Like so many of us who were raised on sportbikes, I began life as an avowed Harley-hater. Insert your favorite Harley-Davidson stereotype here—too loud, too large, too leaky, too well-liked by people who are too old, too obese, too into leather chaps or otherwise too unlike yourself—I believed some variation of all of the above, and so I wanted nothing to do with The Motor Company’s motorcycles. But after more than a decade in this industry and many thousands of miles in Harley-Davidson saddles—initially under duress—I’ve since come full circle. Nowadays, I absolutely love riding Harley-Davidsons. With regard to the modern product, none of those old stereotypes apply (OK, maybe the one about the leather still fits…). And for a certain kind of relaxed touring, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle would often be my very first choice.
So when Motorcyclist got the invitation to participate in a road trip from Kansas City to Milwaukee, a joint production between Harley-Davidson and its “Official Lodging Partner” the Best Western hotel chain to kick off a summer’s worth of rides and other events commemorating Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary, I was quick to volunteer. Riding an iconic American motorcycle through the heart of the Midwest, with more than half the route shadowing the mighty Mississippi River along the Great River Road? Sign me up! The fact that the ride would end at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, less than three miles from my house, gave the “Harley homecoming” angle special resonance for me.
Step one was to select the correct bike from the rental pool at Worth Harley-Davidson in Kansas City, MO, our starting point for this adventure. Few motorcyclists realize this, but many Harley-Davidson dealerships rent motorcycles, too. Provided you have a motorcycle endorsement and bring your own helmet and protective riding gear, the rental process is no more time-consuming (and not much more expensive) than renting a car from any major agency. Keep this in mind next time you travel—or if you just want to challenge your own Harley-Davidson stereotypes with a little saddle time.
Worth offered a full array of Softail, Dyna, and FL models in its rental fleet, and I selected one of my favorites, an Ember Red Sunglo-colored Street Glide. The recently revised FL touring chassis is perfect for the open road, with surprisingly agile handling and unparalleled comfort. The bagger configuration with the Batwing fairing, short “eyebrow” windscreen and hard saddlebags (not to mention, a full audio system and cruise control), offers just the perfect mix of touring comfort and authentic, wind-in-your-face cruiser character to cover the 660-mile distance home.
From Worth H-D, it was on to the Best Western Premier Kansas City Speedway, one of the Best Western’s top-tier properties, located in the shadow of the massive Kansas City Speedway grandstands. It’s been a minute since I’d last stayed in a Best Western, and this is the first time that I’ve sampled one of the chain’s premier-class hotels. Let’s just say that, with a wall-mounted flat-screen, marble-lined shower, and waist-high, king-sized bed, this isn’t quite what I expected when I peeped the familiar blue-and-gold Best Western shield. This is one of Best Western’s 1200 “Rider Friendly” properties, which offer extra perks for motorcyclists including bike-washing supplies, complimentary bottled water and lip balm, and special status and rates through the chain’s new Ride Rewards loyalty program.
Now it’s off to dinner at KC’s famous Golden Ox, allegedly the place where the Kansas City Strip steak was born, to fuel up for tomorrow’s big day that begins with a tour of Harley-Davidson’s Kansas City manufacturing facility. That’s where The Motor Company’s Sportsters and Dynas are born. Hmm, maybe I should have chosen that KC-built Super Glide from Worth’s instead?