As you might imagine, we’ve been looking forward to getting on Blue II and heading down to Key West ever since we firmed up our plans back on 14 May while having dinner and celebrating my 56th birthday. In fact, I’ve included a countdown timer in my “Morning Sweetie” email that I compose and send to Debbie each weekday morning: it’s our virtual morning breakfast dialog that we never get to have since I’m out the door at 5:45am while she’s still sleeping. It’s been fun watching the days shrink from six weeks to just days to go!
For me, this was a short week with a work-from-home / off-Friday and that worked really well given that Blue II had to go into Harley-Davidson of Atlanta (HDA) for a quick diagnosis and adjustment of an air/fuel mixture issue on Thursday afternoon. I’d simply wrap up work around noon on Thursday and assuming it was a quick and easy fix on Blue II, I’d have all day Friday to take care of all the pre-vacation chores that I had stacking up on my to-do list.
There were a couple of things that I wanted to do to Blue II before the trip that I took care of on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights:
The first thing was removing the “doors” from the lower fairings so that more air could flow past the motor, in anticipation of mid-90’s to 100°F temps we’d encounter riding through central Florida on the Turnpike. This was something I first did back in September 2013, right after getting Blue I and discovering how insanely hot the motor would get even on days with mild temperatures, never mind the summer heat. The “doors” aren’t really all that essential during warm weather since they’re something I’ll only close when the temps fall into the 40’s and I’m pretty sure we won’t have to deal with temps much below 80°F on this trip! And, as far as rain protection, the lower fairings without the doors provide me with close to 100% protection of my boots so no worries there either.
The next thing I had to take care of was removing equipment associated with the “Accessory That Shall Remain Nameless” before taking Blue into HDA. I won’t go into detail, but it suffices to say that it takes about 30 minutes to prep and another 30 minutes to restore the bike to touring configuration whenever it needs to go into the shop. It’s not a difficult thing to do and I carry all the tools I need to do it whenever we travel.
The last thing I felt I had to do was to repack the exhaust baffles. When I first installed the Fullsac exhaust system and baffles I only had about 1/2 of the fiberglass sound insulation that I needed to get the amount of sound attenuation that I wanted so I substituted a ceramic cloth for the other 1/2. Well, I never liked the way the exhaust sounded with that material in the cans — it was just too tinny and too loud– and it gets particularly annoying on long trips. Well, with 900 miles between home and Key West, that would qualify. So, I pulled the exhaust cores out on Wednesday night and replaced the pretty-much worthless and now cooked ceramic cloth with a nice layer of pink, Owens Corning R15 fiberglass insulation. Well, technically it was unbacked, R30 that I pulled in half. I went out for about a 20 minute test ride to see if I’d achieved my desired outcome and to burn-off the residue from the fiberglass drywall tape that I used to hold the batting material in place when inserting it into the cans wrapped around the steel mesh sleeves. The result was near perfection: a lovely sound that disappeared at highway speeds.
Work related issues cropped up that threatened to derail our vacation plans but, thankfully, we were able to find workarounds for most of the things that have to happen during the 4th of July holiday week. Thankfully, I was able to leave work at 1:00pm so I could arrive 30 minutes ahead of my 2:00pm appointment with David Morley at HDA and then finish up a few of those work-related items on my laptop while David worked on Blue II. After checking in with my Service Advisor Kelly and saying hello to her partner Ray, I cooled my heels and fired-up my laptop to await David’s arrival from the back shop.
Describing what Blue II was doing to David reminded me of the NPR Sunday Morning “Car Talk” shows with “Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers”, aka., Tom & Ray Tom Magliozzi, where listeners would call in and try to describe the sounds their vehicles were making so that a diagnosis could be made. And, of course, the bike was actually running better than it had in weeks, perhaps even months — was it the increased back-pressure from the re-packed cans? — so I was pretty sure the bike wouldn’t exhibit any of the behaviors I was describing when David took the bike out for a test ride. Moreover, given the outside ambient temperature was in the 90F’s, David couldn’t put it on the Dyno to analyze the performance. After his test ride we talked about a cold start issue that I had after the initial engine tune back in December. The TTS tuning module & software includes engine maps with two different settings for cold and hot starts: one is the standard setting and the other works more or less like adding a little choke would on a carburetor-equipped motor. He was going to change those settings to the one that enriches the motor with a little more fuel to see if that might not help and then re-test ride the bike.
While he did that I wandered around the HDA showroom and said hello to the GM, Jeff and also said my hello’s to the service manager, his son Brian, and visited Tim in the parts department to see if they had some hardware I needed for Blue II’s mirrors: they did. I also checked out a couple of the liquid cooled touring bikes in the showroom. Thankfully, Debbie says she doesn’t feel old enough to be riding on a full-up touring bike with the rear top case + heavily padded “barca-lounge ” passenger seat back and arm rests, never mind the footboards. But, there sure were some handsome-looking CVO’s on the floor with that very desirable liquid-cooled motor.
After returning to the service department lounge David came by to give me the low-down on the bike: it was running well for him… in fact he felt it was running really well. Yeah, I’d found the same thing on my ride to the dealership. But, as far as my issues went, David wanted me to ride the bike as much as I could in the evening and on Friday morning and then let him know how it was running: good or bad. If it was good, we could check the box. If it was bad, he wanted me to come back so he could try something else before we left on our Key West trip. Man, you can’t ask for any better support from a service tech & dealership than that. Oh, and there was no charge for the work: it was just part of what they do when you’ve had the bike tuned and there’s a follow-on issue. Again, gotta love it.
Seriously, HDA has been the greatest find for us. They are simply THE BEST Harley dealership that I’ve ever encountered in terms of the staff and support they provide. Moreover, they truly get how to make their customer’s feel like their business is valued and not taken for granted: they’re always working to make sure every visit is a positive experience. And, well, I feel like I’m part of their HDA family… and I’m certainly not a deep pocket regular who comes in and buys a new bike every year. I’ve only bought the one bike — Blue I — from HDA but they’ve been the only place we go for service and the first place we go for anything else Harley that we need.
I rolled out of the dealership around 3:00pm, which got me back at home early enough to get the “Accessory that Shall Remain Nameless” hardware back on the bike before Debbie came home around 6:00pm. I also removed the aluminum, finned cylinder head bolt / spark plug covers that I installed on both Blue I and Blue II to clean-up the look of the engine when viewed from the left side. The goal was to reduce engine heat, as it finally dawned on me that they were probably hindering the ability for the engine to shed heat vis-a-via air cooling.
When Debbie arrived home a little after 6:00pm she was on the fence regarding her after work bicycle ride. I pushed her off the fence by offering to take her to Henry’s for dinner. She and I were clearly on the same wave length and we had a lovely dinner: a grilled smoked boudin with crawfish toast and remoulade as an appetizer, followed by a Caesar salad and then the fresh catch of the day… a blackened Arctic Char over Yukon Gold whipped Boursin potatoes topped with sun-dried tomato cream sauce. Oh, yummy stuff!.
Back at the house I gathered all of my clothes for the trip and had them ready to pack come Friday. I believe Debbie did a private fashion show as she decided what she would be taking. That pretty much ended the night out for both of us.
Friday was shaping up to be a busy day that got suddenly busier as I began to get gear out and prepped for the trip. The big surprise and expense of the day was discovering that the Shoei Multitec helmet that Debbie wears when we take road trips via the Interstate was in dire need of replacement. For some reason, all of the foam inside the helmet disintegrated between May’s trip to Panama City Beach and now. So, in addition to doing all of the things I had on my to-do list, a new one would be shopping for a replacement helmet and I had an inkling that I’d end up with another Shoei… the $600 Neotec replacement to the Multitec. After all, the Multitec is what we used to replace our Shoei Syncrotec helmet: see the pattern here?
Anyway, I jumped right into my to-do list by getting laundry going as I simultaneously began to pack the rain gear, helmets and other riding gear for our trip which is when I made the helmet discovery. After paying some bills and doing a few more things on my to-do list it was 9:00am which meant late enough for me to fire up the mower and cut the lawn. With that out-of-the-way and all of the trash at the curb for collection I headed off to see how Blue II was running as I began my search for a helmet and made other stops on my list. I visited Mountain Motorsports and World of Wheels with zero luck in finding a modular helmet that met my requirements, i.e., high-quality, removable / washable liner, etc. I also popped into Dick’s sporting good in search of a “sun shirt” to wear on the ride down as a supplement to the one I bought in Key West last year; no luck.
It was around 11:00am by the time I’d finished my first round of stops. The good news was, Blue II was running as good as she’d ever run. The bad news was, I struck out on helmets which had burned an hour for naught. My next stop was The Red Eyed Mule for my every other Friday lunch date with Miss Debbie. Imagine my surprise when I walked in and found a co-worker having lunch with a friend and then at another table our friend Monica who was having a late breakfast with her significant other Arne’s two lovely daughters. A short while later Debbie arrived about the same time as our burger. It hit the spot, as always, and it’s always a special treat to have a lunch date with my sweetie!
After lunch I hopped on the Interstate to see how Blue II ran at highway speeds and, as on the stop and go run, she was running great. My next stop for a helmet was Hellbender Harley which was a bust in more ways than one: once again, I’m thankful to have HDA as my preferred dealer and I’ll leave it alone at that. Having struck out on non-Shoei helmets I headed down to Cycle Gear where I knew they had a limited inventory of Shoei helmets. Sure enough, they had the Neotec in a black, size small for about $594. All things considered, that was about as good of a price as I was going to get on short notice as there was no time to do eBay, etc.
I also ran across the street to West Marine and scored a small-size Columbia PFG sun shirt. It was still a bit large, but once again… in the interest of time it was about as good as I could hope for. In fact, I put it on right then and there and it vastly improved my comfort on the bike as the temps were in the 90’s with a very bright sun.
I had a few more stops to make but headed home so I could send off a note to Kelly & David & HDA to let them know that Blue II was running as well as she ever had and to thank them for all of their help in making sure we’d have a reliable, well-running motorcycle for our Key West trip.
After that it was the bank, the package store, Home Depot for some fungicide to put down on the lawn as I notice some brown patch while cutting the grass and then on to the Publix shopping center for a couple of stops before heading home to finish up laundry, running the dishwasher and to put fungicide down on the yard before getting cleaned up for dinner at Loco Willy’s.
As always, we had a great time at Loco Willy’s with David & Deb and the rest of the regulars at and behind the bar: Gene & Clark, Stewart & Teresa, Kevin, Brian, Billy, Charles, etc. Given that we had to get home to finish packing for the trip, it wasn’t a late night.
We finally called it a night around 11:00pm and despite my best efforts it was yet another pre-trip sleepless night. I’m not sure why I can’t ever sleep before making a big trip, but here I am at 4:30am doing a blog entry after tossing and turning from 11:00pm until 3:30am before giving up and getting hungry.
Here’s hoping for a great ride down to Orlando which will begin in about 90 minutes will be enjoyable and uneventful. It’s a 471 mile ride to the Hilton Orlando where we’ll spend Saturday and Sunday night. Our plan is to arrive and then to relax at the poolside bar for a late lunch and then dinner, pretty much the same routine we followed last year at the Hilton Grand Vacation’s Tuscany property. Sunday will be pretty much the same: just relaxing and reading a book out by the pool and taking our meals at the poolside bar.
Monday morning we’ll saddle-up for the second leg, a 388 mile ride down to the Cypress House in Key West with perhaps a stop at the No-Name-Bar in No-Name-Key.