Trading Up to a Dresser: Should You or Shouldnt You?

Plus, Gold Wing / Ultra Classic Comparison

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

Editors Note: An oldie but goodie! The original date of this article was in 2004 when I wrote it for Woman Rider magazine, the print publication I was the editor of for four years. Five years later, on June 27, 2009, I repurposed it to appear here, on WRN, after I ended up buying a dresser — a 2008 Harley-Davidson Street Glide — with the intention of sharing my thought process of that led to that purchasing decision. This story was very popular then, so Im digging it out of the archives, yet again, for a whole crop of WRN readers to learn from and enjoy.

If you ride a cruiser and enjoy touring with it, over the course of your riding life you may find yourself graduating to bigger and more powerful motorcycles, the choice of machine dictated usually by the level of riding experience you have and the type of riding you do. At what point do you stop moving up, though? Is a full-dressed motorcycle, the kind with hard-sided luggage, a top case and a full fairing, the end-all?

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Low Rider
Heading to Sturgis with my Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider in 2001, a motorcycle Ive had since 1995.

I have been contemplating trading in my 1994 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider for a dresser. After 14 years in the saddle, I find myself riding mostly long distancesovernight trips that require lots of gear and accessories.

I took a 3,000-mile two-week trip two summers ago on a rented Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide. I camped part of the way so there was the additional tent, sleeping bag and bedroll to be strapped to the bike in addition to my clothes and personal items. There was so much stuff to bungee and unbungee every day. Plus, if I didnt double and triple check that the bungee cords were secured properly and that the weight was distributed evenly I could be in big trouble.

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Wide Glide
Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming with the Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide I rented all bungeed up with gear.

When it rained, even though the raingear was packed near the top, I still had to unbungee at least three bungees to get at the gear. After several days and several rounds of bungeeing and unbungeeing, I finally got the system down. Every colored bungee had its place. My riding partner on the other hand, my fiancée at the time, Norm, just grabbed any bungee every morning when he secured his stuff to his rented Road King using a different one each time. He wondered why hed end up one bungee short or have one left over. One day he reached over to grab one from my stash of bungees. “Dont touch my bungees,” I hollered. “Ive got the perfect bungee system. Youll mess me up if you take one.”

At the end of the first week, I was fed up with bungee cords. It was so tiring, rolling everything up, strapping things on oh-so carefully. My hands were taking a beating, too. Sometimes a bungee would accidentally retract back if I didnt secure it properly. “Wham!” that metal hook slapped my hands. It smarts! The constant pulling, slipping through hands, and crisscrossing of bungees left my hands chaffed and worn. Enough already! At that point, I was craving a motorcycle with large hard cases in which I could just dump everything. But Id never ridden a big touring motorcycle for any length of time. Would I be able to handle it? Would it be too much motorcycle?

The Big Leap
Carol Schmid of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, found out the larger touring bike was perfect for her after shed had enough of bungee cords on her Kawasaki Vulcan 800. “I added nearly every accessory I could find trying to turn that 800cc cruiser into a touring bike.” Logic dictated this 5-foot 2-inch 59-year-old relatively new motorcycle-riding grandmother should stick with the smaller, easier to handle bike. But most of Carols motorcycle rides were long ones. In the first 16 months of owning her Vulcan shed put on almost 12,000 miles. She was, however, frustrated with how she had to carry all of her gear. “I really didnt like having to bungee my suitcase on the back seat.”

She says she finally gave in to her need for a larger motorcycle and purchased a 2001 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide. “I wanted and needed the touring cycle with all the miles I travel.” All her friends thought she was crazy to have bought such a big bike, but she says, “I had the suspension lowered and I wear thick soled boots to stand flat-footed.” She even worked out with weights to increase her upper body strength so she could handle the heavier weight. She says the more shes ridden the bike the better shes gotten at handling it. Carols purchasing confidence came from knowing if she didnt like the bike or couldnt handle it she could always sell it. She adds, “I thought about a Road King, but knew I wouldnt be happy with it and Id move up to the Ultra anyway. So I just decided to eliminate one step.

Carol Schmid says buying the 2001 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide was a smart move for her. Shes much more comfortable on longer rides. She points out, though, “I must be careful how I park it so that I wont need help to stand it up or to back it up.”

Good idea. I, however, am not so sure about the big bike thing so I took the opportunity spend a two-week road trip last summer with a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide and a Honda Gold Wing.

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Motorcycles KOA
Norm and me on our rented dressers at the KOA in Ely, Nevada, in 2003.

My first impression of having that much storage space available to me was incredible. I absolutely loved it. But I got a bit space greedy when I packed an extra bag. I did need a couple of bungees to secure it to the back seat (plus it worked great as a backrest), but lets just say the whole bungee business was bagged on this trip making life a lot easier.

Apples to Apples Comparo
I found that the Gold Wing and the Ultra are very, very different machines. The 1800cc Gold Wing is an amazing machine. The motorcycle is incredibly smooth and corners like a sport bike. Plus, there is so much power available to you. I loved cranking the throttle as I was passing a car and feeling the motorcycle catapult me forward. The big windshield (thats adjustable with the touch of a button) and incredibly wide fairing block nearly all the wind coming at me.

Trading Up To A Dresser Honda Gold Wing
At 5 feet 6.5 inches, I sit flat-footed on this 2003 Honda Gold Wing. Even though it looks like a massive bike, the weight is extremely well balanced. Its quite easy to lift it off the kickstand. More packing space means youre apt to take more stuff, like I did here.

I traveled about 600 miles one day and didnt feel beat up at the end. My feet reached the ground with ease giving me a certain confidence, but I was still extremely careful when maneuvering the big bike in and out of parking lots, gas stations, etc. Even though the seat height is 29.1 inches, its not a bike you whip around. Its pretty wide and has a bulky feel to it. You want to be in control of it at all times.

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Honda Gold Wing Yellow
This is the first Gold Wing I ever rode. I test rode it a few weeks before I went on my big trip to make sure I could handle a Gold Wing.

I enjoyed the “reverse” feature on it. With the flick of a switch, the bike moves backwards. This bright orange motorcycle also garnered a lot of looks, particularly when, me a woman, walked up to sit on the big bike

The 1450cc 2002 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide also attracted looks but more because people were interested in looking at a big Harley-Davidson, rather than the fact that a woman was riding it. This bike sits much lower to the ground with 27.3-inch seat height giving me a bit more control of the bike. I found the ergonomics are completely different than the Gold Wing. The Harley has a very low center of gravity, one of the reasons Carol Schmid was attracted to it. While you sit low in the saddle, you do have a sense of the weight of the top pack mounted on the rear and the wide front fairing. The weight distribution is something youll eventually get used to, and is very noticeable the first few times in the saddle.

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Harley Davidson Ultra Classic
Posing by the Ultra on Pacific Coast Highway in California. I still used bungee cords to secure an extra bag to the back seat. Hard to escape those bungees!

The bike has a lot more rumble that the Gold Wing, something I liked, but the smaller engine size wasnt able to beat the Gold Wing coming off the line. At freeway speeds though, both bikes are so easy to ride and very comfortable. Again, I liked the large top case and side bag storage compartments on the Harley. Both bikes had cruise control, a really nice feature on a touring bike that I got accustomed to using. I also got used to the AM/FM radio, which surprised me. I never thought I’d like that extraneous noise when riding, but it was nice to have a way to break up the monotony of some roads.

The Bottom Line
After my test rides, I’m not totally sold on a full-dressed motorcycle. Here’s why. With that large of a motorcycle, I found I needed to be “on” 100 percent of the time. There is no room for missteps. There’s no recovering from slipping your foot on some gravel, or accidentally leaning the bike over too far. Once it’s over, it’s over. There was no room for weariness with these bikes, at least for a woman of my strength and size. On my trip where I tested these bikes, some days we pushed it hard, rode long days–sometimes too long. Even on these perfectly tuned, long haul machines I would eventually get tired. In that state of growing fatigue, I found it took every ounce of me to maintain control of the bike when moving it around parking lots. If I were riding a smaller bike, I wouldn’t need 100 percent of my mental and physical strength for control, allowing for some fatigue. Carol recognizes that with the large bikes, “There’s a lot less room for error. I take extra time to find a parking spot I know I can get out of easily.”

Trading Up To A Dresser Dyna Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic
Looking out onto western Oregon. I put a bag on the back seat, along with my camp pillow, to create a comfortable backrest.

I’m kind of torn on what I should do. The extra cargo space is a strong motivating factor. All that room makes long trips a breeze. On the other hand one could argue that all those compartments are just too darn much space for one motorcyclist! I suppose I could do without a top case. I can learn to downsize. The heck with the cruise control, reverse and a radio. This is a motorcycle ride for heaven’s sake! But boy, it sure was nice ditching those bungees – well at least some of them. I don’t know what to do. Stay tuned.

Update June 27, 2009: I purchased a 2008 Harley-Davidson Street Glide after riding my Dyna Low Rider for a few more years. The little Evolution engine on my dated Dyna just couldn’t keep up with the more powerful touring motorcycles my friends were riding. Plus, I was so ready for more comfort and packing space. I’ve never looked back. Here’s a look at what I did to customize the motorcycle to fit me.

Related Articles:
Genevieve Joins The Bagger Brigade
Changing Your Motorcycle’s Shocks to Get Lower
One Way To Avoid Dropping Your Bike

13 thoughts on Trading Up to a Dresser: Should You or Shouldnt You?

  1. Good article. I currently ride a 2012 Victory Crossroads with the hard saddle bags. With 21 gallon capacity per bag I have found I can travel for a nine or 10 days with no additional luggage. One big factor in that is that I wear full gear. I don’t wear my riding pants as overpants so I only pack a couple pair of jeans. Definitely cuts down on packing. Since you mentioned fatigue, I have also found wearing ear plugs cut down on the fatigue. I couldn’t tell from your article if you use them. I resisted wearing them for a couple of years and now I use them all the time. One day last summer I hadn’t put them in while riding Arkansas roads. We decided to try to make it home that day which ended up being a 575 mile day. Everything was OL until we got on a four-lane higher speed highway. After 100 miles on it both of us I had to stop. We were feeling really fatigued. We put our earplugs in and I hadn’t ridden 10 miles before noticing a huge difference. I was good to go the last 200 miles!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I now use earplugs and yes, it definitely makes a difference. I even splurged on a pair of custom fitted earplugs after a few years of using the foam type. I swear by the custom earplugs and even wrote a review of them.I recommend every rider who travels long distances get earplugs. It’s kind of the “veteran” riders secret.

  2. I have been riding my ’02 Yamaha V Star 1100 for four years now and would love to get another bike with some modern upgrades. My biggest dilemma is no matter what I look at (unless it is another cruiser), I will have to have it custom lowered. Even the BMW factory lowered is still a 30-inch seat height. I envy all you tall ladies. I will stick with my cruiser for now and happy to be riding. No complaints.

  3. We started back when with a 350 Honda (no bags), had a couple of other bikes (soft bags) including a 1500 Kawasaki with LeatherLyke hard bags before going to a 1500 Gold Wing with buil- in hard storage. I road for years as a passenger before finally getting a 400 Suzuki Burgman with built-in storage under the seat. After more than 44 years of riding, hubby is now considering a smaller, lower bike than his Gold Wing, but has been spoiled by the available built-in storage of a touring motorcycle. He too uses the back seat for storage and back support when taking cross country or camping trips.PS: On the Burgman I can get a 3-man tent, ground sheet and sleeping bag under my seat, and leave the dash for rain gear and use the back of my seat for soft luggage and a cooler. Not camping, the 2-full face underseat helmet space leaves plenty of room for my apparel and I put my first aid kit in the dash. Oh, an XL pizza fits under the seat 🙂 That’s another story.

  4. Yes, this is an oldie, but goodie!I wish more women (especially my wife!) would consider trading up to a touring bike, instead of going half-way with a big bike with saddlebags and windshields. There is SO much more comfort and convenience built-in to these motorcycles, it makes traveling via motorcycle a completely new experience. We need to get over our fear of how intimidating the big bikes look, and understand that they are engineered to be extremely well-balanced with rider control a number 1 priority.In response to your comment about fatigue and the margin for error – this can be easily controlled by learning to not push it too far. You said it yourself, that you can go further on the tourers with less fatigue. So, DON’T go farther, and you’ll have a reserve of energy for when you arrive at your destination. This applies to everyone on any motorcycle, anyway.Lastly, I chuckled to myself in observing your pictures – no matter what you were riding, you had every available mounting place filled up with cargo. I do the same thing. If we have it, we will fill it up.

  5. Great article! I finally stepped up after six years and bought a Street Glide. I have a removable trunk which I only use for long trips. That way I don’t feel like I have a full bagger all the time. Love my bike! Bought her in Phoenix and rode her home to Portland. Have been through the Canadian Rockies and Sturgis. Can’t wait to get back out this summer.

  6. Great article. I am currently riding a Harley-Davidson Switchback (FLD) and contemplating on trading for a Street Glide. My only hesitation is slow maneuvers such as u-turns and slow tight turns on a bigger bike. I have about 10,000 miles under my belt in the last few years. I don’t ride overnight except maybe three to four times a year. Mostly day rides 125-200 miles a day. Suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. You really can’t go wrong with a Street Glide for long day rides and overnight trips. The comfort and additional cargo space is nice to have. I traded up to one from my Dyna Low Rider and lowered the suspension so I could flat foot it, which helps your confidence in controlling the big motorcycle.Slow turns and U-turns are executed the same way whether you’re on a small motorcycle or big one. Size shouldn’t matter. Here is a helpful article in our Riding Right / Safe Riding Tips section on how to make the perfect U-turn. Good luck!

  7. Hey, I remember reading the original article! I was lusting for a Gold Wing then but not certain I could handle it.
    After reading your story it only added fuel to the fire. Four years later I made the move for a bigger bike, from a Honda 1100 Shadow to the GL1800 and do not regret a thing. I've got the room for my belongings+. I've got the power that fits me just great, and the tank space that means I will need a break long before I need to pull off for gas. Very comfortable for long distance, and smooth to manuever. I've got greater visibility on the road, plus some creature comforts such as music, heat, and reverse (for a 900-pound bike it's a must have).

    One year later and 8,000 miles, I am still a happy camper. Now if I could only find a job where long distance travel via motorcycle is a requirement!

  8. Thanks so much for this article and the wonderful timing. My husband and I just bought two Gold Wings. I haven't had a chance to ride one so am a little nervous, but I currently ride a Honda VTX 1800 and love it. We are picking the bikes up on the East Coast and riding across the US, then shipping them here to Hawaii. The dealer said he would look into lowering the bike but I don't know yet if that is possible. I am 5 feet 5 inches but when I sat on a Gold Wing it didn't feel too bad. I rented a Harley Road Glide a few months ago and rode 1200 miles on it. I loved having the storage and the radio!

    Again, my thanks. I have been trying with no luck to find anything about women riding the Gold Wing.

  9. I after a few years on a 1979 Sportster and almost 10 years on a 1994 Heritage Classic, I now have an 2006 Ultra Classic. My friends call them “geezer glides” as it's mostly the more “mature” rider that owns one. I think once you become a Grandmom of two, I'm old enough (49) to be a geezer and I ride my geezer glide with pride.

    What a great bike for touring. I'm 5 feet 10 inches so I don't have an issue with the height of the bike, but I very much understand the need to better pick out a parking space, so it's not to hard to maneuver when it's time to leave. I am also more weary of gravel parking lots with this bike, otherwise I couldn't be happier.

    It's the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. I, too, thought I'd never need to listen to music, because riding is my “thinking time” but when on a long days ride, I find myself cranking my favorite tunes and singing along. It makes the time go must faster. Hopefully no one can hear me.

    I also thought I'd never need a CB, but after a recent ride with many Ultra Classics, it was great for the ride leader to have contact with the last person in the large group. Always knowing the everyone made it through the last green light and we were all still together.

    I did add the heat deflectors under each side of my seat and It really helps to keep the engine heat down.

    I love all the easily accessable storage. I'm now the first person unpacked and ready to check into the hotel instead of the last. I put 5000 miles on it since I got it last Sept, and that's including a long Iowa winter.

  10. This makes we want to go out and ride somewhere far away… right now!

  11. This is a great article. I ride a 2002 Electra Glide and have 92K on it. It is my every day ride to work and pleasure bike. The statement about being 100 percent on hit it on the head. That is the key to the big bikes. I have worked my way up and the last bike before the H-D was a 1600 Vulcan in 2002. It handled very heavy at the top and I had a lot of anxiety at low speed and when I finally got brave enough to try an Electra it was perfect and so easy to ride.

    I am 5-feet-7 and 145 pounds and have had it lowered, and added pullback handlebars. It is a dream to ride. It frustrates me that dealers don't work more with women and their ergonomics. I have to be honest I still sometimes look at my bike and think “Am I actually riding this?” Don't let them intimidate you. They are easier in many ways. The room for gear speaks for it self. I could never go without a trunk. Street Glides are cool, but, I love my EG!

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