Oxford (04 May 2012) - By Kevin Ash
Back in the 1980s, a friend and I thumbed an American motorcycle magazine when we saw a picture that’s stayed with me ever since. It showed a derelict filling station, oxidised Phillips 66 shield dangling, and a single, rusting pump at the side of an overgrown concrete road, and a few yards along, a 1940s Ford, in a ditch with a row of bullet holes along its decaying flank.
This was Route 66, and this evocative, atmospheric image – and the many legends that have grown up around the 2,500-mile artery connecting Chicago to Los Angeles – fired up my interest in what is one of the world’s most famous roads.
Route 66 is the aspirational motorcycle journey for many riders; those once-in-a-lifetime trips that we should all make before we depart this earth. So, that’s the case for me – and not so different for you, I would think.
There is, of course, only one way to do it: by Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. In theory I had a choice: I could ride the full route from Illinois to California myself, doing lots of miles each day, but couldn’t find the two weeks away needed. Or I could ride half of it doing fewer miles each day but taking pictures, speaking with people, looking for hidden gems...
I decided to cover less ground and see much more, so I rode the western section of the route, from Albuquerque in New Mexico to Los Angeles, a relatively relaxed (I thought) 200 miles a day.
The trip was organised by Harley-Davidson® Authorized Tours, with the details looked after by Harley-Davidson approved UK Tour Operator, Orange & Black – and they’re good. The trips aren’t done to a tight budget but personally I wouldn’t want to skimp on a trip like this, it’s too special. You get better quality hotels, all pre-booked, and the rental bikes will have less than 18,000 miles on them – most will be a lot less.
But the two most important factors are tour numbers and knowledge. On Harley-Davidson tours there are no more than 15 bikes – I heard of some operators who try to get up to 50 across in one go, can you imagine how long the refuelling alone takes? Most will take you away from 66 to sightsee Las Vegas – don’t do that, you’ll miss the Oatman section of the route, which has some of the best riding and scenery.
Second is the guide. Mine was Gary ‘Bear’ Fleshman, whose knowledge not just of Route 66 but everything else too is encyclopaedic. Without him we’d have missed a host of fabulous, fascinating and intriguing sights and details. I say ‘we’ because my wife came along – this is definitely an experience to share.
With Gary’s help I met my hero – or heroine, this is the Mother Road after all – and discovered that authenticity I was seeking, such as souvenir shops in New Mexico run by Navajo Indians living in the adjacent reservation. It was there in the obvious too, once I’d found with Gary’s help some old sections of the original road, the resilient Portland cement blocks still rideable on my hired Electra Glide.
I saw the decay of history, overgrown and long forgotten motels that once thrived through sheltering Route 66 travellers, the crass and tasteless stereotypes which you’ll always find if you look for them, and a geological guide to the American continent from giant meteor craters to volcanoes and lava flows.
We diverted 50 miles from 66 at Williams, Arizona to take in the numbingly vast spectacle which is the Grand Canyon and thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated America’s most famous motorcycle being used on the roads it was built for.
There were moments of sadness too, in particular a crumbling hairpin bend on the original 1920s route, where mine workers in their weak-braked Model Ts plunged to their deaths in the valley below.
Do Route 66, do it through a tour, either guided – better for less experienced riders – or with a full itinerary as Orange & Black also offer. And do it on a Harley-Davidson.
*For more Information on Harley-Davidson® Authorized Tours, visit your local Harley-Davidson dealership or visit: http:/www.harley-davidson.com/en_GB/Content/Pages/Authorized_Tours/authorized_tours.html
Harley-Davidson® Authorised Tours take in formats of Guided, Semi-guided and Self-Guided across many regions e.g. the Americas, Australia, Europe, Africa and Asia. Guided tours can accommodate for many languages and style of tour, from Beautiful Planet through to Short Breaks and Events.