Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic Eagle Rider Review

An EagleRider rental, four friends, and a messy plan for a wild ride.

Southern Utah sandstone formations.
Take a deep breath -- the wild red formations of southern Utah’s national parks are like no other place on earth.Andrew Cherney

The sandstone columns of red and orange explode out of nowhere, filling up the horizon and the windshield of my Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic. After getting lost among alpine greenery in the Wasatch foothills outside of Salt Lake, this funky conglomeration of maroon shapes feels like a punch in the face that's almost vertigo-inducing. Impossibly angled arches jostle for attention on the periphery, hunched forms that look like the work of Salvador Dali if he'd had hooked up with Jean Arp and went on a mushroom bender. Sun-soaked skies frame this perfect palette of the American southwest, ripped straight from an old spaghetti western…or maybe a Warner Bros. cartoon. The Beehive State is better known for its majestic destinations than the roads among them, but believe me, it's no slouch in the scenic byway department. For our trio, and occasionally quartet, of motorcyclists, Arches National Park is sheer nirvana.

Woman views the Arches Scenic Drive on her Harley Davidson Street Bob.
Mary takes in the glory of Arches Scenic Drive on her Harley Davidson Street Bob.Andrew Cherney

I’d rolled into Moab on the Harley the day before to meet up with three other riding companions, all coming from different states in the West—Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico (and me from Oregon). Stan, based near Phoenix, was the brains behind the operation, and after six months of endlessly aggressive emails, tempting brochures, and relentless cajoling, he had convinced Mary, Tony, and me that southern Utah would make for a superb destination for a bunch of motorcycle obsessives looking to soak up some excellent riding. Of course he was right. But first we had to get there. And then meet each other for the first time.

EagleRider in Salt Lake with late-model Harleys for rent.
EagleRider in Salt Lake offers a nice assortment of late-model Harleys for rent, with friendly and professional service to boot.Andrew Cherney

Since I was traveling the greatest distance and had the least amount of time, EagleRider in Salt Lake City was the obvious choice for a fly-in and ride-away scenario. This is my fourth experience with EagleRider, and no joke, each one has turned out to be smoother than the last. The Salt Lake customer service crew took it to another level, getting me up to speed with detailed route info and properly setting up the black, super-tight 2019 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic for my run down south. To be fair, EagleRider itself offers interesting guided and self-drive tours of Utah, but our far-flung group opted for more of a seat-of-the-pants approach, leaving the key details to our Master Planner, Stan.

From Salt Lake I'd beeline southeast toward Moab, but I-15 has other ideas. Road construction meant traffic is at a crawl leaving town, so I detour off the slab looking for better scenery armed with my helpful Butler map of Utah. An annoying cloud opens up on me along Highway 6 skirting the Manti-La Sal National Forest, but the steady pour isn't brutal enough to completely soak my jeans, and after the slo-mo stifle of I-15, it actually feels reinvigorating.

That obnoxious cloud finally staggers eastward, and from that point my ride’s almost a free fall onto the Colorado plateau. US Highway 191 is the home stretch and a straight shot south to Moab so I pin it, racing toward the promise of camaraderie (and cold beers) after four hours alone in the desert. The sun is really beating down and by the time I see the crags of Arches NP poking the azure sky my jeans are completely dry. Crossing the bridge into Moab gives you a nice preview of the Colorado River’s rushing green water against brilliant red rock, and the scene is so striking I almost run off the road.

Lizard statue pointing visitors toward the Gonzo Inn.
The outdoor mecca of Moab would serve as our basecamp, with the Gonzo Inn being our de facto HQ.Andrew Cherney

At Stan’s behest, our crew would convene for a meet and greet at the Gonzo Inn, a funky little hotel tucked away on a side street away from Moab’s madness. It’s been almost a decade since my last dalliance with this burg, and in that short period the tourism industry has exploded, herds of lifted Polaris RZRs and ATVs lining the main drag in front of countless T-shirt shops, all looking to make a dent in your wallet. We’ll be based here for a few days because Moab has everything we need, from food to gas to lodging. At the Gonzo, beers are cracked, introductions made, and guffaws swirl as each member tells of their journey into central Utah. Helped along by booze and the satisfaction of a ride coming together after months of planning, our band of strangers has found its groove; the gang is complete.

In the morning, Moab is an oxymoronic mob scene ringed by spectacularly rocky skyscapes; you can see what all the fuss is about. After dawdling over coffee and furrowing our brows at the ominously leaky carb on Stan's well-loved Honda Shadow ACE 1100, three of us decide to roll out to Arches, with Stan opting to stay and sort out the bike. Because Arches National Park sits just on the edge of town, it's a popular destination and, with the travel season peaking, we're feeling a tad nervous about crowds.

Line of motorcycles and cars to get into the entrance at Arches NP.
It looks like a pretty daunting line to get into the entrance at Arches NP, but the mass moves fairly quickly.Andrew Cherney

Tony, Mary, and I take our place in the line of vehicles at the entrance, but the queue moves quickly and 20 minutes later—not a long time for a national park in high season—we’re throttling through the gate. The 30-mile Arches Scenic Drive is the only way in and out of the park and it can get royally choked up with tour buses, but somehow we luck out and after passing a few campers have nothing but asphalt in front of us. We turn uphill onto the Wingate Sandstone switchbacks in full goon mode, floorboards scraping and grins widening. The paved roadway stretches from the visitor center to the park’s northern end at Devils Garden, winding through a sea of fantastical shapes with canyons, petrified dunes, and, of course, sandstone, as far as the eye can see. This park has the highest concentration of natural arches anywhere and their rare beauty means our cameras—and our mouths—are open the whole ride.

2019 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic in front of sandstone formations.
The 2019 Heritage Classic proved to be the right tool for this gig, with power, comfort and just enough cargo capacity to make for a stress-free week.Andrew Cherney

In a Harley lineup well stacked with excellent touring machines, the Heritage Classic turned out to be the perfect fit for this trip. The full-fendered and floorboarded (and even saddlebagged) yet somehow modern black Softail manages to integrate The Motor Company's current attitudes with a healthy dose of Harley's past. It's low and menacing and up to date, but still basic in form and, most importantly, possessing plenty of motor to get the job done and then some. ABS, cruise control, a comfortable saddle, and a removable windshield mean I would want for nothing along the way.

Sandstone formations on either side of the Arches National Park canyon.
Towering walls of sandstone skyscrapers lined up on either side of an absolutely stunning canyon. This area of Arches is called Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers.Andrew Cherney

In my mirror, I see Mary on her Harley Street Bob and Tony on his BMW K1200 GT slicing through the bends against a fantastic skyline of staggered formations that look like they’re arranged by a giant hand. The light and the wind call the shots here, and in the shadow of the bigger monoliths the sun diffuses as our group gets deeper into the concrete canyons. We have the road north of Delicate Arch mostly to ourselves and totally plug into the euphoria of swooping through the canyons unfettered around an epic road.

Motorcycle on the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway also known as Highway 128.
If you’re in the Moab area, the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (a.ka. Hwy 128) is worth the short detour, even for a short blast.Andrew Cherney

With its animated sweeps and rolling grades, nearby state Route 128 is one of those glorious river roads that should be on anyone’s riding list, and since Stan had to opt out of our morning ride, I insist we do a quick afternoon session on it. UT-128 is basically a paved path within the Colorado River canyon and the Butler map gives it a G1 rating—the best mark on its scale for motorcycle roads (ranging from G1 to G3), but it’s the water that really steals the show here. The 45-mile stretch of road also goes by the name of Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, but for whatever reason it’s nearly void of cars. There are no complaints from the group as we shadow the churning Colorado, still high with snowmelt; with the road rising and falling to the rhythms of the river it feels like we’re flying, the twists and bends trying to match the water’s flow. Wingate sandstone morphs into tan slabs of Navajo sandstone, Triassic period morphing to the Jurassic, and I half expect to see a wisecracking rabbit or a miserable coyote on the side of the road.

Motorcycle in front of State Road 128.
It’s earned its G1 rating: Don’t miss the chance to play tag with the churning green water -- or just pull over and chill out -- along SR 128. Fisher Towers are in the background.Stan Reents

The next morning has us bugging out of Moab, and Tony has to get back to work in New Mexico as well, so we bid him farewell. With Stan back in the mix our remaining trio now has a hard plan: Make for Capitol Reef NP to the west before pushing on to the charms of the Lodge at Red River Ranch, which promises luxury in a rustic setting. It's a mere 2.5 hours to Capitol Reef, and since we have lots of room for improv in the itinerary, I suggest a stop in Dead Horse Point State Park which lies in the same direction.

The Colorado River at Dead Horse State Park.
The Colorado River has carved a staggering gorge out of the surrounding rock at Dead Horse State Park. Bring a camera or three.Andrew Cherney

We’re also feeling a bit of collective guilt over Stan's absence from the magnificent Arches ride, and the 30-mile detour to the Dead Horse overlook proves to be a worthy option, serving up stunning views of the twisting Colorado River as it carves a horseshoe-shaped bend in the rock hundreds of feet below. Staring out at the vista, it's hard to wrap our heads around the idea that drops of water over so many years have created the surreal scene before us. The panoramas go into infinity, and again, we linger a bit too long at the natural marvel.

Dinosaur statue at Dead Horse Point.
The area around Dead Horse Point is dino country. Stan contemplates the dentures on this Jurassic era replica.Andrew Cherney

The price for all this lollygagging is having to hustle to Capitol Reef some 150 miles west. Mary is game, and she and I take turns tapping triple digits on our Harleys along Interstate 70, whose high speed limits frankly encourage those kinds of high jinks. Stan takes the more practical approach with his still-not-so-healthy Honda, and rejoins us to gas up at the turn onto state Route 24, a seriously desolate and foreboding stretch of road that leads to Capitol Reef.

Motorcycles in front of Capitol Reef.
That red color is real and Capitol Reef has it in spades, along with a trove of other must-sees like petroglyphs, natural bridges, and vast river valleys.Andrew Cherney

If Arches NP flashes her scenic treasures at you like some dime-store hooker, Capitol Reef NP plays it closer to the vest, offering only occasional vistas between the trees until, suddenly, you round a corner and the whole veil drops away—and you're face-to-face with sweeping canyons and thousand-year-old petroglyphs. Because the park is not as heavily visited, Route 24 can pick its way through the Fremont River canyon a little more aggressively. The dense crowds and RVs of Arches have faded and our bikes respond eagerly to upshifts and higher speeds as we whoop it up around the bends.

Petroglyph on the wall of a local gas station.
We found this petroglyph on the wall of a local gas station. Pretty sure it wasn’t made by the ancients.Andrew Cherney

Yet again, we manage to run out the clock in the canyons. Stan takes the lead for the last spirited run into the town of Torrey; I'm sure he's more than a bit worried about his bike petering out and wants to drop anchor for the day. Torrey rolls up as one stoplight and a dozen businesses surrounded by ranches and red rocks, all dusty roads and classic Americana cemented together by a tightly knit Mormon community.

Dirt road turnoff for the Lodge at Red River Ranch.
If you blink, it’s easy to miss the dirt road turnoff for the Lodge at Red River Ranch.Andrew Cherney

The Lodge at Red River Ranch, just outside of town, is a well-kept remake of an old Western lodge, complete with a herd of bison grazing on the front lawn and and wall of red cliffs backing it. Don't call it a resort though—it's more of a rustic old-West luxury with stone and brick and cow skulls and buffalo heads occupying the walls under a soaring ceiling, with a giant wood-burning fireplace in the background. The Wi-Fi here is spotty, which is just fine—we're heading down the road to the very cool Cafe Diablo for dinner anyway. They're out of the bison ragù, but between the fluffy empanadas, the lip-numbing Hellfire Shrimp, and all kinds of other inventive Southwest-inspired goodies we're on top of the world. Bellies full, we lounge in the great room of the Lodge under the watchful gaze of massive, stuffed buffalo heads, swapping stories and sipping on our stash of chilled beer (because Utah has some seriously strange liquor laws we had to constantly find creative work-arounds).

The Lodge at Red River Ranch with Old West interior.
You’d never know this nicely appointed slice of the Old West was waiting for you inside.Andrew Cherney

The next morning dawn's bright and warm, with clean roads and clear skies beckoning. The only problem now—Stan's bike won't start! A thorough troubleshooting session comes up empty, but the gracious family who runs the ranch saves the day; they offer to tow the bike up to the highway, giving Stan a chance to hop on and bump-start the Honda. It takes three attempts, but the bike finally burbles to life again, and there are high fives all around. But then the bummer sets in: This is goodbye for real. We saddle up, group slaps all around, and shove off, Stan and Mary heading east, and me splitting off to the south to get reacquainted with scenic state Route 12. I'd take it all the way through Bryce before connecting to Highway 89 north back to Provo and eventually Salt Lake. With my trusty Butler map and Rever app, I'm good to go.

Highway 24 into Capitol Reef National Park.
Scenic but also a seriously remote, Highway 24 into Capitol Reef NP winds through some of the loveliest parts of the West.Andrew Cherney

I hadn’t been in this part of the world in a while, but seemed to remember that Highway 12 was generally a moderate ride with a few technical sections and one stretch called the Hogback—consisting of a long, complicated series of moves where plenty could go wrong. Coming after the town of Boulder, this chain of esses squiggles along a high ridgeline with sharp, scrag-laden drop-offs on either side; there are no shoulders, and zero runoffs. It’s as if you’re riding the rippled, steep spine of a wild animal—hence the name.

After Hogback, the road picks up speed and the landscape flattens as I remember to breathe again, and Escalante pops into view. The funky little art town in the middle of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is as good a place as any to refuel, hydrate, and recheck the map for the last run to civilization. Next stop: the boring gray blur of a straight line arterial followed by a slab run on I-15. Time to go home.

Hogback section of Highway 12 scenic route.
Don’t look down: The Hogback section of Highway 12 doesn’t give you much room for error, but the entire road earns its Scenic Byway status regardless.Andrew Cherney

Utah’s national parks are simply stunning, and it’s incredible to think about the geological and topographic diversity our crew covered in just 360-odd miles—from lush green valleys and wrinkly sandstone formations to bottomless canyons and expansive panoramas, it just blows your mind. It also makes you thankful for that one persistently nagging friend who pushes you to pack your bags, load the bike, and finally hit the road. And it never feels like the wrong decision once you do.

A band of bikers eating lunch in Moab, Utah.
Four strangers previously, but now a well-acquainted band of bikers huddling over lunch in Moab.Our waitress
Man works on Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Stan may have had a few issues with his bike on this trip, but he was still the guy that made the whole trip possible.Andrew Cherney
Arches Scenic Drive from the saddle of a motorcycle.
Despite the occasional tour bus jam, you just can’t beat the view from the saddle on Arches Scenic Drive.Tony Prosser
Motorcyclists explore in Arches National Park.
We made sure to get off the bikes every now and then to experience at least a small slice of the mind-blowing terrain.Tony Prosser
Motorcyclists riding on road in southern Utah.
Southern Utah is bucket list stuff for any rider -- we met folks from Germany, Norway, China and beyond, all basking in the red rock riding.Andrew Cherney