For one weekend each April, Austin, Texas, becomes the center of the motorcycling universe. The baddest riders on the planet fly in from around the world as the MotoGP circus takes over Circuit of The Americas, its lone stop on American soil. Concurrently, the talented team at Revival Cycles holds its annual Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, a dizzying display of custom building craftsmanship, and between the two the atmosphere is electric with two-wheel energy.
There’s also great riding to be done in the Texas Hill Country. The ups and downs of the rolling hills surrounding the city are a two-wheeling roller coaster ride. Big sweepers beckon, and the rural roads are balanced out with just the right amount of tight, peg-scraping turns. It’d be a travesty to travel to Austin and not get some riding in, but with deadlines looming, time was not on my side. I needed to fly down, cover the show, and get back home. Such was my predicament.
As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Last year, EagleRider, the world’s leading motorcycle rental company, teamed up with Harley-Davidson to offer rentals in Harley dealerships around the country in what turns out to be a beneficial relationship to both parties. It expands EagleRider’s network of rental locations, and it gets people in the doors of Harley dealerships to potentially ride the latest motorcycles. One of the coolest things about this new alliance is that it offers one-way rentals, so you can pick up a bike in one state, plan an epic road trip, and drop it off at a Harley dealership several states away.
Renting a motorcycle from EagleRider online is about as easy as booking a hotel. Choose where you want to pick it up and drop it off, and the dates you’d like to have the bike. Currently there are more than 115 Harley-Davidson dealerships nationwide that are part of the EagleRider network. Hit “Search Now” and a menu of Harley-Davidsons that are available pops up. Once you select a motorcycle, there’s a list of options to choose including helmet rental, adding damage waivers or supplemental liability insurance, and roadside assistance, each for an additional fee. Then it’s time to check out.
To my good fortune, Cowboy Harley-Davidson of Austin had just opened an EagleRider outlet in its dealership at the beginning of April. The Cowboy H-D team was busy setting up for the 12th annual Max’s Ride & Concert for ALS, a fundraiser it holds in honor of US Army veteran Max Harrison. Harrison fought in Desert Storm but lost the battle with ALS at the young age of 36. Despite suffering from the debilitating disease, Harrison made it his mission to raise funds for ALS research, and years after his death the cause continues to be served by Cowboy H-D.
The dealership has an immense showroom, with the latest and greatest Harley-Davidsons front and center flanked by fresh apparel to the right and parts and accessories to the left. As soon as I walked in I was directed to the EagleRider kiosk where I was greeted with a big smile from the general manager of Cowboy Harley, Winter Green-Ike, who not only got me set up but was also kind enough to give me a tour of the dealership. Afterward, associate Brandon Wright escorted me outside where a 2018 Fat Bob was all polished up and ready to go. He ran down the particulars of the bike, from firing it up to engaging its security system with the key fob, then handed over the keys. Knowing that I was finally going to get a crack at the new Softail Fat Bob, a bike I’ve been wanting to ride for some time, put a wide grin across my face.
From the first crack of the Fat Bob’s throttle, the smile never left. The access road in front of Cowboy Harley-Davidson dumps into the freeway and after three quick shifts I was barreling up I-35 and bumping it into fourth. Thanks to the Fat Bob’s Milwaukee-Eight 107 mill I was passing cars at will but backed it down when a peek at the speedo showed 90 and rising. The new Softail arrangement keeps the bike deceptively composed at that speed, a speed it achieved with relative ease.
The roads around Austin have been put through the grinder, particularly the stretch of 183 near where I was staying. The Fat Bob’s new inverted fork and big back monoshock do a stand-up job of battling the broken surfaces. Being able to reach down and dial in the rear suspension is a welcome convenience. The Fat Bob’s agility is a boon on busy streets as Austin’s infrastructure around Town Lake wasn’t built to handle the volume of traffic it sees these days. Between its power off the line and its nimbleness, the Fat Bob doesn’t feel like a bike that tips at the scales around 675 pounds. Its characteristics are near ideal for the demands of Austin’s streets.
After three days of running around the city covering the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, I finally got to hit the hill country and let the Fat Bob stretch its legs. The experience did nothing but confirm all the good things I’d heard about the 2018 Fat Bob. Brisket, bluebonnets, and bluegrass music were all on the docket, but that’s a story for another day.
Pulling into Cowboy Harley-Davidson to return the Fat Bob, I was barely off the bike before one of their employees strolled over.
“So how was it?” he asked.
The same big grin I’d been wearing on my face for the last four days pretty much told the story. I was finally able to hitch a leg over a bike I’ve been wanting to ride since it debuted. I got to romp over some of my favorite roads in the Lone Star State. I spent three days swooning over incredible custom motorcycles at one of the best bike shows around. And when it was all said and done, all I had to do was top off a tank, hand over the keys, then fly home with memories of my trip dancing in my head.
And while I prefer riding to my destination, there’s merits to the Harley-Davidson and EagleRider alliance. It gave me more time to enjoy my visit to Austin, and time is a precious commodity; a commodity flying in, picking up, and riding out allowed me to maximize.