Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trying Out the 2011s

It isn't often that you get a chance to test drive brand-new Harley-Davidson's. However, our local dealership was lucky enough to be on the list for something called Harley Days that is where the HD Corporation brings out all the new models and let you test-drive anything you want to. Since I am still undecided about what I want to get next, the opportunity was perfect.

The test track was 8 miles of diverse road. You went through residential, city, country roads with a few good curves, a little highway, and then back on a city street.

The Street Glide

The first bike that I got on was the Street Glide. I was comfortable sitting on it, the wait was fairly balanced, and the controls were well-placed, except for the radio. The radio set in the fairing up front but it was at such an angle that while you were sitting on the bike you could not see the display. The other thing about the bike that I did not like was it had an electronic throttle. I would roll power on and nothing would happen, because there was a lag time. Therefore, I would give it a little more and about then everything would kick in. Not very happy with the way that acted; although I know, they can probably adjust it if you buy the bike.

The Elektra Glide Ultra Glide

The next bike I tried was the one I was actually thinking about buying, it is the Cadillac motorcycle. It was very comfortable, easy to control, well balanced, and the dashboard was easily readable and accessible. Even though this had the same type throttle on it had been adjusted a bit tighter and I didn't have the same issues that I had on the Street Glide. If I buy a Harley, I want this one.

The Crossbones

I tried something called Crossbones. It is a stripped down bike with a springer front end and seat. I did not like the way it acted. The springer suspension made the front-end balance and then seconds later the seat would balance. It reminded me of a rocking horse I had as a kid, it had four springs on it, and one at each corner and you would rock back and forth on it or bounce up and down. I swear, that is what riding this thing felt like.

The Harley Trike

The final bike I rode was a trike. I had to watch a video and then cruise around the parking lot a little before we went out on it. I know the purpose of the trike is for older riders or people who cannot handle the full weight of the bike or want something more stable. They probably serve that purpose very well. However, when I rode the trike I wanted to lean into curves, which you don't need to do. I wanted to put my feet down when I stopped, but if you do that, you run over your own feet. I was surprised at how rough the road but that was because it had the extra wheels without car style suspension. Trikes have their place; I am just not ready to ride one.

Well, the test drives did not change my mind about which bike I eventually wanted to get, again if I get a Harley. I will say that Harley makes a very stable and well-built bike. I like some things about some of the bikes, but they're things I just don't like about the bikes too. To bring in younger riders, Harley has started putting skulls on everything where they used to have Eagles. I'm more of an Eagle kind of guy. I like having a tachometer and a majority of their bikes don’t. A lot more to consider before I get to the point where I plop down cash to ride out on something bigger.




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Monday, August 23, 2010

Colonial Parkway - Deer, Hedgehogs & Varmints But No Making Out

Once I finished visiting my son and his girlfriend, I hopped back on the Road King and headed west. Sunset was coming on but I still felt like riding a challenging road on my way to wherever I was going. After crossing the bridge-tunnel from Norfolk into Hampton, it occurred to me that the Colonial Parkway might be a nice diversion.


I had gone to high school in this area so I was quite familiar with it. One of the places that I liked to go was to something called the Colonial Parkway in Yorktown. It is a 23-mile stretch of road from Yorktown to Jamestown. The Parkway is windy and tree covered as it meanders down the coastline from one historic site to the other. When I was in high school, I would end most dates at one of its many pullouts overlooking the ocean. It was romantic to high school kids who didn't have their own apartments.

As I rolled down the highway and started to go toward the Parkway, I quickly realized that all the landmarks that I knew were gone. New shopping centers and strip malls had taken their place. The other problem was that I had never been out here in the daylight; that was not a big help either. I was about to give up and break out the GPS when I saw a sign that saved me. We all know real men and bikers never get lost.

Right before I turned onto the Parkway I was treated again to the ballet of hawks in the sky above me, not sure if this was an omen or not but it was pretty. When I got to the Parkway from the road I noticed something else I'd forgotten about it -- -- the Parkway was not concrete, blacktop, or cobblestone; it is a blend of concrete and pebbles which has a slippery surface because the years of use has worn down and smoothed the pebbles. I was leery but not overly concerned.

The ride was a blast. I'd forgotten how pretty the scenery and ocean view was. Then I saw a sign that broke my heart. My favorite place was no longer usable as a make-out spot. After all, nobody goes to make-out before Sunset. Very saddening.

I saw herds of deer and many hedgehogs and other small varmints near the road as I cruised through it. I pulled off at a few more places to enjoy the various views of the bay and then when I reached the end I jumped back on the highway and proceeded west until I got caught up in the traffic jam of people leaving Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Actually it wasn't a full up traffic jam it was just a few miles of very slow going. After I was beyond the traffic it was smooth sailing until I reached the hotel.

When I climbed into bed that night, I realized how sore I was from sitting in the same position for several hours over several days. Nevertheless, it was a good sore.

The next morning I woke up and since I had to turn the bike in that day, I did not travel far from the turn-in point. I spent all the time I had left cruising through old neighborhoods in Richmond. I was enjoying the sunshine, and the feel of a good bike under me. This had been a great adventure and I loved all 702 miles of it.

A gentleman named Paul helped me get the bike turned back and I transferred all my stuff from the saddlebags back into a suitcase. I then jumped in the car and headed north to the airport. As I looked at the traffic coming towards me, going south, I would see the occasional motorcycle and my hand would want to wave, but I wasn't a rider for this part of my journey.





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Monday, August 16, 2010

Skyline Drive -- Twisties, Curvies, Sweepers & Bears

Skyline Drive  is a wonderful 105 mile stretch of road that starts in Front Royal, VA  and goes to Waynesboro, VA.  It goes through and over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The speed limit is a rigoursly enforced 35 MPH and aside from the curves and switchbacks, there are deer, bears, and other wildlife who cross the road at will.  A lot of the road (to quote Arlo Gutherie) has "mountain on one side and on the other side -- nothing."  It is an absolute blast in a car,  better in a convertable but now I know the way this road needs to be taken is on a motorcycle.  This was one of my better ideas.

The morning started with a quick breakfast at the hotel and then I dressed out in boots, chaps, and jacket and hit the highway.  I was in Staunton where my son was living so I took a quick 10 minute drive down the highway to the south entrance of Skyline Drive.  The cost to drive the road for a motorcycle was $10, but that was for a whole week.  I paid the ranger in the booth, truend down the map she offered and rolled that power on.

I was still getting used to the bike,  and the south end (I cound out later) has the less dramatic curves.  The Road King was great while it was rolling.  Lots of power and it was pur ballet on curves.  When it was standing still it handled like a baby whale.  Heavy and awkward to move around.

This first video is from the southern most part of the ride.  The curves are not too wild,  but they are nice and the scenery is beautiful.  This is the longest of the 3 videos.

Along the way I met a lot of other bikes doing the drive.  I stopped at this overlook and met 3 guys who had started out in New Jersey and were proceeding on south to the "Dragon's Tail" in the Smokies.  I hope to do that ride at some point myself.  One of them took this picture for me.







This is the shortest video but has me starting into some better curves and twisties.  I was having a blast and I was getting used to the bike which made it more comfortable.


Stopped for lunch at a small diner at the the midway point.  While I was eating I saw a couple come in who could not find a place to sit so I invited them to join me.  They were from Pennsylvania and were going to spend the night at the southern gate and then head back using a route through West Virginia.  Nice folks.







This video is of the most dramatic turns and twisties and even has a tunnel too.  This is my favorite of the three and I wish I had time to ride this section again.

The run complete,  I turned the bike east, towards Tidewater so I could meet up with my son again at his new place there (he was in the process of moving).  I took a Highway 17 to get there,  which had its own nice views along the way.








NOTE:  I shot the videos using the Nikon Cool Pix and something called a GorillaPod.  It is a bendable 3 legged tripod that can be adjusted to grip anything - even a handlebar.  I am glad I found this.  I still put a safety line on the camera in case the vibrations made it come loose.  I was shooting around the windshield rather than through it.




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Friday, August 13, 2010

Virginty Lost & Baptism By Thunderstorm

My adventure actually started a few weeks before I ever jumped on the bike and took off. I had to go to Washington DC for a class and decided to go down to Virginia to visit my son at the same time. Since I was going to have to rent a car, anyway I decided to look into the costs of renting a motorcycle instead. With that decision made, it was a short leap to realize that Skyline Drive was between DC and where my son lived. The cost of rental was not that bad so I went to the EagleRider website and made a reservation. I had reserved a Honda Goldwing.

A few days later, I got an e-mail from Lisa at EagleRiders who told me that the Goldwing was unavailable, so I said I would take a Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Glide instead. Then I got a call saying that that was unavailable as well but they did have a Street Glide available for those dates and I said sure. Part of the reason why I was renting was to test ride some bikes that I was considering buying for my next bike. The Street Glide was never on my list but it would give me the feel for a Harley Davidson.

Friday, the day I was scheduled to pick up the bike, I called the store and told them that I was going to be a little late. At that point, the person at the shop told me that it was fine because the bike had a maintenance issue with brake lights, but he said he had a part due in and everything would be fine by the time I got there. No problem. An hour or so later I got a call saying that it was not going to be ready for me and that if I wanted it I could still have the bike but I would have to use hand signals. I said okay and then I started thinking about it. Unfamiliar road, unfamiliar bike, crowded riding environment, and me not used to using hand signals. I called him back and canceled.

That was a hard choice to make since I had brought along riding gear and was psyched for the ride. Then I checked the EagleRider website and noticed they had a store in Richmond as well. Therefore, I called the store in DC to see if they could swap the reservations of there. He gave me the number for the store in Richmond and told me they thought they could work something out. I called Velocity Motorsports the EagleRider franchise in Richmond and spoke to Carol who told me they had a Road King available for me if I wanted it, and they were having a special that weekend so it would be even cheaper. I grabbed it. I knew that Skyline Drive could be ridden going north or going south so all I had to do was reverse my plan.

When I took off out of DC at 2:30 PM I thought it would take me about 2 Hours to drive the 90 miles to Richmond. It took almost 4 hours. During the drive, I called Velocity in Richmond to let them know that I might be late and Carol was nice enough to work out a deal where one of their people named Zack would stick around until I got there. At one point I got a call from Zack was concerned as to whether I would be there by 6 and I told him I was doing everything possible to do so. He explained that he had a birthday party for his mother that night and needed to be off on time. At this point since Velocity had already been so nice I was doing everything I could to be sure I got there by 6. I may have even driven faster than the speed limit when the traffic finally thinned. In the end, I arrived about 5 minutes after 6 but Zach was nice enough to stick around to help me out.

I unloaded everything out of the car and kind of threw it into the saddlebags. Zack gave me a quick orientation to the bike and helped me park my car in their locked parking area. At that point, I told Zack to go that I could handle it. I spent the next 20 minutes or so repacking saddlebags so that everything would fit and they would actually close. I have never done anything like this before and actually had no idea how much stuff would fit in the bags when I planned what I was taking. In the end, I only wound up leaving my 35mm camera behind because it just would not fit. I did take my Nikon Cool Pix with me since it did not take up much room and I had to get some pictures along the way.

I jumped on the first Harley Davidson was ever going to ride and kicked it over. It being a new bike I did my usual check out of friction zone and touchiness of brakes. Once I was satisfied, I turned down the alley and headed for the interstate. I quickly took the bike up to 70 and noticed how much top-end I still had left. The bike still had plenty of power if I needed it. I looked in the sky in front of me and noticed the dark rain clouds, which according to the National Weather Service were not supposed to be there.

The wind was blowing into me going east as I was headed west and the rain was falling down. Now I was on an unfamiliar bike, on an unfamiliar road, in the middle of a thunderstorm. Two minutes later, I rode out of the rain, and looked up in the sky to see a pair of hawks gently gliding through the air looking for dinner. In front of me was a beautiful sunset. It was going to be a great ride.


NOTE: I have always made it a point not to use real names on this blog. However, in the case of Carol, Lisa, and Zack I have chosen to leave their real names in case you ever need to get in touch with either at EagleRider or Velocity in Richmond and want to know some good people to work with, who bent over backwards to make my adventure a reality. Without them, I would have been sitting in Washington DC with leathers, my helmet, and all the other stuff I had prepped for the ride but nothing to ride on. Good people.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010