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Welcome to official blog of the Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club. An American Motorcycle Association Historic Club (No. 165), we are a family oriented riding and social club with a history back to 1936. Our motto is "Ride and Have Fun". Learn more about us or how to join our club.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Riding California's Highway One

     Back in the 1980s, Beth and I went out to Santa Barbara, Calif. to visit my mother and her husband. We borrowed their Dodge camper van and drove it up to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway. It was a beautiful trip, and I’ve always wanted to do it again on a motorcycle. But I just don’t ever get out that way, and riding my bike from Florida to California seems less and less appealing as I get older.
     But, this year, my uncle Bernard died. He lived in Fortuna, Calif., way up the coast in redwood country. I have a big crowd of first cousins on the West Coast, people I have only seen a few times in my life, and some of them decided to put together a memorial service so the family could celebrate Bernard’s life together. Things came together for me this time, and I was able to get away and spend a few days in California.
     “So,” I thought to myself, “why not fly to San Francisco, rent a bike, and make the final leg of the trip by motorcycle?”
   This meant a ride up Highway One, the part of the Pacific Coast Highway that starts just north of San Francisco and ends around 250 miles to the north in Fort Bragg. And just because Highway One comes to an end, that doesn’t mean the great riding and beautiful scenery comes to an end. A quick jog to the west on Rte. 20 comes out at Rte. 101, the Redwood Highway. Another 120 miles to the north gets me to Fortuna, Uncle Bernard’s hometown.
     With some helpful hints from FWCMC buddy Bob Kaufmann, I booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express in South San Francisco, just north of the San Francisco airport and just a few steps from Dudley PerkinsHarley-Davidson. Once my plane landed and I got to the motel, I just walked over to Dudley Perkins and did up the paperwork for my rental Harley, which I was to pick up first thing the next day.
     Great guys at Dudley Perkins, and they made it all very easy. My HOG membership provided me a $10 per day discount on the sizeable $150 per day rental fee; they told me that as a returning customer, the next time I rent from Dudley Perkins means another $10 per day off the rental.
     Next morning, I made my way back to Dudley Perkins to pick up my 2013 Road Glide, an exact doppleganger of my own Road Glide, right down to the black paint. I did a couple of tight laps around the Dudley Perkins parking lot to demonstrate that I could ride, and then I was off toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
     The bike was familiar and comfortable, but I did quickly realize how the changes I had made to my own bike made it much more comfortable than this rental. My bike has two-inch pullback bars, which allows me to sit up straighter, and highway pegs so I can stretch out my legs. Also, Bill Billings had talked me into a different brand of transmission oil that makes shifting silky-smooth, nothing like the clunky bangs that accompanied every shift on the rent-a-bike.
     I guess sunshine is a sometimes thing in San Francisco, but on this day there was a cloudless blue sky and the clearest of clear air; I had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge as I crossed, and also a gorgeous picture of Alcatraz off to my right.
     I’ve gotten used to my Garmin on my own bike, and I asked the Dudley Perkins guys if it was possible to rent a nav from them. Nope, they said, the Garmins have to be hardwired into the bike and they can’t do that with the rental fleet. So this was an old-school ride – watch for the route signs (not an easy task as I rode through the heart of downtown San Francisco) and keep a sharp eye out for any signs that point the way west to Highway One. I was worried about where to leave Rte. 101 north of San Francisco, but it turned out to be a non-issue – as I got up past Sausalito toward Mill Valley I saw a sign to Highway One at an off-ramp and turned off the highway. I soon found myself on a very narrow and very twisty road that rose up through the steep hills of Marin County. These were some of the tightest twisties I’ve ever been on; some of them turned sharply on fairly steep upgrades that the bike couldn’t negotiate except at very low, be-ready-to-put-your-feet down speeds.
   Within 30 minutes or so the Pacific Ocean came into view. Soon I came upon a sign pointing to Muir Beach, followed by another sign that said “Muir Beach Scenic Turnout.” This was high on a bluff overlooking the ocean. If there was a beach, it would have required a hike down some steep embankments. I settled for some pictures from the top of the bluff.
   Looking behind me to the road that had brought me in from Highway One, I saw a doe and her fawn strolling across the road. After I took the obligatory Pacific Ocean pictures, I walked down to the road to see if I could spot the deer again.  Sure enough, they were munching the grass in a small open spot behind some pines. I got off a few shots, and then a few more when they ran back out to
the road and crossed it to some nearby woods. Got some nice pictures of the little one bounding across the road with his four legs tucked up under his body.
     Back on the road, I was mesmerized by the beautiful ocean scenery off to my left. There is very little in the way of settlements and population along this stretch, and there was also very little in the way of traffic. Since Highway One is the perfect motorcycle road, I expected to see lots of bikes, but there was only the occasional two-wheeler along the entire 250-mile stretch from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. At one point I saw a group of around five Harleys, and a little later, as I waited at a construction stop, a couple of people on Honda sport bikes pulled up next to me and said hello. When the flag man motioned for us to go, I waived the Honda guys past me and watched them disappear.
     I didn’t see any more deer, but I did see something more dangerous – two separate herds of cows walking up the middle of the road. They took up both lanes and didn’t seem to care about my blaring horn. I waited until they crossed and gingerly made my way between the last two stragglers.
     Rand McNally had told me that I should be able to reach my destination by four or five o’clock, and that I could make my planned lunch stop in Mendocino a little past noon.  I don’t know what Rand McNally smokes, but he wasn’t even close on the timetable – I didn’t get to Mendocino until almost 4 p.m. I had seen some very interesting little fish restaurants, several of them advertising various kinds of chowder, and that’s what I was hankering for. But by the time noon approached, there were no more little fish shacks. In fact, there was nothing but more and more breathtaking scenery. At around 2 p.m. I came upon a barbecue joint and pulled in for lunch. I love barbecue, but I can get plenty of it in Florida and I was hoping for something different, maybe even a little unique. By this time I was so hungry I didn’t really care – I had some brisket and a bowl of pretty good chili.
     A round halfway through the ride I began to notice some pain and fatigue in my left arm, a result of the almost constant up-and-down shifting and clutching I had been doing through the twisties. The next day my arm felt so dead I’m sure I couldn’t have ridden. I left the bike in the Best Western parking lot and spent the day tagging along in my brother’s rented Mazda.
     Highway One ended for me at Fort Bragg -- you can stay on Highway One and it eventually leads to Rte. 101, the road that I had been following from Dudley Perkins and all the way through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate. Instead, I chose to head east from Fort Bragg on Rte. 20, which turned out to be a very cool ride through a redwood forest.

   Rte. 20 took me to a town called Willets, and I was pretty sure Fortuna, my destination, was only a few miles up the road. I was surprised to see a road sign that informed me that Fortuna was still 120 miles to the north. This was around 5:30 p.m., and I was supposed to be at the Eel River Brew Pub at 7 p.m. for dinner with my Uncle Dek, my Aunt Lois, my brother, six of my cousins and a group of other relatives. Obviously I wasn’t going to be on time for that. I cranked it up, whizzed past a lot of nice-looking redwood trees that I would have enjoyed seeing at a more leisurely pace, and made it to dinner at 7:45. 
  The next couple of days were hectic. There was a memorial service for Uncle Bernard at the rural cemetery where my grandparents are buried; a family picnic in the redwoods at the south end of the Avenue of the Giants; and then a side trip north to Eureka to visit an old work friend from my UPI days. Dave Rosso, his wife Susan and I had some good fish and chips and chowder at a little seaside eatery, so I finally got the California seafood I was looking for.
     On Sunday it was time to head back to San Francisco to return the Road Glide. For this leg of the trip I left at 6 a.m. and just stayed on Rte. 101 (called the Redwood Highway in northern California), which turned out to be very scenic in its own right, even if it didn’t offer any seaside views. The northern leg obviously featured lots of redwoods, and then the middle part went through some of California’s wine country.     
     As I approached Marin County, the traffic started to pick up quite a lot, and the fog rolled in just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. When I got to the bridge, its top half was completely obscured by fog, and the three lanes of southbound traffic were really moving.
     Once on the bridge, the car in front of me straddled a long, cylindrical yellow traffic marker that had come loose from its upright position. I didn’t have time to avoid it, and I had no place to go anyway; I rolled on the throttle and braced myself. The front tire hit the marker, causing the front of the bike to rise and the handlebars to shake from side to side. When the tire came back down to earth, however, the bike just tracked straight ahead and the handlebar shaking abruptly stopped. It was the only scary incident of the 600-mile trip.
     Since I picked up the bike at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, I technically needed to get it back to Dudley Perkins before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, or face another day’s rental charge. But the guys had told me they would extend a three-hour grace period, and getting there at 12:30 p.m. allowed me to avoid that extra charge. So the charge was for three days instead of four -- $450 instead of $600.
     My brother and his wife also traveled to San Francisco on Sunday, although several hours later than I did. I had enough time for a nap before we got together for dinner on Fisherman's Wharf, followed by a
tourist-style walk and then a cable car ride.
     It would have been a better trip if Beth had been along, but honestly I don’t know if parts of Highway One could have been negotiated safely with a passenger. If we ever decide to recreate this ride, I think we’ll need to get on Highway One a little further north to miss those Marin County twists and turns. Some rides you don’t need to do twice, but I would do this particular ride again in a heartbeat.
     Monday was all airplane ride. I caught the shuttle from the Holiday Inn Express at around 4:30 a.m., got through security and took off for Houston, where I had a two-hour layover, just enough time for some ho-hum airport food. Another two hours in the air and I was back in Tampa by around 7 p.m. local time.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Member Review: The Cycle Shop of Largo

A few weeks ago, I ran into Dean Rugare at Sea Dog Brewing Co's first weekly bike show. Dean and the crew from The Cycle Shop (most are former Fletcher's H-D staff) had a tent promoting the shop which opened late 2012. During our conversation, I found out that they are an authorized shop under Harley-Davidson's Extended Service Plan. After a few emails back and forth The Cycle Shop became a sponsor of FWCMC and took out a large half-page ad in our club newsletter. 
Dean Rugar at The Cycle Shop (photo by Bill Frederick)

I was due for a 10k mile service on my Road King. I also had a set of rims I wanted to use to replace the stock lace wheels and an electrical harness which required a little more splicing than I was comfortable doing myself. I thought I would give this new sponsor a try. I called and spoke with Eric Matusiak who set my appointment. Based on what I wanted done, I would drop my bike off Tuesday morning (per the sign on the door they are closed for riding on Sunday and Monday) and pick it up in the evening on Wednesday. 

The Cycle Shop advertises themselves as "Your local independent cycle shop", so I was sort of expecting some hole in the wall workshop. When I pulled up this morning at 8:30 am, I was quite impressed with their storefront. The shop is right on Belcher, easily seen from the street and there are multiple garage doors on the side to the workshop area. Dean just happened to be outside to say hello. 

Inside, the showroom was spacious, bright and well organized. In addition to the scooters for sale, there is a section of parts, clothing and helmets. The shop manager, Shane Taylor, quickly greeted me. He  got me into their computer system. He asked if I wanted synthetic oil, and I replied that I've always used Harley's SYN3. Shane told me they carry two brands of synthetic oil, Castrol and AMSOIL. Both, in his opinion are better than SYN3. At Shane's recommendation, I went ahead with the AMSOIL. My work order was printed and it already had the 10% discount The Cycle Shop offers FWCMC members. Although the entire process lasted only about ten minutes, my wife (who was with me to give me a ride home) was quick to notice a pink helmet with 70's style candy flake among the selection for sale. 
From Left: Frank Scharibone, Shane Taylor and Eric Matusiak

I felt very comfortable with my decision to give The Cycle Shop a try for my maintenance. I was blown  away when I got a call from Eric at 3:30 pm telling me that my bike was all done. Considering our area is facing heavy rains for the next few days, I was happy to be able to pick the bike up today. I got down to the shop around 5 o'clock, and before I even got to the counter Eric was already bringing my bike out. For the work I had done, I felt the price was more than reasonable. They offer flat rate tire install pricing. I got a quote from another local shop who wanted more to install the tires than my total bill came to today. 

After saying goodbye to Shane and Eric I turned up Belcher to stop at Sea Dog for Bike Night. It would also give me about 11 miles to feel out the bike after the service. The new rims were a huge improvement. I had some wheel wobble before, probably due to the wearing of the front tire. One thing I really did notice was how smooth the bike was shifting after it got warmed up. I'm going to assume this was the "thinner running AMSOIL" Shane recommended. I'm glad I took his advice and I will be back for service in the future.

The Cycle Shop is located at 13355 Belcher Road S., Largo, FL 33773. They service Harley's, Metrics, Trikes and Scooters. They can be reached at 727-286-6137 or online at thecycleshop.net. You can also connect with them on Facebook. You will get a 10% discount when you show them your Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club membership card.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Barbeque ride to St. Leo

     “So let’s go for a little barbeque,” we thought, remembering a  lunch ride with Ed Kozlowski  that went past a barbeque joint in St. Leo just a few weeks ago.
     This place is called “On Q Smokehouse Grill,” and it is in an old, 1920s building that someone at lunch said used to be a St. Leo University fraternity house. I looked it up on Yelp and found plenty of good reviews. Worth a try, and it’s only maybe 75 miles or so from our usual departure point – McDonald’s on Roosevelt in Clearwater (or is that Largo?).
     I was kind of surprised by the turnout. Our group must really like barbeque. We had around 10 bikes show up at McDonald’s, and then we picked up Jim and Peachie as we passed near their house in Trinity. A few miles up the road at the 7-11 at Rtes. 41 and 54, we picked up the Blue Crew – our new members who live up in that neck of the woods. Thanks to Jim, Joe and Catfish for coming along and for being our newest members.
     In all, 15 people on 14 bikes. A great day.
     On Q had a separate room all set up for us when we arrived. I had the ribs and collard greens, and they were excellent. Beth, who is hard to please when it comes to food and restaurants, had a salad topped with pulled pork, and she declared it to be top-notch. We had a little ticket-drawing just for fun, and Dr. Mike won a free piece of kumquat pie. Not wanting him to have to eat alone, I had a piece, too.
     Another point in On Q’s favor: they had two waitresses assigned to our party instead of just one.  The service was great.
     We’ll be doing this place again.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Learning to ride the RIGHT way

     I’m one of those people who never really learned to ride a motorcycle.  Back in the 1960s, when I bought my first bike, there were no formal riding courses available. I learned from some friends, and by reading motorcycle magazines. Mostly, I learned by just rolling my Yamaha 250 twin out onto the street, taking a deep breath, and taking off.
     Of course, it’s a different world now, and there are lots of courses available that teach how to ride the right way. Harley-Davidson offers learn-to-ride courses, which it calls Rider’s Edge. Available courses include the basics for people who have never ridden before, and advanced courses for people who have ridden for years but may want to polish their skills. The Rider’s Edge courses are based on motorcycle training courses developed by the MotorcycleSafety Foundation.

   Jim’s Harley-Davidson offers Rider’s Edge courses, and they extended an opportunity for FWCMC members to take the advanced course (which they call Basic Ridercourse 2) for a great price -- $20 per head. Six of us – me, Frank Scharibone, Christine Reed, Spanky Sanford, Danny Buckley and Bruce Hayes – took them up on that offer, and took part in six hours of fairly intensive training in the parking lot of a high school up the street from Jim’s dealership earlier today (Saturday, June 1).
     I took an advanced riding course a dozen or so years ago, and I remember being surprised at all the things I didn’t know. That was true this time, too. Some of my skills, notably low-speed maneuvering skills, were really in need of some seriously polishing.
     Charles, our instructor and a Jim’s employee, made everything look effortless, but he had me and at least some of my classmates really sweating.
     Here is what Rider’s Edge says about the course:
     “The course runs 1-2 days and is built on the curriculum of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation® (MSF) Basic RiderCourse 2 Suite. It is taught by devoted MSF and H-D® Certified Instructors.
     “The course focuses on improving these skills:
  • ·         Control at low speeds
  • ·         Risk management
  • ·         Limited space maneuvers
  • ·         Cornering judgment
  • ·         Swerving and stopping quickly on straights and in curves
  • ·         Multiple curve maneuvers and surmounting objects

     “When you're done, you'll earn an MSF Basic RiderCourse 2 completion card that may qualify you for a discount on motorcycle insurance.”

     This training opportunity will come around again, and when it does we will let you know about it. Taking it is a personal choice and no one is going to require you to take it. But, believe me, it will make you a better and safer rider.
     Give it some thought.