Escape: The Long and Whining Road

Harley-Davidson and Best Western team up to offer riders discounted lodging-but that's just part of the story

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis

The following is a paid announcement: "Harley-Davidson and Best Western Hotels sustain a warm, group hug of polyamorous co-branding."

There is no story here. Had there been a story, no doubt a real journalist would have been assigned. Instead you get an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect the bill.

"Why me?" I angsted. "I'm not a Harley guy. I ride motorcycles, not Tractor Glides. I don't even drink beer from Milwaukee-it's down on horsepower and still overpowers my chassis."

"Haven't you ever ridden a Harley?" asked Pretty Wife.

"Uh..." It occurred to me that in 30-odd years of street riding, my sole Harley-Davidson experience was on the Aermacchi-built Sprint that broke me in. As a Hog virgin (quite rare in certain Alabama counties), I experienced bruising cognitive dissonance between cheap prejudice and avid bike sluttery. If sailors were motorcycles, I'd date the Seventh Fleet. And I do like my wine...

In San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf beckoned with salt breezes and tourist gorp only four blocks from the Best Western Tuscan Inn. Turning Japanese in my plaid shirt and Nikon, I headed out for the waterfront.

My mind no longer manufactures useful new memories. After 15 years away from The City, the fishing fleet was just where I remembered it-but it took half an hour, a 4-1-1 Hail Mary and a 12-block hump to navigate back in time for supper. Along the way, I found a genuine Harley-Davidson store with plenty of black T-shirts and no actual motorcycles.

No bikes at SFO's Tuscan Inn, either; it's not in the Best Western Rider network. It did feature sleek GILFs parading unselfconsciously across the lobby, serenely rationing their power. Is it just me, or are Californians a little sexier and healthier than the rest of the country? And louder, but not in a Texas way.

Sipping the iced chardonnay that materialized in my room that evening, I phoned Pretty Wife.

"These people seem really nice," I said. "What if I hate the bikes?"

"What if you love them?" she asked.

Damn these conundra!

The next morning, we picked up a bevy of baggers at Bob Dron Harley-Davidson. I bounced up and down on my assigned White Gold Pearl/Pewter Pearl Electra Glide, squinted at the bar pods, wondered what all the indistinguishable liquorice buttons were for and prayed I wouldn't drop it in the parking lot.

Moments later we headed out for the Bay Bridge and I realized what funeral escorts and parading Shriners have always known: The Electra-steering is steady and torque lollops out rich and lumpy as heavy cream. Ride the Buick-style brake pedal and you can circle a garbage can lid at 1 mph.

Skirting the Central Valley, I spared a thought for Stockton, where a once-Best Girl grew up to take over the world. Scheduling conflicts and my severe buckshot allergy prevented stopping over.

I was predisposed to slag Sonoma for a tanplastic-breasted theme park of fauxthentic nostalgia, snooty cellars and gimcrack stores for brain-checked tourons. It is all these things, of course, but it is also rolling hills of vineyards unsullied by subdivisions. It is sun-kissed California attitude. It is old trucks, time-warp hippies and choo-choo trains. Who doesn't love choo-choo trains?

Weekday traffic was cask-mellowed. Our bikes chuffed along, unstoppable as logging elephants. Sixth gear (Sixth! What is this thing, an MV Agusta?) is the Overdude, geared for 362 mph at 2500 rpm. On my BMW S-bike I'd have been screaming into my helmet and munching fistfuls of ibuprofen for my limpish wrists, but on the Bike-a-Lounger I could just ease back, wish for a soft passenger against whom to lean and watch the vineyards roll by.

Porcine or no, the two-bagger sows have moves. After lunch, three of us took a rapid detour down an untrafficked creek gully to plumb the limits of touring talent. When neither banging the floorboards nor scotching front tire darkies at corner entries upset the massive chassis, I resolved to steal me a Harley.

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