Jun 022012

A commenter asked this question and the answer is such that I felt I should add a separate post to address the issue.  Being as how I rode for 25 years, owned 17 different Harley’s, got about 500,000 miles under my ass, and worked in the industry, I would like to think I’ve got some qualifications to talk about riding and owning a motorcycle in the Keys.  So grab your leathers and hop on for a ride.

In fact there are a lot of motorcycles in the Keys and quite a few Harley’s.  Riding down from Miami to Key West is a favorite for many riders and in Sept. we have the Key West Poker Run which usually draws a few thousand bikers to the island for a weekend.  More than a few who live here own and keep a Harley on the island.  It gets good gas mileage and has the power to run if you want to head up the highway.  But, there are issues to consider before bringing your hog down here…

First of all, there is no Harley dealership anywhere in the Keys.  The closest dealer is in South Miami, Petersons HD, one of the last surviving old school dealers.  Peterson’s originally was founded in Key West but then moved to the big city.  They still own the dealer rights to the Keys but the only thing they have down here is one of those crappy airport style store fronts on Duval that sells t-shirts with “Harley Davidson of Key West”, on them.  They don’t sell hard parts, oil, nor do they do any repairs.  If you want dealer services you have a 160 mile ride one way to get them.

As for aftermarket shops catering to Harley, currently there are none in Key West.  The closest is in Marathon that I am aware of and how much they can do, especially where newer models are concerned is unknown.  I’ve never been a big fan of after market shops but that is just me and my dealership background.  It’s still a 50 mile ride one way from Key West but at least you should be able to get an oil change, a tire, or pick up some spark plugs there.  As for Key West, there is nothing.  There is a Honda and Yamaha dealer but they won’t touch a Harley and are more tuned to the scooter trade rather than full grown motorcycles.

The other big issue is something I have posted about before and bears some serious consideration before you bring your $15,000 chrome and aluminum beauty down here.  Rust.  The Keys are a very corrosive environment for anything made of metal.  Salt water is no different than acid when it comes into contact with metal parts, especially things like hardware, spokes, and all those little nooks and crannies that a motorcycle has.  You’ll be doing a lot of cleaning just to keep the corrosion at bay but it always wins out in the end.  I’ve seen some beautiful bikes reduced to rusted heaps over a short period of time due to this corrosive effect.  The salt from the ocean gets into everything and lays all over the ground.  When it rains that salt leaches up into the puddles and transforms the water into salt water.  Drive through it like a tv commercial and you will have a corroded mess to clean up the next day.  When the winds blow and especially on those rare days where we have fog, the salt blows in on the breeze and coats everything.  When things are dry it’s not a whole lot better.  Dust blown up is actually tiny bits of dead coral that act as sandpaper on your paint job.  The climate is not conducive to any vehicle but with Harleys, which have a lot of exposed metal, it’s even worse.

Keeping your ride in a garage helps quite a bit but it will only really just slow down the inevitable.  My bicycle, the $50 bike so you can imagine the quality of the metal on it, stays inside my apartment when I am home.  Yet it is showing signs of corrosion on the bolt heads and other spots.  On a cheap bike, who cares.  When you have thousands wrapped up in a motorcycle, it hurts.

Plan on your insurance rates going up substantially when you move here.  Insurance companies are well aware of the corrosion factor on motorcycles along with the dangers of riding up and down US1.  Kiss off the resale value of your bike later down the road.  Once a dealer finds out you lived in the Keys with that ride, the trade in offer will plummet.

Yes, that beloved scenic highway of ours is not the safest highway in the world.  Many who drive it are on it for the first time and the moment they clear Key Largo and start seeing water and bridges, their minds are not on watching that single headlight heading in the other direction.  US1 is full of distractions.  I know, I’ve ridden it more than a few times in my day.

Which leads to another minor issue.  US 1 is essentially the only road to ride on.  Buzzing around Key West is fine on a bicycle.  On a Harley, it gets pretty boring.  And by the way, if you have loud pipes on your bike, as Harley riders are apt to do, you will be coming up close and personal with a lot of law enforcement personnel.  Loud pipe violations are enforced heavily on the islands, even during special events like the poker run.

Then there is the heat.  It’s hot down here.  Way more hotter than you think or are used to.  Harleys, except for the VRod, are air cooled.  If the air ain’t blowin’, the air ain’t coolin’.  When you are riding around the island where only two miles of highway are 35 mph and the rest is 20 or less, your engine and clutch assemblies are going to get trashed.

And speaking of the heat, leave all the black clothing back up north.  The t-shirts, the leathers, the cold weather stuff.  Dark black clothing and the Keys tropical heat don’t mix.  You’ll find out quick enough if you try riding around in an all black outfit.  If you wear a helmet, consider getting one that is white as oppose to dark colors so your head will sweat less.

The temptation will be to wear the standard issue uniform of the Keys which is a fishing shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops on the bike.  You will be sorry.  Aside from the obvious road rash that will ensue when you go down, you will fry in the hot sun.  Riding up and down US 1 in the sun means you won’t feel nothing but the wind on your skin.  When you stop, you will be feeling something else much more painful, namely sunburn.  Keep some SPF 50 sunscreen or better on hand.  You’ll need it.  As hot as it may feel when you are stopped, try to keep as much bare skin covered while riding, including some lightweight gloves.

And as one final tip.  Invest in a good lock and keep your insurance paid up.  Bike thieves are everywhere.  It takes only seconds for a gang of thieves to load a bike into a van in Key West and by the time it hits the mainland, be in a million parts ready for sale over the inter webs.  Be careful where you park and leave your steed and lock it up at all times when it is parked, including at your home.

Well, that’s it.  Harley’s in the Keys in a nutshell.  Sorry if I don’t sound too supportive of riding down here but reality is what reality is.  I’ve owned and rode bikes for many many years in Florida.  I know the climate and what it can do to a bike first hand.  Most of what I point out here is based on personal experiences.  Personally, I would not own a Harley in the Keys or at least not a brand new one that would take a beating in value due to the corrosion factors.   If your bike is a much older model, perhaps a simple Sportster or something where the looks are not so important, then maybe you can deal with the climate.  But if it’s a newer model with lots of chrome and goodies, and you have lots of money tied up in it, seriously consider selling it before making a move here and put the money into your savings for future use.  You can always go back and buy another bike someday later.  I understand they still make them.

Capt. Fritter

  One Response to “Harley’s and the Keys, how compatible are they?…”

  1. Dude, thanks for the great info. You answered every question I had about bringing down the hog.