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Best Motorcycles to Ride on Route 66

You may have heard the expression, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” from the popular R&B song of the 1940s. Though the 2,400-mile highway that linked Chicago and Los Angeles was decommissioned years ago, it’s still possible to ride large portions of the Mother Road.

Journeying America’s main street on the back of a motorcycle might be one of the quintessential, American experiences. But you’ll want a bike equipped for extremes, from clogged city streets to rural stretches without services or shelter. Here are some of the best motorcycles to ride on Route 66 whether you plan to rent one when you get there or buy for the big trip.

7 of the best motorcycles to ride on Route 66

First off, understand that the full Route 66 trip is usually a one-way affair, from Chicago to Los Angeles or vice versa. For many people, it’s a bucket-list type of trip, a commitment of about two weeks, though there are shorter routes covering about half the route, from Chicago or Los Angeles to Albuquerque, for example. That’s why many travelers use a rental company or a guided tour group that provides everything from the bike to hotel stays so you can simply fly home at the end of the trip, without the burden of having to transport your bike back.

Similar to our roundup of the Top 5 Adventure Motorcycles, we selected examples based on three engine size categories: small bore (300 cc to 900 cc), midsize (900 cc to 1,000 cc) and open displacement (higher than 1,000 cc). We looked at motorcycles offered by some of the major Route 66 rental and tour companies such as EagleRider to focus on proven selections.

2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited

MSRP: $28,299

Engine Size: 1,868 cc

Category: Open

Why it’s great

Our top choice for a luxury grand touring bike to hit Route 66 – or any road that beckons – is the new Road Glide Limited. It combines the classic Harley look with high-tech features like standard anti-lock brakes and the H-D Connect Service that links the bike to your smartphone. The 114-cubic-inch engine, the largest in the standard Harley touring line, delivers plenty of power for hauling two riders along the highway. Comfort features include heated hand grips with six settings, the sharknose fairing and slipstream air vent to control buffeting from the wind and electronic cruise control. The color touchscreen infotainment system provides access to navigation, phone and entertainment options. There’s plenty of storage for the trip with saddlebags and the premium Tour-Pak luggage carrier. The optional Reflex Defensive Rider Systems that add electronic control features cost $995.

2020 Harley-Davidson Tri Glide Ultra

MSRP: $34,999

Engine Size: 1,868 cc

Category: Open

Why it’s great

The Tri Glide Ultra offers many of the amenities as the Ultra Limited, but with three wheels. It’s the perfect option for those who relish the wind in their face but want more stability and storage space. The cushy rear seat is the perfect spot for a passenger to soak up the scenery on your cross-country adventure. The six-speed cruise drive transmission matches engine speed and road speed for smooth, quiet shifting. The 4.4-cubic-foot trunk can hold up to 50 pounds and the Tour-Pak luggage carrier adds 2.4 cubic feet of storage. A “trike” could be a comfortable option for your Route 66 trip if you’re not an experienced rider. However, those who have spent time riding a two-wheeler usually need a bit of training before feeling comfortable with three wheels.

2019 Honda Gold Wing Tour Airbag Automatic DCT

MRSP: $31,800

Engine size:  1,833 cc

Category: Open

Why it’s great

The Gold Wing Tour DCT sports a seven-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission to manage the power from the six-cylinder engine. Pack your necessities in the spacious travel trunk. Access your iPhone with the integrated Apple CarPlay feature and communicate between driver and passenger with available Bluetooth-enabled headsets. Follow your progress on the Mother Road via the navigation system on the seven-inch LCD screen. You can set ride modes to maintain comfort and control on different terrains. Walking mode lets you creep forward at a slow pace, perfect for squeezing out of a tight parking space. Mark Hoyer, editor in chief of Cycle World magazine, calls it the “first technical luxury tourer” in America.

2020 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

MSRP: $27,999

Engine size: 1,890 cc

Category: Open

Why it’s great

With the biggest engine among our selections, the Indian Chieftain Dark Horse has enough power to tackle the mountains and cruise all day at highway speeds. Hoyer likes the “retro inspiration and modern execution.” In a bid to keep riders cooler, the rear cylinder of the V-twin deactivates at low speeds or when you’re stopped in traffic. That could be comforting as you idle in Chicago and LA traffic on either end of your journey. A seven-inch touchscreen is the center of the infotainment system, displaying navigation routes with technology that allows you to keep your gloves on to use it. The integrated saddlebags deliver stylish utility compared to traditional boxy saddlebags. The adjustable windscreen controls airflow for rider and passenger. Standard features include keyless ignition, cruise control and anti-lock brakes.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE+

MSRP: $25,000

Engine Size: 998 cc

Category: Mid-size

Why it’s great

The supercharged four-cylinder engine offers responsive performance for those looking for a sport touring option. It’s perfect for carving turns on the twisty remnants of Route 66. Features include electronic control suspension, integrated riding modes and smartphone connectivity. For the Route 66 trek, the heated grips, large windscreen and LED cornering lights make the journey a little more comfortable. The riding position accommodates two riders. Optional saddlebags provide 28 liters of storage space.

2019 Triumph Tiger 800 XR

MSRP: $12,000

Engine Size: 800 cc

Category: Mid-size

Why it’s great

If you have a desire to literally get off the beaten path during your Route 66 trek, the Triumph Tiger is an interesting option. It’s an adventure bike, one capable of riding off the pavement as well as on it. Six riding modes, from rain to off-road to sport, set up the suspension to handle any type of environment and riding style. For a long journey, you’ll need to add some cargo space. Comfort features include upgraded seating material and a new adjustable windscreen. Standard off-roading aids include anti-lock brakes that can be switched off, traction control, and an adjustable suspension.

2019 Royal Enfield Himalayan

MSRP: 
$4,499

Engine size: 411 cc

Category: Small bore

Why it’s great

Designed in India to traverse paths in the Himalaya Mountains, the Himalayan should be able to handle anything the American West can throw its way. It’s a dual purpose or adventure bike, meaning it’s at home on and off the road. It’s one of the smallest bikes you might comfortably use for a long road trip. While it’s not on EagleRider’s list for a Route 66 trip, it is available for rent for a journey from Los Angeles to Chicago. There’s no built-in storage so you’ll have to add on gear carriers for your essentials. The LCD dashboard lets you track everything from mileage to maintenance. But don’t look for high-tech features like navigation or Bluetooth connectivity.

How we chose the best motorcycles to ride on Route 66

We took our cues from companies that offer guided tours of Route 66 and motorcycle rentals for on-your-own excursions. EagleRider, a large tour operator, offers a range of Harley-Davidson cruisers plus other bike brands for its Route 66 adventures. That’s partly due to nostalgia – what’s more American than cruising on the Mother Road on a Harley? But it’s also a recognition that big Harleys are among the best bikes available for long-distance road trips.

We also talked with Mark Hoyer from Cycle World magazine, who gave us some real-world insights. For a safe and enjoyable long-distance jaunt, it’s important to choose the right tool for the job. Sportbikes might be fast, but who wants to spend two weeks bent over the handlebars in a racing position? Off-road oriented bikes offer the chance for a bit of fun in the dirt, but the stiff suspension might make thousands of miles of bumpy highways a bit tiring.

Hoyer recommends a motorcycle of 1,000 ccs or more and a comfortable riding position, like sitting at a desk. That’s what you’ll find in the touring bikes like Harleys and the Indian. However, it’s possible to make the journey on another type of motorcycle, if you’re up to the challenge.

“It’s a  mindset,” Hoyer said. “You’ve got to embrace your pioneer spirit if you want to do it on something other than a big tourer.”

How to finance the best motorcycles to ride on Route 66

Motorcycle financing options include dealer financing for new and used motorcycles, as well as banks, credit unions and online lenders. Not all automotive lenders offer motorcycle financing but lenders such as LightStream and iNet offer loans for motorcycles. Interest rates for motorcycle loans are typically higher than rates for auto loans – LightStream offers 4.29% for motorcycles, as of Oct. 20, 2019, compared to 3.49% for cars. Obtaining financing for a motorcycle is similar to a car, but there are some differences. Be prepared for what to expect when financing a motorcycle. Apply to several lenders so you can compare interest rate offers before you start shopping. Walking into a dealer with a preapproved motorcycle loan in hand provides bargaining power. On LendingTree, you can fill out a single form and receive up to five potential motorcycle loan offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness.

What to know about riding on Route 66

To this day, Route 66 is well known for its quirky and kitschy landmarks and locations, including hotels, motels, filling stations and restaurants, said Scott Piotrowski, president of the California Historic Route 66 Association.

Once the main thoroughfare between Los Angeles and Chicago, spanning two-thirds of the U.S., the demise of Route 66 began in 1956 with the formation of the new U.S. Interstate Highway System, and the highway was finally decommissioned in 1985. Today, much of the route can be retraced through a combination of new and old roads. Federal laws call for preserving the cultural significance of the route. You can find maps and suggested sites at the National Park Service.

 

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