Biketoberfest 2007 - Daytona Beach, FL

Planning

Test Ride Wish List 2007
Kawasaki Versys BMW F800GS (or S)
Any Ducati Kawasaki KLX250S Dual Sport
Beull 1125R Triumph Street Triple
KTM 990 Adventure Yamaha WR250X or XT250
Aprilia SL750 Shiver Kawasaki Concours 14
Kawasaki 2008 KLR650
I'm so ready for Biketoberfest 2007. It's been a year and a half since my last trip to Daytona. I miss it. As usual I have a list of bikes I want to test ride (check out the the table).

I am planning to leave Thursday morning after ferrying las ninas to school and dashing back home for the bike. I will be traveling alone this time and plan to take a more leisurely trip down Hwy 1 to meet up with I-95 just south of Florence SC.

My first destination will be in Jacksonville, FL for a stop over at Malcolm's place. I haven't seen him in a few years and it'll be really good to get together and catch up. It turns out our 25th (ouch) high school reunion will be held back in NC this weekend so we'll be missing that. Maybe I can catch the 30th.

Friday morning I plan to race down to the Daytona International Speedway to get in line for a ride on the Kawasaki Versys, my number one test ride pick. Failing that I'll try for the KLR, Concours 14, or whatever else Kawi's got for me. BMW, Suzuki and Yamaha let you sign up in advance too so I'll visit them next to see what I can get.

The Buell and Harley guys usually don't let you sign up in advance you have to just get in line and wait until your ride comes up, and take what you get. I'll plan to do that in the afternoon surrounding the scheduled rides I get from the other manufacturers. One exception with Harley is the liquid cooled VRSC series, the V Rod and the Street Rod, so I'll sign up for one of those if I can. Buelly-Davidson has the new water cooled 1125R out so I don't know if they will follow suit with the Harley water cooled policy or not. Victory and sometimes Boss Hoss are setup over by the Harley side of the speedway and they usually offer demo rides too, so I'll be scoping them out as well. That should fill most of the day on Friday.

The biker atmosphere on main street, at Sopotnick's Cabbage Patch and the No Name Saloon down in Edgewater is always a fun part of the Biketoberfest experience. So I'll probably chow down on a grilled turkey leg on Main Street and the Boot Hill Saloon or try the $6.95 ribeye special at the No Name. Cheap eats with lots of interesting bikes and people.

Since I am traveling alone I'm going cheaper on the lodging this year, which means staying farther away from the action taking place at the Speedway. I will be burning Holiday Inn Priority Club points to nab a room at the H-Inn Express up in St. Augustine on Friday night, with a cheap sleep reserved at the St. Aug Super 8 on Saturday. At least they both offer a continental breakfast to start off the day and WiFi. I'll be taking the tiny two pound Panasonic CF-M32 (without the Pelican case) with a USB WiFi adapter to check email, browse the web, cull photos and journal the trip in the hotel room at night. I expect Saturday to be a continuation of Friday with bike rides and hopefully a walk through the vendor area to check out all the latest bike clothing and accessories. My beloved First Gear Magnum jacket is wearing out and will need replacement before long.

THU

After dropping off the girls I headed back home and checked my packing list once more. I headed out around 9AM as expected and rode south on US 1. We are in the middle of the worst drought in recent memory and wouldn't you know, it rained. I held such disbelief that the "foggy" stuff up ahead could be rain that I ended up getting wet, dressing hurriedly and the rain came to me. So I started off the day already damp inside my Frogg Toggs Alex had recently given me for my birthday. This pair is all black with the bib-style pants. The Toggs did their duty and since they are neither uncomfortable, unattractive nor overly hot I did not bother to stop and pull them off after the rain stopped.

If you have not seen the Frogg Toggs you might want to do a little research on them. They do what Gortex is famous for, they stop rain drops from getting you wet but they allow your skin to "breath" and let your body's natural moisture wick out. The result is you have on rain gear but you don't feel like you are wearing a hot humid garbage bag as you would with most vinyl lined rain gear. As a bonus the Toggs are very light and compact when folded, they come in their own drawstring bag about the size of a football. The material is like a Tyvek envelope. I recommend them. Mine were bought at The Gearless Machine but you can find them easily by Googling "Frogg Toggs". The bib of the pants comes up quite high and zips down to the waist which makes it easy to zip everything downt the middle to get to a shirt or motorcycle jacket pocket. The Toggs themselves have no pockets, fewer seems to worry about leaking.

Approaching Rockingham from the north on US 1 the stands of "The Rock", North Carolina Speedway dominates the view. I had never been to Rockingham, or south of Sanford on US 1 and it caught me by surprise. The track is very large and surrounded by a few retail businesses you would expect to see around a race track. They look like they have been out of business since the last NASCAR event was run here in 2004. I've read that this track has become a test track for NASCAR teams. It is propose to be used for another racing series in 2008 and has been used for filming various racing related movies. Check out the wikipedia link above for more on the track.
The wee Strom waited patiently while I ate my sandwiches and drained the water from my 1.5 liter camelback. It's important to stay hydrated while on the road. I am wearing a mesh jacket this trip to aid cooling once down in Daytona. It's always hot there at the speedway. While I ate the sun shined on one side of the table and dried the back of my t-shirt while I ate. About half way through my lunch of PBJ and Ham/cheddar/bacon sandwiches I turned my shirt around and let the other side dry. Refreshed I packed up to head south. The skies looked friendly so I decided to keep the bib pants on under my mesh jacket and stowed the Toggs jacket back in the saddle bag. Once I was underway again the air flow helped to dry the dampness I had accumulates while dressing on the side of the road. Rounding out my Winston Cup tour I passed through Darlington, whose race track is still use by NASCAR, before heading through Florence and onto I-95 South.

The rest of the trip was marred only by the need to stop and put the Toggs jacket back on. Traffic was not bad landing me in Malcolm's neighborhood helping MaryRuth eradicate the weeds from the seam in her driveway in the hot humid afternoon while Malcolm finished his evening commute. Malcolm and I had a chance to kick back and sip wine as we caught up on the events of the intervening years before heading out to Biscotti's for dinner. I took advantage of the evening's special of espresso rubbed tenderloin, exquisite fried mashed potatoes, shrimp artichoke dip, more wine, key lime pie and a double espresso. Ahhh, the good life.

FRI

Up bright and early I was out the door with breakfast bars and bottled water (thanks, Malcolm!) by 6:30AM. A quick dash across Roosevelt had me heading south again on I-95. I was surprised at how much traffic there was this early in the morning. Ninety minutes and about 5 radar-cars-parked-in-the-median later I was pulling into the speedway complex in Daytona. I parked the bike and hurried over to the Kawasaki tent in hopes of scoring a good demo ride for the morning. Waiting in line you get to talk to the folks around you. It's always interesting to find out where folks are from (mostly from around Florida), what they ride and what the are hoping to ride at the demo. My half hour on queue was rewarded with a lunch time reservation for the new Versys, one of my top picks.

I had let my Kawasaki owner's club membership, ROK (Riders Of Kawasaki) lapse after using it at Bike Week in 2006 and I was regretting it gazing into the members-only hospitality area with it's bottled water, energy drinks, pastries and snacks. I considered whether or not I should renew when they began talking about the 2 hour members only ride after the close of the day's demo rides -- followed by a pizza party. That pushed me over the edge. For $39.99 I signed up for another year of the ROK club membership complete with road side bike assistance and of course privileges to the hospitality area. Hello honey buns ... madame croisant. Can't forget the hydrate either! The road side assistance plan is nice to have, even with AAA. My AAA Plus membership does not cover motorcycles, just cars and trucks. To get motorcycle towing you have to upgrad to the RV plan, more money. Loins girded with my renewed ROK membeship I was allowed passage to the members only area and treated to a Monster energy beverage representing one of Kawasaki's racing sponsors. I chose the blue low carb version with ginseng and taurine, whatever that is. I liked it!

Not only did ROK "wine and dine" me but they provide a daily gift to members, usually something useful at the show or for motorcycling in general. For renewing my membership I was given a bag filled with toys. A black ROK baseball cap, and green bandana picturing the GEICO gecko, another sponsor. Together the hat and the bandana proved to be an effective block to the sun which usually burns my neck during outdoor events. I felt a little like Lawrence of Arabia sporting the combo but it worked well and pretty light and comfortable. Also in my bag I found a cool black ROK pin for my jacket, two earplugs in a very neat lime green soft rubber container. Also included was a GEICO carabiner and a key ring for hooking keys to your belt loop and an issue of Accelerate magazine, the official magazine of ROK. One more goodie of membership is the ability to sign up for tomorrow's demo rides (at least a subset of them) today. So while I was in the hospitality area I was able to secure a new KLR650 ride for Friday.

Having secured the Versys ride for later today and a KLR ride for tomorrow and a bag of loot I head east along the row of tents to find out what else I could ride. I was surprised to find the Can Am Spyder (by the French Bombardier known for snowmobiles and watercraft) tent next door with a shiny row of prototypes of the soon to be released three wheeler. What luck! They had a cone lined test track set up behind the tent and two of the vehicles were waiting for willing participants to give them a whirl. I hopped in line and signed up for a 2:00PM demo ride. Sweet. The demo came with a lanyard to hang around your neck supporting a card with a bar code designed to keep track of each demo rider's pre- and post-ride surveys. The card also entitles me to a free picture of me sitting on the Spyder which I will post when I get it. I stood in line to fill out the pre-ride survey on one of a line of tablet PCs they had setup under the tent.

Continuing my eastward progress I stopped in at the Yamaha tent to see if they had any openings and I lucked into an afternoon ride on the new Raider, a factory chopper apparently based on the Road Star Warrior. Big engine (1854 CC), low seat, lots of chrome on the Candy Red S. I have ridden the Warrior a couple of times and I like it a lot. I am wondering how weird the handling will be on the Raider since it looks like the forks are stretched out (although I have not even looked at the spec's to see if the wheel base is significantly different).

On my way out of the tent I noticed Yamaha had setup a small dirt obstacle course with mounds of black dirt and a few pallet type wooden surfaces to crawl over. They were offering up demo rides of their 4WD 700CC ATV as well as the Rhino utility vehicle. Since there was no wait my first actual ride at Biketoberfest turned out to be a Yamaha Rhino. This Rhino looks like a golf cart on steroids. Knobby tires, a cargo bed, and a pair of bucket seats in front. The controls consisted of a steering wheel and a dash mounted control to put the automatic transmission in 2WD or 4WD, Low, Hi or Reverse and a couple of pedals for accelerator and brake. Driving the Rhino around the bumpy course was fun. The soft suspension handle the several foot high moguls with no problem, the vehicle bobbing up and down and I tooled around in it. Two laps per customer and they were over too soon. Following the Rhino ride I was treated to two laps around the track on the 700CC ATV. I had never ridden a four wheeler before and the thumb throttle felt weird. I unintentionally jabbed the control a time two while going over bumps and was nearly unseated. It was fun climbing through the mounds and dips on the dirt course while getting use to the new seating position and controls. Once you are use to balancing a motorcycle upright taking a two wheeler over bumps seems easier to me than the four wheeler, but it was still great fun and the machine had way more power than I needed to put around the small dirt lot.

With my Spyder, Raider, and Versys rides secured for the afternoon I moseyed over to the American (and British) side of the festival to see what Victory, Harley and Triumph had. I ended up at the Victory tent first checking out the new Vision tourer. Its avant garde stying looks slightly better in person than in the pictures but it still strikes quite a picture. I was able to sign up for the next ride just as they were seating folks and getting them cranked up to go out. After filling out the standard release and personal information forms I waited in line about 25 minutes before the bikes came tooling back in from the street. There were a limited number of Vision tourers in the test fleet and it was first come first serve so I unashamedly bolted to the first Vision I could get my hands on being out a slightly more lethargic middle aged guy with gray hair. There were a lot of us around. The view from the saddle is as high tech as the bike looks but there is a certain brute simplicity to the firing up of the large twin piston engine. I was feeling more like a submarine captain than a cyclist when I clunked the big tourer into first gear. Major tractor transmission here. It did not get any better on the road with each gear change accompanied by a loud thunk sound that could also be felt all over the bike (seat, bars, giant floor boards).

Fortunately your interaction with the transmission is limited. The big engine has an incredible amount of torque. The six speed and engine feel very similar to the Hammer I rode during Bike Week 2006. When accelerating in the first five gears you feel and hear strong power pulses, but upon shifting up into the sixth cog the RPMs drop pretty low and you cruise on the prodigious low end torque barely able to hear the engine any longer, unless you juice the throttle from time to time. The pull back on the big handlebars seemed to be over a foot. I thought steering the bike was going to be like pushing a wheel barrow around but once rolling it did not feel as weird as I though it would. Although the bike is huge it handled better than I thought it would.

Versys time! I showed up a little early for my Versys ride to cool out in the shade of the ROK members area and rehydrate. At 12:15 we huddled up to get our pre-ride briefing and check all the paperwork. We walked out and mounted our respective demo bikes, starting them up in anticipation for the group ride. The Versys ($6899) uses basically the same parallel twin cylinder engine as the Ninja 650 I enjoyed so much last year at Bike Week. In the Versys the engine is tuned a little more for torque than in the Ninja. The seating position is bolt upright. The bike is very short with a compact seating position, particularly for the legs. Right away the bike felt much lighter than my V-Strom 650 with a slightly quicker revving engine. Not surprising given the supermotard allusions Kawasaki saw fit the make with the standard Versys. It handles very easily and while as flickable as my wee Strom it seemed perhaps a little more stable in the corner, not diving toward the apex of the turn quite as much as the Strom. Maybe it was just the roads we were on, hard to tell. I liked the bike very much, definitely a lot more compact and sporty than my DL650. I think it would compare much more closely with the SV650 than with the Strom. I thoroughly enjoyed the demo ride.

Next up was the 2:00 ride on the new Can-Am Spyder three wheel vehicle. Resembling a snowmobile as much as anything else the Can-Am is the product of French motorsports maker Bombardier. Since no Italians or Germans saw fit to make it to Biketoberfest this year it was good to have the continent representing, I mean beyond the Brit islanders and their fine line of triples. Our first order of business was to watch a 10 minute video presentation of the various stability systems built into the Spyder. This is on high tech tricycle including Antilock Brake System, Traction Control System, and Vehicle Stability System all aimed at keeping all three wheels on the pavement. While we watched the video we were each breathalyzed (!) to ensure no one had embided in the spirits over lunch. We all passed.

We were lead to the test track behind the main tent and familiarized with the controls of the Spyder. It is largely like operating a motorcycle with two key exceptions. 1) No front brake handle. Just a foot pedal that controls all the brakes. 2) More importantly, there is no counter steering. The machine is steered by turning the handle bars in the direction you wish to go. While this may sound intuitive certainly is not for long time motorcycle riders. The fastest way to initiate a turn or swerve on a two wheeled vehicle is to countersteer in the opposite direction, beginning the controlled crash which is a properly executed turn in the other direction. We were each required to ride the bike one obligatory lap through the cone obstacle course making sure we could steer between the cones that had just a few more inches than the five foot wide Spyder front end needed to clear the cones. No sweat.

Out on the road was a little different. At speed the Spyder responds to small unintentional input causing it to sometimes weave in the lane a bit. Bear in mind this was my first 20 minute ride on a new platform and it went where I steered. The sensation was odd, not like a motorcycle but not really like a car either. I could see having a steering damper on the vehicle for high speed travel. It was cool taking the corners flatly but having to leaned anyway to keep my seat on the cycle. I recommend giving one of these things a try if you get the chance. It is driven by a 100+ hp 998CC Rotax v-twin like the engines in the Aprillia sport bikes and does 0-60 in about 4.8 seconds.

The models we rode were prototype units that bore caution stickers declaring them as such and telling us how dangerous they are. You can see the sticker more clearly in the image gallery at the bottom of the page which shows larger size images.

The Yamaha Raider ($13,180) surprised me. I knew the stout 1854 CC v-twin had oodles of torque but I had not expected the handling to be so good. The bike looks stretched and I had expected to have some awkward handling associated with long forks but it had no issues. It turns easily and has great brakes. The seat was pretty comfortable, too. I have not owned a cruiser since my 80's Yamaha Maxim, back when they were actually standards with a "custom" seat and tank. I like the new breed. I'm getting closet to owning a cruise for Sunday rides and two-up trips. The athleticism of the modern day metric cruisers really appeals to me.

ROK Ride: Friday after the demo rides were over one of the festival workers, Sue, rounded up the group of waiting ROK members for the scheduled 80 mile ride around the Daytona area. Each member rode his or her own bike, many of us on non-Kawasaki mounts. We hit the interstate going south for a while and turned east on Hwy 44. We followed 44 over to US 1 and headed south. The ride passed Pub 44, the No Name Saloon and Sopotnick's Cabbage Patch, three of the main biker attractions lying outside of Daytona. Florida does not seem to have a lot of curvy riding but Maytown Road was pretty nice. A rough two lane with a few curves and lots of nice scenery made for the best part of the ride. The rain made up the worst part. Fortunately I donned my Frogg Toggs before leaving the speedway.

Upon returning to the speedway we parked back behind the Kawasaki trailer and fell into the feast provided by ROK. We were treated to Papa John's pizza and wings with peppers and salad on the side. Lacking beer we continued drinking the water, Crystal Light and Monster energy drinks. There were many varieties of pizza and couple flavors of wings and lot of good ride talk. I sat with a guy named John from Deltona who was signed up for a Concours 14 ride the next day and looking forward to it. After an hour of chatting and eating I said my goodbyes and mounted up for the hour long ride north to my St. Augustine hotel. It had been a long day that had started at 5:30. I was too tired to head south for the No Name and I had been told traffic was bad getting down to main street. So I just slabbed up I-95.

The Holiday Inn express (barely) met my expectations, but I didn't feel that smart staying there. It was easily the oldest hotel under that banner I have patronized. I lugged out the tiny CF-M32 laptop to work on this page and discovered I had brought the wrong PC(MCIA) card reader. I could read CF cards, if I had brought any, but not the SD card in the camera I had been using for two days. I resolved to work on the journal text anyway and was surprised when the technical support folks of the hotel's internet service provider was able to resolve my wireless access problem in less than a minute. That's great service. After my getting my internet fix I plugged up my devices to the wall sockets and USB slot to charge and crashed on the bed to read. The next thing I knew it was 5:30AM. I was beat and had dropped off to sleep shortly after opening the book.

SAT

Waking up at 5:30AM I was still tired. So I set the clock for 8:00 and got back in bed. The Concours 14 will have to wait another year for me. I was up, dressed, packed, fed and on the road by 9:00 toward Daytona Beach and my 2008 KLR650 ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the KLR650 ($5349). The bike brought back great memories and begged me throughout the entire ride to turn west and make a run for it. Almost all of the things I disliked about the KLR seem to have been addressed. The seat foam in stiffer and more supportive, although I would buy the Corbin flat seat again anyway. The new found strength in the front springs seems to more than make up for the loss of travel. The new front brake is much better and combined with the stiffer front suspension, I would now afford it "regular bike" status -- a real step up. Not once did I feel nervous about grabbing the front brake, a statement I am unable to make about the old KLR. The engine felt exactly the same to me. It may have been a bit torqueier as I have read but it is hard to tell without a back to back ride against the old KLR. Same with the weight. I read it is 40 lbs heavier, but it doesn't feel like it to me. I wonder if that is all new poundage or just new reporting honesty. It would be interesting to see the weights as measured on the same scale. I could definitely see owning a 2008+ KLR in the future.

After the KLR ride was slated to test out the Kawasaki Mean Streak 1600 ($11,099). Mine turned out to be a red and black Special Edition. I would not go for the SE paint job, but I like the bike. The torque is abundant down low but the 6000RPM redline doesn't feel restrictive. The controls are comfortable and easy to use, as is the seat. One thing I found really surprising is the wind protection. On the test ride I was gliding down I-95 at 70mph and feeling less wind than on my wee Strom. I was considering whether or not I would even bother with a windscreen for cross country trips on the Means Streak. A couple of saddle bags and I'd be good to go. The brakes and handling are good too, with a fair amount of ground clearance. I really like the Mean Streak. Before they punched out the motor to 1600 one moto magazine suggested it be called the 'slightly grumpy' instead due to its soft power and very friendly demeanor. I would not be grumpy parking one of these in my garage.

After my dreamy Mean Streak ride I wandered the parking lot in the direction of the Honda tent to see about getting a ride on a VFR, the 800 Interceptor. I have never ridden a VFR but I sort of like the sound and the idea of a v-4 engine. I enjoyed the ride I took on a Yamaha VMax last year, another v-4 so I was hoping to sample a similar (but not as stout) engine in a more modern chassis.

Wandering the parking lots is always fun because of the many bikes you see. You can see lots of rare models, cool paint jobs and interesting accessories. A large rat armed with a cigarette and a bottle of Crown Royal guarded the back of a Harley in the parking lot. Near by some enterprising farmer (former FFA member?) had painted up what appears to be a Yamaha (Star?) Road Star in the green and yellow livery of John Deere. The saddle bags are complete with the running Deere logos, to match the painted tank logos. It was getting a lot of attention.

My survey of the parking lot between Kawasaki and Honda complete I did not have enough time to make it to the other side of the speedway to try for a Triumph sign up. I was still hoping for a Street Triple (the sweet 675 naked bike) but those hopes were waning. Late on a Saturday is not a good time for signing up. I parked my butt in a chair under the Yamaha tent and ended up in a conversation with a woman waiting for her husband to return from a demo ride. Her 13 year old son was in the mini-van reading. I inquired as to his general malfunction and found out he liked motorcycles just fine but the heat and the high humidity had tuckered him out. He was still a few years away from a driving license and had had his fill of ogling the bikes. We talked a bit about the many benefits of being a reader and strategies for getting the little ones interested engrossed in the activity.

Honda is notorious for bringing very few bikes to the demos, but this time they did better. In addition to the Shadows, VT1300 and VT1800 cruisers they brought Silver Wing scooters, XR650L's, 919's and the VFR's. That's a big improvement from previous outings. They have also been known to park their cars over at the moto tent to show them off. While I have taken a dim view of the practice in the past I am actually interested in an up close encounter with a 2008 Accord and was prepared to cut them some slack this year. But as Murphy would have predicted they had amended their misguided practice of bringing cars.

My ride was called and I formed up with the group at the head of our line of bikes. I was to ride a Honda XR650L ($5949) in a group with a bunch of cruiser riders.

As you can see from the photo on the left the XR650L has a much higher seat than a cruiser. Any cruiser. And most dual sport bikes. A whopping 37 inches off the ground. With 13 inches of ground clearance and upwards of 11 inches of suspension travel the Big XR is the hairy chested dirt bike of the big four's dual sport lines. I had investigated the XR back in '97 when I got back into motorcycling but opted for the more street friendly (and now discontinued) KLX650 from Kawasaki. Also really high and with a foot of suspension travel. My only experience with the "modern" Honda dual sport line was a test ride of the XR600L as a young Air Force lieutenant in OK in the 80's. I will never forget the test ride because as I pulled away from the stop light out in front of the dealership the bike stood straight up on the back wheel. I almost fell off while the salesman watched from the parking lot. The bike was so much lighter than the Yamaha XJ650 Maxim I was riding, particularly the front end. But I digress.

The XR was a blast. The feeling of riding down the road way up off the pavement on a machine that could at any moment of your choosing dash off the road and storm the sidewalks and well manicured lawns is superb. Perhaps that is what people are seeking (and likely not finding) in buying a Hummer. I have ridden the KLX650 and the KLR650 offroad quite a bit and I enjoy it a lot. The XR would bring a new level of dirt competence to the party. While I had shunned the Big Red thumper in deference to the KLX650 as an only bike, the XR would be a wonderful complement to another street bike in the stable (say, maybe a Mean Streak?). Big enough to travel the super slab when necessary but competent enough to chase the kids around on mini bikes off road. I really enjoyed the XR ride a lot.

The bike felt more rough and rugged than the KLR650, which it is, and of course less comfortable on the street. Also the XR does not rev out for (a little) more power like a KLR does. It has most of its grunt down low with short shifting being the way to get moving quickly. It doesn't even have a tachometer, or need one. I was surprised that the seat did not get that uncomfortable on the 20 minute demo ride, but I was using the alternating cheek method to encourage continued circulation and wishing I could be standing on the pegs offroad. Speaking of standing on the pegs I did stand up a time or two just to get a fell for it and found the bars to be a tad low for standing up. I see why some folk replace the bars with a higher bend shortly after taking delivery. The big XR was a lot of fun for me and I wish I had the resources to add one to my garage including the time and place to ride such a bike.

After my XR ride I headed over to the airport side of the speedway to see about catching a ride on a triumph. I was hoping to get on the new Street Triple. When I arrived they had filled the demo rides for the rest of the day. It was predictable given the hour so I headed over to Harley to stand in line for some rides. After completing my paperwork I joined the soft tail line. Harley rides usually happened pretty a quickly. Riders are allowed to take the next bike that comes in and ride alone on the eight mile course around the airport following the orange arrow signs to stay on route. This time I waited much longer than usual, eventually getting a ride on a Fat Boy, an FLSTF ($17,195). The bike takes its name from the 200mm wide rear tire, fat front tire, wide tank and low seat. It looks fat. The 96 cubic inch motor has plenty of torque for cruising, and that's what the bike is built for. The forward controls are mounted over wide floor boards for your feet and the seat is a triangular, dished and pretty comfortable. I got the Candy Red Sunglo model.

If I were to buy a Harley I would probably pick a Street Rod, which I think only comes in Night Rod ($14,995) and Special models this year. I love that motor. Smooth torquey goodness with a rush of acceleration you don't get from its air cooled cousins. Second would be the something from the Touring line, a Road King ($17,595) or Electraglide ($16,545). I find the Road Glide fairing to be funny looking. A less expensive possibility is the Sportster 1200 line, with the Roadster stickered at just $8895, if you can get one at sticker. I think getting one at sticker is more of a possibility than it use to be. The rubber mounted engine and higher redline RPM were big improvements for me the last time I got to ride the 1200. I like the bigger tank on the Custom but the extra $1000 does not thrill me.

I guess that's the rub for me with Harleys. Price. I like the Fat Boy I rode, but I liked the Mean Streak better. Better handling with way more ground clearance, which would make a huge difference for me. And $6000 cheaper. $6000.

I like what the Motor Company is doing with the bikes and each time I get a ride on one they seem better. I love the motor on the VRSC line and I think Harley has staked out a good engine for future models. Their Buell line is improving even faster, and there may be a Harley or Buell in my garage in the future. For now price is a big barrier to doing business with the Milwaukee boys.

After my long awaited ride on the Fat Boy I was finished standing in line. Done. I rode the Strom back over to the ROK members area to sit in the shade and relax and shoot the breeze with other members. While I was waiting they called for a stand by rider to fill in an empty Mean Streak on the next demo ride. I was more than happy to grab my helmet and run out to join the group. The second ride on the Mean Streak was just as nice as the first. I thoroughly enjoyed riding the Mean Streak.

Being set to meet Malcolm, Carl and some friends for dinner in Jacksonville I wandered toward my bike in the parking lot after my second ride on the Streak. Perusing the bikes again on my way out I spied a cool looking top case that probably belonged to a Mercedes owner. Neat. Leaving the speedway I reflected on how much fun it had been to ride bikes and talk to other bikers over the last two days. It was my first trip to the bike festivities alone, or any vacation alone although I have traveled solo for business many times. I certainly did not spend much time alone given the wealth of like-minded enthusiasts gathered there for the same activities.

The trip north to Jacksonville was uneventful and I pulled up in the driveway to find Malcolm finishing up yard work and Carl in the kitchen preparing for dinner. I was surprised by the ponderosa lemons that grew on a small tree by the back fence, they were huge. Apparently they are grown for cooking and produce a lot of juice. He also showed me the sour orange tree that grows by the house. Real live citrus right in your back yard.

After Nancy and Eileen arrived we sat at the table on the back porch and got acquainted, chatting away in the warm fall evening. I could get use to Florida. Having snacked on chips and dips with champagne we were summoned to the dining room for Carl's delicious and perfectly cooked steak Au Pauve with potatos, a variety of broccoli I had not tried before, and great red wine (thanks Nancy) and a delicious mixed chocolate tort (thanks Eileen) for dessert.

SUN

Sunday was the ride home, always the worst part of the trip. But it started nicely. Malcolm and I sat and chatted about old times, upcoming visits and life in general. It was relaxing to just talk. As much as I enjoyed the activity of the speedway and all the mingling I need quiet time to recharge. The ride home, while boring, furthered my recharging cycle.

Motorcyling in general and motorcycle touring specifically are paradoxical activities for me. While I am engaged with the environment I am traveling through more intensely than in a car, I'm alone with my thoughts. It presents alternating (and sometimes simultaneous) stimulation and relaxation. I can excitedly travel beautiful and even challenging terrain in the company of friends and get plenty of introvert alone time -- not talking to another human for hours. The breadth of experiences offered by the hobby keeps me coming back again and again. It pairs well with photography and interests in history, geography, web site building, reading and planning (yes, that's a hobby for some of us!). When traveling with like minded folks I find that the close separation of piloting our own vehicles doesn't so much limit communication as it distills it. The shared impressions of the route and it's sights, smells, and other sensations allow the sharing of sometimes vast and sometimes intense experiences with very few words. Next stop, Nags Head in Nov.

Photo Gallery!