Two Harleys and a Victory: American Rider Editor’s Tour Around CA
October 3, 2007
Filed under Cruiser + Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel, Touring and Rallies, Victory Motorcycle Reviews
[This Two Harleys and a Victory tour was originally published in American Rider magazine]
The phone rang;
I picked it up. “Time for an editorial ride,” I heard Buzzelli say, “mid-May. You figure it out.” Click.
Because long ago our Uncle Samuel saw fit to send me to odd spots around the globe, I’m known as the “map maker” around the offices, and get these assignments. My first thought was to have the test bikes trucked into New Orleans, then ride alongside the Mississippi River to St. Louis, and fly back. I called back. “What’s the budget?” I asked. Small, very small, I was told. Stick to the Golden State, two nights, three days.
Golden, by the way, has two meanings here in California. One is a tribute to the gold rush that began 160 years ago, the other refers to the look of the countryside as green grass turns gold-colored at the end of spring. This is a big state, a thousand miles long, 300 miles wide, and in the middle is the San Joaquin Valley, through which flows the San Joaquin River, and various other rivers, and the place is known as far and wide as The Breadbasket. Lots of water grows lots of crops.
We’d do a loop around the valley, up the west side, cross over at Modesto, and come back down the east side. Since this was not meant as a punishment tour, we’d average only about 300 miles, lots of time for photos, show poor office-bound Buzz a few new roads. Reg Kittrelle would be the third participant, and he knows California roads like a spider knows his web.
We met up at Cubicle City in Ventura, the prestigious address that is the home to American Rider; as a matter of fact they are pretty nice offices, and Buzz has a great view of the ocean from his huge window. Which just serves to frustrate him, because Reg and I might be on the beach while he is trying to put a magazine together.
It was 8 a.m., temperature about 50 degrees, coastal fog covering the area. We rolled out the three bikes—a 96-inch H-D FLHX, a 106-inch Victory Vision Street, and a 110-inch H-D Screamin’ Eagle Road King—as Scott the photographer and his driver, Bud, showed up. Taking pictures is the least likeable part of the job, as it is time-consuming and mildly hazardous as we are forever making U-turns so the shooter can get the perfect shot.
Around 9 o’clock we headed north on CA 33, a delightful and little-trafficked road that goes through the Sierra Madre Mountains, leaving the fog behind. This is where Scott did his business, and at Pine Mountain Summit (5,084 feet) he figured he had what Buzz needed, as well as the perfect shot, and left.
The three of us all had our Brownie cameras, so the rest of the trip would be snapshots. It was still cool as we began the descent into the San Joaquin Valley, but by the time we got down to Maricopa (854 feet) at 1 o’clock the temperature gauge on the Victory read 100 degrees. A light lunch and lots of iced tea in Taft, we headed north through the oil-rich terrain with thousands of pumps pulling oil out of the ground and the occasional dust devil, one of which briefly swallowed Reg and then spat him out.
It was flat riding all the way to Coalinga, where we headed northwest along the old Los Gatos/Coalinga Road through the low Diablo Mountains that lie between The Breadbasket and the San Andreas Rift—that lovely fault line that may one day separate a lot of California from the mainland. The Victory’s big monoshock worked fine on the bumpy pavement, but the short shocks on the FLHX and S.E. Road Glide were a tad noncompliant. We hooked in to CA 25 at Bitterwater and less than an hour later we were at the Cinderella Motel in Hollister. Not much happens in Hollister 51 weeks out of the year, except for that Independence Day rally around the Fourth of July; then it is a happening place.
Morning. Reg and I are early risers, while Buzz takes a more gentlemanly approach to greeting the dawn. So the two of us dragged him out of bed and carried him across the street for breakfast. To get Buzz started you don’t need a can of ether, just coffee.
We had to suffer 50 miles of freeway, US 101, in order to get to San Jose and the next bit of really good road; Highway 130 to the top of 4,300-foot Mount Hamilton. This is 20 miles of superb twistiness, heading to the old Lick Observatory. Sheer heaven. And the view from the top is good, too. The Lick was built back when San Jose was a much smaller place, but now there is so much light pollution that the place serves mostly to train future astronomers. Probably not 10 percent of those who live in the valley below have ever been up there; the lack of curiosity amongst the locals about what’s on top of the mountain is, well, curious.
We headed down the east side of Mount Ham on the San Antonio Valley Road, which took us to The Junction Cafe, a roadhouse roughly in the middle of nowhere. Great place, with new owners and a regular schedule starting at 10:00 a.m. From The Junction the road winds east through Del Puerto Canyon to the San Joaquin Valley.
As we crossed the San Joaquin River the weather changed, becoming cool and very, very windy. We were headed across the valley on the 132 to the Sierra Nevada range of mountains when ferocious winds coming down from the north started hitting us sideways, with gusts reaching 50 miles an hour. Nothing like riding for 50 miles canted over at 15 degrees. Ah, but we are tough, and the bikes are tough. We stopped in La Grange to have a look at the old saloon, which is a regular weekend hangout for bikers from all over the valley.
Another 20 miles and we were running along past the depressingly low Lake McClure, made by damming the Merced River. From there we climbed up to 1,700 feet through a slot in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and we were in Coulterville, with the Hotel Jeffery smack dab in front of us. The Jeff is a grand old hotel, built in 1851, burned down a couple of times, always rebuilt, and now a splendid place to eat, drink, and sleep. Cherylann and Peter bought the place in 2003 after it had been closed a couple of years, did it over, and have created quite a wonderful hostelry. Great bar, great kitchen, and the place has become a destination for motorcyclists from all over California and Nevada.
Sitting around the dinner table over a bottle of San Giovese wine we figured out how the story of the editorial ride would go. We would each do a third and let Buzz puzzle out how to fit them together. We were now officially on our own. And so to bed.
At 5:30 a.m. I awoke with the promise of a wonderful dawn. No point in waiting for the sack artist to get up. I was pushing the start button on the Victory at 5:55 as the temperature gauge read 43 degrees. Bless the Vision for its heated grips and seat.
Our Thoughts; Hits and Misses:
Screamin’ Eagle Road King
- Broad powerband with tons of torque, slick six-speed
- Styling that kicks butt
- Great ergonomics, low seating, nice forward footrests
- Rides like a truck, seat sucks
- Totally shocking rear end (ouch)—steer clear of cigarette butts!
- Shakes more than a TC96
FLHX Street Glide
- The pure, simple essence of what a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is, and is not
- Harley’s best brakes—ever
- Strong, flexible motor (maybe better than the 110-inch in the Road King)
- I’m sorry, but were shocks fitted to the rear of this bike?
- Crowded left floorboard. Space
between heel-toe shifter too narrow
- Did I mention that the rear shocks give up at the hint of a bump?
Victory Vision Street
- Great engine, smooth linear power, 100-plus pounds-feet of torque
- Lots of lovely comfy stuff, like heated grips and seat, electric windshield
- Attention-getting Buck Rogers styling; which if you love, you buy
- Limited packing space, as styling takes precedence over practicality
- Trying to squeeze that last gallon of gas into the two-tank system
- Attention-getting Buck Rogers styling, which if you don’t love, you don’t buy