Always wanted to ride a Harley. I remember being passed by 3 badass Sportsters on Rt 209 back in the 70s; when 209 was still wide-open highway and the Sportster was a truly badass machime. I had an RT360. They had wings.
Finally got my chance to ride one, thanks to Prubert and the offer he posted here http://www.sport-touring.net/forums/index.php/topic,73390.0.html
He sent me a coupon that covered the rental fee; I was responsible for gas, taxes and reasonably priced supplementary insurance, which didn't seem like a bad idea. Total out of my pocket was less than $50.
This past weekend (11/11/2012) finally looked good. I chose to rent from Schaeffer's Harley-Davidson in Orwigsburg because I work near enough to run over at lunchtime.
The Rental Experience
I was a little apprehensive about the whole process. Because I’m 5’18” short (that’s 198 cm), I was a little concerned whether my knees would fit under the handlebars of a “low rider”. So I drove over one day to check things out.
Chrissy, the girl at the counter walked me down - literally down to the lower level; this place is huge - where the rental bikes are stored. Along the way, I told her about the kind of riding I do, and she pointed out the features of various models. I had to chuckle to myself; here she was emphasizing paint and finish details to a guy who hoses his bike off maybe 3 or 4 times a year, and then rides around the block to blow dry it off.
She knew her bikes. She recommended a 2013 Heritage Softtail based on ergonomics and some other things I mentioned. I sat on one and agreed with her instantly.
I called John the rental manager the next day. He already knew what I wanted to rent. I arranged to pick up the bike Friday. My schedule - or lack thereof - changed. I called back and asked if I could pick it up Saturday instead. No problem!
I arrived Saturday and the greeter at the door says "Hi, they told me to be on the lookout for a really tall guy." One thing I’ll say about Schaeffer's, their staff seems to connect very effectively. I felt like I was getting the VIP treatment, and yet I suspect I was being treated like any other customer.
I got a very thorough pre-ride briefing on the bike’s features. John told me not to worry about grounding the forward mounted floorboards. They flip up, just like regular pegs, and he said these had touched pavement before. I reached underneath one and it felt pretty smooth to me. Not to worry, I had no plans on riding aggressively.
The Ride Experience
First thing I noticed was how easy this bike handles around the parking lot. It was confidence building. I was a little nervous about turning onto the highway. Running through my mind was the thought that the chrome on this bike was probably worth more than the resale value of my Wee. I made a few practice shfts with the heel and toe shifter – I had never used one – before rolling the throttle open. Acceleration was impressive – better than I expected – but it wasn’t like I had to hang on for dear life.
My plan was to ride Rt 443 to Philadelphia road, take the righthand cutoff to Rt 209, then turn north on SR 1011 towards Mahanoy City and the windmills off Rt 339. I know the area well.
My route had a couple of straightaways and fast sweepers for evaluating highway feel. It included a number of twisty sections to evaluate sport-touring performance; that is afterall, what we’re about here, next to cats, guns and coffee. There are a few quasi-technical turns on Philadelphia Rd. There’s one stretch on 1011 that is an absolute hoot. Too bad those sections never seem to last more than a few seconds.
I caught myself riding with my visor open more than a few times. The wind protection is that good, even for a tall rider like me. I took it easy going up Phladelphia Rd, getting comfortable with the power curve in 2nd and 3rd gear. I slalomed though the S- bend where the camber switches at well less than half of the speed I would normally carry on the Wee. I felt confident entering corners at low speeds. Unlike my Wee, there’s no fear of entering an uphill corner in too tall a gear. The engine pulls strong and steady at low RPMs.
As much as I wanted to avoid it, I scrapped the left floorboard going around the corkscrew turn at the top. I thought I was going slow, but the Heritage Softtail only has about 25 degrees of lean angle. It was a soft quick touch, not unnerving and I backed off as soon as I felt it, but it came sooner than expected.
I went easy on the downside. Out on 209, I ran the Heritage Softail well up though 6th gear on the straightaways and put my feet out on the highway pegs. The engine really starts to feel alive around 4,000 RPM. The bike tracked steady and wind protection was excellent at highway+ speeds.
Suspension was unimpressive. The pavement breaks on 209 kicked back hard. Normally, I just tense my thighs and let a bike flow over the bumps. The Harley bucked harder and higher than anything in my experience. I don’t think I’d trust it rippin’ the corners on Hawk Mt. Rd. Even though I didn’t push it anywhere near hard through any corners, I got the distinct impression this bike doesn’t like uneven pavement at speed.
The Heritage packs a load of functions into a single digital display. I was impressed. One thing I didn’t like was the LED RPM display. It gives you no visual indication how far away the red zone is on the dial, becase there is no dial. Somewhere along the way, I bounced off the rev limiter once. There wasn’t an abrupt drop off in power, so I was able to roll off the throttle as I felt it approach the redline.
I got more into a consistent flow on 1011, gracefully weaving back and forth between the corners at a moderate pace. Even so, I managed to scape the right floorboard a little while later on 339. Cars kept catching up from behind, a most unusual experience for me. One even passed me (over a double-yellow none-the-less) while I was patiently motoring behind another slow-poke. Given the heft of the bike and the relaxed pace it commands, I can see why many riders feel they don't need to wear gear.
Floorboards keep your feet warmer than pegs; something I never realized. I like symetrical, and I had this sensation that my left foot was out 2 inches further from the centerline than my right foot. Although I didn’t feel balanced, the Harley was easier to balance at a stop without touching down than my Wee. While I know I’ll never be a trials rider, I could hold the Harley up for maybe 3 seconds at a full stop without putting a foot down.
Overall, this is a great bike for the lunch bunch, you know, the gang that likes to meet at someone’s favorite breakfast or dining stop. It would work fine as a daily commuter or an interstate traveler. If I already owned a sportbike and an enduro, this this might be the next bike I’d buy. While it would not be my first choice, I can understand why they are so popular.
As for me, I confess to having more fun riding home on my Wee. Especially passing that old Surburban on the long right-hand curve that comes up after the horse farm on Hawk Mt Rd. Yeehaw.
The Harley Experience
Hanging out a the shop was an experience for me. Even though I didn't feel like I fit in, I felt welcome. Me, in my still not too smelly sun-faded bug-splattered and tattered gear, and them, in their pre-worn artificially faded new this season leathers. “Hey, where you riding today?” They had some kind of hot dog & baked bean fund raiser going on, and folks were trading stories and riding experiences. The shop is a social center, kind of like the parking lot at ESTN, without the booze and foul language, of course. People were there to hang out; unlike the shop I go to. Not that folks aren’t friendly there – I’ve made acquaintences while waiting for service – but most of us just want to get our parts and leave. I’ve got to hand it to Harley for building a culture.