Best Western and Harley-Davidson Team UpI'm fortunate enough to ride motorcycles just about every day of the year. That is primarily due to the moderate California weather and the summer trips I get to take around the country. Unfortunately, I get much less time for leisure riding and with the hectic magazine schedule we keep just less time in general to soak up the world. There are numerous invites through the year to ride new motorcycles and to check out new destinations and experiences but I'm usually left unsatisfied with the quantity and quality of the riding. There's usually too much talk, too many photo stops, too many rules, too much time to eat, and an ambitious schedule that just doesn't fulfill my pleasure riding needs.
When I received an invite from Best Western International-the hotel people, to go on a four-day motorcycle tour of Northern California I was a bit reluctant to unchain myself from my desk and make the trek. It was billed as a FAM trip referring to a "familiarization" trip, so I could familiarize myself with the location of the trip, and in this case Best Western hotels. Here I had an invitation from someone I never met to go on a ride sponsored by big business. I'm sure you can relate to my initial skepticism.
Before I accepted the offer I researched the link between Best Western and Harley-Davidson. It turns out that a partnership between the two companies has existed for some time. The Best Western Ride Rewards is an exclusive program for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts offering travel benefits and discounts when staying at one of more than 1,200 "rider-friendly" Best Western properties in North America. Guests staying at one of the rider friendly properties will have access to a host of amenities, such as complimentary wipe-down rags, and access to a washing station. Additionally, some hotels offer extra benefits, including reserved parking spaces, bottled water, sunscreen, and lip balm.
Within Harley-Davidson's Ride Planner program you can get help planning and mapping rides. The planner makes it easy to book a stay at a Best Western hotel by indicating where each is located in correlation to the trip being planned. Each hotel listing includes descriptions along with a directory of services and amenities. All of this can be done while surfing H-D's or BW's websites. Membership in the Ride Rewards program is free and H.O.G. members can earn extra benefits such as free room upgrades.
That all sounded pretty good to me. My only question was, "what kind of bikes would we be riding?" The answer: all 2009 H-D Touring bikes rented from Bob Dron's Harley-Davidson in Oakland (bobdron.com). That was it, I wanted in. Normally I would have just ridden the 400 miles up to the Bay Area but my schedule was tight, so a barely one hour plane ride got me to Oakland. Waiting at the airport were two lovely BW representatives that were responsible for planning the week's events. Each of the five eclectic journalists arrived and we were whisked away via minivan to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. After arriving for our short first night's stay at the Best Western Tuscan Inn (tuscaninn.com) we were introduced to two BW and one H-D representative. Following a brief intro we all walked to Firenze by Night a great Italian restaurant tucked away along one of SF's many hilly streets. We all ate and drank ourselves to contentment, followed by after dinner cigars. It was a relaxing evening without any pretense or propaganda.
Upon our groups return I had to venture out to experience some of the SF charm, mingle with the people, and get myself into some well-earned shenanigans. Mission accomplished all across the board. I prepared myself for the next day's activities and perused the itinerary. Much to my surprise there was no provision for any meetings, speeches, or other indoctrination. Instead, the next morning while on our way to Bob Dron's to pick up our bikes we received a very informal history of Best Western. I was beginning to enjoy this trip more and more experiencing the laid back approach of the corporate reps as well as the fact that each of the reps were motorcyclists. During our brief history lesson I learned that BW doesn't actually own any properties at all. Instead, each of the 4,000 or so BW properties are independently owned and operated. The chain began, in 1946, as an informal link between lodging properties with each hotel recommending other establishments to travelers. The "referral system" consisted of phone calls from one front desk operator to another. Basically BW uses the power of its members, the hotels, to maintain the highest standards and uniqueness of each property. In return the hotels gain access to BW's extensive network of members, marketing, reservation system, and BW's reputation. It was an interesting lesson in regards to our country's history and the development of a business empire.
We arrived at the dealership and the business talk was over. That was it. No lectures or multimedia presentations. Waiting for us were eight bikes, consisting of Road Kings, Ultra Classics, a Street Glide, and one Road Glide. We all saddled up and headed across the Bay Bridge and into Napa Valley. We spent a leisurely morning riding along the gently meandering Sonoma County back roads between vineyards and picturesque rolling hills. After arriving at the town of Napa we checked into the beautiful and quaint Best Western Elm House Inn (bestwestern.com/elmhouseinn). We were greeted by the proprietors and shown to our rooms in the cozy bed and breakfast-like inn.
A few of us rode to the lunch spot, called Market, in historic Saint Helena while others jumped in the van for an after lunch stop at the Cade winery. I opted for the ride, not because I didn't want to sample some of the best grape nectar Napa Valley had to offer, but rather to rip through some twisties and then retire to my hotel room to work. Three of us decided to run some hidden mountain roads and test the chassis on the '09 bikes. We put them through their paces for sure getting to feel first hand how the ABS brakes handle white-knuckle riding on blind, bumpy corners filled with off-camber turns and road debris. We managed to come out of it in one piece but with much less floorboard remaining under our feet. Dinner came too quickly and we all walked to the upscale Celadon restaurant in Napa.
I was beginning to get spoiled as I ate my through the Napa Valley. Since we were all walking a fair amount of great wine and spirits was consumed to further enhance an otherwise great trip so far. We were all very impressed with the set up so far with every detail planned out to perfection by our two BW girls who also happened to be our chase truck/luggage drivers.
The following morning we were greeted to home-cooked breakfast at the Inn before heading towards the coast. We could not have asked for better weather with the cobalt blue skies and temps in the 70s. It was pure riding nirvana and we got right into it as we departed Napa. There's very little traffic on the country two laners during the weekdays and we had them all to ourselves. With no real agenda, only a direction, we could stop as often as we liked or break off and do our own thing as the super-planners provided us all with maps where we'd be staying later that night. One thing became clear as the ride progressed: eight riders who had never met each other and never ridden together were bonding in such a way that we all stayed together. There were a few stretches of hairy, switchback twisties where some of us wanted to play drag-the-knee in the corners but we just waited at the end for the rest of the group to show up. I'm sure some of the magic had to do with the scenery, and the great food and accommodations but there was some rare human factor involved that really brought the group together. We all seemed to know it too. It's amazing how two wheels and a common passion transforms strangers into friends.
We were scheduled to eat lunch in the small hippy town of Bolinas. Little did we know, as we got lost, that the locals have been stealing the signs for the town for decades to keep people out. It got to the point that the state just stopped putting up the signs. Bolinas consists of artists, musicians, and craftspeople, one bar, one restaurant, and a grocery store. It has a feel of decades gone by and the people were very friendly. Paintings adorned the sides of buildings and fences all over town. I get the feeling the sign stealers didn't want to keep everyone out, just those that wanted the easy way in. Ponder that daddio.
Following lunch we rode along the coastal cliffs into Marin County that sits north of San Francisco. Just like the image I have of the Bay area, it was cold, damp, windy, and foggy. After a gas stop and swapping tales of almost flying off 1,000-foot cliffs we came upon the Golden Gate Bridge. The cross winds were so strong it was very difficult to keep my bike straight. What made it harder was using one hand to ride while the other operated my camera. Visibility was poor but I managed to stay on the bridge and make it into the city on the other side. Due to the geography of the area with valleys, mountains, and the ocean all in close proximity the weather changes abruptly. No less than a half-mile from the bridge and the temps were much warmer and the skies again blue with high-flying, puffy, scattered clouds. It was mid-afternoon and we had to negotiate the busy San Francisco traffic and try to stay together as a group.
Our goal was traversing the metropolis and finding our way back to the Pacific Coast Highway, a more tranquil thoroughfare that again included vistas of the majestic Pacific Ocean on our right. We rolled south as a group towards our final night's stay in Capitola located south of Santa Cruz. Traffic was getting heavy as we neared Santa Cruz and it was here that I broke away from the group. A triumvirate of factors played into this decision: stopped traffic, heat, and live Grateful Dead blasting from some hippy station in Santa Cruz. I happen to like hippy music, and not much can compare to an early '70s Jerry and the boys live performance; I love to lane split and don't like to put my feet down while riding a motorcycle. So that was that, I jammed, the band jammed, and I made it into Capitola. I got lost because my maps were locked in my saddlebag and the rest of the group was 20 minutes back. Getting off the track isn't bad though as I got to see more than the main road in Capitola and managed to sniff out the hotel without asking for directions.
Upon pulling into the Best Western Capitola By-the-Sea Inn & Suites (bestwesterncapitola.com) I was greeted by Sean from Monterey County Harley-Davidson (montereycountyhd.com). He set up a tent for us to keep our bikes under and a few bikes he had customized from the dealership. Upon entering my nicely equipped room there was a goodie bag that Sean had left for us to take home. A lot of times it's the little things that make a big difference and this guy accomplished that. He heard we were coming and he volunteered his time and effort to make all of us feel good when we arrived.
After the long day of riding I put on my surf shorts along with my tall, harness, riding boots and made my way to the hot tub for a little relaxation. I know I looked ridiculous walking around like that but it's all I had. It may have broken the ice as well as I had some great conversations with some of the other hotel guests while I sipped a Sierra Nevada. After my brief me-time it was time to get ready for yet another five-star dinner experience.
We all gathered outside for the short walk over to Shadowbrook restaurant. Upon arrival we had the option to walk down too many flights of stairs to count or enter into a an enclosed cablecar that would take us down a hill and into the restaurant. We opted for the old-school enclosure that creeps down the mountainside at a 70-degree angle. Once inside the restaurant we felt like we were transmitted a hundred years or so back in time. The rustic interior consisted of numerous dining rooms separated by more stairs and pathways. Dinner was once again exceptional and we all had our fill of tasty sea and land creatures.
Post dinner most of the crew enjoyed cigars back at the hotel while I took Sean out for some billiards and pitchers.
When we awoke the following morning we were greeted with thick fog that resembled drizzle. Our original plan was to ride back up the coast to return the bikes to Bob Dron's. Since the coastal weather was less than ideal we took a more inland mountainous route where the sun was shining and the birds playing. We ripped along Skylike Blvd (Hwy 35) through redwoods and other conifers before our impromptu lunch stop at the legendary Alice's Restaurant (alicesrestaurant.com) at the crossroads of highways 35 and 84. This was our final stop before getting back to civilization and saying our goodbyes.
An hour or so later and we were back in Oakland unpacking our bikes and repacking bags for our respective flights home. This turned out to be one of the best rides I can remember, in part due to the great hospitality afforded us by the Best Western hotels we stayed at but also because of the bonds of biking. I learned something about the hotel business I had never known but I think I left with a greater belief in my fellow man than I previously had. I had put up false walls that could only bring me down, and preconceived notions of corporate folk I never met before, of writers and journalists that didn't mingle in my click. Man, was I wrong, but there's no better way to soothe and heal the mind like a nice relaxing ride, a good bed, food, drink, and cool people. Thanks for the memories.