone to wait in the shade. The guards at the gate are kind enough to let us know that there are lockers at the visitors' center where we can stow our helmets and jackets while we are on our tour, a great convenience for motorcyclists and others for just 50 cents. We pay our admission fee, and board a shuttle bus for Graceland Mansion and a self-guided audio tour. Each guest is handed a headset and a small Walkman-like device. A very pleasant, informative soundtrack guides you through the public areas of Elvis' home and grounds - the private areas (bedrooms and bathrooms) are off-limits. The famous Jungle Room still draws gasps of wonder, with its green shag-carpeted ceiling and indoor waterfall. My favorite room is Elvis's rec room, decorated in bright yellow and blue with his TCB lightning bolt logo on the wall and a mirrored ceiling. The trophy room provides a great historical look through Elvis's career accomplishments. It's amazing to look over all that Elvis did and then to realize that he died at the age of 42. He's been dead for over 30 years, and still people listen to his music, watch his films and visit his grave. Which is right there at the Mansion, at the end of the tour. In the light of Michael Jackson's recent demise, Elvis' story feels all the more current and tragic to me right now. Though Graceland is decidedly tiny, tacky and a little bit sad, it is an absolute must for any true music fan to visit.
After a quick (free) hot breakfast in the lobby, we hightail it to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum so that we can be there when they open at 9:00 am. Neither Robin nor I are particular fans of country music, but we've heard that the museum is great, and we're eager to see it before we leave town. The Museum turns out to be fantastic. They've got a great collection of memorabilia, everything from Elvis' gold piano to Hank Williams' guitar to Porter Wagoner's Nudie suits. The whole place is intelligently laid-out, with sound and film clips illustrating the history and vitality of the music and culture. We get a chance to tour a special exhibit about Hank Williams and his progeny, "Family Tradition." After a $70 visit to the gift shop, we leave feeling inspired about country music.
We load up Melvis and check out of the Best Western Music Row, heading west out of Nashville on US 70. Interstate 40 is a direct route to Memphis, but we want to stay on the back roads as much as possible, while still making time. This is one of our longer days, 210 miles by the shortest route, and we've got a detour to make. We've heard that the world's greatest fried chicken is in Mason, Tennessee at a place called "Gus's." We can't let a claim like that go unexamined, so we plot a course for the tiny town.
Up bright and early, we eat our free hot breakfast at the Best Western Cedar Bluff Inn . Packed and ready, we meet Harry from Odyssey Airport Taxi in front of the hotel for the ride over to Smokey Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville. Oops - we discover that our motorcycle is actually across town at Knoxville Harley-Davidson on Lovell Road. No problem - by now we're now old friends with Odyssey Airport Taxi, and Patrick comes by to shuttle us to the correct Harley dealer. I am once again forced to re-learn a travel lesson: confirm your itinerary carefully, and pay attention to the details. Luckily, my mistake hasn't cost us much more than a few hours and an extra cab ride.
We finally arrive at Knoxville Harley-Davidson, to a warm greeting from Sean Hickey, Rental Manager. Sean has our paperwork ready, and we're soon loading up our black 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide with gear. Robin immediately christens the bike "Melvis." Melvis is a stock Ultra Classic, with just over 8500 miles on the clock. He's in excellent shape, with a few tiny nicks and scuffs adding character. The only accessory I can spot is a set of highway pegs, which I know will come in handy on the longer rides.
Traveling by motorcycle is all about the gear - what to wear, what to take, what to leave behind.
Robin and I have carved our packing down to a science. We start with the essentials, and lay out what we consider to be the minimum amount of stuff that we can bring and still have a good trip. Then we take a hard look at what we're planning to bring, and see what we can leave behind. We usually realize that we're over packing, and we're able to reduce our load before we ever leave.
One thing that we never leave behind on a motorcycle trip is rain gear. A day of rain doesn't have to spoil a motorcycle trip, but without rain gear, it almost certainly will. We each have good two-piece rain suits that are designed for small packing and quick donning. They go in the bag first.
Planning the ride is almost as much fun as the actual ride. At least it is for me.
I have never really spent any time in Tennessee. I've passed through on my way to somewhere else, but I've never lingered. And Tennessee deserves better.
My wife Robin is taking a week off from work to ride as my passenger and share the adventure. Robin is the best passenger in the world. Always cheerful, she never complains and she's very entertaining when we're off of the bike. She helps me plan the trip, and studies up on our destinations for fun things to see and do. If I wasn't already married to her, I'd have to court her all over again.
Weeks before the trip, once we decided on Tennessee as our destination, we hit the books. We found three excellent travel books that provided great inspiration and information: Moon Handbooks Tennessee by Jeff Bradley (Avalon Travel Publishing, 2005); Off the Beaten Path Tennessee by Jackie Sheckler Finch (Morris Book Publishing, 2009); and Scenic Driving Tennessee by Russ Manning (Falcon Guide, 2005).
I've made no secret about it - I love motorcycles, all motorcycles -- especially Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The sound, the feel, the look - Harley-Davidsons are what I picture in my head when I think "motorcycle."
Some riders have an entirely different picture in their heads. They see chiseled, modern lines. They see track-ready bikes with lightweight body parts and high-tech mechanicals. They see sportbikes.
That's where Buell comes in. A wholly owned division of Harley-Davidson since 1998, Buell is the American Sportbike.
I get a lot of pleasure out of keeping my motorcycle clean. My SUV usually looks like it just came back from a race through the desert, but my bike always gleams like new.
Keeping your ride clean isn't just a matter of vanity, it's good preventative maintenance. As you clean your bike, you'll have the opportunity to inspect every square inch of machine. You'll notice any loose fasteners before they fall off. You'll discover fluid leaks before catastrophe hits. You'll be able to solve problems before they keep you from riding safely.
Over the years, I've developed a number of tips about bike cleaning that I will now share with you:
As summer winds down, the kids are getting restless. They're bored with math camp; they're waterlogged from swimming lessons; they've made so many lanyards that your keychain looks like a vinyl peacock. Why not take the kids to a museum?
I can hear the groans now. Not another museum! Exactly, not another museum - a motorcycle museum!
Riding through New York State can bring a surprise at every turn. If those turns bring you to the Lake Placid area, you're in luck. You've just discovered a little slice of motorcycling heaven.
The town of Lake Placid lives along the shores of Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, two adjacent bodies of water in Northeastern New York State. It's a five or six hour ride from Manhattan to the South, about two hours from Montreal to the North and about an hour from Burlington, Vermont to the east. That's if you're in a hurry to get to Lake Placid.
Christmas comes early for Harley-Davidson fans, as the Motor Company announces its new lineup every summer. And, despite a downturn in the domestic motorcycle market, Harley-Davidson is heading into 2010 with an aggressive push that they call "the most expansive new-product introduction in the history" of the company.
Here are some details about the new lineup:
The 69th Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally takes place from August 3rd to 9th in Sturgis, South Dakota.
For many motorcyclists, especially Harley-Davidson riders, a trip to Sturgis during the Rally is a lifetime goal. For others, it's an annual rite, and no year is complete without it.
If you're headed to Sturgis for the first time this year, or for the 69th time, here are a few tips to make your trip even better.
Plan ahead. Even though spontaneity is one of the great hallmarks of a motorcycle trip, if you think that you'll be able to show up at Sturgis without any reservations or plans for accommodations, you're going to have a disappointing time. Use the Ride Planner on the Harley-Davidson website, and you'll be able to find Best Western Hotels along your route to the Rally.
You can't ride all the time. Sometimes, you have to stop and watch a movie about riding!
Here are a few films with great motorcycle footage to inspire you to take a long ride.
All good things must come to an end, and it was the same with our trip to Montana and Idaho.
After another delicious hot breakfast at the Best Western Grant Creek Inn, we checked out of the hotel, loading Monty one last time for the short ride to Montana Harley-Davidson.
We returned to the dealership, and Chandra greeted us. She checked the bike in as we unloaded and re-packed our belongings back into our luggage.
Chandra gave Monty a thorough inspection, and I made sure to return the tool kit, cable lock, keys and registration materials that we had taken with us on our trip. A few signatures, and we were all done. I felt badly that Monty was so dirty and covered with bugs when we returned him, but Chandra assured me that he was in perfect condition - and besides, it was somebody's job to give him a good washing and detailing.
American motorcycling history begins and ends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. So why not get to know America's 23rd-biggest city a little better with a road trip?
I woke up with particular vigor on this morning. It would be our last full day of riding for this trip, and we were taking our one real detour, into Glacier National Park.
And it was my birthday.
Does it get any better than that? A perfect day, a great motorcycle to ride, my ideal companion on the pillion, a dream destination and it's my birthday?
No matter how unsociable you're feeling, take the time to talk to people during your travels.
I've learned that lesson over and over, as the most casual conversations have resulted in the most amazing travel experiences.
After a very pleasant breakfast buffet at the Best Western Salmon Rapids Lodge, we loaded up Monty and headed out of town.
I've got a thing about backtracking on a trip. I hate doing it. I want to discover new vistas, new roads, new towns. Rather than retracing our steps 50 miles to rejoin US 12, as had been our earlier plan, we decided to follow US 95 north all the way up to Coeur d'Alene. We figured that we might experience less of the Nez Perce Trail and beautiful unspoiled nature, and take in a little more of small town life. It turned out to be a great decision.
We woke up early, eager for the ride ahead. The Best Western Grant Creek Inn has a great breakfast buffet, free with our night's stay. I loaded up on scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, while Robin had a dainty bowl of cereal. A few cups of coffee down the hatch, and we were ready to go.
Finally, the day arrived for my wife Robin and I to leave for the Northwest and our motorcycle ride.
Our closest airport is Bob Hope International in Burbank, California, but we flew out of Los Angeles International (LAX). Knowing that we would have two very heavy bags and that we'd be very tired upon our return, I debated springing for airport parking over our usual Park-and-Ride option - convenience over cost. A quick internet search turned up a 10% discount coupon for The Parking Spot, a very convenient chain of parking garages with two LAX locations, and that sealed the deal.
I love planning a trip almost as much as I love traveling. As my wife Robin and I prepared for our trip to the Northwestern United States, we knew that we had some choices to make.
We would be flying in to Missoula, Montana on Monday. Picking up our motorcycle on Tuesday, and riding to Riggins, Idaho. From Riggins, up to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on Wednesday. From Coeur d'Alene to Whitefish, Montana on Thursday, then back to Missoula on Friday, with a return flight on Saturday morning. We knew that we'd be staying at Best Western hotels each night along the way.
Beyond that, it was up to us.
I was lucky enough to be included on a motorcycle trip with a few other journalists last week. We explored the roads (and vineyards and restaurants) of Napa Valley on Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles. We also made our way through Marin County, Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
I can go on a real tear, and read book after book on a given subject. As a result, I've got shelves groaning at the weight of books about motorcycling, so I thought I'd share a little bit about some of my favorites.
We can't be on our bikes all of the time. In fact, you're in front of your computer right now, aren't you?
The website has replaced the workbench as the prime location for exchanging motorcycle stories, travel tales and bike knowledge. Think of your computer as an extension of your garage - a place to work on your bike, hang around with friends and waste a lot of time chatting about trips you want to take on your motorcycle.
Forget everything that you think you know about motorcycle rallies. Erase the images of drunken bikers rampaging through town, terrorizing the locals and leaving chaos in their wake.
Replace those images with friendly, considerate motorcyclists, gathering in a beautiful corner of the world to share a common interest, socialize, celebrate and (gasp!) learn. That's Americade, billed as "the world's largest multi-brand touring rally."
As I've mentioned before, I'm an ATGATT guy (All The Gear, All The Time). But as temperatures begin to creep up, even the most devoted safety gear wearer can find it challenging to balance safety and comfort.
Here are some DOS AND DON'TS to help you stay comfortable, cool and safe on your motorcycle when the heat is on.
DON'T lose the jacket. One of the big mistakes riders make in hot weather is to take off their riding jackets and ride in a t-shirt or tanktop.
I love my motorcycle. I also love my dogs and cats. Until recently, I had resigned myself to the fact that my two loves would always compete. Spending time on my motorcycle meant time away from my pets; spending time with my pets meant time not riding my bike.
If you've got a motorcycle in your garage right now, you have the first ingredient in my recipe for guilt-free travel.
Traveling by motorcycle requires clever use of resources. Especially if you're taking a passenger along and traveling two-up, every little item that you carry with you must serve a purpose. So, motorcyclists travel light.
Traveling by motorcycle consumes less fuel. Even a full-dress touring bike like the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide is rated to achieve 35 mpg city/54 mpg highway.
They're not part of a gang. They don't start fights. They don't scare little old ladies. But they are tough, and you can join them if you dare. They are the Iron Butt Association (IBA) , the World's Toughest Riders.
35,000 members strong, the IBA is "dedicated to safe long-distance endurance motorcycle riding." They conduct an annual ride called the "Iron Butt Rally," an 11,000 mile timed road ride. To qualify for the Iron Butt Rally, you have to complete an official Saddle Sore 1000 or a Bun Burner 1500.
This had to be the ultimate business trip on a motorcycle.
As reported in the Gettysburg Times and elsewhere, Jordan's King Abdullah II took some time off during his visit to the United States recently to ride his Harley-Davidson through West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. He even made a stop at Battlefield Harley-Davidson in Gettysburg, and bought several t-shirts.
Apparently, the King rides at home in Jordan, and wanted to explore our Civil War sites during a break from discussing Middle East peace with President Obama in Washington. He traveled with several other motorcyclists, and his security detail rode along on their own motorcycles.
Once my friends know how to ride, they're ready to start shopping for a bike. Though it is possible to start out on a large displacement motorcycle, most experts will advise new riders to begin with a bike with a smaller engine, 500 cc or less. This is especially good advice for smaller riders, because in general, the smaller the engine, the lighter the bike. A lighter bike is easier to handle, move around the garage, and keep upright at a standstill.
When my friends find out that I ride a motorcycle, some of them are horrified. "It's so dangerous!" I remind them that life is dangerous, that driving a car is dangerous, that walking down a busy sidewalk is dangerous, and yet we somehow manage every day. I have spent years honing my motorcycle riding skills, and I don't take unnecessary risks. It's all about managing risk, and risk versus reward. The rewards of motorcycling are great, and, for me, more than worth the risk.
When my other non-riding friends talk with me about motorcycling, some of them are intrigued. A few have even asked my advice about getting started on a motorcycle.
I always recommend that my friends take a riding class before committing to motorcycling. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has a great program, the Basic RiderCourse, available in most parts of the United States. Many locations have motorcycles available for loan or rental in coordination with the classes, so you can see if riding is for you before you invest a significant chunk of cash on a bike.
Riding a motorcycle is all about managing risk. But what happens when you park your bike - especially overnight at a hotel? How can you manage the risk of motorcycle theft while you're asleep?
Back in the good old days, I used to stay at roadside motels where I could pull my bike up on the sidewalk directly outside my window, and keep one ear peeled for any bike rustlers. Some guys I knew even rode their beloved choppers into their rooms. I had a cousin who claimed that he once rebuilt his Harley's transmission in a motel bathtub during a cross-country trip. Now that I'm staying in nicer places, I've had to develop other, more socially acceptable strategies to protect my Sportster.
Motorcycle travel and business travel are not mutually exclusive. I have done my share of both, and on happy occasions, I've been able to combine the two. Traveling by bike has helped me save money and time, and I've had the chance to make a unique impression when I arrive (if I choose to).
In this age of miniaturization, most of the business tools I need for a trip will fit in a briefcase - so with some careful packing, I can get them onto my bike.
My wife Robin is the perfect passenger. She wasn't born that way. In fact, before we started dating, she had never ridden on the back of a Harley-Davidson, or any motorcycle for that matter. Robin was eager to try out the pillion, but she was a little nervous at first. We both were. Now, after years of riding together, we're like a well-tuned riding team, and Robin says that she gets as much pleasure out of the journey as I do. Here are some tips on how to build the perfect passenger.
Getting ready for a trip always involves a big gear inspection. What to wear, what to pack, what to leave at home. I happen to enjoy the planning part of a trip almost as much as I enjoy the trip itself. Almost.
I have to confess that I'm one of those ATGATT guys. You know, All The Gear, All The Time. So my senses are particularly tuned to pick up what I perceive as real mistakes by my fellow riders. At risk of sounding like a gear evangelist, here are a few things I've actually seen other bikers and their passengers wearing on the road: