Monday, September 21, 2009

Bikers Away!

"Nothing in his life became him as the leaving it," so spake Malcolm in the first act of Shakespeare's Macbeth, speaking of the death of the traitor Cawdor. Well, it is a bit strong as comparisons go, but it puts me in mind of the relief I feel as the horde of bikers takes to the road to leave Key West.
Many residents of the city face Bike Week with some trepidation, the noise of unbridled mufflers in the narrow streets keep people awake at night and keep their teeth on edge by day. With an estimated ten thousand motorcycles in the city for four days it's impossible to prevent all the noise and confusion from impacting the lives of residents. The other side of the coin is money, a nice injection of cash into our tourist town at the slowest time of the year.These people aren't necessarily daily riders, people who ride to work, ride to the store, ride on vacation. They parade their machines, be they ever so impractical for the pleasure of being seen. That so many of them arrive in the Southernmost City not in trailers is something of a miracle if you ask me. These pictures I took of motorcycles leaving town as I commuted to work Saturday evening, so this lot is representative of the non-trailer crowd on the Overseas Highway. This BMW represents the few hundred non Harleys who attend the gathering which is organized each year at this period in the low tourist season by the Miami Harley dealer. Petersen's Poker run raises tens of thousands of dollars for assorted worthy causes:You'd think that someone who enjoys riding would look forward to seeing his home town celebrating other riders, but motorcycling like every other lifestyle impediment, is broken down into groups and factions. I'd like nothing more than to stroll Lower Duval and look at a variety of motorcycles ridden into town and put on parade. However there are only so many variations on the cruiser/chopper/bobber themes that can hold my interest. As for leather vests and chaps, well let me draw a veil across the more fetishistic modes of dress of these chrome cowboys. Despite the presence of token babes perched on the back, homo-eroticism oozes from every rumbling twist of the throttle. It's all quite enough to make a bourgeois homebody like me sweat bullets just to be a spectator. I like severely practical motorcycle clothing, thanks.They came, they saw, they spent lots of money and drank rivers of cheap beer. Now it's time to go home and hang up the motorcycle costume and retreat to sober suits and understated ties for the drive to their cubicles for a while, before they will permit themselves to let loose once again the inner, ravening, chromium plated beast. For an afternoon though, they own the Overseas Highway as they retreat from Key West back to reality:Me? I sneak off on my wife's Vespa lest anyone should mistake my work horse for a participant in the v twin fest. I'd be the guy in the see through plastic jacket turning up to the bandana party on a submissive little parallel twin by Triumph, a brand rarely seen in Key West. So instead I ride my wife's sober little 150cc scooter and let them keep glancing nervously in their mirrors as the alabaster buzz bomb keeps up with their bombastic roaring, throbbing steeds. My colleague Paula worked for most of her adult life waiting Key West's tables and she has the proper perspective on Bike Week. "It means money when there is no money in Key West" is the gist of her argument. True enough but she drives a tatty old conch cruiser by Chevrolet, a full half a mile to work. No one is mistaking her for one of these people:I only followed this guy for a few miles at sixty miles an hour but he was sweating bullets trying to put some distance between his bobbed extravaganza and me on the cream colored moped. I stopped to take some pictures afraid he would climb up the SUV's tailpipe to escape proximity to my little Vespa.
Businesses all along the highway put out the welcome sign for these guys, but I think their sights were set on the mainland by Saturday afternoon:
Time seems to be flying by and one undesirable and unexpected side effect of this my daily diary is a reminder of how fast each anniversary is upon us. For my close up last year of Bike Week on Duval check this essay: It was perfect weather for a ride into or out of Key West though I'm sure some would prefer the cooler temperatures of Up North along with the turning of the leaves lining hilly twisting roads. Well then, let them stay away in droves because we have had plenty of motorcyclists all weekend. For those that didn't make it next year's Bike Week will come around soon enough:I didn't realize until he flashed by that this was some weirdo showing up to a Harley rally on a rather toothsome sport tourer in the Yamaha FJR1300 mold. He didn't seem to mind being stuck with a powerful water cooled engine with shaft drive, excellent weather protection and properly built-in luggage. Poor thing. His sole concession to v-twin mania was riding in a tank top as one does in southernmost heat:
Here we are where we belong, a perfectly upright v-twin negotiating one of the few corners on the Overseas Highway in a perfectly upright posture:
This is cruising Keys style, with no ground clearance at all. This sort of cruiser makes a superb platform to enjoy Florida's straight roads and the Keys unusual scenery.
Or the backs of the cars in front. It isn't easy to figure out how to pass when you don't know the road, and even though there are lots of decent places to pass slow pokes it takes more effort than a visitor needs to be putting into the ride. Much better to sit back and enjoy the views. On weekends like these I give myself an extra ten minutes on my 27 mile commute to avoid feeling pressure to pass.
When caught up in a line of cars I recommend pulling over, the shoulders are ample almost everywhere along the Overseas Highways (not on bridges doofus!) and take a moment to let the long lines of cars pull ahead. Then you get to cruise at your speed with your own private views: By now I was on South Roosevelt, cruising into town along Smathers Beach. Officer Betz made a good living catching speeders along here Saturday night. The speed limit is 30 and though it seems a might slow, 45 mph is easily enough to get a ticket worth the price of a night at an expensive hotel.
I got heartily tired at work of entering traffic stops into the computer, I must say, and clearing them with citations issued. Key West isn't a town for speeders especially on Bike Week when overtime is mandatory in the police department and leave seems to be canceled judging by the number of Highway Patrol troopers littering the roads. Much better to pretend your bike is a couch, stick your feet forward and pretend you're Peter Fonda seeing America (minus the coke in the tank).And if you're in Key West with your squeeze you too can pretend to be Captain America for a while even if you are riding a modest Taiwan Golden Bee scooter and a man the age of your father rolls by on his chromium plated couch:
I have been suppressing a hankering to get another dog from Florida Labrador Rescue, not least because my wife balks at the expense of putting a fence around our home (squashed dog is too awful to contemplate), and then I'd need a hack. I'm not sure I'd like to stick a Velorex on my Bonneville and I toyed for a while with the idea of a Ural. These Russian made machines have had a reputation for zero reliability which has improved since they started using modern motorcycle parts from Europe and Japan. However the Ural (pronounced "ooo-rhal" their owners will insist, not "Urinal" as I have frequently heard them referred to) have two other problems. They can barely reach 65mph which even for a slow person like me is too damned slow, and at the same time if you try to go that fast gas mileage drops from an awful 30 mpg (11 km/liter) to an abysmal 25 mpg according to the Ural forum. All that while you drop parts as you go, and now need to find car spaces to park the machine in congested Key West. Cute, no?
Ah well, that's it for bike week. If I am to give advice (Heaven Forbid!) I would recommend renting from Classic Motorcycle Rentals of Orlando (407-583-6988 delivery to your hotel) at $50 a day for a Bonneville or a Scrambler, and at that price take a week to ride down to Key West along Highway 27 through rolling orange groves, past old town Sebring, around Lake Okeechobee and down to Key West for a couple of days of motorcycle racket, then riding back up the west coast of Florida to enjoy the beaches and the swimming along the way with a final ride through the magnificent forests of west central Florida to Orlando. Or you could just be like everybody else and rent a Harley in Miami and thud-thud your way down the Overseas Highway in a leather vest. Your choice. Sniff.