Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Harley for the weekend

So this weekend was my birthday but my beloved GS was in the shop. What was I going to do????

Simple really, I'd rent a bike. So I emailed my program manager where I teach motorcycle safety and asked what bikes were available. Tonya wrote back to say she had an Ultra Classic, an ElectraGlide and a Deluxe. Since I wanted to take Reagan with me for some of the riding, comfort was my first priority. From my experience in the Riders Edge Instructor training, I knew the Deluxe didn't really fit me so I figured the E-glide or Ultra would fit the bill.

Friday evening I had Reagan take me up there to pick up the bike. We ended up taking the Ultra as someone had just rented the Electra Glide only minutes before. Since both bikes are similar in comfort I was fine with the Ultra. I figured my Hi-Viz yellow jacket along with Reagan's pink jacket and chaps would help with visibility on the black and chrome bike. "Sign here, and here, and here. Initial here and sign here" and I was done. I had Harley Davidson's premiere touring bike for the weekend. The only thing I didn't have was J&M cables to interface our helmets into the 7 pin audio system. Oh well, it had a radio with speakers.

Over dinner Reagan and I put together a route that would be fun and flexible. We'd have breakfast in Fayetteville (TX) and ride over to Livingston to say "hi" to my parents and then work our way back. There were two rules, no freeways and when we got tired we'd head home. Reagan also invited our Harley friends Robert and Missy to come along as well. Missy was feeling under the weather after her business trip but Robert came along since I had a Harley for the weekend, I think he just wanted to make sure I wasn't kidding him.

We started the day early. "Side stands up at 7:15" was the plan. I wanted to take a nice leisurely pace from our house to Brookshire where we were meeting Robert. We even managed to pull out of the drive way a few minutes early and headed down 90A toward Richmond. Since I had the time I wanted to take FM 359 to Fulshear, then 1093 to Simonton then north on FM 1489 into Brookshire. This wasn't the most direct route but it gave us some twisties to sort things out with me, the bike and Reagan. Things went well and we got there a good 30 minutes early. Only problem, we were both a little cold. We warmed up inside with a cup of hot coco.

Once Robert arrived there were normal pleasantries and he still couldn't believe I was on Harley. When we got down the road a bit, he pulled up next to me at a stop sign and said "You can close those vents for warmth". Huh? What vents? At the end of 1458 we pulled over in a park and he showed me how the lower vents worked. Nice.... Then we were back on the road going, now a little warmer.

Through Sealy and then onto FM1094 to New Ulm. Southwest on FM 109 to Frelsburg and then FM 1291 into Fayetteville. 1291 is one of my favorite local roads as it's got plenty of sharp 30mph turns on it to really get you moving the bike around. Of course being on an 800 pound Harley changed my speeds through the corners a little. Reagan reminded me that I was leaning a little too much every time a floorboard touched in a corner. :)

Once in Fayetteville we stopped at Orsak's Cafe for breakfast and conversation. Robert mentioned that my bike looked a little low in the rear so we adjusted the suspension. At the same time Robert noticed that his front brake reservoir was loose from the installation of his satellite radio that morning so he tightened it up. I got a lesson in saddlebag and seat removal. It's not as easy as my GS but not to bad either. With things adjusted and tightened it was time to go. Reagan seemed OK so we headed toward Bellville via FM 159 east on our way to Livingston.

Robert took the lead going to Belleville and Reagan and I sat back and enjoyed the scenery. As we entered into Belleville traffic was a little busy and at one point I had to do a quick stop when it was unclear what a motorcycle cop was doing regarding traffic control. I think he was just holding up traffic in the other direction to get all his fellow riders out of a gas station. There had to be at least 40 of them, too many for a group ride in my opinion. When we stopped at the next light I looked back to check on Reagan and she was ready for a stop so we pulled over in the Dollar General parking lot at the corner of 36 and 159. We sat around for a little while talking and drinking water. Robert even snapped a picture of us on the twin Harleys with Reagan sitting on Robert's bike. After the break it was decided that we'd head home and do the rest of the ride another day. So we take 529 out of Belleville toward FM359.

We stopped again in Brookshire at the Flying J to fill up as the Harley doesn't quite have the range on it that my GS does. A little water, a little conversation and back on the bikes we got. Down to Fulshear and then east on FM 1093 to HWY 99. At that point we waved goodbye to Robert and headed south. An idiot decided he wanted to pull out in front of us but a quick decrease in speed and lane position change caused him to rethink his choice.

We arrived home a short while later with 180 miles on the odometer for the day's trip. Not bad for Reagan's first big ride as a passenger. I was thinking about going inside for a bit and then heading back out but I decided that a nap sounded better so I put the bike up for the day and went inside. Oh the nap was nice as was the mexican food that night.

Just like most Sundays when we are in town and don't have other commitments Reagan and I went to breakfast with some of my riding buddies. Reagan had things to do for the day so I was going to ride alone. I had plans to finish my Livingston route as it seemed like a great route to try out the Ultra. Again, no freeways was the plan. After breakfast John and Dan agreed to follow me for awhile. I didn't have the GPS with me and I really hadn't looked at a map to determine the best way to go. I just knew I wanted to get back to FM 159 to go east.

So we left breakfast in Richmond/Rosenberg and headed up HWY 36 toward Belleville. Remember, I didn't have the GPS and hadn't studied a map. The fog was thick and it made things slow going until we got to Sealy. There we filled up and took a quick post-breakfast break. The sun came out while we were there and the fog dissipated. So we continued up 36 to Belleville and then turned east on FM 159. Now I was back on my planned route.

When we got to Hempstead I turned north on FM1488 and headed toward Magnolia. As we got to the light in Magnolia I suddenly realized I didn't have anti-lock brakes when I had a short rear wheel skid as the light quickly changed to red. That was about as zesty as the ride got for the day though. Through Magnolia and up to FM 149. Heading north on FM 149 was a little slow due to traffic but it was nice to be able to look around and see the scenery. Once we got to Montgomery it seemed most people turned off so we were able to liven the pace through the forest. Then it was FM 1791 into Huntsville for another break.

Leaving Huntsville on HWY 190 I didn't really need a map. The closer we got to Livingston the more I knew the roads from personal experience. When we got through Onalaska I decided to take the back way into my parents house to see how things had changed around the lake. A right turn onto FM 3126, then a brief jog down FM 2457 before resuming FM 3126 and finally turning onto FM1988 by my old house. We pulled into the neighborhood and I thought about how loud the Harley sounded and then laughed because it probably wasn't even close to the little YZ80 I used to run up and down these roads on as a kid.

After a brief visit the plan was to go to Bar-B-Q in Goodrich. Well it seems they were closed so we turned around and went back up FM 1988 to Livingston to Bodacious. It's not my first choice but my parents rave about it. Only problem, they were closed too. Hmmm 2 BBQ places closed on Sunday. I wondered if this is a conspiracy. So back down FM 1988 to FM 3278. As a local I knew that road had been opened up years ago despite the fact that maps, GPSes, and even Google still shows it as not a through way. The plan was to go to Coldspring where we'd surely find BBQ. I just sort of followed the signs to Coldspring and went down FM 222 where we came upon a trail ride in progress. Again I thought to myself, "oh great I'm on a loud bike". The last thing I wanted to do was spook a horse and have to wrestle with an 800 pound bike and a large horse. As I saw it I was going to lose period.

Once past the trail ride, incident free I might add, we turned left on 150 to Coldspring. My fuel light had come on so food and fuel were on the agenda. Riding through town I didn't see any place for BBQ. I asked John if he knew of a place and he didn't. At the Exxon I went inside and asked where I could find BBQ. They told me back up the road about a mile and a half. So we back tracked only to find another BBQ place closed on Sunday. At this point I gave up and we had lunch at the cafe in downtown Coldspring.

After a tasty home style meal we were back on the bikes and headed home. The plan was simple, 150 west to New Waverly where we'd pick up FM 1375 back into the Sam Houston Forest. With a full stomach I was glad to have cruise control as the ride wasn't overly exciting through this stretch. Once we turned south on FM 149 though it was a little better as we had those fun sweepers but traffic was greater so it was more of a casual ride. Again this gave me time to enjoy the scenery.

Now we were basically back tracking along FM 1488 to 105. However we turned south on FM 362 and headed for Brookshire. We stopped in Brookshire for the last break of the day and to talk about where we would parts ways. Dan would stay with us through Fulshear and turn off onto 359. John and I were taking FM1093 to HWY 99 down to 90A.

When I pulled into the driveway the odometer said 16,199. When I picked up the bike on Friday it said 15,560. So Sunday was an easy 400 mile day thanks to my lack of mapping skills. But then again I never claimed to be the most efficient router.

Thoughts about the bike:
Putting the image and lifestyle of a Harley Davidson motorcycle aside, I can understand why some people like them. At cruising speeds the bike runs nice and vibrations aren't bad. It's actually soothing. With 15,000 miles on the bike the seat had been broken in pretty well and I found it nice and comfortable for all day riding. Unfortunately the seat had gotten wet at some point recently and was weeping the entire time so my left thigh would get damp when I got off the bike. In colder weather that would be a problem.

I liked the radio, especially the auto volume control. It was nice because you could rock out while going down the road but it was quiet when you came to a stop. If I had had my cable for the helmet audio that wouldn't have been as important I suspect.

The storage space on the bike is incredible. It's spacious to say the least. It would be easy to pack for a long weekend with 2 people.

The windshield was too tall for me and was a real problem in the fog. If this were a personal bike that would get changed out pretty quickly.

Cruise control was nice. One a bike that's made for eating up miles instead of carving through the twisties I think cruise control is great. It's use was simple and easy. Especially after I discovered that rolling off the throttle disengaged the cruise.

My only complaint was the range on the fuel tank. For a top of the line touring bike, I'd like to see a longer range. It seemed as though I had to start looking for fuel around the 140 mile mark with plenty to spare but still far less than my GS which I think is even border line on the short side with a range of 200 ~ 240.

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