Why Ride a Harley?

Being a member of the Harley Davidson forums, I see a lot of people in the various HD forums making a lot of complaints about their bikes. Now, some complaints are good ones. “I just got a new bike, and the farble shaft was incorrectly aligned,” or “I was just riding down the road, and my transverse shim bearing snapped,” or “I just noticed spots of hydraulic fluid on the floor of my garage.” Those are good complaints because they relate to the quality of the machine. As consumers, we have the right to demand that Harley manufactures a quality product. To make those complaints, are to judge the Harley on its own merits.

But I’ve noticed several complaints about the various Harleys in relation to other bikes. “My Aprilia was so much faster.” “My BMW steers much better.” “My Gold Wing was so much smoother.” “My Vulcan had way more torque.” That, I think, is a different kind of complaint.

Because if those are your complaints, I have to wonder why you would buy a Harley in the first place. Maybe it just isn’t the bike for you.

Harley attempts to do one thing and do it well. They make cruising motorcycles and touring motorcycles. That’s it. They don’t have the biggest engines, the highest speed, or the most torque. They aren’t designed to be high-performance speedsters, and they aren’t mean to be smooth or tame or ultra-quiet. They are intended to be–and are–the personification of motorcycle cruising.

That’s a different style of riding. It’s not about aggressive maneuvering, or fantastic speeds. It’s about the freedom of hitting the open road, feeling the sun on your back and the wind in your face. Hearing the basso profundo throbbing of the pipes, and feeling the throb of that V-twin between your knees. You don’t have to scrape the pegs at every corner, of blast through every sweeper with a hard turn of the thottle. Oh, sure, you can do those things–and often do–but it isn’t esssential to the ride. Because for a cruiser, the ride’s the thing. It’s the journey itself that matters.

Second, the Harley is simply beautiful. There’s a reason why the Boulevard, and the Stars, and the Vulcans look the way they do. It’s because they take their styling cues from Harley-Davidson. The Harley is the standard for the cruiser look. When Squarejohn Citizen thinks about motorcycles, he thinks of Harley-Davidson. The Harley is a work of art, visually. It retains a classic look that speaks to you in a way that the copies don’t. You can stick a batwing fairing on a Midnight Venture but it just doesn’t look the same.

Finally, when you buy a Harley, you are buying something more than just a mototrcycle. You are buying into a mystique; a tradition. You are buying into a style of motorcycle–and motorcycling–that is different. The Harley speaks to a life-style of independence, freedom, and yes, rebellion, that others may try to copy, but can never quite duplicate. To own a Harley-Davidson is to participate in a particluar life-style and culture, even if only at the periphery. It carries an aura of danger-whether that’s individually true or not of the rider–that other bikes don’t. No one’s clutching his wife a little closer, or getting that nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach when group of BMW riders pull into the parking lot.

If you want the quiet, smooth, “I can hardly tell it’s running” feeling, then get a Gold Wing. If you need to just tear up the streets at all times, get a Speed Triple. There’s nothing wrong with a Boulevard or V-Star. They’re great bikes. Lots of people love them. And if that’s what you want, you should get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting what you want. No one should put you down for it, or disdain riding with you.

But if you get a Harley, judge it on its own terms, not in terms of its relation to a bike that’s meant to be something else. By all means, complain about poor quality or shoddy workmanship. Anyone who asks for several grand of your hard-earned money owes that to you, and they need to hear it when they aren’t getting the job done.

But if it isn’t the kind of bike that you want…well, that’s not the bikes fault.

Tourmaster Riding Clothes

Two weeks ago, I went in to North County Yamaha, and purchased the Tourmaster Pivot 2 textile jacket. I love it!

It has hard CE armor at the elbows and shoulders, soft armor for the back, a toasty warm zip-out quilted liner, and for when it’s warm, frickin’ vents everywhere. It’s waterproof and windproof.

I’ve been wearing it every day on my way into work. Temps in the morning have been down in the 40s and 50s, and so far, it’s kept me as warm as I could want. I highly recommend it.

The only downside has been that, since I only have leather chaps, my legs have been a little cool after 15 minutes or so. And, of course, since chaps are crotchless, my naughty bits have been decidely cooler than I’d like.

So, I went back to NCY this afternoon after work, and picked up a pair of Tourmaster Venture pants. It’s got exactly the same features the jacket has, with hard CE armor at the knees, and soft hip armor. The legs unzip all the way to the thigh, so you can slip ’em on over your pants and boots. The pants and jacket also have a mating KYY zipper so you can hook them together. the pants also have a long velcro strip at the bottom, so you can bind them tightly around your ankles.

Tomorrow morning, I’m taking a two-hour ride up to LA for Turkey Day with the family. I’m a lot happier about the ride knowing that my junk won’t freeze off.

Price for the jacket: $129. Price for the pants: $109. As far as I’m concerned, anything this well made and this versatile is well worth the money.

It’s Like a Whole New Bike

Now that I’ve had several post-Stage I days of riding the Sporty, I have to say that it doesn’t feel like the same bike I bought in July.

It pulls hard in every gear. Grab a handful of throttle and it wants to dump you off the back. It just never seems like the bike is straining at any speed. When I first got it, I was disappointed at how it seemed like it was poorly suited for the open highway, but now, I’ve been cruising at 88MPH on the highway all week, and it just purrs along.

I knew, intellectually, that the Stage I would add some pep to it. But everything–performance, sound, and feel–is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for when I first got it.

And I love having the bags and trunk for it. When I go to work, I can carry all my stuff, and when I get there, I can lock up all my riding gear, instead of wearing it or lugging it all into the building with me.

Finally, it’s exactly how I want it.

Whether I keep it or not, is now pretty much up to The Lovely Christine. She is starting to ride 2-up with me on trips around town. The Sporty’s fine for that, but she’s also talking about longer trips. That would get a little cramped.

Right now, I’m thinking that she might get to the point where she might want to start riding again herself. In that case, a used V Star 650 would probably be perfect for her, and I could just keep the Sportster.

If not, though, at this time next year I might be looking for another bike. Probably a Harley FLH-series bike. Not the Ultra Classic Electra Glide. Too much crap on that for me. But, maybe a Road King, Road Glide or Electra Glide Classic would be nice for 2-up riding, and still a good commuting bike. I am really conflicted about which one I’d prefer, however.

My initial thought is the Road King. That bike is just a work of art, visually. I’d have to spend a pretty penny–again–to get it set up the way I’d want, though. The Road Glide has everything I want, but I’m iffy on the look of that shark-nosed fairing. The Electra Glide Classic has everything I want,too, but having ridden an Ultra, I don’t like the extra steering weight of the batwing. I’d probably want to detach the Tour-Pak for daily commuting, too.

Every bike has something I like, and something I don’t.

We’ll have to see how that develops.

Why Forums Suck

When I decided to get back into biking, I joined the Harley Davidson forums. It’s about the biggest, unofficial forum for Harley’s around. It’s generally full of good people, and good information

But, now, I’m remembering why I left the Usenet/forums/discussion groups world a few years ago. because on every forum, there’s always one wackjob that ruins it. I’ve found the wackjob. There’s a member who goes by the name of YoDaddyKieth, who joined in September, and somehow, I’ve become his personal whipping boy.

I post in a couple of the sub-forums, and I guess I made the mistake of posting in the touring forum. The subject was crotch rockets, and the silly stuff their riders get up to, like doing wheelies on the freeway at 80 miles an hour. Usually they only kill themselves, but is some cases, they also take out 10 year-old bystanders and the like.

So, I opined that stunting on public roads–which is already an infraction–should be punished by a heavy fine, confiscation of the bike, and revokation of the riders MC endorsement. There are plenty of places to do stunting where you don’t become a safety hazard on public roads.

So, loony-boy replies with:

Come on Dale Franks, get real

Guys like you think you have mastered bikes because you can hold one up and defy gravity tween stop lights…..and you think that’s the limit all bikers should stop at.

I got a lesson for you Dale. Holding a bike up tween redlights is only the beginning of the experience……If stunt riders threaten you and make you feel inadequate, then park your bike……either that or learn to compete with them, but don’t diss a rider who can outride you.

Let’s face it, you bought a Sporty hoping it would make you appear more masculine…you were attempting to capitalize on the ‘vision’ and make yourself more manly looking, huh?…..well, you can tag along as long as you want and enjoy the benifits, but only as long as you don’t try to place stops on the real bikers if we scare you.

I haver a good friend my age from Burma….I made a beer run to his store last night…..He looked out the window at my new bike and made a comment about how badly he wanted one….I told him to go get one….He then pointed to his almost bald dome and said he had recently spent 20K with Bosley on a hair transplant and couldn’t afford the bike and that his wife would never allow it….I laffed at his wasted bucks and misdirected efforts at making himself more attractive and ‘adequate’….Then I told him that 20K he spent with Bosley would have bought him a bike that would put hair on his chest….He didn’t get it.

I bet neither will you.

See ya round Dale.

Now, keep in mind that this is a guy I’ve hardly had any contact with on the forum at all, but I’ve clearly touched a button with this wierdo.

Then, I get an unsolicited Private Message from him, saying:

WTF are you doing in the touring forum?

Because you added bags to your Sporty?….It don’t work that way Dale….this is just like the hwy where your bike has to actually tote the load, not simply look like it will or you will be left behind….and believe me, it won’t, and you will.

Go home-put your hair on-strip the bags off-and be happy you got a Sporty…….If you really want to keep up with the baggers and join in the conversation and the experience, then you gotta pay the price of admission like I did.You can park your bagged sporty next to me and hope to look like me, but don’t fret or bother to keep up once I decide to roll.

What’s sad is the fact you started with a Sporty and dropped tons o money in it trying to make it a bagger….For the same money you could have had the real thing.

Trust me, I got both bikes(and thick curly hair) and I know there is no way to convert either bike to the other-or you to me. Stop wasting your time and money. You only embarrass yourself trying….It’s comedy, and it’s sad.

It’s really too bad though that thick, curly hair and a big Harley still isn’t a substitute for a tiny, childlike cock.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

I don’t much care what people say in the forum itself. I mean, that’s public, and everyone can see it and make their own conclusions about it. But once you start PM’ing a total stranger with this level of personal abuse, you’re really moving over into Creepy Territory.

And it’s almost impossible to join almost any forum, on almost any subject, without raving loons like this crawling out of the woodwork. Back in the day, the Usenet and discussion group world–while it had it’s share of characters–didn’t have this level of basic wierdness.

But, I guess that once computers and internet access got cheap enough for even lunatics to purchase, it was inevitable.

Post Stage 1 Report

Now that I’ve done the stage one, and had a few days to drive it, I seems like I have a completely different bike.

When the bike was stock, it sounded like it was puffing hard when I pushed it just a little bit. The engine/exhaust sounds were really high and whiny, making me think I was pushing a lot more RPMs than I actually was.

That’s all gone now. And, I can see the RPMs on the tach. The redline is about 6000 RPM, and what I thought were speeds at which I was pushing the bike, like, say 25 MPH in first, weren’t even 3000 RPMs.

The Sporty wants to run at 4000 RPM, which is the peak of its power band. At 4000 RPM, then, you’re talking the following shift points for each gear:

2nd @ 30 MPH
3rd @ 50 MPH
4th @ 65 MPH
5th @ 80 MPH

With 4000 RPM in 5th gear translating out to 88 MPH. That’s where she runs at peak power (torque).

Having done this for the last two days (131 miles), I can tell you that while she really likes to run at those speeds, she also wants to drink a lot more gas. Driving sedately, I’ve been getting around 44 miles per gallon. Riding in the peak power band for the last two days, my mileage, calculated after filling up tonight, has been about 39 MPG. About 1/3 of my driving has been open highway, so I’ve been doing 88 MPH, rather than my usual 75-80.

I’ll be going back to that 75-80 tomorrow, now that my testing is done, because while the CHP will forgive 80 MPH, they will not forgive 88.

That aside, since doing the Stage I, she will pull as hard as you like in any gear. For a cruiser, that is. It’s not a Hyabusa, after all, but it’s plenty powerful enough to pull the front tire off the ground, dump you off the back, or both.

I really like the new sound of the SEII Performance Slip-ons, too. The higher-register noise is gone, with a lot more bass rumble. They say–whoever “they” are–that after about 1,000 miles, after some of the glass and stuff has burned out, it settles down into a very nice tone. But, since the SEIIs are 50-state legal, the sound isn’t annoyingly loud.

Although, having said that, I set off a car alarm for the first time going to work on Monday morning, just by driving by.

It really has improved the performance of the bike, and it’s noticeably quicker in every gear. But especially third. Third gear is my new favorite gear. You crank the throttle in third, and you’re going somewhere.

The Long Leather Dealie

Out here in California, I see these long, braided leather things hanging off handlebars. I’ve always wondered what they were. I thought they were just some sort of silly decoration, but I had no idea what, if anything, they were supposed to signify. I’ve scoffed at them as just some sort of over the top decoration.

Yesterday, I learned that tey are actually called a getback whip. In old-school biker culture, the biker getback whip served two purposes. First, the braided leather was dyed in the colors of the motorcycle club to which the bearer belonged. Second, the whip served as an emergency weapon. In the old days, the end of the whip close to the fringe was wrapped around a piece of rebar.

In many jurisdictions now, including California, putting a piece of rebar in the end would constitute making a sap, the manufacture or possession of which would be illegal. So, you can’t really obtain one from any retail source that has the rebar in it. It is still used by motorcycle clubs, however, to fly the club’s colors, and the whip–minus rebar–is perfectly legal everywhere.

The thing is, even though adding the rebar and making a flail or sap out of it would be illegal, it’s held onto the clutch or brake cable by a big, heavy, quick-release clip made out of brass or iron. So, if you swing it by the leather-wrapped end above the fringe, it makes a nasty–and perfectly legal–flail anyway. That quick-release catch is heavy.

When I thought it was simply some stupid leather thong put on for looks, I thought it was stupid. Now that I know it’s a weapon, I really like it.

In fact, I purchased one this evening directly from the manufacturer, who happens to live locally. I didn’t get it in any club colors, but dark blue and black to match the color of my bike.

I don’t care for leather fringe or accouterments that have no purpose. But, I have nothing against weapons at all. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Our first two-up ride

Tonight, we went and got a helmet for Chris, and when we got home, we took our first two-up ride. It wasn’t a very long one, only about 40 minutes, but it was fun. We did both some city driving, as well as a stretch on the freeway.

Chris liked it, and likes her new helmet. She’s already talking about making little trips on the bike.

Also, when we went to Escondido Cycle Center, she saw a little Suzuki Boulevard. She could flat-foot it, and pick it up easily. so, now she’s musing about a bike of her own.

Rocket, Again


So, now that I’ve got the Sporty tricked out, Triumph wants my attention again, apparently. they’ve just announced a brand new touring version of the Rocket III for 2008.

There’s a first test ride report here.

They’ve redesigned the suspension, frame, gas tank, changed the tires, moved the gauges to a tank console, and upped the torque to 154 lb.-ft., at about 500 RPM lower. And the price is under $17k.

Right now, my plan is to keep the Sporty for another year. Maybe I’ll take another look at trading up when the 2009’s come out, and see what kind of deal on left-over 2008 I can work. When that time comes, I might just take another look at the Rocket.

New Mods Complete

Well, it cost me almost $3,000 for parts and labor, but I’ve added all the mods I wanted to add for the Sporty. Here she is:

I added all the new stuff in one fell swoop. First, I did a complete Stage I engine upgrade. I added the Screamin’ Eagle high-flow air cleaner and performance slip-on mufflers. And, because the bike is fuel injected, also had to add the download for the ECM module to alter the engine performance parameters to compensate for the free-breathing exhaust system. While I was doing that, I did some cosmetic work, too, changing the air cleaner and timer cover to the “Swingback” style chrome parts from Harley.

It makes a nice change from the stock covers, and adds a bit of personality. I actually found the air cleaner cover in the clearance bin at the local dealer. Since the already had to pull the air cleaner to replace it, there was no labor charge to put the new air cleaner cover on.

The next thing was the addition of a new tachometer.

It’s the 2.5″ mini-tach. it seems like it would be hard to read at that size, but actually, it isn’t. the tach was actually the cause of a little trouble during the install this week. The dealer quoted me 1 hour of labor for the install, because most tachometers have a simple Y connector that hooks up to the coil and a power outlet immediately adjacent to it. This tach was different. So they had to pull the tank and seat off the bike, and figure out how to install it. It took six hours to install it, which meant the dealer had to eat five hours of labor.

Not my problem. Although, it did mean that I had to do without the bike for another day.

The next mod was the running light module that converts the rear turn signal to running lights/brake lights/turn signals. I think it makes the bike much more visible by adding the extra lights in the back.

Finally, there’s the bags.

They are made by LeatherPros. Though they look like leather bags, they are actually hard bags with a leather outer cover.

The inner side of the saddlebags, i.e., the side that sits next to the bike, are molded to fit precisely around the shock absorbers, belt guard, etc. The outer sides and top are covered with pretty thick leather, and the insides are unlined. Instead of removable bag liners, the saddlebags come with a pair of keyed Masterlocks, and shoulder straps that hook onto the outside rings. There are two levers inside each bag that you turn to release the clamps that hold the bags onto the bike. Just twist the levers, and the bags pop right off, leaving behind only the two mounting pegs on the bike rails. So, when you get to where you’re going, you just snap the shoulder straps on the two rings on the front and back of the bags, twist the levers, and carry the bags inside.

The trunk locks to the luggage rack on the back through a set of padded clamps that are tightened with a locking strap arrangement on the inside of the trunk. The trunk has an integral lock built in.

That’s a lot of mods, but it’s also probably the last mods I’ll ever do to this bike. It’s now set up just the way I always wanted it.

Oh, and just to add to the cost, I was pushing 5,000 miles, so I had to get the regular service done, too. But, I’m good until 10k now. At which time I’ll not only need the service, but probably a new rear tire.

Time to start saving pennies again.

So far, I’ve only ridden it home from the dealer, but the throttle response seems a lot stronger. Also, the pipes make a much deeper, bass rumble, and the “sewing-machine” sound is completely gone.

I can’t wait to get it out on the road and give it a good road test.