Florida Keys

Florida Keys
While other parts of the country have mountains with impressive, winding roads, the vertically challenged state of Florida has its share of gorgeous curves, too  -  all courtesy of its renowned beaches, resorts and beauties baking in the year-round sun. Add great fishing, diving, seafood, and all manner of water sports to the many enticements of Miami and the Florida Keys, and we're talking about one great biking destination.

I had never ridden a Harley-Davidson before and was curious to see how such a big hunk of metal handles. The gang at American Road Collection kindly provided a 2003 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic and I eagerly came to grips with it for a run to the Florida Keys.

Florida has plenty of fast roads to take you to the heart of the action, but battling trucks anytime or anywhere is not on my agenda. Not a problem in this case  -  Fort Lauderdale is barely 25 miles from Miami, so there's no rush. I'm taking A1A along the Intracoastal Waterway all the way to the barrier island that is Miami Beach. With I-95 handling the majority of vehicles nearby, there is little traffic.

Much more than a rejuvenated 1930s beach resort, Miami Beach is still most famous for its matchless beach and fanciful architecture. The city's prime examples of the prevailing Art Deco style  -  hotels, stores, nightspots and restaurants all swathed in bright sea-inspired pastels  -  beckon from Washington and Collins Avenues, and along Ocean Drive from Fifth to 23rd Street. It's a very pleasant circuit on this sunny afternoon, although at times it does feel as though I have ridden into "Grand Theft Auto 3."

With a few hours of daylight to play with, I head into the hub of Crocket and Tubbs' "Miami Vice" beat. Downtown is a surprisingly small area and the high-rises here have little in common with the austere blocks soaring in New York or Chicago. Heading down the tree-lined lane of Brickell Avenue, I pass the Atlantic Building, famed for an eye-catching design element: a huge square hole that cuts through floors 14 to 16. It's beautiful in a way that the monoliths on Fifth Avenue can never be.

Brickell takes me onto the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne. I blast away from the toll booth and over the causeway with the feeling growing that riding this Harley is going to be fun. A wide strip of golden sand and swaying palm trees wait in Crandon Park. Best of all it's deserted. Sitting on the beach, I can see the skyscrapers of Miami and beyond those, Miami Beach peeps over the horizon. There is nothing like getting away from it all and still have what you are getting away from become part of a beautiful view.

Key Biscayne also lays claim to one of Miami's best attractions  -  the Seaquarium. I hop out of the saddle and rush into one of the arenas as the show begins. Lolita, a 10,000-lb orca (killer whale), hangs in the air.

After a night on the town in Miami Beach I get an early start, pass through downtown Miami and head for the affluent suburb of Coral Gables on Coral Way/SW22nd Street. Roaming immaculate boulevards in the shade of arching trees past old Spanish colonial homes and the gardens that exude a warm perfume, I discover a small treasure nearby on Granada. Circling the ornate fountain at the center of a roundabout, I exit for the Coral Gables Venetian Pool, a stunning spot constructed for public use from a coral quarry in 1923. And what a pool it is  -  an 820,000-gallon expanse of fresh spring-fed water that features grottoes, caves and two waterfalls. The limestone gives the water a magical turquoise hue that blends inimitably with its palm-fringed island and the subtle Venetian styling of the pool's loggias, porticos and cobble-stoned bridge.

Leaving Miami, I stick to the wooded back roads rather than taking US 1, and join the ugly main road just before Homestead, the gateway to the Everglades. Just after Homestead and Florida City, Card Sound Road provides the less-traveled route to Key Largo. The landscape changes to mile upon mile of wetland as I approach the end of the USA. At first this is new and intriguing, but it lasts for miles. I accelerate to 90 mph, enjoying the howl of air buffeting the windshield, and with one-third of a ton of metal between my legs I feel as safe as one can on a bike.