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

Swapping keys with Toph Bocchiaro, editor of Hot Bike Baggers, I took the Road King at its name, skipped the winery-tour program and un-assed upscale Napa for Sunnyvale. Ninety-five miles south, friends who had no idea I was in California were hooking up for Thai food. If they didn't see me coming, they couldn't switch restaurants on me...

Unfamiliar with the area, I ran 80 miles south along I-680 and remembered why I moved to Washington: We may have potholes to bottom a new bike's suspension, but they're not decorating interstates.

One of the bikes gathered for pad thai was a Mission Motors development mule. Conforming to software guru Seth LaForge's strict double-secret probation, I burned all the negatives in a white-hot digital blaze to prevent you from learning that their rolling skunk works strongly resembles a Ducati 750SS, that it wears a rear sprocket bigger than your head and that its ammeter runs up to "several hundred." Hawg-rollin' into that parking lot felt like cruising a '57 Chevy onto the Microsoft campus, where geek-chic trumps jock-boy swagger 11 out of 10 times.

After supper, the Road King and I got lost, crisscrossing three of the two bridges and picking fights with deep-tinted Oakland traffic, finally stumbling back into the Elm House Inn around midnight. The next morning, Heather (think pre-surgical Drew Barrymore) told me she dreamed I'd abandoned the group because they failed to conform to my Christian values. I get that a lot.

Nothing perks up a guy like running along coastal pastures and ocean-hugging highways, smelling salt and pine and discovering a dozen places like Dogtown (population 30), an artists' colony smack at the mountain-coast interface where I'd move tomorrow, given enough money and time. Like owning a big, red biplane, that's one of a hundred dreams I can't live yet ... but pretty people were loaning me bikes, buying me drinks and pretending to like me. Strange it is to have everything you want, and still want things.

Like motorcycles: How many could you possibly need? Just one more, thanks, and make that a big, sweet Road King with callipygian saddlebags and Fat Bob cleavage. You ride that honey and you are the king of all you survey through its detachable windshield.

Along NorCal's coast road, you can ease into a no-brakes flow and watch the hills unfold, or just go for it. Toph and I chose to go.

Playing bagger-tag along Highway 1 was as joyful as wrestling puppies. Speed is relative, and doubling corner limits on the King is approximately as exhilarating as tripling them on a sportbike. Floorboards were my bitches until I grounded the frame so hard that I levered a half-ton of bike and schlub into the air and had a brief view of the troll waiting 200 feet below an onrushing guardrail.

Yes, speed is relative. And Harley builds stout, predictable frames. The troll can keep waiting, for now.

Later, I asked Toph how he kept his rhythm so smooth on the Grandissimo Glide. He raised his eyebrows and blew Lucky Strike smoke at me: "Ya' gotta hang off."

Huh? Heavy flywheels mean revs build slowly, so you carry speed through corners. Hanging off allows this. Seems I had misjudged the essence of these baggers.

They're snap-crackling, racer-boy platforms thoroughly padded with middle-aged comfort. Just like me!

Our third day of riding took us up Highway 9 at a freshening pace before trickling us over Skyline Boulevard behind a docilely driven Tesla. Along the way, I almost spattered a sportbike rider onto my windshield when he early-apexed and skittered 18 inches over the centerline. Dang kids! Then again, I've been over the line more than once. Some folks never go over the line, but I do not envy them.

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