Canadian Harley Davidson Road Trip
Best Western and Harley Davidson Partnership offers Rider Friendly Lodging
Cultural acceptance of the motorcycle lifestyle has come a long way over the years. When contemplating the transition of the once abhorred hobby into the mainstream, I often recall scenes from Easy Rider where it was easier for Billy and Wyatt to find accommodations in the local jail than it was to get a room for the night, in even a seedy motel. These days, many hotels are not only tolerant and accepting of motorcyclists, they are inviting of them! Back in April, Motorcycle.com ran a short news release on the emergence of a new partnership between Harley Davidson and Best Western hotels across North America.
Riders who stay at one of the many Best Westerns in North America will be welcomed with open arms and given a number of perks. Dorothy Dowling, Best Western’s Senior VP of Marketing and Sales stated, "We want to reward Harley-Davidson riders who stay at Best Western hotels" before adding, "By earning extra points they can hit the open road more often and take advantage of the unique offerings of our rider-friendly properties." Rider friendly is a term they have coined that not only refers to wash stations and preferred parking spots for motorcycles, but also bonus reward points that can be redeemed even during blackout periods.
Earlier this month, I set out on a five day Canadian motorcycle road trip with fellow motorcycle journalists where we stayed exclusively at Best Western Hotels in order to experience this ‘rider friendliness’. Of course this experimental trip wouldn’t be authentic unless we were riding Harley Davidson’s, so Deeley Harley Davidson in Ontario, hooked us up with some loaners to get the full experience. Eight bikes in all, they consisted of the Sportster 1200N, Fat Boy, Night Train, Softail Custom, V-Rod and a pair of Rocker C’s.
Our previous riding experience, bike preferences and even ages ranged a great deal, so it would be a great chance to get a wide spectrum of opinions on the bikes, and the experience itself. Our projected route would take us from the town of Orangeville, Ontario to Quebec City, covering a distance of over 600 miles using mostly rural two lane roads that passed through many quaint small towns. We didn’t venture too far off the beaten path because we wanted to make decent time and were staying in fairly populated cities each night. We tried to avoid major freeways as much as possible. Firstly, none of the bikes we were graciously loaned were true cruisers - there was only one windscreen and fairing in the bunch, but also because riding on long, straight multi-lane highways, for lack of a better term, sucks.
Because we arrived atop chrome-laden cruisers we had rock star parking right outside the front doors, making us feel like celebrities as we mounted our bikes that morning. In order to make things fair, we each blindly pulled keys out of a helmet to see which bike we would get first. We would all have plenty of time to ride each bike over the next few days anyhow. The first key I pulled was for the 2009 Fatboy - no complaints here. I fired up the twin cam 96B engine, let the revs decline to normal idle and slid down my visor before knocking the gear lever into first and heading off. The Fatboy is pure Harley through and through. The V-twin gurgles and shakes in unison with a deep, throaty growl that emits from the shotgun tailpipes. The riding position is ideal for long trips without a need for stretching or compromising your comfort.
Other features that demonstrated themselves to be ideal over the course of that week were the supple suspension and the introduction of sixth gear overdrive. While the suspension and steering won’t win any awards for agility, they are ideal for long sweeping stretches of two lane blacktop. It was unanimous among our group that the addition of a sixth gear was a welcome amendment to the running gear. It didn’t mean we necessarily rode faster, but for long stretches of straight road or on the freeway, it dropped the rpm’s down to a reasonable level that will not only save gas but also your eardrums, while still providing a sufficient amount of torque. I occasionally still dropped down to fifth or even fourth gear for passing, not because I had to, but really just because I could. When I did, I enjoyed the surge of torque as my ears were rewarded for my right hand cranking the throttle back.
Sunshine, fresh country air, beautiful scenery and the deep rumble of a hearty V-twin between your legs – life rarely gets better. After a morning of cruising, we decided to make the first of many bike switches as we were all eager to experience as many bikes as quickly as possible. Yes, us journalists are an impetuous bunch. The next bike I swung my leg over was the Night Train, which I was excited to try.
The straight handlebars, staggered shorty exhaust, sport front fender and matte black paint make this bike look seriously badass even before you fire up the 96 CI V-twin. Unfortunately those forward mounted handlebars that look so cool also made for an uncomfortable riding position for me. At 6 feet tall I have relatively long arms, but the Night Train’s proportions still made me lean far forward with my arms close together so I constantly felt like my balance was off kilter. I have however seen many a custom bike with similar geometry so while this is a popular riding position for some people, I am not one of them. I did generally enjoy riding the bike, but I enjoyed looking at it from afar better.
'Sunshine, fresh country air, beautiful scenery and the deep rumble of a hearty V-twin between your legs – life rarely gets better.'
The following morning began my love affair with the Rocker C. Not only did the angled back handlebars and custom-looking rear fender attract my attention, but the brushed metal badging and Crimson Red Sunglo paint make this bike the thing dreams are made of. Although my elder fellow journalist friends didn’t understand the object of my affection, I wouldn’t be dissuaded. Winding along back country tarmac, leaning into turns and playing with the throttle had me smiling from ear to ear.
The rocker is the perfect bike for those who want access to the club of custom choppers but don’t have the bankbook or technical know-how to get there through the traditional avenues. At the next several stops, I basically had to be pried off the bike because I didn’t want to stop riding – how can you put a price on that kind of bond?
I don’t believe that the Softail Custom made it onto anyone’s number one. It certainly wasn’t disliked among the group; it just didn’t manage to stand out against a cast of otherwise colorful characters.
That night had us in Montreal with me on the Sportster 1200N the next morning. While riding through small towns in traffic, I felt like a shriner riding a mini-bike in a parade. Not only did the bike feel too small, the seat was too low, the handlebars too high and the foot pegs too far back. Each bump or inconsistency in the road brought on a new sensation of pain. The experience was not entirely unlike what I expect being repeatedly smacked in the tailbone with a sledge hammer would feel like. I will however admit that forward controls, a different seat and softer suspension would make all the difference in the world. Each and every one of us concurred that while the Sportster was painfully lacking refinement in certain places; attacking turns and cracking the throttle of the 1200N was all kinds of fun.
After four full days of riding, the consensus was that each bike offered something special and managed to accomplish the objective for which they were intended. That being said, we all had our picks for the bike we would most like to take home, once again proving that there is no accounting for personal taste.
'With a full tank of gas and a map of the many Best Western hotels across Ontario, I set off homeward bound.'
While everyone else chose to fly home to their respective cities, I decided to escort the V-Rod back to Toronto since I didn’t get a great first impression from my brief initial ride. After riding in a large formation and following a tight itinerary for four days, I was excited to set out on my own with no agenda and little more than the clothes on my back. With a full tank of gas and a map of the many Best Western hotels across Ontario, I set off homeward bound. My initial indifference for the V-Rod slowly blossomed into infatuation on a back road somewhere outside Quebec City.
Normally when riding a new motorcycle, it takes time to become comfortable and familiar with the controls, movements and proportions but this was not the case with the V-Rod for me. As I furiously chased the wind atop the incredible Revolution 1250, the bike felt like an extension of myself with complete predictability. Not your typical Harley, not quite a cruiser, not so much a sport bike, the V-Rod is a beautiful anomaly.