Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Bike reviews...

Bike choices...

There are two clear choices if you want to ride a Harley solo on Route 66. You can go the retro route and hire a Heritage Softail with leather panniers and acres of chrome or you go the more practical route and settle for the Road King with hard panniers. Both bikes have similar performance characteristics and the all-important screen to prevent bugs in your teeth. Personally I would favour the Road King as it has cast wheels rather than spokes – a can of tyre foam gets you going quickly if you have a tubeless tyre, whereas repair of the tyre on a Softail requires removal of the wheel and replacement of the inner tube and that is not a roadside repair. The suspension on the Road King can be simply adjusted by using an airline to the rear shock – look for the valve towards the rear of the seat on the nearside. The Softail has only a single disc up the front that can overheat and becomes less efficient on the downhill grades – especially important if you happen to be two-up on the bike... There are other alternatives. You can be Arnie on the FatBoy and run the risk of a personal Terminator in the kind of side winds that brutally shifted the FatBoy sidewards as we crossed the desert in Arizona (those solid wheels are a nightmare in gusty weather) and the lack of a screen also adds to the fatigue over distance. The same issues arise with the Harley LowRider – spoked wheels and no screen make it a less obvious choice for a two week Road Trip.
For two-up riding there are only really two choices of limo-bikes. The die-hards will favour the Harley-Davidson ElectraGlide for an authentic and romantic all-American experience. On a practical level I prefer the USA-assembled Honda GoldWing as a better handling, better performing and less demanding ride. I have ridden the whole of Route 66 (2500 miles) on both and have to say that the Honda was a much easier bike to manoevre, especially at slow speed. The reverse gear is also a welcome bonus in tight parking spaces – especially on slopes! My wife has ridden pillion on both bikes and definitely prefers the Honda for comfort so it will be the GoldWing in future for both of us. That suits me. I prefer to hear the stereo rather than the booming exhaust of the V-Twin. I also find that I am much less fatigued after a day on the Honda – the ElectraGlide really is quite hard work. Both have big screens, big stereos, cruise control and pillow seats. You pay your money and make your choice.
Other things to look for on the Harley are:
Tyres which need to have enough tread to finish a long trip.
Riding position is crucial if you are going to have a comfortable ride.
Feet forward can really strain your back if you are not used to it.
Consider footboards rather than footpegs so that you can move around a bit on the bike.
Look for a backrest – especially if you are carrying a pillion!
Check the oil and look after the bike. Gear shifters can fall off, bolts work loose due to vibration and the exhausts have been known to work loose and blow exhaust gaskets. Things need to be tightened up and a visual inspection each day is recommended.

If you are not too hung up on the Harley thang there are many European and Japanese bikes available that perform admirably on Route 66. The Harley Sportster is definitely eclipsed by the Honda Shadow for both comfort and speed (and reliability) and any BMW will complete the tour with teutonic efficiency. The Honda STX1300 makes a good option for two-up if you are familiar with the machine (seat height is an issue for me) although it is maybe a bit too fast for the sightseeing and slower pace that Route 66 deserves.

Whatever your ride, rest assured that the Mother Road is there for you to explore. Why not come and join us on an American FlyRide holiday of a lifetime and get YOUR kicks on Route 66!

Alastair McFarlane
Tour Director, MCi Tourswww.mcitours.com

Steve's bike review...

Bike chosen for the route 66 trip was a fat boy.
Reasons? well I have a Road King at home so wanted to try something different.

This review is based on a bike that was rented and has about 26,000 miles on the clock.
First impressions are that the handlebars are quite wide and drop down. I feel that riding in this position may give me some wrist aches. I'm proven right, but its not as bad as I feared.
Its a heavy old beast, with big alloy wheels and a grunty engine, that coupled with the height gives the impression that the weight is low down. This helps with slow manoeuvring and a few figure of eights gets it onto full lock on the stops without too much trouble with balance being achieved by shifting your weight to counter the lean inwards.

Out on the open road, and the position is OK for me at 6'2", but I find the legs a bit cramped. I would have liked some highway pegs to stretch out on. Steering to me feels a bit 'mushy' with all the front suspension soaking up the bumps and leaving the rider with a wobbly feel at speed. However, its ability to turn into corners is without question, but the footboards tend to grind up too easily.
Ride is nice with the rubber engine mounts taking out a lot of vibration, with the gearbox doing the usual HD clonk at each gear change, and sometimes being a pain to get neutral when hot.
Acceleration is OK if the gearbox is used, and providing you can hang on, illegal speeds are possible on the interstates. Prolonged riding at speed will fatigue you, as with the wind pushing you back in the seat there is a tendency to lean back and use the luggage on the passenger seat as a backrest. An aftermarket rider rest would be a bonus.

Braking was interesting, with a single front disc to pull all that weight plus mine to a stop meant that effort is required to get any kind of reasonable stopping power to the wheel. So after a couple of days you develop a grip in your right hand that is equaled only by the terminator.

OK lets look at the luggage space. If you are riding alone, then the two measly leather panniers with kit strapped to the seat is enough. If you are two up, then forget it.
So on the subject of seats, the fatboy has a nice wide rider seat that feels comfortable for a few hundred miles, but I found that the pillion strap gives two nasty little pressure points that tucking the strap down partially solves.
Fuel economy is reasonable. With its now 6 speed box 200 miles out of a tank is a reality if you ride sensible. (Boring)

Did I like the bike? Well its OK in a straight line, but the ground clearance limits the fun on bends, as prolonged grinding of the boards would become expensive, and could prove dangerous if you really get one of those OFMe moments and need to get it over. Its a staid bike that would really suit the steady plodder who's days of scratching are over and who wants A to B in comfort and pose. I wouldn't buy one to use in the UK. For the US its a bit of fun, but not as much fun as the Low Rider which I rode for a day. Now that's a bike that talks to you!
This review is the personal view of Steve Mingay, and does not represent the views of any other person.

Graham's bike review...

My bike for this trip of a lifetime is a 2008 Harley Davidson Low Rider (Dyna series) with a 1584cc V twin engine with electronic fuel injection .

I must admit, after having this bike for a week now, so far I am very impressed.
Once you get used to the loud thud as the engine starts you can relax, if you heard that noise on a Jap bike then you would certainly feel the pain in your wallet.
For near on 1600cc it isn't as quick as some bikes half the size but it does have bags of torque which gives you ample power for over takes.

Then there is the loud clunk when you change gear, it is a very positive, (almost agricultual) method of changing gear, not silky smooth like a Honda gear box but having said that I have no missed gear changes and finding nuetral has been very easy. There is a '6' that lights up in the speedo when you are in top gear. What makes me smile about this is that there is a slight delay from selecting the gear to the light coming on. It's like a very laid back american thing you know... oh' you selected 6th gear, I'll just go and turn the light on for you!

The seat is reasonably comfortable, although it does seem to have soaked up the water and remains wet for a few days later. I found it best to put some anti-slip matting on it which helped stop my bum getting wet and also made the ride more comfortable because I wasn't sliding around on the seat.

Foot rest position is just fine for me and I can even reach the forward crusing pegs which I just love for the long straight roads here, plus there wasn't to much vibration.

The handle bar position is great but this does bring me on to one small concern which I noticed within a few miles of riding the bike, that is that there appears to be some free play in the stearing or front suspension as when I brake I can feel a small amount of movement that ends with knock. I am getting used to it now but if this was my bike I would certainly have to get tgo the bottom of it.

Brakes, are, now there's a thing that needs some looking at. The rear brake has too much travel for my liking and the front brake when gently applied seems to re-act like it has a warped disc, if you give it a big handful then it does not seem so bad and does pull the bike up to a stop, so it does do its intended job. However, I don't get much feed back from the leaver, it almost feels like the pads are made from wood. Unlike my Honda back home where I get a very good response through the front brakes leaver to an extent that you can control the front brake very nicely, even in a downwards inclined corner where you need to control the speed during the corner to keep the steering more positive.

I have now riden Steve's Fat Boy and can definatrely say that for me, the Low Rider is definately better.The Low Rider fits my short legs better, although the Fat Boy is not too bad for that, but the Fat Boy is top heavy and therfore not as nice to ride slowly manouvering through tight turns. Also the Fat Boy isn't as quick and tends to wobble a bit above 80 mph. The straighter position of the Low Rider handlebars is also more comfortable for me, especially when travelling on the freeway without a screen.

Despite a few little niggles and querkes with the HD Low Rider, (which all adds to the character of the bike) I am impressed enough to consider buying one. OK, I know the guys in my local club I ride with (CAM) wouldn't be impressed with that, but heh, the Deauville was thought to be a dullsville before I showed them otherwise!
Now what colour do I want???

1 comment:

  1. Have you got video/sound/youtube account so we can see/hear that Low Rider starting up + some "on-bike action"?? Looks like a great time so far - keep the piccies coming.