Florida, December 2010
What were you doing the first week in December ? You know, when the UK was hit by an early freak snowstorm. Spend all night stuck in your car on the motorway ? Had to dig yourself out so you could queue at the shops for the last tin of soup ? This is what we were doing...
Yep, riding a pair of Harleys up Florida's Space Coast in the sun. Not our usual kind of thing of course but I'm sure you'd have happily swapped places with us to avoid the weather back home. Sara had booked a 2-week holiday for family and friends, and doing something like this was always part of the plan. After too many days of Mickey Mouse putting his chubby white hand in our wallets we popped along to the local HD dealer to make arrangements.
It couldn't have been easier. Harley-Davidson Orlando South was 15 minutes up I-4 from our luxury villa, and as well as a showroom split equally between new bikes and, um, lifestyle accessories, they had a fleet of rental bikes out the back. As far as Tim could see, they were all the same apart from the odd fairing or panniers, but it turned out that practically the whole range was available. And because it was out of season, 24-hour rental prices on most models were slashed.
Darin fancied the 'V-Rod Muscle', a sort of hotrod factory-custom thing with huge rear tyre and watercooled engine. Chell vetoed this immediately on the grounds that she'd be going on the back and the pillion seat resembled nothing more than a square inch of insulating tape stuck to the rear mudguard. So he decided on the 'Dyna Wide-Glide' (FXDWG if you're interested in this kind of thing) in orange and black. It had a generous padded rear-seat with small backrest so Chell was happy. For now...
Tim had no idea what he was looking at so just picked the matt-black one he was stood next to. Sara was originally planning to rent a Sportster, but several days of navigating a Dodge Grand Caravan across 12 lanes of grumbling V8's had put her off the idea of riding altogether. So Tim switched to another bike with a lower seat so that Sara could have a go later on when it was quieter. This one turned out to be a - no laughing at the back - 'FatBoy-Lo' (FLSTFB Softail) in gloss black. A quick photocopy of our licences and a promise to come back on Tuesday to pick them up and we were sorted. Driving back home, a quick mental calculation revealed that 96 cubic inches (as written large on each airfilter cover) works out at almost 1600cc. Gulp.
The next couple of days saw unusually cold temperatures for the region. Nothing like back home of course, but chilly enough to worry that the proposed trip up the coast to Daytona might be a little less than comfortable. Three of them had packed leather jackets, gloves and neck-tubes along with their shorts and swimming costumes but Tim had arrived with only a denim jacket. On the Tuesday morning, an exploratory wander outside in his Diff'rent Strokers T-shirt quickly resulted in him covering it with both a thick long-sleeved shirt and a flimsy hooded top as well as the jacket. The shop was also providing a free loan of helmets but no gloves, so Tim was forced to reluctantly splash $55 on a pair of HD-branded black leather ones from the 'Village People' range in the shop.
A swipe of our credit-cards for security and a 5-minute explanation of the bikes and we were all set. Darin asked for the screen to be removed from his bike for purely aesthetic reasons (the big posing ponce). Tim left his on, as he thought it suited the bike and might be a bit warmer on the move. Bad-ass cool shades were donned, the girls hopped on board, Darin fired up the 'Glide and it settled into a healthy throbbing "potato potato potato" tickover. Tim pressed the start button on the Fatster and visibly recoiled as a metallic clang like a wrecking ball hitting a train was heard. He thought he'd broken it, but it turns out they all do that thanks to a starter-motor the same weight as an entire TZR125. A similar horrible noise saw first-gear engaged and both bikes lurched towards the street.
The shop was actually on Highway 192, which would take us all the way to the East coast. The first part of it seemed to be an endless series of traffic lights and commuters which at least gave us some time to acclimatise to the bikes. They're pretty conventional really and even have six gears, but separate switches on each bar for L/R indicators takes some getting used to. FatBoy-Slim had footboards instead of pegs, with a heel-and-toe gear lever that seems odd at first but quickly becomes second-nature. A button on the left bar cycles the tank-top display through odometer, trip, clock, gear/rpm indicator and remaining fuel range. Oddly the mirrors hang below the bars, but were actually quite good. The sidestands were rubbish though and we can't believe that neither of the bikes fell over at all - good job they didn't 'cos we'd never have picked 'em up again.
Strip malls and burger joints gave way to countryside after a while, and we found ourselves chugging along a boring dual-carriageway at 55mph. The disgusting stench we were breathing in was soon traced to a huge garbage truck coming up in front. We got past that quickly, but he seemed to want to race us and the presence of the St.Cloud County Sheriff driving his F-150 pickup in the other lane dissuaded us from just buggering off into the distance. Eventually they both turned off and we found ourselves alone on The World's Most Boring Road. It was dead straight and dead flat for at least 10 miles, with nothing in the way of scenery to keep us awake, not even a squashed 'gator. It was also pretty windy, and the cold and boredom got to Tim who wound FattyMan up to over the ton. It was hard to tell how much more it had to give to be honest, and with the thought of two massive iron pistons just inches from his groin he backed off. Out of interest, 70mph in top gear was at just 2500rpm.
Just under I-95 at the first sign of partial civilisation, we stopped for a rest. Tim got off the bike and staggered across the parking lot like an incontinent John Wayne, pronouncing his knees had seized. A typical american breakfast (coffee, bacon, eggs, sausage, sugar-dusted pancakes, four different flavours of gloopy syrup and a giant pickle) effected a cure. Suitably warmed up, we clattered the bikes into life again and headed towards the coast. Only a few miles further on, we crossed the causeway that took us onto the long spit of land at Melbourne Beach, turned left and stopped in a quiet car park, where there appeared to be some sort of covert police operation going on.
We'd seen a few other bikes on our travels and it was apparent that legally you do not need to wear a helmet in Florida (if you're over 21 and have medical insurance). We did all have them of course and in fact it was a requirement of the rental agreement, but we couldn't resist the lure of a brief helmetless whizz round the block. We also took the opportunity to swap bikes briefly. Despite similar outward appearances (to a non-Harley person at least), the 'Glide felt at least 20 years newer than the FatGut, with a smoother, quieter engine and controls that were much less crude. The gear-change actually felt like two cogs engaging rather than like playing football with a bag of cement. The steering let it down though, with the feeling that the skinny push-bike front wheel was about 20ft in front of the bike. Sara took the opportunity to ride the 'Lo about 20ft in a straight line, decided she'd now ticked the 'ridden a Harley' box and handed it back.
On the subject of helmets, Darin and Chell had brought their own from the UK. The ones that Sara and Tim borrowed from the shop were not even 'piss-pots', merely a CHiPs-style fibreglass lid that didn't even cover the ears. So before continuing, Tim pulled his shirt hood up then sat the helmet on top of that. Stylish. He also gratefully took up the offer of a spare neck-tube (as Darin was wearing his new bright-orange HD-branded bandana). We headed North up Highway A1A, with water on both sides, through Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Most of the surrounding land and buildings on the way seemed to be directly involved with either NASA or the USAF. After turning back inland across another causeway, we could see the massive Vehicle Assembly Building where they prepare the Shuttle for launch, even though it was almost 10 miles away.
We should have turned immediately right here up Highway 1 but missed the turning and headed North on I-95 instead. After a detour through Port St.John where all the roads were named after astronauts or spacecraft, we switched back via Highway 405 to the correct route - inadvertently grinding most of the footrests away on the gently-curved slip road - and parked up in Titusville. This is where people gather to watch Shuttle launches, but sadly the one scheduled for our stay had been postponed. A Wendy's looked like it would provide warming coffee but was in fact, a toilet, so we used it for that purpose, took some photos of the bikes in the car-park and moved on.
We had covered well over 100 miles by now, and an unwarranted distrust of the fuel-gauges meant we wanted petrol. $20 of Premium Unleaded was shared between the two bikes followed by Tim bravely rescuing his wife from an imminent armed robbery (seems he's been watching too much crap TV). She was more bemused by the concept of a 'discount for cash' anyway. Then back on Highway 1 towards our destination - Daytona Beach. In Edgewater, about 20 miles of featureless road later, Darin pulled into a BP station. Chell leapt off the back of the bike and let fly with a torrent of language so foul, the nearby Holy Mission Baptist Church barricaded its windows. The cause of this unexpected rant was revealed to be the pillion seat on the Wide-Glide, which had spent the last few hours forcing Chell's spine out through the top of her neck. She was adamant that the trip was over.
We were 19 miles south of Daytona Beach by now and it was 4:30pm. We'd noticed that day turns into night in about 30 minutes round here and it wasn't getting any warmer. Options were discussed including continuing to Daytona where Chell might be able to catch a bus or train home, or putting her in a comfy hotel room nearby and returning to collect her in the car later. Sara solved the problem by bravely volunteering to swap places with her and we all agreed to go straight home via the most direct route.
Which was to turn West on Highway 44 a couple of miles later, follow that to I-4, then just peg the throttle open for the 50-odd remaining miles. We didn't manage all that in one stint as it turns out, stopping for yet another coffee and more fuel near Lake Mary. It was fully dark when we set off again, and the heavy rush-hour traffic in downtown Orlando provided a welcome hint of warmth, not to mention a lungful of tyre smoke when some bloke on a full-dress Electra-Guide locked it up for no apparent reason. Probably fell asleep listening to the radio. 40 remaining junctions sounds an awful lot, but on the interstates they tend to appear less than a mile apart.
We got home about 7:30pm, 237 miles under our belts, cold and a bit knackered. We locked the bikes up in the garage alongside the pool table. Incidentally, the ignition key on a Harley is on the top of the tank, and you take it out while you're riding - there's a separate steering lock too. Sara's spine was still in the right place and Chell had been much happier on the LardBoy's bigger seat. Tim declared himself quite fond of Ol' Chubbster by now and said it looked quite handsome in a Tonka-truck kind of way. Worried about the way this site is going ? Note that we have previous offences to be taken into consideration...
The next day we had to have the bikes back by 10am. It was even colder, but we only had 10 miles to go. Even so, the girls stayed at home. We brimmed the tanks across the road from the dealer as agreed, then parked them up. Bike shop dude checked the bikes over and didn't mention the ground-away footrests. Tim jokingly asked if his rental fee could be deducted from the purchase cost of the bike. It could, but it wouldn't have made much of a dent in the $16299 (plus taxes) that they were asking. That's over £10K - blimey, you could buy a motorbike for that !
Back to Home Page