Best Western’s Rider-Friendly Program

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Joe Gresh

At 33 feet by 16 feet with an 8-foot-high ceiling, Room 410 at the Horn Lake Best Western Plus near Memphis, TN, has more than 4000 cubic feet of storage capacity. Plenty roomy for the largest Hog rider, this huge volume is cooled by a low-mounted, through-the-wall Sanyo air conditioner wired to a remote Simple Comfort 2001L thermostat. Best Western, hoping to avoid the red-hot hotel BTU wars, declines to rate the Sanyo. But from the amp draw I'm guessing around 18,000. 410's copy of the SC 2001L thermostat has an overly tight differential, causing the Sanyo to short-cycle. Dehumidifying performance suffers and if I was staying more than one night I'd install the spare Robertshaw 7-day programmable unit I carry in my pocket for just this situation.

Solo riders will find their gear fits easily into 410’s smallish 2-by-5 closet area. But couples riding a three-wheeler with a tow-behind trailer and a large serpentarium may find their gear spilling into the carpeted entryway.

A quick right turn from the entryway brings us to the bathroom. Amenities include a powerful, night-light-equipped, 1600-watt Conair sock and underwear dryer, in-bathroom coffee maker, cake of sunflower and grapefruit soap, and the classic undermount ceramic sink. The excellent selection of unguents and gasket sealants found in a basket atop the vanity were provided at no extra cost, though I prefer nonhardening Permatex.

The Horn Lake Best Western is a new property but 410's shower/tub unit already showed signs of rough treatment at the hands of less civilized guests, like that crazy-ass Gunny who works for Victory. A quarter-sized piece of the ceramic was chipped through to the steel below. Since we're in the tub, allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment: I feel the addition of a grab rail in the shower would increase safety for older riders. Let's face it: With our sport's relentlessly aging demographic and leaking ventricle valves, we'll be desperately clawing for that grab rail sooner rather than later.

But not today. Today, we pick up rental motorcycles from Bumpus Harley-Davidson in Murfreesboro. Assorted Harleys for our Best Western nine-man Apnea-Assault team are parked in front. Harley-Davidson's big 103 cubic-inch V-twin powers them all. Not only does the 103 make potato-potato noises, the popular engine is the modern motorcycling equivalent of Mr. Potatohead. Harley stabs different frames, wheels, fairings and bodywork into this spud creating a pig latin alphabet of models. Pick whichever model tickles your fancy, Fellow American, they all sound like freedom.

I chose the pearl white Heritage Softail mainly because it had the fewest accessories bolted on and it looked like it might not kill me when it fell over. After 60 miles of historic riding I managed to sell Andrew Cherney from Motorcycle Cruiser magazine on the Softail by telling him it made him look taller and more daring. A bit less ginger, even. You'll get used to name-dropping because on Best Western's promotional event to raise awareness of its Rider-Friendly program the motojournalists are thick on the ground.

The benefits of Best Western's program are modest but still useful: Each stay earns points on your Harley Owners Group card, discounts on rooms for members, free shop towels and washing areas to clean the bug guts from your bike, free lip balm, and preferential parking with a nod toward every H-D rider's fear about losing his $20,000 investment in the middle of the night.

Best Western Premier features portals into a fifth dimension where green-skinned, mind-reading nymphs satisfy your basest desires.

A voluntary program, more than 1200 Best Westerns have signed up for the Rider-Friendly designation. This doesn’t mean other Best Western properties are rider-unfriendly, you’ll just have to use Best Western’s ultraviolet-light-treated, hypoallergenic bedsheets to clean the bug guts off your bike, preferably after dark so the hotel manager doesn’t catch you in the act. Best Western’s Rider-Friendly program welcomes other motorcycle brands as well, even though you rarely see other manufacturer’s motorcycles on the road. Metric riders won’t get H.O.G. points unless they ride a V-Rod.

Having paid for my flight, first night's stay and meals with the preceding paragraphs, my next bike was the Street Glide, I think maybe it was called the Night Sweats...I really need to learn my Harley-Davidson model designations. They still make printed brochures in this country, don't they?

Deep, bass-boat metallic-blue, the Street Glide offers sweet handling, smooth, excellent brakes, and loads of cornering clearance. Seriously, who needs heritage when the present is this good?

There are enough iconic H-D features on the Street Glide to remind a rider that he's on the Real Deal. Like the key, or in Harley-Davidson's world, no key. H-D uses a gigantic metal jelly bean on the fork to work the ignition; a round, vending-machine key locks the jelly bean. A proximity-sensing electronic key fob disables the bike if you forget to lock up, as long as you don't leave the fob in the saddlebag like me. I'm betting that 47 of the Street Glides hefty 785 pounds involve turning the bike on and off.

The Street Glide's indicator lamps illuminate tiny symbols inside the tach and speedometer. I never did figure out what any of them meant, having neglected to bring an electron microscope on the ride. The rear brake pedal is more like a car's than a motorcycle's and the saddlebags want to run over your legs like a 90cc three-wheeled ATV. Remember to lift those feet on take off!

None of this spoils the Street Glide experience. Recent frame improvements, wide rims and radial tires take years off that V-twin mill. We hustled through Arkansas esses smartly and nothing hit the pavement in corners except my preconceived notions. I could actually own one of these. The bike simply makes me happy. I refused to give up the Street Glide as our ride leader Ron spooled miles of beautiful Arkansas hill-country past the Glide's not-bad-at-all shorty fairing.

Best Western is in the process of diluting...er...rebranding its hotel chain into three levels of luxury. If I'm assimilating the Best Western familiarization literature like a proper monkey, level one is your standard Bread 'n' Butter Best Western hotel. These properties feature older style, direct-to-outside entry doorways, small lobbies and smaller rooms. No special washing area but get the ground floor handicap-accessible room and you can wheel your motorcycle inside the bathroom to clean it. Level two is Best Western Plus, where customers pass through the lobby down hallways to larger interior rooms. Best Western Plus rooms are pretty darn nice and I can't justify them unless my wife is with me. Top of the pops level three is Best Western Premier, featuring portals into a fifth dimension where green-skinned, mind-reading nymphs devote their lives to satisfying your basest desires. More importantly, with Premier scrambled eggs and sausage are included for breakfast, along with fresh fruit.

Clinton Arkansas Room 218, found on the second floor of a Bread 'n' Butter Best Western measured 23 feet by 11 feet by 8 feet giving an interior volume of 2000 cubic feet. Best leave the serpentarium at home. A suspiciously similar looking LG through-the-wall air conditioner unit running a stock LG front-panel mounted thermostat provided excellent temperature regulation. Cool, moisture-free air and plenty of it was the watchword in Clinton. A slightly reduced-size cake of soap and a wall-mounted 1500-watt Sunbeam sock/underwear dryer sat opposite a one-piece fiberglass tub enclosure with grab rail. Lacking a large lobby or local bar in these dry-county digs, Team Apnea repaired to the parking lot to polish off a few beers along with the well-drillers, pipeline contractors and rock-cutters who were our fellow travelers.

After Cherney managed to convince young Eric Ellis of Hot Bike magazine into riding the Softail, a round of musical bikes ensued wherein I lost my sweetheart Street Glide. On a red Road Glide I railed through Arkansas' twisty hills in pursuit of nine other well-rested riders. Each night spent in a Best Western property makes you feel as if you've turned back time. Eric the Young has regressed so far he can't ride the Softail in a straight line. I feel like I'm 20 years old. Somewhere in America there must be my ancient, horribly disfigured doppelgänger banging away at a Motel 6 night registration bell.

Going for the Best Western Hat Trick, we head toward Little Rock, AR, to experience a Best Western Premier hotel. Eric the Young's Heritage is slewing down the road like a short-shaft BMW R75/5. The Softails rear spokes have worked themselves loose. Why? No clue. Could be a rental-bike thing. Pitting our combined 352 years of riding experience against the question of which way to turn the spoke nipples brings no resolution. Several of the guys take turns spinning the nipples first one direction, then the other until the futility gets to grizzled moto veteran Dexter Ford. Ford crawls under the Softail for about an hour finally pronouncing the wheel done.

Except that now the wheel, while tight, is way out of round. Eric, who wasn't overly concerned that his bike was coming apart in the first place, felt the wheel was good enough so we rolled on to our Premier destination on the outskirts of Little Rock.

And Premier it was. At 4700 cubic feet, Little Rock's Governors Suites had the largest load capacity of all the rooms tested. Using the highest wattage (1875!) sock dryer, I had my laundry done and cooked a nice rib-eye steak in less time than it took to bend a half-inch PVC conduit in those other hotels. Unlike lower-rent Best Westerns, the dryer wasn't bolted to the wall. This leads me to conclude your average Premier guest has more appliances than he needs at home and that Bread 'n' Butter or Plus guests aren't to be trusted. The list goes on: a Hamilton Beach coffee-maker stocked with Wolfgang Puck coffee, a closet safe, drive-in-movie-sized television, lip balm, rags, a wheel balancer, brass knuckles, voter's registration card--the joint was slammed with hotel trickery.

Except for the bathroom. In an unfortunate collision between Americans with Disability Act rules and Best Western Premier dividing the space into galley, salon, bedroom, and bath several quirks occurred.

Sightlines from the entrance door lead directly into the bathroom, drawing a visitor's eye to the Flushmate-equipped pressure-vessel toilet. If I left the front door open I could sit on the throne and count passing journalists. Tempting, I know. That inward-swinging bathroom door will be open because its so wide it barely clears the pouting lip of the toilet, requiring a user intent on privacy to squeeze into the small area between the tub and throne to close the door. None of this weirdness spoils the Best Western Premier experience. Who needs privacy anyway? The place was nicer than anywhere I've lived.

So which Best Western is best? For me, Bread 'n' Butter. I like saving money and the standard Best Western's traditional parking-lot entry door. I can leap out of bed every few hours to check my motorcycle, do engine rebuilds in the parking lot without getting funny looks, and the working-class heroes that patronize these old-school lodgings are my kind of Americans.

As for the Harley-Davidsons, that's easy: Get the Street Glide and live happily ever after. By the way, it wouldn't hurt if you Softail owners went out to the garage and gave a quick rap on your spokes.

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