Archive for the ‘Harley Motorcycles’ Category

Motorcycles and the Auto Train

Monday, February 7th, 2011

In late November, I took a trek on one of the Harleys from Washington, DC that eventually took me into the Florida Keys.   This ride spanned a couple of weeks since I stopped for a few days in Charlotte, then spent five days in Orlando followed by a week in Miami.   Some interesting experiences.

First, riding on several days started at or below freezing.   That in itself was an experience on an older bike.   There simply isn’t an option to plug heated clothing into this ’89 Softtail.   The generator won’t handle it.   So, it was back to basics – a nice base layer followed by several additional layers.   Everything was important, but a full head covering followed by a full face helmet went a long way toward making the ride manageable.   I also had three pairs of gloves – cold weather gloves, cool weather gloves, and warm weather gloves for the keys.

Because part of this ride occured over the Thankgiving holidays, there were a few traffic snags.   The ride between DC and Charlotte took about 2 hours longer than normal.  The ride between Charlotte and Orlando took almost 3 hours longer than normal.   The biggest problem with getting stuck in the traffic is that it gets pretty old moving one car length at a time.   That occured a couple of times when accidents caused the traffic to come to a virtual standstill.   I never figured out a good way to deal with it – it was certainly the tiresome part of the trip.  

I used my Scala Rider, which I discussed on a previous entry.   It was nice to have the music to listen to and it made my wife more comfortable that she could call occasionally.   During my stays in Orlando and Miami, it was nice that both hotels allowed me to park at no cost – the hotel in Miami normally charged $36 a night for parking.   My wife flew down to Miami for the weekend.  Timing worked well.   I arrived from Orlando, dropped my bag off with the concierge and headed to the airport.   She arrived about 10 minutes later.   We strapped her bag on the back of the bike and headed back to check in at the hotel.   Spent the weekend exploring South Beach, Key Biscayne, Key Largo, and other areas.

The title of this entry refers to the Amtrak Auto train.  In case you are wondering how that fits into the picture, here’s the story.   I left DC in freezing, but dry weather and was going to be gone for over two weeks.  Based on the brutal snow storms we experienced last winter, the concern was that the roads could be extremenely hazardous by the time I was returning.  So, I looked into the Auto Train option.   This train runs non-stop from Lorton, Va to Sanford, FL (just outside of Orlando).   You can place cars, vans, and yes – motorcycles on it.   So, for less than $200 I was able to buy tickets back to Lorton for myself and the bike.  It was 22 degrees when I arrived in Lorton.  Fortunately, it was a short ride home from there.

The day of my departure meant that I was on a schedule to leave Miami.   Unfortunately, temperatures were about 40 degrees or less and it was raining.  I rode in the rain for about 100 miles towards Orlando before it cleared up and became more comfortable.   Arrived in Sanford, took about 5 minutes to get the bike on a “wheeled pallet” and then went in to the waiting area.   Everything went smoothly with the boarding and several times they announce the number of cars, vans and people on the train and pointed out that they also had one motorcycle.  

The train pulled out about 4:00 pm and arrived in Lorton the next morning at about 9:30 am.   Nice meal on board that evening and a continental breakfast the next morning.  They had a lounge car and showed a movie a couple of times.  They also kept coffee, cookies and few other offerings out all night.   I simply booked a seat, but they did have options for sleeper cars. 

Based on the experience, we are contemplating another trip to Florida for both of us.   We may do the train both ways and save the riding for the Sunshine State.   If you live in the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, I would certainly consider this as an option to get away from the winter and have a nice long weekend or week of riding in Floriday.

Virginia Ride – August 28, 2010

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Saturday, 28 August 2010 looked like a particularly nice day for a ride.  We left the house at about 9:00 am and headed south on I-95 towards Fredericksburg, VA.  We took exit 130B to merge onto VA-3 W.  After about 12 miles, we turned left on VA-20, also known as Constitution Hwy.  If you are into American History, this drive takes you past President Madison’s estate and it is not far from President Jefferson’s Monticello.  After about 20 mile you will see the Waugh Harley Davidson Dealer on your right.  We stopped and visited for about 30 minutes.  We also got our Harley Davidson tour Virginia Passports stamped there.

When we started out again, we continued on Constitution Hwy and stopped in for a wine tasting at the Barboursville Winery.  You get to sample about a dozen wines and keep the glass for $5.  We liked their Viogneir Reserve as well as the Octagon.  The Rosato dessert wine was also pretty good.

From there we drove to Charlottesville, VA just because we had never been there.  THIS WAS  A VERY NICE RIDE ON A BIKE.  It is one of Virginia’s Byways and we found it to be just enough curves and trees lining the road to make it very pleasant.  I would certainly recommend it.

From Charlotesville, we headed to Staunton and stopped in at the Shenandoah Harley.  We again had our Virginia Passports stamped and just sat on the deck to relax for a little while.  About 5:00 pm we started towards home and stopped in for dinner at Kate’s in Springfield, VA.  A little mahi-mahi, a Sam Adam’s Octoberfest, some live music, and we were finally ready to head home about 10:00 pm.  It was pretty much a perfect day for riding and just enjoying being outside.  Warm at the lower elevations, cool in the higher elevations.

I’ve discussed our Scala Rider intercom before.  It sure is nice to be able to communicate between the bikes.  Now that we have added the Garmin Zumo to one of the bikes, it makes it particularly easy to simply head out exploring.  Whenever we decide to head home, it is a simple matter of pressing the button that says home.  It immediately routes it for you.  Not like previous years where we had to stop somewhere to even determine which direction was home.  I would certainly recommend both of these items as additions to your ride.

Scala Rider

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

As of July 2009, we have two Harley Davidson motorcyles, a Softtail and a Sportster Hugger.   Prior to getting the Sportster, we rode two up on the Softtail.  While not always easy, we simply shouted at each other to communicate.   But, when the second bike came along, it meant we could only talk when we were beside each other.  We normally wear full face helmets, so it was virtually impossible to communicate unless we were stopped and lifted our visors.

I spent a fair amount of time search for options, with my primary goal to find something that was cheap and would allow us to communicate – nothing else.  After a while, I decided to buy a set of microphones and speakers that could be installed in a helmet and that were supposed to work with Motorola FRS radios.  I received the package, connected the devices to my FRS radios and discovered they did not work.  It’s not that they didn’t work well.  They did not work.  I sent them back and received a refund.

Then I decided perhaps I needed to consider a system that was designed from the start with motorcycle riders in mind.  I went to a number of bike stores and search the internet.  I finally decided to try the ScalaRider Q2.   We have been using these for about a year and have very few complaints.  Overall, they do what they claim to do.

Let’s take a quick look at what they do. 

  • Interrcom (up to 3 helmets connect together with the Q2)
  • Ipod speakers (use a provided cable to plug your music device into the Q2
  • Bluetooth headset for your phone
  • FM radio (built-in)
  • Bluetooth to your GPS

At this point you might wonder how all of these things fit together.  Basically, there is a hierarchy of precedence.  So, you can be listening to the built-in FM radio receiver or you can plug in your iPod or other audio device.  If the intercom is activated by you or one of your fellow riders, it takes priority.  If you have connected your phone and a call starts coming in, that will take priority.  If you are using your Bluetooth GPS, it will take priority.   The Q2 can only connect to one Bluetooth device.  Initially, I connected to my cell phone.  However, I have now added a Garmin Zumo 550 GPS to the Softtail.  I connect the Garmin to the ScalaRider Q2 and I connect my phone to the Garmin.  I can actually dial a phone number from the Garmin touch screen.  I’ll talk more about the Garmin in a separate blog.  The important thing to know is that it works, and it is pretty simple.

We like the ScalaRider Q2 enough that we decided to order two more headsets.  As I mentioned, we normally ride with full face helments.  But, in really hot weather, we ride with 3/4 helments.  We wanted to be able to slip the Q2 on either pair of helmets.  No problem, you simply buy a second mounting system with speakers and microphone.  The electronics module simply slips on.  When you finish a ride, you remove the module and recharge it with an included charger.

The mounting system is well thought out.  You can either clamp it to your helmet or there is an included adhesive pad that can be used.  They warn you that the adhesive is a permanent installation, so be sure it is really what you want.  We used the clamping method.  I saw no reason to permanently bond the Q2 to our helmets.   We have not had any problem with the clamping arrangement and have been using the for one year now.

I suggest that you take a look at www.cardosystems.com to see pictures and get more details on how they work.  Basically, two or three headsets are paired.  Think of this as a buddy pair and a secondary buddy.  Ideally, have your bikes running when you power-up the Q2′s to get ready for a ride.  They are designed for noisy environments and it appears to help the Q2 establish the correct baseline if they start up with normal motorcycle noise around them.  The normal mode uses a voice connect.  Either rider activates it by speaking loudly, whistling, or somehow making enough noise to essentially “key” the microphone. 

We have occasionally had a problem where one of the Q2′s starts transmitting once the rider has exceeded some speed, presumably due to wind noise.  Sometimes we have corrected it by powering off the units and then powering them up again.  However, there is another option.  There is a simple procedure (press the two volume buttons simultaneaously) to switch to manual mode.  In that mode, a tap of the MC button activates the connection.  Another tap ends it.  If you want to connect to a third person (your secondary buddy) you use a double tap.

Pretty simple.  Pretty reliable.  Pretty good investment.   We purchased ours online through the Motorcycle Superstore.  Placed the order on a Sunday morning and received notice it was packaged and ready for shipment that afternoon.  Monday I received shipping info and I could watch it progress across the country, arriving as advertised.   It’s only one experience with the Motorcycle Superstore, but it was a good one.

Cardo has now released a Q4 unit.  I have not tried it, but according to the advertising information, the Q4 allows intercom connectivity up to 1 mile.  The Q2 advertises 500 yards.  We have been separated by several hundred yards and have been able to keep talking.  We have never tried to make an exact distance measurement, but I would guess that we have been close to 500 yards apart on several occasions with no problem.  The Q2 is advertised as fully weather protected and the Q4 is weather resistant.  Three Q2 units can be used simulataneously.  Four Q4 units can be used simultaneously.  So, unless you need 1 mile of separation or 4 units, I would stick with the Q2.

I didn’t comment on the built-in FM radio.  Let me simply say that it works, but I don’t find it to be very useful during a ride.  You don’t have much of an antenna and so you generally get good signals from stations that you are near.  While on a ride, that can change pretty regularly.  About the only time I use the FM is once I have stopped somewhere, I may try to pick up an FM station to get the weather report.

I hope that helps if you are trying to decide.  I wish I could have found some info like this when I was looking.

Enjoy your rides and keep the shiny side up.

Jack and Roxy

VA State HOG Rally

Friday, July 16th, 2010

We attended the VA HOG Rally in Chesapeake, VA in June.  105 degrees most of the days.  Heck of a time to be riding an air-cooled motorcycle.  Still, we had fun participating in the games, managed to get a 3rd place finish in Biker Bowling, and the Fairfax Chapter pretty much took over the dance floor.

Enjoy your rides and keep the shiny side up!

Jack & Roxy