Carson to San Francisco on a Harley Ultra Limited

But would I take this trip again?

Article and Photos by Art Hall

canon (3)I used to visit at least once a year but it has been a few years since my last trip to San Francisco and a few years more than that since I had used Hwy. 1 to get there, most often using Hwy. 101 rather than the ultra boring (though faster) Interstate 5. Hwy. 1 from Mexico to Canada is surely amongst the most photogenic roads on the planet and the stretch from San Luis Obispo (SLO) to San Fran is certainly a highlight to be remembered. If you have never done Hwy. 1 I might suggest taking a few days and overnight in the Monterey Bay area as it has the extra special 17-Mile Drive which is widely recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world. I Picked up Hwy 1 at SLO because I have covered the short stretch of it too many times out of Los Angeles where it quickly meets up with Hwy 101 at Ventura and only returns again as a viable route choice at SLO.

There is a stretch Of Hwy. 1 from Gaviota Beach to Pismo Beach but I think it would take a whole day to cover the convoluted route and is not that coastal either, but does go through the town made famous by W.C Fields – Lompoc – given the misunderstanding that his movie “The Bank Dick” was filmed there rather than the actual location of Universal Studios. Also the other misunderstanding here is a famous quote by him that says, “All things considered, I would rather be in Philadelphia” which got misquoted to read “Lompoc” somewhere along the line and is the one that forever puts Lompoc on my mind. But I digress again. Even with the two sections of Hwy. 1 omitted from my ride, it still took 12 hours to get 500 miles and my destination of Walnut Creek past the East Bay area of San Fran as I do occasionally stop and smell some roses.

DSC_1048I picked up an Electra Glide Ultra Limited at the Harley fleet center and headed out about 9 am, thank you Alan for having a bike ready. From there it was the 405 to the 101 to SLO and Hwy. 1 to Santa Cruz, Hwy. 17 to 580 to Walnut Creek – exactly 500 miles. Returning home I made it a figure eight by covering the missed section of Hwy. 1 on the way up, from the Golden Gate Bridge south to Santa Cruz and THEN out to 101 to head back, instead of using the scenic but slow Hwy. 1. I also did spend one full day in the city showing the Ultra around stopping at some of the more famous landmarks a favorite places from numerous previous visits. Fisherman’s Wharf for crab, Coit Tower for the view, Twin Peaks for an even bigger view, the crookedest street Lombard, Chinatown, Market St. and more. I also made a special stop at the San Fran Harley Dealer which has what I think is the coolest name of any, Dudley Perkins. On another day I went a bit north over the Richmond Bay Bridge past San Quentin Prison to San Rafael, China Camp, all pleasant riding areas. This side the Bay is high ground where you get the Golden Gate bridge with the view of the city of San Fran in the background through the towers.

DSC_1124Let me drop some names here that are places of interest for most but not by all means exclusive. I didn’t miss my chance to get the Travelers Special at Anderson’s Pea soup in Buellton on Hwy. 101, both up and back having the best strawberry milkshake I can remember with real strawberries and real ice cream!! Not too far out of SLO is San Simeon, the stop for Hearst Castle and is one that everybody should see at least once. It is so big that there are actually five, regularly sold out, buy in advance, separate tours which have gotten pricey at $25 each. There are lots of beaches along the way only constrained by your time and desire to see but just north of San Simeon – don’t miss Sea Lion Beach and the protected Elephant Seals lounging on the beach by the hundreds. Big Sur is a part of the highway where the mountains drop off to the beach and offer some spectacular views including the most often photographed, Bixby Bridge. You can spend a night here also if you wish to really explore the area and see “26 things to do in Big Sur”(trip advisor). Not far north is another overnighter, the most famous Monterey Peninsula, home of the world renowned Pebble Beach golf Course, Monterey pier and Cannery row and a magnificent aquarium. More north is artichoke country of Castroville, and a little bit inland is Gilroy the garlic capital of the world which of course is near the birthplace of motorcycling hooliganism, Hollister.

DSC_1249Enough of the trip report and a bit about riding the Ultra touring bike. If you want super smooth, super quiet, climate control and a reverse gear, get a car. Somewhere between the Ultra and a car is another range of touring motorcycles with more cylinders, bigger fairings, fluffy seats and reverse gear, but in my mind you might as well have a car with the benefit of two extra wheels. The Ultra is totally comfortable enough for a long days ride but still lets me feel like I am on a motorcycle and a bit more in touch with my surroundings. Gas mileage was surprisingly right at 40 mpg on one fill up of extended riding. I would have to see the windshield in a wind tunnel to convince me the new fairing vent really does something. On the 2014 Street Glide I really didn’t expect any difference with the stock short wind deflector so I was looking for great things on the Ultra but couldn’t detect such at any speed. The bike weighs in at 896 pounds “in running order” (which I don’t think includes almost 40 pounds of fuel) making it a dream on the highway while up and down the hills in the city of San Fran it’s a handful. I found the hydraulic clutch to be a bit heavy and for my hands the point of engagement was too far out on the release lever which compromised my control for shifting and constantly smooth starts if I didn’t pay attention. I had a hard (impossible) time getting the radio to tune channels when I got out of preset station range of L.A. and so did the tech at fleet center for a bit with no clear explanation. The gas gauge low fuel warning light comes on early enough to get you to the end of your probable destination, this definitely being a case of early is better than late. The new headlights are a bit too directional and didn’t seem to fill a large area while on hi beam the passing lamps go out and the beam projects further but seems to drop off early. I still marvel at how easy it was to open saddlebag latches that don’t take two hands and a knee to close; the new one touch bags are great. The blue metal flake color (Daytona Blue Pearl) got a “nice bike” comment at almost every stop.

So the answer to my opening line, the cliff hanger, should be obvious that it is indeed a trip I would like to do again, preferably on a Harley Touring bike. In the interest of brevity and to not test your attention span I left out many incidents along the way. I stopped more, saw more and experienced enough more for a short story rather a short article here – it’s that way on a Harley.