Michael Sheridan hits the road in Florida. We are jealous, yet again.
Winter weather grounds a lot of motorcycles in Ireland.
But there is hope for Irish motorcyclists thanks to a growing market for organised motorcycle tours in countries where the weather is far from 'Irish'. We jumped at the chance to take to two-wheels in Florida aka 'The Sunshine State' to sample a tour.
Eaglerider is the world's largest motorcycle rental firm and the leader in the US for guided motorcycle touring. Eaglerider provides the accommodation, a motorcycle rental of your choice and fuel for you and your bike as part of the package. With 4,000 motorcycles and trikes from manufacturers like Harley Davidson, Honda, BMW, Triumph and Can Am, our choice could only be a Harley.
We chose a Streetglide, which is a touring Harley. It has a low front fairing, hard panniers and a CD/aux stereo. Anticipating humid weather and slow riding, I brought an Arai open face helmet. Florida has no helmet law. And yes, it can look cool riding with the wind in your hair, but even a little fly hitting your face at 50mph stings – imagine what damage a stone, never mind a collision, could do!
Our route began in Orlando. After checking out our motorcycles we hit the road. Riding time seldom exceeds an hour in the saddle. Lunch was a picnic at Fort Christmas in an area that was once home to Florida's Seminole Tribe before they were split up and relocated. There you'll find a replica of the original Army Fort that famously took just a single day to build.
Custom Works in Daytona was the next stop. It is a massive motorcycle dealership that is also a Boss Hoss franchise holder. The massive V8 motorcycles are ridiculous and brilliant at the same time.
We stayed on the beachfront that night at the Best Western Plus Aki Tiki Inn. The SW Grill (Sunset Harbour Yacht Club) was an excellent dining experience and later a beer was had at one of the many 'Biker Bars'.
Day 2 Daytona via Kennedy Space Center to Cocoa Beach
Daytona is a Mecca for speed freaks and motorcyclists. The 23-mile beach, famed for its land speed record attempts, has 11 miles of usable compacted sand that riders and drivers can lash along for a nominal fee. Sadly, that morning the riding was curtailed due to a hide tide.
Daytona hosts two specific motorcycle events each year that attract huge numbers: Bike Week and Biktoberfest. The world famous Daytona Speedway runs tours of the track for motorcyclists who can do a lap of the famous home of the 'Daytona 500'. In places the banking is 31 degrees and you have to do speeds in excess of 65mph or you'll slide off it!
After lunch at Houligans and a quick visit to the world's largest Harley Store it was onto Kennedy.
The Kennedy Space Center made me feel like a child again as the exhibits are simply jaw-dropping. You can get up close and personal with the most powerful man-made machine ever built – the Saturn 5 rocket that powered the Apollo lunar missions. The Space Shuttle Atlantis will go on public display in July 2013 in a purpose-built, multi-level display area.
When the sun goes down so does the temperature, in what is described as Florida's 'Cold Season' (raise eyes to heaven). We dined on Shark and the entourage stayed in two Cocoa Beach hotels, the Courtyard Marriott and the Hampton Inn.
Day 3 Cocoa Beach to Fort Lauderdale
Cocoa Beach is a surfer's paradise, but as I was on a Harley I passed up a visit to the world famous Ron Jon Surf Shop. The pier at Cocoa Beach is a beautiful old wooden affair and one could spend hours fishing, sipping a cool drink or just staring out to sea there. When you look at Florida on a map you see roads right next to the sea but in reality there are few uninterrupted views of the beaches and sea from any road. We still had a nice relaxing ride to Palm Springs for lunch at Testas.
Then to our horror there was a drop of rain, sadly clouds had gathered above us and it looked a little stormy.
We stayed in the Riverside Hotel, a lovely spot in Fort Lauderdale aka the Venice of America. Dinner was just a short walk down the road at Tundra, where after some delicious food the obligatory dance-off happened – I won with a comedy 'Riverdance' as per usual!
Day 4 Fort Lauderdale to Islamorada, Florida Keys
Sawgrass Recreational Park saw us take to the swamp in an airboat. Two massive car engines each spinning a propeller powered our massive, 12-man, aluminium flat-bottomed boat. Captain John, who looked like he came from Central Casting, had a truly expert knowledge of the wilderness and took me to within a couple of feet of an alligator where, funnily enough, I clearly remembered to keep my hands inside the boat.
Then it was on to the very pretty Florida Keys. The 125-mile thin strip of islands is connected by 42 bridges and countless movie stories. We didn't have time to go all the way down to Key West, which is only 90 miles from Cuba; instead we stayed in Islamorada, the next stop down from Key Largo. We stayed and dined in the famous Postcard Inn, home of the original Tiki Bar.
Day 5 Islamorada to Coconut Grove, Miami
We weren't the only ones being fed breakfast at Robbies marina: it is famous for tame Tarpon - the giant game fish that can grow up to eight feet long like to be hand fed! After a 'breakfast burrito' it was off for a voyage on the original African Queen, made famous by the 1951 movie. It was a real pleasure to take the tiller of this historic vessel. Built in 1912, she has been lovingly restored. All too quickly we were returning the motorcycles in Miami with some 664 miles extra on the clock. We had dinner in our hotel, the lovely Sonesta Hotel & Suites Coconut Grove.
Florida is a great state with brilliant destinations for all the family. The riding is very easy and done in daylight hours, making it stress-free and novice-friendly.
Eaglerider Tours are sold through a couple of travel agents in Ireland, however Celtic Horizon Tours (www.celtichorizontours.com) specialise in motorcycle touring as well as being an official Eaglerider agent. Seeking expert advice when it comes to two-wheel touring is always the best option. US motorcycle tour prices start from €2,669.