Rear View Part 15 - HD to KSC

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Beatrice on a Harley in Orlando

From being a pillion to having a pillion

So there we were in Orlando on holiday - me, Dai, my 2 teens, and his youngest, who turned 13 on the day we were travelling. We knew we were committed to some serious theme parking. We had done a rough itinerary before we left, and had firmed that up when we got there, at which point it looked like H, my 17 year old son, and I weren't going to get the time to do Kennedy Space Center. OK, so be it, something's gotta give, but the more we read, the more we were convinced we really ought to try to get there. As the only 2 of the party of 5 who wanted to do this, we didn't want to leave the others stranded without a car, so we considered options such as hiring a convertible. Then Someone suggested hiring a Harley Davidson for the weekend.

It seemed like stroke of genius, and of course, guaranteed to win me the prize as Coolest Mom Ever!


We had a Sat Nav with us, rather sensibly. However, it didn't have the latest version of America maps loaded. Some of us had already got fed up with being told to do unnecessary U turns that we'd christened it "That SatNav!" or TFS (pronounced Tiffiss) for short. On 4th July, in the boiling heat, TFS told us that Harley Davidson Orlando was 9 miles down the road, despite the fact that we could see and were pointing out a large black and orange building with that title on it and a pile of bikes parked outside it, just over there. The driver however (who shall remain anonymous to protect his identity) had total faith in TFS, and continued along the road, only stopping when its electronic "arriving at destination" statement appeared to indicate an empty parking lot. A phone call confirmed that they had moved last year, and yes it was in fact that building we'd pointed out 9 miles back. Anyhoo...twas a good job we called in to try out the bikes, as not all of them would have been feasible for me to ride. We agreed on a Dyna Glide, to be picked up the next morning, and filled in the necessary paperwork and bought the necessary T-shirts, bandanas, dog collars and fridge magnets.

Back at the villa, I gave my son a quick rundown on how to be a good pillion.


On the Saturday morning, we decided to take a run over to the Gulf coast and visit Anna Maria island. This would give Dai and me both a chance to try the bike and make sure we were comfortable with it. We'd done a bit of slow speed manoeuvring in the car park behind the Harley shop, and were ready to take it out onto the open road. It felt really odd not wearing a full face helmet, nor any protective gear. In Florida, the law only requires that you wear eye protection: as my son remarked, as long as you look cool, you're OK. The rental place had insisted on the little roundhead helmets, and closed toe shoes, and also recommended long trousers. When you see how close your legs are to the burning hot exhaust you can understand why!

Git your motor runnin'...

What's it like to ride? Well for the first 10 miles you've got SteppenWolf playing in your head, as you go "Wayhay! Look at me! Riding a proper Harley! In America!" And then after a while the seat starts to get uncomfortable. And your knees start to ache from being held out so far from the burning hot machine. And your eyes are squinting at the glare off the chrome. And whilst yes they're built for wide straight American roads, after an hour wide straight American roads are just boring, and there's nothing to do but watch the fuel gauge alarmingly fall.

For a bike that's supposed to be a long distance machine, getting just over 100 miles from a tank of gas isn't really very good....

We swapped over at the intersection of the I-4 and the I-75, and Dai took it from there, while I took the boys in the car, and we found a good rock station to listen to on the radio. On Anna Maria island, we looked around for a restaurant, and I pulled into a sandy car park behind what looked like a little wooden shed. Dai was cursing me for picking somewhere with such an uneven surface, but when we turned the corner of the shed, and found the most wonderful seafood restaurant The Sand Bar, right on the soft white sand, watching the blue waves crash ashore, all was sweetness and light. He rode the bike back home in daylight (with only TFS for guidance...) whilst we drove up the coast, over the amazing and apparently haunted Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and stayed to watch the sun sink into the sea. We found a great little cafe by a pier in Dunedin which had an outdoor terrace, called Bon Appetit , which served a decent Caesar salad, tasty crab cakes and other tapas dishes, as well as alcohol free wine.

Where's the SatNav?

We'd been convinced we would see loads of signposts for Tampa to show us the way home, and I got a little anxious as darkness fell and I realised that I should have noted the road numbers we wanted, not been expecting signposts to places. We stopped at a gas station in St Petersburg to buy a map, and were soon making good speed back up the I-4.


On the Sunday morning, H and I rose early, excited about our short but significant road trip. The bike is so big and heavy that a pillion's weight has little effect on the centre of gravity, so from that perspective it was a good choice for me to take my first pillion passenger. We sensibly wore long sleeves against the blazing sun, and long trousers against the scorching exhaust, checked our route on a map (and tucked the map into one of the panniers), and I filled a handy accessible pocket on my trousers with quarters for the tolls. After a quick once around the block to get the feel for it at low speeds, we checked our sunglasses were in position, and we were off!

Riding in a straight line at a decent speed is the easy bit - as I explained by yelling over my shoulder, it's the stopping and starting that causes the most grief. We knew we had a few toll booths to go through, and I took it nice and steady, leaving myself plenty of space behind the car in front, and not getting panicked about taking my time extracting the right coinage from my pocket. I only managed to stall it once *blush*. As we pulled into the car park at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, a guy in a motorised golf cart waved us to follow him, and led us to a coned-off motorcycle parking area. He assured us the bike would be safe there, so we reckoned it would be OK to leave our helmets in the unlocked panniers (information had advised us that there were no lockers available). In the queue for tickets, we decided we'd been so cool already that we really ought to have lunch with an astronaut, as at $22 (just over a tenner), including buffet lunch, that seemed like excellent value!

Some Story!

It was almost 11am at this stage, so we just had time to do the shuttle launch simulation (they DO have lockers, beside this exhibit) and a quick look at the rocket garden, before it was time for lunch. Story Musgrave was our guest star - he's spent over 30 years as an astronaut, been in space longer than anybody else, and at the age of 70 is funny and inspiring. As we had our photo taken with him I shook his hand and said "It's an honour to meet you sir, for I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a little girl". He assured me that I still could! After lunch we did the tour of the three other sites - the Saturn V building, the platform 39 viewing gantry, and the International Space Station. The guide reckons that you could do all of these in about 2 1/2 - 3 hours: we did them as fast as we could and took just over three. I was sorry we didn't get to spend more time there, I think both of us could happily have spent another whole day there, and that's even before visiting the astronaut hall of fame.

On the way home we spotted real live wild gators in the ditch by the road. Dai met us anxiously at the door to the villa - I'd forgotten my phone so he hadn't been able to contact us. I assured him his $1,000 deposit was safe, and I'd managed to keep the big beastie upright the whole day, even when executing a 180 degree turn in the car park.

The verdict

Well I'm gad I had the opportunity to ride one, especially in such a great setting, and it made a very memorable first pillion experience for both me and my son. But despite my sharing their name, and admiring the marketing and branding genius behind the whole lifestyle and ethos, I'll not be rushing out to buy one. Hell no!

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