The plan was to take up Eaglerider Orlando's offer of a rental made at the AIMExpo motorcycle show last fall, so off the three of us went last weekend to enjoy a relaxing few days away from work, the app and all business related stuff. I have to work Christmas and New Year's so my time off came in between. On Monday morning I picked up this eight hundred pound brute:
I headed south for breakfast at the curiously named Wawa on my way out of town. It turns out Wawa is the Pennsylvania town where the convenience store was founded and where in this case I found not bad food even though I didn't stand in line for the popular hot breakfast attractions. I stood by the Indian Chief Vintage in the parking lot and ate my delayed breakfast in the sun, after scaring off an admirer of the chrome and black beast in the parking lot. He slunk back to his mere car and glanced at me as though with envy. Well he might and I'm sorry if I scared him though why he didn't talk to me I'm not sure. Perhaps I had absorbed the piratical air of one who rides large American cruisers with loud exhausts.
The Indian Chief cuts quite a figure even in the crowded multi-lane traffic of the Orlando suburbs. The factory mufflers are LOUD and bark at the least provocation while the acres of chrome glinted in the sun. The leather saddlebags attracted one motorist's attention at a traffic light and a middle aged woman, a horse enthusiast apparently told me in no uncertain terms the saddle bags would benefit from saddle soap. I don't doubt they would but neither they nor the leather seat are my concern. I am a fan of hard lockable saddle bags and of waterproof vinyl seats. The leather saddle took up the heat of the 90 degree day and reflected it faithfully onto my buttocks. It looked like a hell of a ride, fringes and all when viewed from alongside, from the riding position it was like driving a boat with a tiller:
I have never been much of a fan of the feet forwards riding style of cruiser motorcycles and despite the appearance of comfort by the end of the 300-mile day my shoulders ached from holding the widespread handlebars and my backside was as sore as you might expect from being wedged in one spot on the single seat. The foot controls were quite far forward for my short legs and my trouser legs rode up to my knees in the breeze when I stretched my feet out forward. As much as I liked the looks the Chief was not, to me, as comfortable as my sit-up-and-beg style with the Triumph Bonneville I ride daily.
The Chief is a beautiful bike, rich with clever styling details, acres of luscious paint and lots of chrome. However the mirror stalks were at 1000 miles starting to show slight signs of rust so for an all weather rider the Vintage is an iffy proposition- chrome to clean and leather to soap and none of it benefiting from getting wet! The tires on this model have tubes so getting a flat requires calling a tow to get a puncture repaired.
The 1800cc engine is air cooled and mechanically noisy but it has hydraulic valves that require no maintenance and the primary drive, unlike Harleys is by gears but to me they sounded straight-cut and there was a fair bit of mechanical whine at lower speeds. The gearbox has six speeds though God knows why. I found myself cruising happily at 75 miles per hour in fourth not noticing I had two gears to spare! I had a very pleasant ride to the north shore of Lake Okeechobee:
I had found a Vietnamese restaurant hidden away in a strip mall near the Lake so after taking a few pictures I took some time out in the air conditioning to drink some soup. The motorcycle as always made me feel rather inadequate with its rumbling exhaust and vast shiny presence, I felt like a rather inadequate flea on a very flamboyant elephant everywhere I went.
The pho wasn't terrible but it was mostly broth and noodles and less meat and vegetables but it did the job and it wasn't fried so it worked for me. This was when the day started to go wrong, just as I was feeling all was well with the world. I wasn't missing gear shifts while riding the beast and I had got no speeding tickets despite testing sixth gear to an easily attained 95 mph. The speedometer checked against my phone GPS was dead accurate up to 60 mph, as fast as I was willing to ride one handed with a GPS on my mind.
A call from my wife in tears revealed the news that our Texas rental home in a Dallas suburb was one of 1600 homes trashed after Christmas by a series of killer tornadoes. Our tenants were safe which was good but the house was wrecked and so far pending an engineer's report will require demolition.
The house in Rowlett was our plan B if we needed a bolt hole somewhere away from floods and earthquakes- ha who thought of tornadoes in Dallas? We had been turned on to a first rate rental company in that city and the rent had been paying for the house for almost twenty years. Dallas isn't our idea of a first rate living with neither mountains nor ocean but it has a strong economy normally decent weather for people who don't mind heat, and it had seemed a secure bolt hole or an inexpensive base for retirement travels should we have needed it instead of monthly income. Man proposes, God disposes as the saying goes:
Just this summer we had spent a bundle upgrading tired facilities in the home and now all was wrecked:
My wife insisted I continue the ride as she would feel worse were I to cut it short and return to her hotel room where she had planned a day of leisure. Actually it turned out the La Quinta where we were staying was undergoing renovation and the outdoor pool wasn't heated - no swimming. There was no gym, boo hiss and the room itself was more like a dungeon with purple paint, no carpet and a rather strait jacket layout, narrow and dark. My wife was making do but Cheyenne was peculiarly restless and unhappy in the room. The weekend break was not quite going to plan and plans were going to be wrecked even more if that were possible.
I decided to set the tornado news aside as there was nothing I could do and so instead I amused myself passing trucks in sixth gear rolling the gas on from 55mph. The motorcycle accelerated without a care in the world and cruised at 75mph in top gear at 2700 rpm. Wide sweeping curves were a delight with no wobbles at all, and the weight of the bike is down low so when I amused myself by pulling a u-turn it was the easiest thing in the world to lock the bars and flop around in a tight circle without putting my foot down.
Riding alone ( two suggestions to meet for lunch were rejected, it being the holidays by two moto bloggers) I could stop as I pleased to look around. So I did. It was a delightful day, not a tornado or even a rain cloud in sight.
The oil filter was easily accessible ( I check stuff like that when I think about owning a bike) below the oil cooler, and this one was changed I'm guessing at 512 miles. With belt drive and gear primary drive, changing the five quarts of oil every five thousand miles is about the only maintenance chore. I find that very attractive combined with the low stress nature of the low revving engine.
You can read elsewhere about the history of Indian founded in 1901 in Springfield Massachusetts, as Polaris has done a masterful job since buying the company in 2011 of building heritage motorcycles in Iowa. The Indian name is proudly displayed all over the motorcycle.
I was having a good time rolling along Highway 98 north full of Vietnamese food, and enjoying the crazy noisy rumbling engine. You've heard people say that "loud pipes save lives" well because I ride with quiet factory mufflers I have never had proof one way or the other. Riding the Chief Vintage I got proof positive they don't- three different ways. I had the classic turn left to cross my path attempt by one driver, another changed lanes suddenly to exit the multi-lane street across my path and on a country highway the pick up didn't see notice or hear me approaching from behind when he took a sudden turn to the left to exit the road as I was planning a pass. None of the suicide drivers used signals or mirrors or anything decadent like that. Powerful ABS brakes and an alert brain saved my ass each time.
I love central Florida, the rolling countryside, more pronounced hills to the north and wide open cowboy spaces to the south with smooth roads, a bit too straight frankly offering miles of peaceful touring through varied countryside. Arcadia is known as the Cowboy Capital of Florida but Okeechobee has its own rodeo ground and fleet of citywide pick up trucks.
Hot enough for the cows to seek refreshment in the puddles. And it was after I took this picture that my motorcycle troubles began. The starter wouldn't start. I checked the side stand, I checked the kill button which I normally never touch, I fiddled with the starting procedure, I looked for the radio activated fob to make sure I still had it. But the bastard wouldn't start. I called the rental company and as though by magic the call got the thing going. Great thought I...
The Chief is a gas guzzler. Granted I was riding a brand new bike that hit 1,000 miles on my three hundred mile jaunt and I'd like to think the Beast would get better mileage with premium with the addition of a few thousand miles...but in town riding hard I got less than 30 miles to the US gallon. The 5.5 US gallon tank started to look empty in the gauge after a hundred miles though probably I could have gone another thirty without panicking. However not knowing the machine and not wanting to act the rental prat with an empty tank I made sure I got gas promptly every 100 miles and added three gallons each time. Gulp!
Naturally when I stopped for gas and a phone call to check on my still tearful wife the engine refused to start. To start this bike you keep the fob near the bike ( I carried it in my man purse in the saddlebag) and you press the big black button on the tank. That sets ion motion to fuel injection and the starting procedure. When you are ready to set the machine rumbling you press the starter button on the handlebar. However something seemed to have gone wrong with the security feature as the black button lit up red and the starter didn't start. I kicked the side stand, and when it did start the horn started beeping (LOUDLY) as I tried to ride off, making me look like a thief. Great!
Suddenly it all settled down of its own accord and spared me a second embarrassing call to Eaglerider. Off I rode until I stopped on Highway 27 to answer my phone and check my map on my way to the hallowed Yalala Bakery near Clermont. And that was when Eaglerider promised to send a mechanic out with a spare bike as this non starting had left me stranded again. I walked to Bob Evans for soup and a pee and waited for the mechanic and trailer as the sun hit the horizon.
I put my riding jacket on the side walk and decided to read my Kindle, thank heavens for the iPhone, and wait in patience for deliverance. Idly I tried to re-start the bastard and wouldn't you know it, it fired up promptly, leading me to think the diagnosis of a dead battery in the electronic fob was not correct. If the battery were dead it should stay dead. Yet here it seemed to work at random. I called the mechanic and cancelled him, put away my stuff in the saddlebags (including some Bob Evans cookies for my long suffering wife) and set off into the gathering darkness. That was when the bugger died again after giving off several loud horn farts as I rode down Highway 27. I coasted into a turn lane in the dark where the bugger fired right up again and I lurched off homewards on old highway 50, what turned out to be a delightfully twisted wooded road toward Orlando. It would have been great had I not been riding with my heart in my mouth waiting for the horn to start beeping madly before cutting the engine off.
It was a wild ride through Winter Garden and Windermere stopping to check my map on my blessed phone hoping the engine wouldn't cut out and I started to have fun, feeling like I was 20 years old again riding the crazily unreliable used motorcycles of my youth, all failed wiring and uncertain return times. There was no drama, just an hour long ride I'd like to replicate in daylight on a motorcycle I trust... and after a few missed turns I was back in the dungeon with my grateful wife who feared for my life on the stop and go Indian, and my dog who was finally exhausted, sleeping and still hating the sparsely furnished hotel room and life. It took Cheyenne a night at home before she would talk to me so I think her traveling and exploring days are over. I got the hint from my elderly Lab.
Eaglerider were great. I got the bike started in the morning and therefore naturally got lost on my way to the shop but when I arrived with a full tank (did not turn the bike off at the pumps) they refunded the money for the rental in full, and gave me a credit for a free rental in the next year. There are roads I want to ride around Orlando, next time I think on a Harley Davidson. I enjoy riding different motorcycles on rentals and had I the time and money I would spend a lot more of both around the country with Eaglerider.
I took this picture of Cheyenne at home, happy on her bed and eager to forget her Orlando vacation. I don't think she can take the car further north than Ft Lauderdale or Ft Myers anymore and at the age of fifteen she is happy to spend her days pottering around the house sleeping and eating and watching my every move. It's taken me a while to accept that she is happiest being left at home but it seems now I am convinced that for the rest of her life our travels will be circumscribed by her needs.
She has been a good dog and I would do no less for her. I'm just glad she's forgiven me for putting her through a stupid weekend to indulge my riding habit. Oh not to mention my wife and the ghastly hotel room and the tornado and the calls to the insurance company and FEMA and the mortgage people and the rental company and on and on. What a weekend.