Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Florida Keys

The second part of my adventure involves me, a Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe and the open road.  It has been an ambition of mine to ride a motorcycle along Route 1 in the Keys.  I've never been particularly attracted to the Harley-Davidson brand, but I felt it would be wrong to judge without a proper trial.  A little investigation on the internet led me to Everglades Motorcycle Service in Naples.  I went for the cheapest option of the two bikes they rent, a 2005 Softail Deluxe.  The motor is a 103 cu in V-twin, meaning each cylinder was larger on it's own that any bike I have ever ridden before.

Since the fishing trip wrapped up a little early, I was able to pick up the bike the evening before I had planned to leave.  Not only did that give me a nice early departure in the morning with the paperwork out of the way, it also allowed me some city riding to acquaint myself with this beast.  I was pleasantly surprise with my ability to handle such a large bike, especially since it has been a year or two since I last rode.  The guy at the shop helpfully recommended that I ride down the access road for the industrial estate we were on, and I made a neat U-turn at the end, instantly boosting my confidence.

The vibration from the engine was hardly noticeable, thanks to a counterbalanced twin cam design.  The seat was enormously comfortable.  To be honest I was more embarrassed than exhilerated by the exhaust noise, it just doesn't make sense to me.  Having said that, when you ease off the throttle you get an awesome throaty spluttering sound.  Its very hard to describe, but I confess that I rather enjoyed negotiating the suburbs of South Miami on a joyless road with stoplights every block.  Normally it would be a torment, but with that soundtrack the discomfort of the heat and traffic was almost forgotten.

As I said, I got an early start.  I wasn't sure how long it would really take, nor how many things I would want to do in the Keys, so I motored through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail.  I made a mental note of places I might like to visit on the way back.  I had not ridden with anything other than a full face helmet before so wasn't sure what a long period at speed would be like.  I was surprised to find that earplugs helped a lot, as I always thought that it was the noise of the wind over the helmet that was loud.  But with my ears open to the air it was actually quite painful after a few miles at 70mph.  I pulled over and stuck the plugs in and was quite comfortable after that.

When I hit the urban sprawl I got a little lost trying to find a way down to the Keys without having to take  the toll road.  Florida has completely done away with cash toll booths on some turnpikes, so you have to stop and buy a pre-paid card or something.  I wasn't really sure how it would work on a rental bike, so just decided to avoid the toll.  Lucky I had my iPhone strapped to my belt, so could stop and check the map.  Not like my previous riding experience which usually involved stopping at a gas station and trying to subtly look at an road atlas without having to buy it!

Before too long I had located Route 1 and was quickly at the start of the Keys.  The nice thing about being on a loud bike is you feel like you have a license to scream your head off because the chances are no one can hear you!  Woohoooooo! I'm in the freakin' Florida Keys!

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