Having recently written about the things that appeal to women when we hit mid-life, quite coincidentally, I also had the opportunity recently to explore the type of thing that appeals to men when they hit mid-life: Harley Davidson motorbikes.
Have you ever pictured yourself astride a Harley-Davidson, cruising along a country highway, feeling like you’re King of the Road? I know I have.
The mere thought of it brings various country and western road-trip songs into my head as I picture myself, hair flying in the wind, handling every dip and corner of the road with expert precision, before pulling up at a country pub, parking perfectly and drawing envious looks from passers-by.
With a rebellious history thanks to movies like The Wild One and Easy Rider, the Harley has become an icon, and let’s face it, they’re cool. The sleek lines, retro styling and loud, rumbling engine, I mean, heads turn as they ride by.
Back in the 60s, the Harley’s outlaw mystique supposedly inspired motorcycle gang violence, but these days, with price tags starting at about $32,000, the Harley is no longer a vehicle for young rebels.
Today, you’re more likely to see them being ridden by wealthy men in their mid-fifties, like John Travolta and Tim Allen in Wild Hogs. But if you can’t yet afford to splash out on a Harley Davidson, the next best thing would be to rent one for the weekend.
Which is how we came to be here at EagleRider Australia headquarters; a group of friends; Simon, Rod, Keith and myself; all suffering serious Harley envy, off to explore the country roads of southern NSW on rented Harley Davidson motorbikes. The Mild Hogs.
I’m riding pillion, the token female or middle-age bikie moll that they’ll maybe have to share. Everyone (except me) has had years of experience riding motorbikes, but no one has ridden a Harley before, so we’re all a bit nervous as we arrive at EagleRider HQ on Parramatta Rd in Burwood.
Simon is the only rider with a pillion passenger, so I opt to do the first leg in the support vehicle while he finds his Harley legs. I think he’s a bit apprehensive:
“Harleys have always seemed intimidating, and I suppose I always thought I didn’t quite fit the mold. I didn’t have long enough hair or anywhere near enough black leather apparel”.
But owners Will and Santina Keith, who are both factory trained by Harley-Davidson in America, quickly assure us all that while the big steel and chrome Harley is a heavy machine, it is superbly balanced and easy to ride.
So, having chosen our rented rides, Will and Santina give us a fairly detailed briefing on the dos and donts of riding as a group, such as how to ride safely in a staggered formation.
This is because, according to Will, the vast majority of accidents with hire bikes happen when riders crash into each other. Will is escorting us on this trip, along with David Reeves, another seasoned Harley rider.
So what is it about Harleys? According to Will Keith, there is a well-worn cliché:
For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t none is possible.
“As trite as that may sound it’s true. You can’t explain it. It must be experienced. I don’t mean the kind of experience you get from borrowing a mate’s bike and riding around the block or going for a half hour test ride.
“If you’re really going to understand, you need to spend at least a few days in the saddle and it’s certainly better if you spend them with several other riders. For many it’s the experience of shared adventure that brings understanding.”
“I see it all the time and certainly saw it with this group. At first things are a little wobbly. You’re not really sure when to put your feet up or even where they go. Your mind is racing and things are happening fast. It takes a few minutes and a half dozen gear changes to find ‘your’ spot on that bike. Then there is traffic and navigation to deal with.
“Then, after a period of time that’s different for every rider, there comes a moment where everything just is as it should be. You’re not thinking about it any more. Now you’re beginning to experience “it”.
Our route, over three days, takes us from Sydney through Goulburn, Oberon, Bathurst and Katoomba before heading back to Sydney on the Bells Line of Road.
We set off slowly along a busy Parramatta Road, headed first for the Royal National Park and Wollongong, taking the coastal route and the magnificent Sea Cliff Bridge along the way.
As for me, having swapped car for bike in the Royal National Park, I settle into my pillion position fairly quickly and I must say it’s pretty darn comfortable, a bit like riding in an armchair watching the scenery glide by. I try very hard to look the part (sunglasses help) and hope more than anything I don’t look like a fraud.
Our first comfort stop is Stanwell Tops, where we pause to enjoy the view of the coast and grab some lunch before heading inland to wider, sweeping roads and a late afternoon stop at the country town of Burrawang.
Tonight we’re booked into the Best Western Centretown motel in Goulburn, one of Best Western’s “Rider Friendly” hotels. The motel offers a 10 per cent discount to members of the Harley Owners Group (HOGs) and they also supply us each with a towel to wipe down our rides.
I have to say – dinner at Centretown in their Cascades restaurant, was fantastic. We’re presented with a selection of steaks of varying shapes and sizes, slow roasted lamb rump and other hearty country delights.
The next morning we head off reasonably early and head for Bathurst, where we take a turn around Mt Panorama before heading on to Katoomba, a trip that takes in Abercrombie River National Park, Kanangra-Boyd National Park and Vulcan State Forest.
On our second day’s riding everyone seems a lot more confident, able to take on the twists and turns with ease and, much to Will Keith’s delight, a good deal faster.
“Much of Day One was spent “thinking” about it, wobbling in the corners, searching for a staggered formation and safe following distance, trying to sort out where to be in the pack and when to slow down or speed up. Day Two was really the beginning of ‘the ride’. Today is about the road, the experience, the group is starting to ride as a group and it’s clear that everyone is now comfortable with the bikes.
Day Two takes us through Oberon and Bathurst, where we do a circuit at Mt Panorama before heading east to Katoomba, stopping for a pub lunch at the historic O’Connell Hotel.
As we approach the Blue Mountains we take the back roads and tourist drives all the way, a succession of sweeping roads that pass through some rather glorious countryside, wide green valleys intersected by creeks and sheltered gullies, dotted with cows, sheep and the odd alpaca, before we finally arrive in Katoomba as the sun sets.
Dinner tonight is at the Alexandra Hotel in Leura, about a 5-minute drive from our digs this evening at the Best Western Alpine Motor Inn. More hearty country-size portions with a selection of steaks, lamb rump, pork loin cutlets and pot pie to choose from.
On Day Three, we swap bikes around before heading home to Sydney along the Bells Line of Road, through more winding roads along the ridge before dropping down through orchards and rolling green fields, until finally we reach the ‘burbs.
“Day Three is where the magic happened. As we were winding down a curvy mountain road I looked up and there spread out in front of me in a perfect staggered formation, riding the curves at speed, switching left and right smooth as silk and sticking to a line through the corners like a group of old pros… were the Mild Hogs.”
Eagle Rider’s seven-day, 1069-kilometre Country NSW Escape starts at $2591 per person and includes hotel accommodation, motorcycle rental, unlimited kilometres, fuel and oil, welcome and farewell dinners, tour leader and support vehicle. Tours are also available in Queensland out of Brisbane and Mackay.
Daily (24-hour) hire starts at $204.45 for a 1200cc Sportster and $244.10 for the Road King (unlimited mileage and helmet included).