Two guys from the UK, a 40-year-old, Dave and a 56-year- old, that’s me, Ricci, hired two large motorbikes and rode around Southern California for a few days. Here’s our story.
Did the trip pan out exactly the way that we had both expected? Er, No! I think we sleep walked into it a bit and we certainly gained some insight into how to crack on and dig deep when you’re up a mountain in freezing conditions! We had some good fun and I can honestly say that we did really enjoy ourselves; four weeks later, I’m still thinking back to the trip – the highlights and the more challenging elements.
So, if you’ve never hired a bike to take off for a few days or were thinking about cruising around SOCAL in the future, or are just a bit inquisitive about how a couple of somewhat intelligent guys threw caution to the wind and survived, then stick around!
First things first. I’m not a blogger or a writer. I can and do write music, instrumental music actually, but have never been able to write lyrics. A friend called Debbie (https://twitter.com/Debbiekirlew) is a professional writer and blogger. Her articles are really well constructed and provocative. Don’t expect this from me! It’s not that I CBA, I just don’t have that talent.
Anyway, our story started some months ago in 2015 when Dave and I found ourselves just talking about possibly hiring a couple of bikes in California after the annual music show in Anaheim.
Called the NAMM show, it’s now in its 116th year and takes place in the Convention Center over the road from the original Disneyland park. It’s the trade show for anyone involved in the manufacture, distribution and retailing of musical instruments. From penny whistles to recording studios – you can see it all here.
Another of its unique qualities is that it takes place in Southern California and that just happens to be the home of many a famous rock star, so, expect to see some famous faces walking up and down the aisles or conducting signing sessions on manufacturers’ stands.
I’ve been attending this show since 1989. They should really give me a badge or something! The first couple of times, I did squeeze a visit, literally over the road to Disneyland, but ever since those first few trips, on Sunday night, after the show finishes, I have simply got back on the plane and returned home to my wife and family. Nothing wrong with that, I can hear you say, but I’ve had a yearning or an itch that needs scratching!
Dave and I both ride Harleys in the UK: that’s Skipton in Yorkshire and Datchet in Berkshire respectively. For those of you in the know, nuff said! Harley riders expect their bikes to make a lot of noise and to garner admiring glances but they’re not built for breakneck speed. Well that will be fine as we’re just going to be cruising around California and what’s more, everyone rides Harleys in CA!
So we both started researching online. I had come across a company called EagleRider, http://www.eaglerider.com that talked the talk – they offer motorcycle rental, guided tours or self ride – these guys had a fantastic website, whether you wanted to ride across America or just had 24 hours to hire a bike, it would be no problem. They also had a massive range of Harleys, Indians (check them out, they are works of art) as well as other European bikes.
I raised the topic with my wife Jo. She’s made it plain over the years that she has no wish to ever sit on the back of a bike. She was cool about me extending my trip as long as I was careful. Of course, this was just going to be a little jaunt up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), over to Santa Barbara via Santa Maria and back, ‘taking it easy,’ as the Eagles song goes.
One early evening in December, around 6 pm, which would be 10am Pacific standard time, (UK is eight hours ahead of California) Dave and I put a call into EagleRider. We had a few questions about whether the route we were thinking of taking was suitable in January and needed to make that first step into getting something booked.
The route we were thinking of taking would take us from the EagleRider offices near LAX airport onto the PCH, up to Oxnard, onto Santa Barbara and continuing to Santa Maria across to Ojai and back down to EagleRider, three days and two nights, nice and easy (map courtesy of EagleRider).
The guy on the other end of the phone, Duncan, sounded really cool and level headed. Sure, nothing was a problem, oh; don’t forget to bring your wet riding kit as we’re expecting El Niño this year! El Niño is a weather phenomenon that heats up the Pacific by a few degrees and causes storms and bad weather across California. I think it happens every eight to ten years and we were going to be in for it in January 2016.
Dave seemed to think that a bit of rain was ‘no problem’ so encouraged by his gung-ho attitude, I also agreed that rain was fine, hey, we’re from England, the home of rain!
Just a bit about Dave. He’s northern or, more specifically, a Yorkshireman, from Skipton. I like his rather matter of fact way of thinking– he doesn’t do BS. He had been riding bikes for years so I was confident that he knew what he was talking about. Just as well I suppose as there was going to be a particular moment of reckoning where we were both going to have to prove that we knew what we are doing!
I had been through the ROSPA training course with an expert tutor, called Graham Knight. This system is based on the system of motorcycle control, which is detailed in Motorcycle Roadcraft – The Police Rider’s Handbook. Since my training and my subsequent test, where I had received a gold pass, (boom!) I still hear Graham’s calming voice and wise words in my ear, giving me advice about positioning the bike, making progress, staying in a protective bubble and the best line of all, ‘take the lane of least resistance!’ Little did I know his advice was to come in handy!
Duncan, from EagleRider, sent us a quote over for the trip. Bike hire; a couple of Harley Davidson Road Kings. These are big iconic Harleys with saddlebags and windscreens that would gobble up those miles and make us fit in perfectly!
Then Dave dropped his bombshell. Er, Ricci, Dave said in his laconic Yorkshire accent. ‘I’m thinking of hiring a Triumph Explorer on this trip’ What? Dave! We’re going to the US of A, home of the Harley! We were in danger of looking decidedly out of place! Amazing though these bikes are, can we really be seen riding anything else in Southern California?!
I think I nearly convinced him out of it until he told me that EagleRider also had BMW R1200GS bikes for hire. Now I recognise that most of you reading this will have no idea what a R1200GS actually is.
Do you remember the ‘Long Way Round’ challenge, where Ewan McGregor and his mate, Charley Boorman, rode a couple of bikes through 12 countries in just 115 days? Some of these countries were pretty much inaccessible to four-wheel drive vehicles let alone a motorbike, but they somehow made it! They did it on these bikes and certainly proved their worth.
This had spawned a whole new genre of motorbike, the traillie bike. Big engine, big petrol tank, loads of storage and you’re ready to travel the globe, or up the M4 motorway into Central London! These bikes don’t come cheap, around £15,000 ($21,000) but they do bristle with technological aids to make your global tour or daily commute that bit more comfortable! Four different riding modes, road, rain, off road and going for it!(I made that one up!). A commanding riding position, electronic stability, heated grips and a clever computer that can tell you loads of info such as icy roads during your ride.
I know I’ve gone a bit off topic but I’m just trying to position just where this BMW sits in the minds of bikers. It’s the number one selling bike in Europe, again, despite its hefty price tag and it commands an insane second hand value. All down to Ewan and Charley who took these bikes around the globe.
Incidentally, the guys at KTM, an Austrian traillie bike manufacturer had been previously approached by Ewan and the gang but it seemed that the powers that be at KTM didn’t think they would make it or didn’t know who Ewan McGregor was! I wonder if the executive responsible for that decision is still there?!
Being totally honest, I do kinda lust after the BMW (it’s a 50-something thang!) So it actually made sense for me to choose it and either get it out of my system or convince myself to sell the Harley and become a R1200GS owner!
I remember telling the missus that I had decided on the Beemer (BMW) for the ride and waited for the abuse! I took it and gently explained about the wisdom of riding a ‘very safe’ BMW over half a ton of Harley Davidson, trying to convince myself at the same time!
So, the night before I leave for the USA. It’s gone 10pm and I’m being picked up at 8am; time to start packing.
Boots, leather jacket, two pairs of gloves, neck scarf, helmet, stop! Helmet was too big to fit into the bag. Ok, leave it and buy a cheap one out there. Bike trousers * 2, one pair of reinforced black jeans and another pair of Gore-Tex biker trousers, visor cleaner and microfibre cloth, flashlight, etc. You get the picture. I had a suitcase rammed full of biker gear and then I needed another suitcase with a suit, business attire and smart casual wear for the first four days of the Music Show.
It felt really strange packing what was ostensibly a ‘holiday’ suitcase as well as my regular business suitcase. Was I going to be able to concentrate on the main job in hand and compartmentalise the fact that I was going riding round SOCAL whilst I was doing business at the show?