Editor and relatively new biker David Hooper takes a retro Harley-Davidson on a road trip to the south of England.
THE life of a motoring journalist can find you doing all manner of unexpected things and riding a motorcycle from Grimsby to Windsor is right up there, but when you have a retro-styled Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic on test, no car that week, and an important car launch to attend, some decisions almost make themselves.
Try as I might though, I couldn’t think of a better place to take a bike with Heritage in its name, than to a place which is home to more than its fair share of our national heritage, Windsor Great Park, dominated by the fabulous Windsor Castle that sits on a hill overlooking the entire area, and is the Queen’s “other house”.
It was a bit of an epic trip, and I have to confess to feeling quite apprehensive before setting off. Having ridden 100 miles at most in a day, up to now, as a new rider this was going to be a big trip, and my motorway experience on two wheels to date was limited to a short stretch of the M180.
The big Harley though, was the right tool for the job, and its studded leather panniers would just about be big enough to squeeze enough kit into for an overnight stay, before making the return trip the following day.
It looks fantastic with its large screen, three headlights, whitewall tyres covered by big fenders and lashings of chrome. It features a tank-mounted electronic speedometer with a dual trip meter. A fuel gauge on the left of the tank proved very handy and it matched the fuel filler cap on the right.
It reminded me of the TV series Chips, where two California Highway Patrolmen rode Harley-Davidson bikes on the freeways of the US of A.
As a practise run, I took the bike down the coast road to the Lincolnshire seaside resort of Mablethorpe on a nice warm Sunday morning, and despite the Harley’s size and weight, once on the move it proved surprisingly agile.
Its massive 1584cc air-cooled twin cam engine pounds away rhythmically, and with a whopping 121Nm torque, it pulls like a train in any of its six gears when you open the throttle. Its 19-litre fuel tank gives the bike a range between fill-ups of around 160 miles, but at this time of year, I was ready for a stop to thaw out my feet well before the fuel ran out.
Wrapped up in thermal underwear and my new Bone Dry bike kit, I set off in the dark at 6.30 in the morning, aiming to be at the hotel near Windsor in time for an 11.15 press conference. I’d carefully prepared my route and stuck the key roads and towns to aim for on the inside of the wind shield, having decided to avoid the motorways until I got down as far as Peterborough.
I stopped at a service area for some fuel and a coffee, before heading south down the A1, picking up the A421 across to the M1, which took me down to the M25. Windsor is directly under the flightpath of Heathrow Airport, so finding that wasn’t too difficult, and I fished out my sat nav which sat in a tank bag for the last few miles to the hotel.
The journey was a long one, but only my feet and hands were a bit chilly. I couldn’t help thinking of the heated socks some friends use for skiing, or that heated grips on the Harley would have been a boon, but then most bikes are getting tucked away in their garages at this time of year, but there are still plenty out on the roads.
At motorway speeds, the buffeting from the wind coming over the top of the screen takes a bit of getting used to, and even with ear plugs in, I found there was a lot of wind noise inside my helmet.
The bike though, was faultless and made the return trip without any dramas, despite the onset of cold weather and the first snow on the Scottish hills at the other end of the country.
I waited till around 11am to set off, once the day had warmed up a bit, and enjoyed a run through Windsor Great Park, avoiding the M25, picking up the M1 near St Albans. The bike turned quite a few heads as I rode past various people, either because of the sound from its exhausts, or the gleaming chrome work, and was surprisingly comfortable, even after several hours on the road.
Endless roadworks and 50mph limits, meant the trip back was quite steady, but on the four-lane A1M, the bike was more than capable of holding its own with the trucks, although the changes in the air flow as I overtook the trucks took a bit of getting used to.
At £16,640 for the two-tone colour option it’s quite pricey, while the custom colour option pushes the price up to £17,190, but you get a sense of pride in riding such a good looking machine. It also inspired confidence in the sometimes slippery conditions, with its four-piston front brake and two piston rear brake, but this wasthe 2011 model which comes with ABS as standard. I didn’t need the ABS thankfully, but knowing it was there was reassuring.
So after a round trip of 430 miles, the only casualty was my new Bone Dry trousers. I wondered what that burning smell was! I think I must have had my leg against the exhaust in a traffic jam and it melted the fabric – what a disaster that was – it was the first time I had worn them, too.
Other than that, I am glad I made the trip on the Harley-Davidson, it was one of those trips I will remember for a long time.
As one friend put it, I’m a real biker now.
Model: Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic.
Engine: 1584cc air cooled twin cam.
Transmission: 6-speed gearbox.
Seat height: 690mm.
Fuel tank: 18.9 litres.
Price: £16,090 on the road.