Here we are sitting on a brand new $42,000 Honda Goldwing in our local Honda motorcycle dealership and I’m wondering how I got here… How is it that parked outside is my bike – one of the fastest production bikes ever made and I’m in here entertaining the idea of a big touring bike?
On our trips to the US in 2013 and Spain in 2015 I spent time on a motorcycle alone exploring the local countryside of which I came back with lots of great stories and photos of stunning scenery. When we got home from Spain Deb was adamant that I was not to do another motorcycle trip without her. Next time she was coming..!
After Deb earned the Alaskan cruise I started thinking about possible motorcycle trips in the US. Within a week I received a mailout from EagleRider advertising a tour that lined up with our dates and location but was over two weeks and covered over 5,000km. That was going to be a big step up from what we have done in the past. Over my 35 years of riding Deb has spent considerable time on the back of the bike and is a great pillion but her riding experience was limited to day and weekend rides. Certainly nothing of this duration or distance. But Deb was keen, and this trip was going to cover a lot of places we wanted to go! It was like the stars were aligning.
In the back of my mind I knew that a trip of this scale could go one of two ways – Deb would get tired of backing up everyday on the bike and just not enjoy it, or she would fall in love with this mode of travel and this would be the start of many riding adventures for us.
With that in mind I set about stacking the deck as I love hanging out with Deb and really enjoy having her along as a passenger on the bike. Therefore, as neither of us liked the Harley Davidson Electra Glide (from previous experiences) the other touring bike options offered for this trip were the Honda Goldwing and the Indian Roadmaster. I wanted a nice big comfy touring bike for the pillion and something that was still fun to ride as we were going to be spending a lot of time in the mountains. Therefore I booked the Goldwing and even though they guaranteed the bike they needed a second option and I have heard lots of great things about the big Indian so the Roadmaster was my second option.
For me this was a two week test ride of the big Honda. They say if you don’t want to buy a Goldwing don’t take your partner for a ride on a Goldwing. So I knew that if Deb enjoyed touring, then the writing would be on the wall after this trip.
Then a couple of months before the trip EagleRider underwent some changes and removed the Honda and Indian as options for the tour (even though they guaranteed the bikes at the time I booked and put my deposit down) and effectively forced us onto the Electra Glide. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.! I tried pushing the point but to no avail – this wasn’t the bike either of us wanted but with everything already booked around this trip we had little option. So we decided to just make the best of it as we knew that the scenery was still going to be amazing and we were going to have a ball.
I mention this as it is important to understand my mindset coming into this tour.
So how was it…?
The Tour – EagleRider – Canada Yellowstone tour starts in Seattle, heads north to Jasper in Canada and then follows the Rockies all the way down to Denver. The tour cost included the bike and fuel, 3-4 star accommodation, National Park entry costs, our riding jackets, a support vehicle to carry all our luggage, and a number of other things. So the only real expenses we had for two weeks were lunch and dinner (breakfast included), drinks, and souvenirs. While it’s certainly not a cheap tour, considering all the inclusions it isn’t that bad especially considering that we were staying in pretty nice accommodation and large motorcycles are expensive to rent and insure.
This was the first time that I have been on a guided tour and as I’m not generally a group person I was a bit apprehensive about this aspect of the trip. For me this trip wasn’t about doing big miles every day but cruising and hanging out with Deb – and as we were doing it as a couple we thought it would be good to do it as a group. Besides on the bike you are in your own little world so it gave the introvert the time to retreat and reflect and take in the surroundings.
The Guides – This was a fully guided tour which meant that we had a guide riding with us and a support vehicle to carry all our gear (and importantly end-of-day drinks on ice!). Our guides for the trip were Lala (on the bike and the only American in the group) and Tim in the van (the only Brit in our group).
Can I just say I think they have ruined us. How can we possibly back that experience up. Lala and Tim made what was a great tour into a fantastic tour.
We certainly appreciated all the hard work these guys put in to make our holiday such a great and seamless experience. It’s great to turn up at your destination and all the booking in is done and you’re just handed the keys to your room.
The Route– Along the way we had a number of locals suggest roads that we should take but given the roads we took and the places we went it would be hard to top. The route was amazing but it would’ve been nice to have more time in a number of places. I had to keep reminding myself that this was just a taster, and there was no way that we could see everything, everywhere we went, in the time we had.
The challenge with any of these routes is balancing the fact that this is a riding holiday with exploring the local offerings – whether that is attractions, National Parks, or roads. Over the two weeks of riding there were only a couple of days that had sections that felt like ‘transport legs’ or just a piece of highway to link to another great road or destination. But other than that we were just blown away constantly by the ever changing scenery, and while it was all different it was all stunning.
Here is a sample video Allan put together using a Sony action camera. This covers highlights from day 1 – riding from Seattle to Winthrop which was a really cool little town. One of the many towns it would have been good to spend more time in.
Some of the amazing places we road through included –
- North Cascades
- Well Gray Provincial Park
- Mt. Robson Provincial Park
- Rearguard Falls Provincial Park
- Jasper National Forest
- Banff National Park
- Waterton Lakes National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Virginia City
- Beartooth Pass
- Chief Joseph Pass
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Snake River Gorge
- Flaming Gorge
- Rocky Mountains National Park
If there was one thing I would change – on a couple of the days we pulled in to our hotels relatively early where we could have spent more time in the National Park – a number suggested that in future people could have the option of spending more time in the National Park and then making their own way to the hotel.
Here is an overview of our route.
Group Riding – other than the bike my other concern coming into this ride was the whole group riding thing. I’ve not made it a secret in previous posts that I’m not a fan of group rides.
This is certainly the biggest and longest group ride that I have been involved in.
While riding in a group certainly has some draw backs I need to acknowledge that there are equally a number of very big positives with riding in a group. These include the camaraderie that you get with riding as a group. Over the two weeks we got to know most of the group and we were enjoying just hanging out. At fuel stations. Over lunch. Standing on the side of the road. We were having a shared experience so straight away we had many things in common, bringing us together.
Like any group there were always people that you tend to click with better / easier and it is also true with riding in a group especially when riding in a staggered formation. Some are easy to ride with as they are consistent and predictable, and some aren’t. We were doing 500km days and I was surprised how tired I was after such a relatively short distance – I put down some of my added fatigue to the additional level of concentration required for this type of riding.
One of the things I really enjoy about travelling is meeting and getting to know new people from around the world and understanding their reality. We had a great group from all over the world and it was great just hanging out and getting to know one another. And with something like this trip and motorcycling as a common thread in our lives these were great conversation starters.
There were actually two groups doing this tour and we were generally 30 minutes apart. The other group consisted mainly of Aussies and Brits and we were given the option to join them as it was the smaller group, however we opted to stay in the more international group. Joining the other group would have been the easy option, but we are glad we stayed in the more international group.
Life on the road – so what did a day look like out on the road.?
Every morning we were up between 6 and 7 depending on our departure time. Get organised and packed and then head down to breakfast. After breakfast grab our gear and take it to the van 15 mins before departure and have a ride briefing on the day – where we are going, where we are stopping and what we will be seeing.
Head out for the days riding.
At the end of the day when we pulled into our accommodation the esky/chilly bin/cooler was the first thing to come out for our end-of-day drinks. Over drinks we would have a quick debrief, overview of where we are and what there is to see and do and dinner options, and handed our room key. After getting changed, a little bit of washing, and plugging the helmet intercoms in to charge, we’d head out to explore – and grab a magnet for the fridge.
And before hitting the hay I’d spend time downloading the day’s photos, picking out some photos for the blog, reflecting on what we did and saw during the day, and then put together the day’s post. This would typically take 45 minutes to an hour. While this is an investment in time every day I find it a great way to synthesise the days events and what we were feeling at the time so that I can go back to my posts years later and be instantly transported right back to that moment.
The Bike – It seems that EagleRider is now a Harley shop so their range is largely Harley related. The only non-Harley bikes available in the end for our tour was a couple larger adventure bike (Triumph Tiger 800 and BMW R1200GS). For us the only bike that really suited was the Electra Glide – as I mentioned earlier I wanted something pillion friendly. Deb certainly found the Electra Glide comfortable and her two main complaints were … too easy to fall asleep on, and it was slow.
I have ridden an earlier version of the Electra Glide and while I am happy to ride anything my preference would have been something with more performance … in every area.
To better understand my biases. This is what I normally ride – a bike with about double the horsepower and the same torque as the Electra Glide, and over 30% lighter. It’s a sports tourer with a big focus on sports and is capable of covering big miles fast in relative comfort (even two up). I ride big miles and have ridden a number of 1,000+ mile days on this bike. And most of my 35 years of road riding is on big powerful sports tourers.
The big Harley was quite a contrast! My thoughts on the bike after a couple of weeks riding it.
- It was slow – it took forever to wind up and you had to think car distances when overtaking anything.
- The low power could be forgiven if it had stump pulling torque … but honestly it was pretty useless. I struggled to use sixth gear as it really wouldn’t pull it unless you were doing 60+mph so I spent a lot of time in fifth or even in forth just so I had some power.
- It was hot! On the first day I had a burn mark on my right calf from the sheer radiant heat from the exhaust on the rear cylinder. It wasn’t until the second day that I realised that there was a vent in the lower panels to help with airflow to get the heat away from your legs.
- This is a big bike and I remember how heavy the 2013 bike was to get off the side stand. This new bike seems much better. However this is a big bike and you really notice it’s weight at slow speeds.
- The front brakes had very little feel and were next to useless pulling up the 400kg bike, so you found yourself primarily relying on the rear brake which takes some getting used to after a lifetime of primarily relying on front brakes as that’s where the majority of the stopping power comes from.
- The clutch although hydraulic was really heavy and you needed forearms like Popeye to ride it in stop-go traffic. In contrast the ZX14R has twice the power and a clutch that requires half the effort.
- It was big and wallowy in the corners and just didn’t settle and when you run out of ground clearance it spits you off – well that’s what we found. Again you have to think car speeds when assessing corners as you approach them.
- I found the screen to be the wrong height as it gave me horrible turbulence. I note that most Harley dealers had different screens that people could test on their own bikes – so clearly a common issue.
- The seating position for both rider and pillion was good and I actually didn’t mind the riding position once my body adapted to the different position. Although Deb didn’t like the passenger floorboards as she found they locked her feet/ankles into an uncomfortable position whereas pegs gave you more range of movement.
- From the back – Deb mentioned that she feels more like a passenger than a pillion. As a pillion you are actively working with the rider, whereas on this bike you were along for the ride, just sitting watching the world go by.
It is safe to say that after our two week test ride there isn’t a Harley in my future. For the last week of the ride the phrase that kept going around in my head was “Harley – yesterdays technology tomorrow”. I cannot understand the fascination (other than pure loyalty) with Harley as they really don’t handle, and for such a big motor they are good at making noise but they have very little power and bugger all torque compared to everything else on the market.
The predominate bike where we were was Harley and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had even ridden another brand to see what they are missing. And given the lack of any Japanese or European motorcycle dealerships (I really didn’t see any) – that may well be the case.
To me the Electra Glide is an interstate bike, but other than that it sucks the fun out of riding.
Obviously these are my observations and in isolation to other bikes available in this category, however as it stands I wouldn’t be putting my money on the table to purchase on. I really need to take a few other bikes in this category for a decent ride to compare them – specifically the Honda Goldwing and the BMW K1600GTL.
Conclusion – Would I do another one of these tours?
My response to this question on the EagleRider post-event survey – we loved the tour but we wouldn’t do another EagleRider tour if all they had to offer in the big touring or sports/touring category were Harley’s. These tours are a lot of money and as a riding holiday I want something more enjoyable to ride and something that aligns to my style of riding.
However the bigger question … would we do another group tour?
If it was a group tour for both of us … then I’d have to say the answer is a resounding yes.
So what happened … I think I need a big touring bike in my garage. Now that Deb has a taste of this type of touring, I can’t wait to share more of Australia with Deb on the back.
And no the 14 will not be going.! I can’t imagine life without a bike like the 14 for awhile yet.