A Heritage in its homeland
Six speed Harley Heritage test ride
Paul Minton test rides a six speed Heritage in its homeland...
I discovered that Devo, one of my favourite bands from the late 70's/early 80's, had reformed and was doing some gigs on the West Coast of America, so I decided to take a week out in Los Angeles to see 'em with an old friend. However, I'll be damned if I'm going drive around LA in a car. It had to be a Harley didn't it?
Fortunately, there are a couple of companies in the LA area that rent Hogs and Route 66 of Marina de Ray near LAX airport (www.route66riders.com) got my booking by promising me one of several '07 Big Twins for the duration of my visit. 'You need a FXDBI Street Bob in black denim' claimed Glenn of Route 66. 'It's a real cool ride'. Bike magazine recently described the current range of Harleys as falling into one of two categories: Cool or not cool, possibly comical, and I think that, through European eyes, that's a fair categorisation. As I hadn't got a clue what a 'FXDBI Street Bob in black denim' was, I checked out the Harley UK website to discover that what might be considered 'a real cool ride' in the US looked to me to be slightly risible over here. However, they also had a brand new FLSTC Heritage Softail Classic (snappy name!) on order, which was due to arrive the week before I got to LA. Looking vaguely like a FatBoy with wire wheels, loads more chrome and some perhaps overly studded leather panniers, the Heritage Softail is a handsome bike and most definitely falls into the former category.
When I arrived at Route 66, I discovered that their example had just 300 miles on the clock and was finished in a very glossy black, loverly.
Having dumped camera and various other essentials in the capacious panniers, I confidently swung a leg over the monster seat, sat down... flippin' eck this seat's low... pulled the massive side stand up... and almost dumped it on its side. Big Harleys may have a fairly low centre of gravity but blimey, they still weigh the proverbial ton.
Meanwhile, the bloke...sorry, dude from Route 66 is cheerfully going through his safety procedures, security issues and 'starting the bike' routine (it's got a rather ingenious key-less starter system). Obviously impressed that I've managed to pull the stand up without actually crashing, he finishes his monologue with (and I kid you not) a cheery 'Enjoy your Iron Horse'. I'm very tempted to ask him what sort of Horse combines the seat height of a Shetland with the weight and manoeuvrability of a Clydesdale, but the moment passes.
Settling back into the huge saddle and reaching up to the high and wide reins... sorry handlebars, I thumb the starter. Whoah. I'd forgotten what a superb sound a well set up Harley with er... liberal pipes produces. Absolutely glorious, yet somehow not overly offensive to non-believers. I give it a couple of reckless and totally unnecessary blips of the throttle, just because I can.
Slip it into first and... eh? That went it nice and easy... what, no almighty crash? It's immediately obvious that Harley has made some changes to the Big Twin's gearbox since last I last rode one some seven years ago. Hardly able to believe the difference, I slip it back into neutral, then back again into first, easy. What a huge improvement. I swing my feet up onto the very forward-positioned footboards and find myself in a similar position to that which my wife adopted when she gave birth to each of my children, weird.
Losing the plot slightly, I briefly wonder if Harley offer Gas and Air as an option. Anyway, twist the throttle and away we go, chug-a-lugging up the lane behind the Route 66 workshop. This feels good. Round the corner and scraaaaape.... Hell's Piglets! No improvement in the pitiful ground clearance then: it seems like more than around 10° off vertical and the footboards go down. I'd forgotten about that.
Ground clearance tomfoolery aside, first impressions are generally favourable. The '07 engine fitted to all Big Twin Harleys now displaces 1584 cc and and not before time, Harley has finally fitted fuel injection, or more specifically, 'Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) with O2 sensors'. So now you know.
Anyway, I always found the old 1340 engine to be somewhat hesitant until it had been well warmed up which seemed to take ages, but this motor feels crisp and very eager right from the off, with none of the low speed hesitation which I had been expecting. It actually feels quite brisk away from the lights and we're soon zipping around town, thoroughly enjoying the rumble from the Heritage pipes that reverberate off the walls of every underpass I can find.
We decide to make our way up to Malibu for lunch (as you do) which involves a bimble up the coast road, Route 1, and what a road. Twisty and turny (for an American road) with a reasonable surface, I'd have had a ball on my T595. On the Heritage, I'm initially rather frustrated by the awful ground clearance, but once I've recalibrated my expectations, we're tazzing along at a reasonable rate yet still able to take in the sights. And there are quite a few bikini clad sights on a hot day in Malibu, so maybe the more relaxed rate of progress ain't such a bad idea after all.
We pull into a beach-side restaurant, and park up next to a couple of Harley chops - which seem to be two a penny in this neck of the woods - and, after a short wait, are seated at one of the tables on the beach. The first order of the day is for a couple of ice cold Coronas, complete with a sliver of lime. Living as I do in France, I feel duty bound to ask if 'Freedom Fries' come with my order for grilled Hawaiian fish and crisp salad. The canny waiter gives us a wry smile and replies that 'French Fries have never left the menu in this restaurant, Sir'. As it happens, this turns out to be one of many indications that not all American, or at least Californian, citizens were active supporters of Dubya's militaristic ambitions.
After a couple of hours, we stroll back to the bike park to discover what turns out to the first of a series of admirers surrounding the Heritage. Putting on my best 'Cool' swagger. I swing a leg over (fortunately I've now mastered the Getting On Without Almost Dropping It routine), slip my shades on and start 'er up. The small crowd (mostly kids if truth be told) takes one step back with a hushed reverence and pausing only briefly for maximum effect, off we go, needlessly wheelspinning on the loose gravel.
We decide to head back to our hotel in Downtown LA via the freeway. Now over the years, I've ridden through places like Madrid, Rome, Naples and Istanbul, but this road proves to be quite an education. Seven poorly maintained lanes of utter madness in each direction. It seems like every other driver is on the 'phone, eating, drinking or reading ferchrisakes! Although the Harley's loud enough to rouse at least some of 'em from their mobile catatonia, I soon discover that the Heritage's brakes are actually pretty good, in fact very good for a Harley.
Back in the hotel's underground car park, I discover that we're able to celebrate our survival by setting off car alarms whenever I blip the Heritage's throttle. The English abroad, eh?
The next day we head out of Los Angeles to the Mojave desert. We'd been warned that speeding in LA wasn't a good idea, as the cops take a very dim view, but out in the desert there are fewer around and those that are about, patrol the region in light aircraft. So, eyes peeled skyward, I give it its head, so to speak. 70, 75, 80, wow there's a sixth gear! However, this turns out to be very much an overdrive as further acceleration proves to be very sluggish, but fifth is still up for it and we thunder along up to a heady 90 per. A tiny bright green '6' appears on the black speedo face whenever 6th gear is selected; perhaps Harley felt that the lacklustre performance in top needed some explanation.
We roll into Mojave around midday. There's not actually very much in Mojave except the railway line and the airport, but it's about 50 miles from anywhere, so it's a natural stop off point. The hot dry conditions here mean that that the airport (which appeared to be totally deserted) is an ideal place to store hundreds of aircraft in various states of disrepair, including a dozen or so 747s which are parked up on the periphery of the airfield, all waiting for that elusive purchaser. It's an odd and slightly sad sight.
We're lucky to find an Eat All You Want Chinese Buffet place amongst the usual MacDonalds, Burger King and other awful corporate food emporiums on Mojave's main (actually only) drag, so we pigout and finally get back on the road a couple of hours later. We soon catch up with another Harley and one of my favourite bikes, a Honda Rune and we spend the next hour or so bombing along in convoy enjoying the desert scenery. We had high hopes of reaching Death Valley but the pigout at the Chinese proves to be our downfall and, realising that we're running out of time, we reluctantly turn back.
The long day in the saddle (320 miles) did, however, show up a rather surprising irritation. I continually feel that the seat, although initially comfortable, really needs to be about another 10 cm further back and my natural stance is to be seated on it's rear most edge. This, of course, is a rather unstable position and after half an hour or so, I find that I've rolled down the seat and I'm sitting on my testicles, which, it has to be said, isn't the posture with which I feel most comfortable. Now I know that riding a Harley is supposed to be A Cool Thing, but constantly having to stand up to readjust oneself definitely isn't. By all accounts however, this isn't a common grievance and the vast majority of Heritage owners have no such complaints. Maybe I'm just too tall (6'1") or too well....no, Minton. Don't go there.
I last rode a Harley around some six years ago when Harley UK very kindly lent me a 1340 FatBoy for a few days for a road test report for MAG's previous organ, Streetbiker. To be honest, I half expected to be able to re-write that test with just a few minor modifications, Harley not really being known for major model changes or updates. However, my few days on the Heritage showed up the very real improvements that Harley has made to the Big Twins for 2007 and I was sorry to give it back. The (mostly) straight roads of the West Coast are ideal for Harleys and everyone we met loved it.
However, my testicles reckon there's still a bit of work to be done on that riding position, chaps...