Our bike was already on its stand outside the front doors of the Riders showroom in Bridgwater when we arrived, a beautiful metallic cherry-red 2018 Harley Davidson Ultra Glide Classic. A huge machine with a lovely faring and windshield, causing passing traffic and pedestrians alike to look in awe and envy. A nine hundred pound monster, powered by a 107 cubic inch/1750cc Milwaukee Eight V twin cooled, twin exhaust, 6-speed gleaming chrome growler. That’s just 250cc below the capacity of our F-Pace, so it’s a monster machine indeed on just two wheels. Starting it up it’s wonderfully noisy, smooth but uniquely a Harley. Blip the throttle and the neighbours look out their windows. This is a big throbbing machine, albeit with a little subtlety as it’s a tourer, but with benevolent brute power and that amazing sound from its engine and exhausts. 

The Ultra Glide comes with all the bells, whistles and gizmos you could imagine on a bike, a beautiful metallic paint job, ABS, chrome, cruise control, two (chrome) fog lights and a (chrome) Daymaker LED headlight, four-speaker (front) two speaker (rear) entertainment system, chrome leg protectors, satnav, rider and pillion intercom, more chrome, soft-cushion pillion armchair, huge side panniers, chrome twin exhausts, helmet back box, luggage pannier, whip aerial and more gleaming chrome. Sitting astride it it’s a big bike indeed. Just lifting it upright to get it off its stand you know you’re dealing with a heavyweight. One slip and it’ll be on its side, me with it, to the sound of a very large repair bill, no doubt. We’re not playing around here, this is a very grown-up bike indeed, one that expects respect, and I, for one, was not going to argue. 
The seating position is very different, feet forward, resting on plates (“floorboards”) both sides, rather than pegs. The gear change includes a heel bar to change down but that’s a step too far for me first ride, I’ll stick with toe control, thanks, if I can even find the gearshift it’s so far forwards. The foot brake pedal on the other side is as big as a truck’s. The bucket seat is soft and gorgeous and the dash more complex than our car. With five or six thumb buttons next to each (heated) grip you’re thinking all the time, if only which button adjusts the entertainment system volume. The direction indicators automatically cancel two flashes after the corner lean straightens. The windshield is electrically adjustable, of course, but I’ll leave it where the last renter left it for now. Crikey, it’s big. And wide. And heavy.
Harley Davidson
Saddling up, I thought I’d better take it for a spin on my own before I put my ‘moll’ on the back, so I kicked into first, left the throttle on tick-over and ever so, ever so gently let out the clutch. Ouch, the bike jumped forwards, good job I was holding on tight. Quickly pulling the clutch back in I had learned that the clutch is not like any I’ve used before. This is nearly two litres of power, three times the size of anything I’ve ridden before. So even more respect needed and so a tiny increase of revs and a slow, ever-so-slow release of the clutch to the bite point and we’re away. Stopping is abrupt using the front brake so it needs to be eased on. I’ll use the footbrake when I get going. Gosh, I’ve got a lot to learn, and quickly. 
I waited a long time for the lights to change and for no traffic coming at all before pulling out slowly and gingerly but not very smoothly onto the road. Keeping the speed right down I drove up to the junction and stopped at the Give Way. Indicate left, check left, look right, I managed to get around the corner with both legs out for stability then tried to find the floorboards, so far forwards. Picking up speed, to second then into third, back to second for the approaching roundabout, check right, indicate right, check right again, no crossing traffic, I took it very, very slowly right around the roundabout back the way I had come. Now in traffic everyone will be watching a Harley so if I mess up it will be very embarrassing. The bike is slung very low for a tourer but becomes more stable as the speed picks up, no doubt building a momentum that those two large front ventilated disks will remove quickly if I need them to but I’m doing no more than 20mph as I come up to the right turn back onto the trading estate. I’m flashed to cross the junction by an LGV in oncoming traffic. I nod thanks and promptly stall. Quickly restarting I get across with little aplomb and drive slowly back towards Riders. The bike is stable at quite a low speed but its centre of gravity is very high at crawling traffic speed and I’m very aware that if I’m not careful I simply won’t be able to stop this bike falling if I lose its balance. There’s a test you can do to walk the bike, engine off, to see whether it’s too heavy for you but I already know the answer to that one. 
The rider sits low in a scooped-out saddle, eyes level with the top of the windscreen faring. However, the pillion sits on a seat that is a number of inches higher, so she can see over the rider’s helmet. I’m afraid this will only add to the already top-heavy feel of the bike and I haven’t changed my mind after another few miles of highly anticipatory street and roundabout practice before turning back into Riders car park and giving Paula a large sigh of relief that I’ve successfully managed that small ride without mishap. This is going be a challenge!
I learned to ride many years’ ago, whilst we lived in Singapore. Starting from never having ridden a bike before, I finally gained my full class 2 licence after more than two years of training and the qualifying/provisional periods built into the process. It was an achievement, being granted

Harley Davidsona full motorcycle licence by the Singapore Traffic Police instructors, after the theory and medical tests, the many detailed on-road, but mostly off-road practical lessons and the very many aptitude and final licence tests. Each two-hour theory and practical lesson ended with a skills review and if you hadn’t properly and confidently demonstrated mastery of the lesson objectives then you were simply told you needed to redo the lesson before you could move on to the next lesson. If you forgot even a single over-your-shoulder ‘lifesaver’ check it was noted and reviewed at the end of each lesson. I remember one lesson, on a 400cc bike, required us to stand up on the pegs whilst negotiating six log-sized ‘bumps’ embedded in the road surface of the test centre and you got an immediate test failure if you put a foot down. Simple, thorough, no-messin’ and professional, ensuring their youngsters are properly trained before they take their bikes on the road, giving them the best chance of staying alive. But, I never did get a bike of my own. The training was the point, qualifying for each licence stage was satisfying and when I was finally, and with little ceremony, told I had passed my last practical test (at the first attempt!) and I had completed the challenge of passing one of the toughest but wholly achievable driving tests in the world, I moved on, another life skill to notch up on the bedpost if not one I have ever felt I have really mastered, but that’s ok.

I am experienced enough to recognise when I’m not experienced enough to take a pillion without more practice so I told my rather relieved moll that it’d probably be best if she followed me in the car for a while. So off we went, not as smoothly as I’d have liked but a Harley is not a BMW and I thought I’d settle for a safe and pleasant ride over Exmoor until I felt confident enough for us to park the car and invite Paula to join me on the back. We had all day, I wasn’t in a hurry and considering the size of the bike and the amount of road it takes, neither were the cars following me going to be unless I pulled off the road to let them pass, if necessary. It wasn’t, so with the sun shining, an almost empty and dry road ahead and with Exmoor beckoning we set off towards Minehead. Over the next hour or so my confidence grew until the road opened out into a reasonably quick 50mph gently curving, open country, sweet-smelling, cloudless, sunny delight, a perfect day for motorcycling across beautiful Exmoor.
The windshield and faring kept the wind off, the entertainment system was set to low, sunshade down, I was careful not to lean too far into the bends as I’d read the footplates helpfully hinge and scrape the road in a shower of sparks providing fair warning that you’re leaning too far for an Ultra Glide before the exhaust touches down which, rather unhelpfully, levers the back wheel off the road. I was in no danger of that happening but I was finding the lovely curving roads too fast to lean this heavy bike into properly. On the steeper bends the bike was just too heavy, in my inexperienced hands, especially the twisty road to Lynmouth. Porlock Hill, a 1 in 4 gradient and the steepest ‘A’ road in the UK was no problem for Harley grunt, of course, but steering around the hairpins took some concentration to not end up in the oncoming downhill traffic lane. We got to Lynmouth and turned off to Watersmeet for lunch but found it closed so we pressed on and eventually stopped for a bite and a rest at the Exmoor White Horse Inn and sat in their warm sunny garden next to the lovely River Exe.
Paula never did get to ride the pillion, molling it up on her Harley. Next time, perhaps, but I/we did about 100 miles overall and when we returned I filled up with just over ten litres of unleaded after fifteen minutes of slow-moving commuter snarl back into Bridgwater. I had no problem, this time, with the stop/start slow-moving traffic so I’d cracked that part of Harley riding as well. This beast is just too big to beat the traffic by riding up the centre line so on a big Harley you just shuffle along in queue with everyone else. Pulling back into Riders I’d had a ride of my life, a wonderful day motorcycling in the warm sunshine through some of England’s most beautiful countryside. I’d had no problems, hadn’t ‘dropped it’, kept my speed to all the mandatory and advisory limits, turned a lot of heads but, for me, the ride cured my desire to take a Harley on a real road trip unless it’s for miles and miles across the United States, with their wide, open, straight, traffic-free freeways, without a hairpin in sight. These are the proper roads for this Harley Davidson motorcycle in hands like mine.
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