Cruising through America on a Harley-Davidson

EDGAR took Harley-Davidson’s new Milwaukee Eight touring engines for a spin through the north-west coast of America.

Aniruddh Mishra March 20, 2017

Motorcycling has always invoked in us a sense that there is an afterlife. It feels right. It feels purposeful, unlike being confined and breathing regurgitated stale air. Unlike being shackled to a desk with the ghost of a ball and chain.

The steady thump of the engine makes thinkers and monks out of accountants and lawyers. It makes you feel like you existed in a previous life, chasing the horizon and sleeping under the stars.

EDGAR took a sneak peek into the afterlife recently as we test rode Harley Davidson’s new Milwaukee Eight touring engines in the picturesque state of Washington on America’s north-west coast. Often described as one of the world’s must-do road trips, the Olympic Peninsula has mountains, forests and glaciers everywhere you turn, providing the ideal scenery for riding motorcycles. 

On a cold foggy day, we set out on our own 650km American Dream – one that involved V-Twins, the quintessential American landscape and miles of undulating tarmac.

We began in Tacoma, just 50km south of Seattle, and headed north-west to the town of Port Angeles. As we drifted into the countryside, the panorama unfolding before our eyes sent chills of pleasure up the spines. Our thoughts soon wandered to the 15 years Harley-Davidson spent making the all-new Milwaukee Eight engines.

Harley’s Twin-Cam engines adorned its touring bikes for more than a decade and, while they are good engines, they lacked a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. It always seemed like the power curve dropped off a cliff in the mid rev-range. But not anymore. Alex Bozmoski – chief powertrain engineer at HD motorcycles – has built a masterpiece. We put the engine through its paces on board a 2017 Street Glide.

Some believe the difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle is like watching TV and actually living your life. As we cruised along the Olympic Peninsula we pitied the faces encased behind the aquariums of car windscreens. Our blissful state was helped by the Street Glide as it swallowed every bump, rut and bend in the road without faltering, thanks to its revamped Showa front suspension. With 98mm of travel through the front forks, no uneven patch of road was a challenge.

Lunch was had at the Eagle Creek Saloon – home of arguably the best burger on the Olympic Peninsula. The aroma of the sizzling griddle wafted through the air and made us shed our riding gear faster than we could say ‘ketchup’. The diner sits on Highway 101, facing the water, and has a giant plastic burger atop its porch that’s hard to miss.

As we walked in, we spied juicy burgers snuggled inside homemade buns with locally made mayonnaise, ripe tomatoes and good ol’ American cheddar. Plus there was clam chowder, roast beef, a rich slaw and the perfect finisher – homemade brownies the size of a fist.

We glanced at the motorcycles lined up outside and suddenly we had the itch to get back on the road. This time our breath-taking route took us towards Hurricane Ridge – a mountain range in the Olympic National Park with spectacular vistas of snow covered peaks and huge coniferous forests.

We reached Hurricane Ridge amid the engine roar and, while the threat of rain loomed large, it didn’t dampen our spirits. Despite riding for five hours, the plush seats of the Street Glide made a comfortable journey. And thanks to the massively improved torque – 150Nm at 3,000 odd RPM, the Street Glide felt like it could pull a small caravan without breaking a sweat. We switched bikes at the entrance to Hurricane Ridge and hopped on the Harley-Davidson Road Glide.

While the 1,753cc oil-cooled motor is fantastic, there are other features that make this a superb touring motorcycle. Moving the catalytic converter and the rear exhaust head farther back has made for a very cool-running engine. For once on a Harley, it didn’t feel like there were flames reaching out to singe our calves every time we were stuck in highway jams.

Going up Hurricane Ridge we could almost hear a Hans Zimmer-esque soundtrack coming from the distant peaks. Riding through towering pines and close to stiff, angry rock faces we were always one misjudged turn away from the gaping ravines below.

Hurricane Ridge is a yearlong destination for hikers and campers with trails for all hiking abilities. Here, we had the chance to test ride every motorcycle featuring the new Milwaukee Eights, including the Road Glide, Street Glide and the Ultra series, plus a trike. It is plain to see that Harley-Davidson has met decade-long expectation with these new engines. The painstaking research has catered to almost every little niggle that HD touring customers had.

Remember when anywhere north of 3,500rpm, HD rear view mirrors were as useful as earrings on a chimpanzee? Well, no more, thanks to the new rubber mounting that encases the Milwaukee Eights as well as anti-knock control. Even though we aren’t huge fans of trikes, HD has seen great success for them with older and differently abled bikers. And we tip our hat to Harley-Davidson for giving everyone the means to experience the joy of riding.

Selfies taken and souvenirs bought, we were off to our final destination for the day – the seaside town of Port Angeles. Known for its rustic pier and fresh seafood, Port Angeles is a lovely, sleepy little place. The Kokopelli Grill was our dinner spot, a noted restaurant next to the pier. From our table upstairs, we had a great view of the pier and the ocean. It was lights out as soon as our heads hit the pillow at the Red Lion Hotel. Waking at the crack of dawn the next day, we were greeted by a sunrise of a hundred colours.

On the ride back to Tacoma we stopped at the Lake Crescent Lodge for lunch. Surrounded by an old hunting lodge ambience, we feasted on juicy steaks and homemade iced tea. The lodge, set on the banks of the beautiful Lake Crescent is nestled between immense pine forest hills. The water gently lapped at the foothills while schools of fish swam by. Back in the saddle, we headed to Tacoma, as our minds reviewed the journey we had taken.

On a motorcycle, the air has weight and substance as you push through it, its touch is as intimate as water to a swimmer. Cool wells of air pool under trees and warm spokes of sunlight fall through them, each ray a tingling sensation on the skin. Sometimes you hear voices and sounds that have been hiding in the wind’s roar and which have been released by speed.

Arriving in Tacoma after 650kms, it was a melancholic feeling to park the motorcycle and hand back the keys. As we turned away from our Harley-Davidson Road Glide we heard a whoosh of wind, a whisper, something like “until the next life...”.