Turns Out That Riding A Motorcycle In Florida Is Just As Terrifying As You Think It Is

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
turns out that riding a motorcycle in florida is just as terrifying as you think it

Didn’t we all have a good laugh earlier this week about the confrontation between a low-talent Florida motorcyclist and a low-IQ Fusion driver? Shouldn’t it be a lesson to all of us to never ride a motorcycle in Florida, even though we now know how it started and how it’s gonna end? What kind of idiot would deliberately go rent a motorcycle and ride it around Florida immediately after watching that video?

Well, friends and readers, I am precisely that kind of idiot.

Halfway through my recent trip to see Hiromi in Fort Lauderdale, I ditched my little humpbacked CLA250 rental in favor of a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail, courtesy of the fine folks at Eaglerider Fort Lauderdale. I’ve yet to have a bad experience dealing with Eaglerider anywhere in the country and this was no exception to that rule, even though I reserved the bike on a total whim about half an hour before and I also arrived at the same time as a group of nine Germans who wanted to pay for their rentals using European credit cards. Eaglerider even put a windscreen on the bike so my luxurious hair wouldn’t get ruffled.

The plan was to ride from Fort Lauderdale down to Miami for the afternoon, using Vanilla Ice’s favorite road, the A1A, all the way down. Obviously, since I’m alive, not incarcerated, and well enough to write this story, nothing serious went wrong during the trip. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get to experience all of what Florida drivers have to offer, again and again.

Why, you might ask, did I pick a Heritage Softail? Well it was truly a whim on my part. I normally rent the Indian Roadmaster, which is a simply brilliant motorcycle. However, it seemed worthwhile to get something a little lighter and more oriented towards the low-speed crawl of the A1A in the sunny afternoon given that I expected to spend at least part of my ride without a passenger and I didn’t plan on exceeding 50 mph. The Softail that I rented was last year’s model with the 96-cubic-inch twin, not the revised-for-2016 bike with the high-output “103.”

I suspect that the Heritage Softail is very good at being a Harley-Davidson. It certainly looks the part. As an actual motorcycle, however, I cannot say that it impressed me. The drivetrain is deliberately crude, with a gearshift operated by two stomp pedals instead of a “normal” foot lever. Each shift sounds like something’s breaking deep in the “dogs.” The engine is loud but not tuneful unless you have the very long-travel throttle twisted the full 180 degrees or so. I used to think that the crouched-with-twisted-wrist attitude I’d see in Harley riders who were trying to move quickly in traffic was a total affectation. I now know otherwise. But even with your wrist cranked and your weight forward to get the bike to steer a bit, you still won’t be outpacing the average automatic-transmission Accord.

As a mechanical object, the Softail makes Kellee, my 1975 CB550, feel like a Ducati Pangiale in contrast. The modern electronic veneer laid on top of the basic design — fuel injection, a Casio-watch display for gear and tach in the middle of the tank speedo, a light-up “6” when you’ve reached top gear — doesn’t convince. Still, it’s an awfully pleasant way to do 25 mph down Beachfront. It’s easy to see and be seen. Lots of pretty girls and cool cars out there, from the Los Angeles 9.5 who was “slacklining” on Hollywood Beach to the new S600 Maybach that had been repainted in gloss silver and Minnesota Vikings purple and the rust-colored Aventador with which I shared the road for a few miles north of Miami.

During a previous motorcycle trip from Orlando to Vero Beach and back, I’d learned to fear and respect the elderly people who inadvertently split freeway lanes in LaCrosses and the like while choosing random speeds from 30 below the limit to 40 over. I eventually came to treat every interaction with every “old guy” car like it was the last ten seconds of a NASA sprint race, complete with sudden swerving and “iguana eye” simultaneous attention to the road and my mirrors. A1A in Miami is different. The old-person percentage is lower, although even in the home of Crockett and Tubbs that F12berlinetta you’re admiring is more likely to be piloted by a silver-haired retiree than a drug kingpin.

The real risk to a motorcyclist along the beach is all the young guys in fast cars who want to handle the frequent lane closures and stoppages that occur on A1A by hauling ass all the way down to said stoppage and then swerving back into what looks from the driver’s seat of an Aventador like an empty lane but which is actually occupied by something like a Heritage Softail. The only way to handle it is to look all the way down the road to your absolute limit of vision and make sure you’re not in the merge lane, or the one next to it, when said idiocy occurs. Is there a middle-aged Asian woman unceremoniously jumping a new CL-Class Benz off the curb into traffic in front of Trump Tower III? You need to be in the far left lane, not the center one. Can you see flashing lights ahead from a cop making an arrest in the center turn lane? Be assured that some mook in a 991 Turbo S is gonna run all the way on that cop’s bumper and then huck the wheel without so much as a cursory glance.

Truth be told, I’ve never seen so many expensive cars driven so badly at such low speeds before. It’s not just the old guys with their hats in their Corniches and it’s not just the youngsters with their coffee-colored skin and their solid-gold Omega Seamasters draped casually over the wheel of their Ghosts. It’s everybody, all the time, in everything from an Alfa Romeo 4C to a Macca 650S Spyder. The air is hot with the smell of automated clutches being slowly murdered by 85-degree stop-and-go. Cooling systems that were designed on a Friday and tested during fall in Castle Bromwich spit coolant at random intervals beneath the Harley’s narrow tires. The showroom windows have everything from third-owner Continental GT coupes to an actual F40.

All of this I’ve seen before, but you don’t really see anything from inside a car. Do we have time for a Pirsig quote?

In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

Like the man said. This is South Florida at its finest. And it wouldn’t be Florida at all if I didn’t have a few unpleasant interactions with my fellow motorists. A 991-generation Carrera droptop buzzed me twice trying to steal my lane, the second time earning a turn-around and fist wave from my female passenger. She must have scared him off because he hung back afterwards and tried a different lane. A blue Conti GT moved me over pretty hard once but it was clearly a case of blind-spot indifference. One woman in an older Lexus ES350 brake-checked me maybe four times in a row. The Heritage Softail is not renowned for its braking. You kind of have to plan it out the minute the speedo creeps over 35. I gave her plenty of space after her fourth surprise slam, at which time an S63 snuck in the gap and proceeded to brake-check me after the Lexus brake-checked him. You really can’t win.

What made the ride tolerable, and in fact enjoyable, was my decision to take none of it personally. I decided that nothing any “cager” did was going to ruin my trip to the beach. So when I finally stood in that water and let it soak my New Balances, I felt nothing but good about the whole thing.

After dropping my passenger off at the CLA and telling her to meet me back at Eaglerider, I got on the freeway for a moment and opened the Softail up through the first five gears. No helmet, no jacket — yeah, I was stupid. More than stupid. But there was something memorable about racing towards the sun on that deliberate atavism of a bike, swinging between lanes and hearing a brief skritch from the floorboards each time, knowing that I didn’t have the caliper swept area or lean angle to respond to any sudden moves ahead with anything but a slow grind of asphalt against brain pan, followed by immediate assignment of my 401(k) to my son.

So what. Fuck it. For a moment or two, I was Brando, I was Peter Fonda, I was Rusty Coones in the final season of “Sons of Anarchy.” You know what, that crummy little Benz was almost tolerable afterwards. I went to Ruth’s Chris for dinner. There was a fellow celebrating his 95th birthday at the next table.

“I don’t regret anything,” he was saying. “I’d do it again.” Me too.

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  • -Nate -Nate on Apr 10, 2016

    Wow ; So informative . I've never been to Florida but until now I wanted to..... BTW : Harleys are not in fact vert good Motos but they do have their place , esp.PanHeads . I left wondering of maybe a FlatHead of KnuckleHead isn't a ' real ' Harley then? .kinda strange that . ATG ! ATT ! too many are gone now to ever skip the gear . -Nate

    • See 2 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Apr 11, 2016

      @JustPassinThru . @ JustPassinThru . Yes , I do know , much better than most current H-D enthusiasts in fact . . I just drove to and from Phoenix , Az. where they had ' Arizona Bike Week ' and coming home across the I-10 I was passed by lots and lots of H-D's , riders of all stripes (! WOMEN RIDERS !! YAY!) and stopped and talked to a few here and there . . As I said , Harley's have their place , mostly touring slowly in straight lines and pounding the rider so badly they'll sleep like the dead when they stop . . I rode Harley's back when a PanHead or KnuckleHead was ' just an old Harley ' , restored both and rode the living crap out of them until I grew up and decided I liked going faster , especially in the canyons and mountains . . In the last few years I have noticed few broken down Harleys on the road side , used to be they'd litter the highways , this is a good thing , I remember in the late 1970's near the end of the AMF days, they used HAMMERS to force the engines to fit into the poorly jigged frames.... . Sad times indeed . . I can only recall my PanHead leaving me affoot twice , because I was too lazy to keep the chain properly oiled... . I'd _love_ to have a bone stock 1957 K Model for a hobby Moto , I'd peak and tweak it and ride the crap out of it as best I could . . Not all Harley riders and enthusiasts are pinheads who wear thin plastic nazi helmets , henna tattoos and insist on proving how small their dicks are by making enough noise to raise the dead . many are serious Motocycle Enthusiasts who simply love to ride the biggest goddamn Moto they can . . Those guys are true die hards and fly under most folks radar because they understand you can uncork the exhaust without pissing off everyone within twenty miles . . -Nate

  • Zipper69 Zipper69 on Apr 10, 2016

    As both a life long bike rider and Florida resident I totally confirm all the aspects of the article! I rode bikes in both the UK and Europe. A VFR750 in UK gave me four offs in four years (every one a sudden lane change by a car in front). My Baby Darling in The Netherlands was a Kwacker ZZR1100 (orange and purple!)which was a big gentle hippo of a bike that eventually spat me off (four cracked ribs and a holed knee). Later I progressed to a Honda Pan-European (ST1100 in the US) which is almost the perfect grand tourer, smaller, lighter and more maneuverable than a Goldie it took us hundreds of miles across Europe in comfort and safety. Emigrating to the US I had never even held a car license but quickly realized that two wheels = sudden death. Our local Gulf Coast newspaper has a biker death virtually every day with two main causes; a car pulling out or turning left in front of them and excessive speed with minimum skills.

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