First Impressions

I love it.

It was way different from the little Eliminators and rebels at the MSF course. It moves. When I first got on it, I rolled on the throttle just a little too much coming out of the stop at the entrance to the parking lot at the dealership. It started to roar right across the road, instead of turning as I intended. I headed straight for a sedan parked on the other side of the road.

I instantly hit the clutch, pulled both brakes, got her under control, then made the turn. it was a lot wider than I had intended, but I made it. That was a scary half-second or so. Definite loss of cool points.

Fortunately, the dealership is tucked away in an industrial park with very little traffic. So, I spent a half hour riding up and down the road, stopping, starting, making turns, and generally getting used to the brakes, clutch, and throttle response.

After the rides I wrote about below, I went out for one last ride before dark. In California, the learner’s permit doesn’t allow you to drive at night, but the last, 40-minute ride in the cool sunset was refreshing, and was ready–if not eager–to start on my homework for my MBA course. Actually, I’m not sure I want to do too much night riding, but I would’ve tonight. Oh well, in two weeks I get my certificate from the MSF course in the mail, and I can walk into the DMV and get my full M1 endorsement.

I see a lot of complaints on the forums about the sound of the stock Sportster. It sounds fine to me. It has a very nice bass rumble. It’s not loud enough to rattle the windows on all the neighborhood houses, but that’s OK. I’m not sure I want to ride something that loud. After all, I’m sitting right on top of all that sound, and too much would be a bit wearing.

It’s been mostly very smooth at the speeds I can drive it during the break-in period. They used to tell people not to drive over 50 miles per hour during the break-in. Now, they say don’t let it get over 4500 RPM on the engine. So, you can go about 60 MPH or so, as long as you’ve got it shifted to fifth. So, I’m shifting early for every gear.

When you do that, the engine just chugs deeply, as if it’s complaining at being held back.

When I rode up and back from Fallbrook, I kept it below 60. I did notice though, that, at above 50 MPH, some vibration definitely set in. Part of it was bumpy road on the 395, I suppose, and part was a lot of wind buffeting, since it was a fairly windy day. But, I expected it to be a little smoother. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but it does jump around a lot more than a heavier touring bike.

On the other hand, a touring bike doesn’t have this kind of acceleration. I haven’t gotten to use it much, and I won’t for a while, obviously, but you can tell. It’s there. Waiting.

I also had two…well…I don’t think you can call them close calls, because they weren’t dangerous or anything. But there were two times when the bike didn’t go exactly where I wanted it to in turns. Once was turning left from a stoplight, where I went into the right lane at the end of the turn, instead of the left lane. I was looking at the pavement, instead of looking into the turn, and I cut it wide. No big deal, but I should’ve been able to cut that turn a lot shorter than I did.

Another time was on the road to Fallbrook. Again, I started to turn wide. I didn’t like where I was going in that turn, and I think I entered with just a skoche too much speed. So I straightened her out, gave her a little brake, then pushed the left handlebar down, converting the turn into a better line. I should’ve just done a better job of entering that curve, and riding through it more smoothly. It wasn’t even a tight curve or anything. I just wasn’t comfortable with what I was doing.

The MSF course taught me that, and it worked great. I’m glad I finished the course before getting the bike. It was really good for laying down the basic technique, and giving you a basis for self-critique. And of course, for helping to ensure that, when you do make a slight misjudgment, or you don’t like what you’re doing at a given moment, you have the basic skills to correct it without much effort.

It was also great for teaching you what to watch for all the time while you’re riding, and keeping your riding within your limits. That’s vitally important, because if you’re cutting down your risk by staying within your limits, your mistakes are salvageable ones. It’s when you start going outside your skill envelope that mistakes can cost you more than cool points.

You see that kind of behavior all the time on guys that ride sport bikes. I was driving home on the I-15 a few months ago, and I saw this guy on a sport bike lift the front wheel and do a wheelie down the Interstate. Stupid.

I guess I’m really into self-critique right now. And, from talking to some senior riders, it seems like the best of them are always critiquing themselves. I think that’s a good habit. I also noticed when driving my truck today that I’m driving differently with it, too. Better different. I’m thinking about what I’m doing a lot more.

Counter-steering the Sporty is pretty much effortless at speed. You push down on the handlebar, and the bike just goes into this stately lean that feels really great. I’d kinda like to run through some of the MSF exercises like slaloming with this bike, to see how it responds. it seems like a very nimble bike for its weight.

Overall, my first impression with this bike is very positive. Its a fairly easy bike to ride, once you get used to the control interactions. I think it’ll be great for commuting, especially on the low-traffic roads I ride on. And, of course, at my age, I no longer have much interest in trying to break 120 MPH, do wheelies, or any of that other sort of stuff. I’m content to poke along at the posted speed limit, enjoying the freedom of the ride. I think I’m gonna get a lot of that.

Oh yeah, I got waves from other bikers, today, too. I’m sure that after a while, all that waving will be annoying. But for now, it’s kinda cool.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.