Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Talk Back 120

 Recently, I’ve been daydreaming about building myself a real, ‘dream’ chopper. Yeah, I know everyone does it, except for those guys that already have theirs. Anyhow, I had visions of a 24 over Sugar Bear springer, rigid frame (of course), a King And Queen seat and the ‘usual’ drivetrain. I say ‘usual’ because I automatically assume a Shovelhead mated to a Baker 6 in a 4 and an Evil belt drive primary. Then it occurs to me, that the Shovelhead I have now, is only a frame stretch and front end away (pretty much) from that very setup.
So that prompted me to try and change things up a little, not that there’s anything wrong with the set up I’m using now, far from it but it seems like there should be more than one or two details separating bikes in your garage, otherwise, why bother? I like the idea of running a Panhead engine... other than the problems that such engines tend to have, namely the rocker shaft blocks, the 180º inlet and the many years of stress that preceded my acquiring such an engine. There is the S&S P-motor of course, plus there are other ‘copies’ floating around.
Looking at available primaries, I continue to dislike the stock primary from 1965 through 2012. The older ‘tin’ primaries are cool, but they are like all tin primaries; they leak. Then I remembered the Baker TTP (Tin Type Primary) setup, similar to the one on the cover of issue 109. I watched the prototypes being worked on during a visit to Baker, and I’ve liked the idea of the tin ‘look’, but still having a leak free rigid connection and a cool way of running a primary chain and wet clutch.
I was tossing this around when I wasn’t slaving over a hot keyboard knocking out another killer issue of The Horse when out of the blue, James Simonelli at Baker called me and asked if I was interested in giving their 4 speed/TTP testbed Shovel a ride! Hell, yeah!
Baker is about 90 miles from The Horse World Headquarters, basically head north on I-75 to Flint, get off on 69 and then it’s about 30 miles to East Lansing. As soon as James called me, the weather turned to crap, but the first decent day, I jumped in the truck and boogied over to Baker to grab the Shovel. James gassed it up for me and gave me the tour of where the petcock/key/starter button was and said ‘see ya’.

It’s tough to give a riding review without paying attention to the chassis, wheels, brakes or engine, but for the purposes of this piece, they are pretty irrelevant. Having said that, the 74” Shovel in this bike is SWEET. It’s one that James set up, but it’s really nothing special. It has a Keihin carb and hydraulic lifters and Cycle Shack muffled pipes, but it was really easy to start. When kicking, it would start halfway through one of my usual kicks. It was really easy to ‘straddle kick’ and it would light every time, but as I said, that has nothing to do with drivetrain. The kicker? Well, it’s a Baker, and that means it works!
The electric start setup does work really well, first thing in the morning was pretty much the only time I got to listen to it turn over more than once, it’s a more modern piece for sure, not nearly as asthmatic as the old AMF setups. I found myself liking the four speed more than I thought I would. I had a ‘real’ four speed before I got my 6 in a 4 Baker and I wasn’t over the moon with the way the gearing was spaced out. The Baker four, however, has the ratios nicely spaced (1st 2:50, 2nd 1:70, 3rd 1:25, 4th 1:1) and I could see being happy with this transmission. Of course, I’d have to get the N1 drum and jockey shift it, but it would work just fine. Physically, the Four Speed looks very much like the OEM part, other than the “Baker” on the back of the case, nothing jumps out. This transmission is also available with a real ‘Jockey Top”, should you be so inclined. The TTP was pretty much how I thought it would be, quiet, efficient and not in the way. Some HDs have the primary cover pretty much against your leg when you’re stopped with both feet down, the TTP gives you lots of room. Of course the stock bike may not even go into neutral at the stop light, but that’s no problem with the Baker setup, straight into neutral from first at a complete stop with a hot engine and driveline.
So, was it earth-shatteringly great? Was it a shining jewel that attracted onlookers wherever it was parked? Nope, it was a very good, efficient setup that worked very well. Unlike the components it replaced, it didn’t shift harshly, didn’t leak, didn’t bind up when hot and it worked every time. Not only that, it comes with the peace of mind that it’s all made in the USA and backed up by the Baker promise that will allow you and your old Shovel (or whatever pseudo mix of alternator engine you wish) to roll down the highway trouble free for many, many miles.
The polished kick only TTP is for sure on my wish list for my longbike, I could do a LOT worse that couple it with the four speed also.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Black History Month

Talk Back 118

OK, on the face of it, you may well ask what the hell does Black History Month have to do with Choppers? I know the majority of you probably roll your eyes every time you see that phrase, maybe even question what the reaction would be to a ‘white’ history month, although it could be argued, that 99% of the history books are Euro-centric.
Anyway, I got an invite from Harley-Davidson to attend a tour they were putting on for journalists, to get attention for their Black History Month exhibit in the Harley Davidson museum.
If you’ve never been out to the museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I can highly recommend a look around the many exhibits there. For some reason, in the early 1900s, they decided to start keeping one of every bike they produced, and every different model year after that. The result is a staggering collection of pristine vintage bikes that are 100% accurate, as most of them have never been restored. If that 1936 Knuckle isn’t the way you think it should be... you are wrong.
The other journalists attending were not even motorcycle press, they wrote for ethnic magazines, such as Ebony, and other African-American publications I (for some reason) have never heard of. So, I was like the token white guy of the group (although there was another, a writer for “Urban Baggers” out of Spearfish SD), but I got along well with them all, and I was a useful resource, since they had very little knowledge about motorcycles in general.
The first day was torturous, we were ferried out to a dealership and ‘treated’ to the sales spiel, most of which I allowed to slip by until he proclaimed that EVERYONE, sooner or later, ended up on a bagger. Nope, not this guy. They let us play on a bike on the dyno, so I at least had some fun pegging the speedo on it.
The next day was the museum tour, which is always cool, it’s worth going just to check out the statue by Jeff Decker outside the building. Randy Smith’s .45 Magnum us still there too, the real HD board trackers are super cool. Sugar Bear was there with his killer Panhead “Gorjus”, and no matter how you spell it, that bike is unbelievable, and pretty much still as he built it in 1969.
The BHM exhibit featured a drag bike built by “PeeWee”, one of the “Defiant Ones” MC out of LA. What was even cooler was that he was at the museum, as well as his grandson. It’s always cool to meet the ‘real deal’ from back in the day, I don’t care what color you are, a lifelong passion for bikes makes you OK in my book. The other part of the exhibit covered the first African-American owner of an HD dealership. William Johnson ran one from 1964-1970. Interesting when you consider that during segregation, black people were discouraged from buying new HDs.
Day three was easily the best for me, we were bussed to Menominee Falls where the Pilgrim Road factory sits. It is here that all the engines and transmissions (except for the V-Rod) are built. It’s not just an assembly plant, raw castings are shipped in and machined into useable parts and then put together. It’s an interesting mix between robots and people, and fascinating to see the whole process from raw castings, to completed powertrains. A couple of things jumped out at me, such as the mainshaft castings for the six speed big twins. All the gears are cast along with the shaft, the splines and gear teeth are all cut into it and the ends get heat treated for strength. Cool stuff, but what if a gear chips a tooth? Yep, gotta replace the whole damn thing! I guess I didn’t realize the crankshafts were pressed together like that either, there’s no way to replace the crankpin on a Twin Cam engine, hell, you can’t replace a rod! The flywheels, shafts and rods are all crammed together in one operation that will require junking the whole thing should one part fail. They don’t even balance the flywheels any more, they do make sure they are tracking straight at least.
I didn’t see any, but I guess they still make the Evo engine there, although they told me that the Evo remanufacturing program is carried out at S&S these days... which has a hint of irony about it. All in all, I liked the tour and realized a whole lot more of the entire drivetrain is made in the USA that I would have thought.
In the afternoon, the other journalists went home, and I had lunch with Sugar Bear and the museum curator. It’s always good to get the behind the scenes stories to these things. Afterwards, we went over to the corporate offices at Juneau Ave to visit a friend of Sugar Bear’s and to get a sort of mini tour of the office building. We were walking by the CEO’s office (Keith Wandell) and he saw us and called us in. For the next hour, we had an informal chat that was quite interesting. This is the first time I’ve actually met the CEO of any large corporation, so I had no basis for comparison I guess, but he was a very sharp man with a keen sense of the ‘big picture’ without the self-importance you would assign to someone like that if you just heard about him offhand.
The next morning I flew out of the frigid Wisconsin air back to the frigid Michigan air just in time to wrap this issue up before heading off to the Indianapolis V-Twin show, a full report of which you can expect next issue!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Issue #117 MARCH 2012

The true hardcore chopper jockey likes to think he is immune from fashionable trends, unaffected by the latest ‘cool’ style, untouched by the ephemeral stylings of the West Coast cliques... but is he?

The reality being, if everyone was unaffected by trends, choppers would have never progressed past the 1960’s styling of Benny Hardy’s Easy Rider bikes, although even that is an arbitrary point in time. You could argue that the original “strippers” (which was what they called them at the time) were the only bona fide ‘choppers’ and all that extended front end stuff was just part of a fad.

This argument was brought to light recently on our online forum “Back Talk”, over at thehorsebc.com. I was bringing up the fact that I’m tired of seeing the exhaust ‘wrap’ on every other bike these days. There was a picture of a nicely done Shovelhead with nice paint and polished metal, but with a pair of shorty wrapped pipes. It just took away from the rest of the bike in my opinion. Let’s face it, eight times out of ten, that wrap is either hiding nasty welds or crappy chrome. I’ve done it myself, several of my Shovelhead exhausts have been pieced together from scrap pieces and then wrapped to make it look ‘professional’... sorta. I know some builders make perfectly fine exhausts and then wrap them because that’s the ‘look’ they are going for. The point is; this wrapping of the exhausts only popped up a few years ago, and lingers on today, much to my chagrin.

But trends do come and go, we’ve been guilty here at The Horse for helping propagate them. Feature bikes with 230 rear tires for instance. Suddenly, fat tires were sexy, the 200 and then the 230... people like Billy Lane were on the cutting edge building cool bikes utilizing them, and we were featuring them. I don’t think we ever featured a bike with a wider tire than 230... I may be wrong, a lot of strange stuff got through in the dark days before the reorganization here at The Horse during issue #68, but once they started the 280 and then 300 wide... it was just too much and soured the whole concept for many, including me. I’m sure many of you remember the Exile project I had with the 230 rear and 200 front. I did like that bike, I’ll admit. I even wrapped the perfectly good Exile pipes on that one.
There was a hot moment when red rims coupled with whitewall tires were all the rage, it didn’t last very long, but they still pop up every now and then.

The list is endless, big metalflake, “Period Correct”, mid controls instead of forwards, apes, Z bars etc. etc.

This leaves me with the dilemma of choosing which bikes to put in the magazine. Am I qualified to be the arbiter of what is now ‘in’ compared to what is ‘out’? Probably not, but I have to do it just the same. Most of you don’t have to worry about such things and that’s the way it should be. I try and get a mix of home built bikes as well as some pro built stuff to inspire the home builders. Face it, if there is a bike in the mag with something innovative and cool, the likelihood is that someone will copy it for their own build, and that is how these ‘trends’ get started. Although there is precious little new these days, a look around Sugar Bear’s museum of photographs is evidence to that. Stuff you would have sworn was dreamed up in the seventies had already been done in the fifties, the early L.A. scene was WAY ahead of the rest of the country. Everything from upswept fishtails to twisted springer legs was done by the innovative African-American bikers way back then. We owe them a lot... perhaps everything. The stuff they did was subsequently copied and spread around the country and the influence can be seen today.

So yeah, you may think the ‘trends’ don’t affect you, but they do. And that’s probably not all bad, the new trends may not be for you, but something may come along that appeals to you someday. Even if most of this stuff is not ‘new’ per se, it at least keeps everything rotating so the whole scene doesn’t just stagnate. For now, we can sit back and smirk at the bagger crowd, who are being sucked into the whole ‘swoopy’ thing with ever increasing front wheel sizes, always good for a laugh!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

#116 February 2012 Perspective

I sometimes sit here and think about writing these editorials, and it reminds me that my life isn’t in any way special or interesting. I mean, I read George’s accounts of his struggles as a starving artist, and he’s out there living the life, and I don’t know if I could handle living like that. I see people at events, such as the Smoke Out and in Daytona and Sturgis, that seem to be there just to get attention. I have no idea if these people have real jobs or what, but they are all over the place and show up in every pictorial of events everywhere. They are probably good people and are either independently wealthy or just work real hard between events. Everyone’s lifestyle is different, there isn’t really one monolithic “biker” lifestyle that we all have to adhere to as if it’s the Pirate Code or something. Most of us are somewhere between a weekend warrior and the Sons of Anarchy, and most of us move up and down the scale as life happens.
For instance, in 1983 I was homeless in Austin, Texas. I had a wife, a seven month old baby daughter and a 1971 Ford Torino.. period. This was the beginning of December, and an unusually cold snap froze the “freeze” plugs out of the engine block. We were stranded. I got jobs as a day laborer so I could get a room at the Live Roach motel every night, and used the hand towels for diapers etc. At the time, nothing was farther from my mind than trying to find a bike to ride. The immediate emergency took precedence. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t look lustfully at some new Shovelhead riding by the job site. It just meant is was out of reach at the time. I’d say the lowest point of my life was that Christmas, having to share a motel room with three others because there wasn’t enough work over the holidays to pay for it ourselves.
It took a while to drag myself out of that one. We ended up back in Michigan, and I got the truck driving job that finally provided enough income to start thinking about picking up a bike. A friend of a friend had a 1969 TR6R Triumph Tiger for sale, and he wanted $400 for it. It was complete, but needed work. Sounded like a bargain to me, so I sent the money to the house (I was still on the road) and asked the wife to pay for it. Well, suffice to say the money never made it to the owner of the bike. Apparently a new dancing dress was more important, and since I don’t dance, maybe you can see where that was headed. Anyway, after the divorce, I picked up the 1971 Triumph Tiger, the engine from which drives my chopper to this day, and I started probating for the local M.C. These guys were far from the SOA mold, but we certainly met and partied with clubs that were a LOT more serious about the whole thing than we. I learned a lot about brotherhood and respect during those years, and despite the constant politics, had some really good times. We were never affiliated with any of the national clubs, although there was always the rumors abounding that we may be “persuaded” to pick sides one day. Myself, I could never see why they would want to bother.
Wife #2 occurred during that period, and wife #3 soon after. I found a local driving job that allowed me to have a life, be involved with my three daughters’ lives and get back into building bikes, including reading the old Iron Horse and sending in the occasional picture and a letter, hoping they would be published. I began building the Shovelhead that would eventually appear on the cover of #115, and in 1998, after a few disappointing issues of IH after Snow left, the May 1998 issue began the resurrection when Hammer took over as editor. This was cool stuff, and this was happening right here in Michigan! Scott “Genghis” Wong mentioned he had started an Internet message board, and after some effort (there was no “Google” then), I managed to find it. Here I became acquainted with Hammer and some of the other players from the magazine. They set up the “Back Talk” message board soon after, so I was prepared when Princeton Publishing (The IH parent) went into bankruptcy. The struggles to launch THBC dragged on for a while. Hammer seemed certain that it was going to happen, but others not so much. Through all of this, I was pretty much an observer. I had met Hammer and some of the others at a swap meet in Grand Rapids, but as usual, I had no marketable skills to offer. A couple of issues in, however, the guy doing the website went AWOL for quite a while. This was the opportunity I was waiting for. They posted on Back Talk that they needed someone who knew HTML to update the website, and I immediately volunteered! Let me tell you, I had no more HTML experience than the next person, but I saw it as a foothold in the magazine, to be a part of the thing that had been a part of me for so long. I did a bunch of research on website building and began to update the site as needed. It looked pretty crappy at times, but they put up with it, and I managed to worm my way into writing the occasional article as well as the online stuff.
My relationship with the magazine remained like this until the original Smoke Out in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The camaraderie present at that first “event” was outstanding (it still is), and I ended up riding back as far as Cincinnati with Hammer, me on my Shovel and him on the 113” ‘Major Threat.” After only seven or eight years of loyalty later, I was awarded the job of editor here at The Horse. I’m not trying to downplay how special this job is. I’ve been a pretty happy guy ever since I started here, I’m just saying that my day-to-day existence isn’t worthy of basing an editorial on, ten times a year. The job is special... I’m not. I’m just a regular guy who goes to work every day, worries about the bills, struggles to understand my 14 year old daughter who thinks the world is against her, is happy about my marriage to Nurse Nut and stresses about the finances to put the project bikes together. Life is alternately good, great and suckass, usually all in the same day, but it beats the hell out of being homeless. Hopefully, I will never find myself in that position again, but at least I know I can beat it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cover Story #115 My Shovelhead

In reality, there’s not much I can write about this bike that I haven’t already covered in these pages since I got the bike on the road in 1998. The original Iron Horse was my source of inspiration at the time, so I began looking for parts around 1993. I started off with a questionably numbered FXR frame and an un-numbered set of 1981 crankcases. How can a 1981 set of cases have no numbers you say? Well, as I learned to my cost, no matter the cock and bull story supplied, it’s unlikely to be true. I acquired an early 60’s four speed frame and abandoned the search for the not-so-easy to find FXR parts. I traded the frame for an S&S Super G and I used the money I earned in the evenings playing in a bar band to finance components one at a time, some from friends, such as the heads for $250 and a four speed transmission for $250. The cylinders I got from two different catalogs, probably Chinese crap but I knew no better at the time. Scouring the swap meets was half the fun, and eventually I had enough engine parts to put together. The cases came with a crankshaft and rods and oil pump, which I had disassembled (anyone can take shit apart) and had the cases blasted to get that nasty wrinkle black stuff off. I took my pile of pieces to a ‘pro’ (the fact he worked out of his shed should have gave me pause, in retrospect). I wanted him to set the bottom end up, I was fairly confident I could handle the cam, cam cover and top end by myself. A couple of weeks later, I picked it up, looked pretty good. Until, that is, I had the engine on the bench and was rotating the crank with the rods and noticed glass beads from the blasting process oozing out of an oilway! So I took it to a more successful engine builder and he put the cases in a sonic cleaner for a week, told me the crank pin and rods were shot and a few other things had to be done. These are the kind of setbacks that could make one abandon projects, but I soldiered on in the hopes of one day having a rideable Shovelhead. My buddy Andy has a nice sized pole barn set up as a workshop, so I took my bits over there and worked most weekends on trying to put together something resembling a bike. I finished the mock up and sent the frame out for powder coat and hauled the rest of the stuff home. After final assembly, I rolled it outside to the curb and kicked it for the first time. To my surprise, it started right up! It sounded like crap, and oil was squirting from every possible source but I managed to run it around the block once before shutting it down. Then I loaded it into the pickup and hauled it out to the guy that rebuilt the bottom end correctly and had him button it up and tune it. After I got it home, I took it to the courthouse grounds a couple of blocks away and did a photoshoot for the article that would eventually appear in Iron Horse #163, the November 1998 issue.
Ironically, the feature came out in the magazine at the same time the bike was sitting in an impound yard for having covered up numbers from a stolen bike. The hidden numbers were discovered when I was having the inspection done for the ‘assembled bike’ title, they poured acid on the case and there they were! Apparently the original bike was stolen in 1981 in Indiana. I got super lucky because the insurance company that paid off the bike, no longer had the records from that period, and they signed off on them and I was able to take the bike home and the State Police showed up and stamped new numbers on it.
I built it the way I did because I only had stock bikes nearby to go on, and I thought it would be a good place to start. It wasn’t long before the turn signals came off (they never worked anyway), I shitcanned the electric starter and front fender. I picked up a cast front wheel from a swap meet and pretty much rode it like that for a few years.
The first radical rework involved bolting the rear fender to the swing arm, installing the ‘king’ Sportster tank, switching to a dog-chain pull foot clutch and jockey shift, and a Chopper Enterprises springer front end. I also made a two into one exhaust with a Supertrapp can and split the rocker boxes. Additionally I added a Baker six-in-a-four overdrive transmission. I really liked the bike in this configuration, but the engine was getting a little low on compression. I figured I’d just do a top end job and call it good. I grabbed a pair of KB pistons, and had the jugs bored to their spec. Well, something was wrong, it ran fine, but as it got hot, the engine started to ‘drag’. A block from the house I slowed and pulled in the clutch and the engine stopped... suddenly. After a couple of minutes, I was able to slowly kick it through, but I pushed it home anyway and got hold of Dan Roedel to ask him to take a look at it for me. I ended up taking him the engine and he soon gave me some bad news, the pressed in race in the cases was loose and pretty much unfixable. I managed to grab a new set of cases from S&S, some through-the-pushrod oiling lifters and roller rockers from JIMS, a magneto from Joe Hunt and Dan put together the best running Shovel I have ever rode.
The last major refit was having Fabricator Kevin hardtail the frame. He made the stainless steel oil tank, fabbed the exhaust and rear fender. He reworked the gas tank so the filler was at the top and the petcock was at the lowest point. He also dreamed up the hydraulic clutch pedal. I can’t say enough about how great this man’s work is and what a nice guy he is to boot!
This bike will probably always be in a state of flux, since getting back from the 5000 mile trip to Death Valley and the Long Road, I replaced the tires and powdercoated the wheels. I’m thinking of replacing the bars next. I’d LOVE to put another Sugar Bear springer on this, but I also want to build a 25 over long bike, so I’ll have to figure out what I want.

Looking at the original picture from IH #163, the only parts surviving from that version are the cylinders, heads, pushrod tubes and covers, crankshaft and flywheels and the front frame loop.

This is the one bike I will never sell.. well, this and my 1971 Triumph chop.
Big thanks to all who have helped me get it this far.

Tech sheet

Fabrication: Fabricator Kevin
Year and Make: 1998 Shovel
Assembly by: Owner/Fab Kevin
Time: 13 years

Year: 1981/1974/2005
Model: Shovel
Rebuilder: Dan Roedel
Ignition: Hunt Magneto
Displacement: 80 inches
Lower end: Stock
Balancing: Dan R
Pistons: S&S
Cases: S&S
Heads: HD 1974
Cams: Andrews A
Lifters: JIMS
Carb: S&S Super E
Air cleaner: Goodson
Pipes: Fabricator Kevin

Model: Baker six in a four
Year: 2005
Shifting: Jockey
Clutch: Hydraulic
Primary Drive: Evil Engineering

Painter: Bodies by Bob
Color: Black
Type: Shiny

Year: 196?
Builder: HD
Type: Four speed FL
Rake: Stock
Stretch: Stock
Other: Fab Kevin Hardtail

Bars: Drag
Risers: 10”
Headlight: Dented Paughco
Taillight: Fab Kevin
Front Pegs: Swap meet billet/Fab Kevin Hydro Clutch
Mid Pegs: Fabricator Kevin
Electrics: Extremely minimal
Gas Tank: Reworked aftermarket XL
Oil Tank: Fab Kevin Stainless
Oil System: S&S
Seat: Fab Kevin/Hard Luck Designs

Type: Wide Glide

Size: 19” 1974 HD cast
Size: 16” HD cast
Tires: Avon Venom
Brakes: Fabricator Kevin

#115 January 2012 Burning the Midnight Rice

I’ve never been opposed to chopping up Japanese bikes, but I’ve never actively done it before. I’ve said in the past that I’ve never really subscribed to the school of thought that “It doesn’t matter what you ride” because... well I just haven’t. I’ve always thought that a cool Brit chop or one utilizing an American power plant was just a superior motorcycle.
On the face of it, it’s a little strange, since my first few motorcycles were all Japanese. I started off with a 1968 Suzuki T200 two stroke twin and then ‘graduated’ to a Honda CB250K4. Of course a lot of my bike choices were limited by the motorcycle laws in the UK at the time. New riders were limited to 250cc or below, so the choices were few as far as non-Japanese bikes went. At the time, the affordable British bike was the BSA Bantam, it was a two stroke single knocking around in 125cc and 175cc form. These bikes were known to be pretty damn slow, but there was a decent cool factor with them. The other viable Brit bike was the BSA C15 250cc, but these were rare.
Once you passed the dreaded Ministry of Transport test, you were allowed to ride any size bike, so before I even passed my test (on the third attempt) I had bought a brand new Honda CB900F that I would sneak around the block every now and then. After the near death experience of locking up the brakes at 125 mph, I traded it for a BMW R90/6 and took off on a European tour that I wrote about in issue #11. I found the BMW to be a boring motorcycle and traded it for a Triumph T160 750 Trident. I loved this bike, it did everything I asked of it well, and it looked good and sounded good... I was hooked. I had to trade it when I first came to the USA, I got a 1975 Bonneville and £400, enough for a round trip ticket to Michigan at the time. After I got back to the UK in December 1981, I started making my first changes to my bike. I painted the tank and sidecovers, added a pair of 6” slugs to the forks and bolted on a pair of air horns to the front fender, the compressor was mounted on the frame downtubes and worked great until the first time it rained and they became anemic water-pistols.
The point is, here, that after this, I never owned another Japanese bike. I always had a lot of distaste toward the Yamaha XS650, as its styling was obviously aimed at the Triumph market, similarly the Japanese V-twin bikes were obviously trying to capitalize on the HD market even though the early Shadows and Viragos were styled as generic street bikes, when the Intruder came out, all bets were off.
Many people liked these bikes and that’s just fine, I never really understood it, but I don’t have to.
Fast forward to now, although the price of a running Harley has come down a lot (Shovelheads abound for 5K), the reason for all that is nobody has any money, so people are chopping whatever they can find in their price range. The aforementioned XS650 Yamaha is probably one of the most chopped bikes around these days, simply because if you look, you can find great deals on these bikes. The most popular choice for Japanese bike chopping, was always the SOHC Honda CB750. Back in the ‘day’, it seemed these were everywhere with wild front ends and molded tanks etc. These days, you can pick one up for a great price, people like Ken over at Cycle-X make some kickass parts for these bikes and there owners seem super happy with them.
So, with that in mind, I decided to look for a CB750A for Nurse Nut to ride. These have an automatic transmission (using the same torque converter as the Honda Civic), but otherwise are quite similar for the regular 750. I spotted one on eBay for $90 with a couple of days left to bid, I expected it to run up a little at the end, but I ended up picking it up for $205. My initial thought was to run a two part series showing how one of these el cheapo bikes can be chopped and on the road for under a grand. I grabbed a universal hardtail kit from TC Bros, and took the bike over to Chop Docs in Waterford, Michigan to have the back end hacked off and the tubes welded on. I don’t know what I was expecting, but during the process, the bike started looking pretty good. I’m now inclined to try and make this into a really good looking chop instead of the cheap and dirty one I originally envisioned.
I’ll still run the build here in the magazine, but the concept appears to be changing on me. Usually I have a clear-cut vision or where I want my bike builds to end up, so it’s a little weird for me to have the goal posts moving on me like this. Stay tuned to see where it goes, I, for one, have no idea.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#114 November 2011

A few issues ago (#109) I wrote about the Sugar Bear springer I was installing on my Triumph chopper, I promised a riding report at the time and so here it is.

For those of you that just picked this magazine up for the first time... welcome, and where the hell have you been? Anyway, when I built this bike, in my ignorance I utilized a DNA springer front end for various reasons, initial cost being paramount at the time. The problem (aside from the usual quality concerns and wideness) was that with the 45º rake, the trail numbers were pretty high. This manifests itself into big time fork ‘flop’ at low speeds, and high stability at high speeds, a little too much so. I mused online about correcting my trail numbers with longer rockers, to move the axle forward and decrease the trail. This prompted Sugar Bear to write to me and mention that this approach was flawed as it would increase the lever action, compress the springs, lower the front end and the DNA was crappy anyway. His answer? One of his famous springers! I immediately thought of his super long front ends with the big curved rockers, and wondered how that would look on the bike, but what I wasn’t really aware at the time, was that Sugar Bear actually has four different types of rockers, the big ones (#4) are usually used for the really long springers, Sugar Bear has made many short springers for bikes and the rocker sizes are reduced to suit.
As a matter of fact, the very issue that I referenced, #109, features a bike made by Baker Drivetrain which has a short Sugar Bear fitted with the #1 rockers.
So what is the secret behind the driveability of Sugar Bear’s front ends? I have no idea, the trail seems short, but the handling is nothing short of incredible. The most repeated phrase from those who first ride a bike with one is; “It’s like suddenly having power steering”.
So how is the Triumph now with the Sugar Bear springer? I can tell you I’ve put MANY more miles on it since the installation than the years before combined. It’s an absolute joy to ride now! Although to be honest, it has brought to light problems inherent with the riding position design. The forward footpegs are WAY too close to the ground now, even though they are the same height as before. With the DNA, it took a 10 acre field to turn this thing around, with the Sugar Bear front end, I’m dragging the heel of my shoe all the time. Had I known it was going to handle this well, I’d have put mids on this bike!
The quality of the piece is flawless and then there is the undeniable coolness added with having a part built specifically for this bike by a living legend.
If you haven’t got the impression yet that I love it, let me be clear: I love it!

The engine is running pretty good, considering I built it. It’s a one kick starter, usually. I’d like to try the Morris add-on retard lever for the ARD magneto as it does like to kick back violently sometimes. The gas tank has just started leaking, toasting the paint job, so this winter I’ll be sealing it up and sending the tank out to Liquid Illusions for a different version of the same paint job. The seat ended up with a hole in it somehow, so it’ll be recovered soon also.

These bikes are never done... if you actually ride them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

#113 October 2011 Tech Geek Luddite.

Someone was giving me grief on the online companion to the magazine “Back Talk” a few days ago about how I often go on and on about the evils of baggers with all their complexity, yet would support the notion of using GPS in a four-wheeled vehicle.

The reality is; I am quite a tech geek. I love newer, faster computers, new technologies, better, faster gizmos and pretty much if it has a picture of an apple on it… I want it. The dichotomy occurs when it comes to motorcycles. For some inexplicable reason, I want the motorcycle to be as bone and rock simple as possible. The ideal bike would be a big single cylinder, magneto-fired, minimal electrics (and everything else for that matter). The only thing better than a new bike like this, would be one as old as I could find that would still get the job done. A 50’s BSA Gold Star would be excellent!
OK, so I ride a twin, what’s up with that? I’ll admit, I like the power delivery of a twin better. Wait, so if two are good, three is better, right? I mean, the power delivery has to be better, right? What about four cylinders? Six? Here is where I run into my self-imposed braking system. I draw the line at three. Why? Well, I can tell you, it would be two, except that I had a Triumph T160 back in 1981 that I loved to death! So although I ride twins, I don’t rule out a Triumph T150/160 sometime down the road.
I currently have three bikes running. My Shovel, my 1971-based Triumph Chopper and a pretty stock-ish Triumph Bonneville from 1982. The ’82 is by far the most technologically advance bike I own. It has the factory electronic ignition (Lucas RITA) and even a starter motor and blinkers. The blinkers only ‘blink’ on one side… I don’t remember which right now because I never use them. The starter WILL work ONLY when the battery is fully charged. However, no amount of riding this bike around will fully charge the battery. It even has the factory regulator and rectifier on board. The only thing that stops me from ripping all this out and adding a magneto is the fact that the bike is almost totally stock and I can count the number of intact 82s I’ve seen on the road on one hand. This is my “sensible” bike with two seats for when such things are necessary.
Both my other bikes are magneto fired, no battery with the lights wired ‘on’ constantly. No switches, no fuses, no breakers, just a wire from the (solid state) rectifier/regulator to the headlight, the taillight and the brake switch period. Yes, for some reason I’m perfectly happy replacing the older style mechanical regulators or the zener diode with updated solid-state components. Not only that, I like LED taillights. Take it a step further, both my Chops have hydraulic clutches! This is, in part, due to my hatred of cables. I have broken many a clutch cable on a Triumph. You can say it was due to poor maintenance on my part, failure to lube, or improper routing perhaps… maybe, all I know is that it’s not much fun trying to get a running start from the stoplight, or furiously trying to find neutral just before you HAVE to stop. Admittedly the Shovel wouldn’t need a cable there anyway, since it’s a foot clutch, but I pretty much trust hydro setups, so long as you keep an eye on fluid levels, they usually work. Speaking of hydraulics, I have Japbike calipers front and rear on the Shovel, and on the front on the Triumph chop. I kept the original Lockheed caliper that came with that wheel because it seems to work well.
So I guess I do mix new tech with the old tech on my bikes, I just make sure it doesn’t add to the complexity of the whole. I can’t think of any way to do away with the throttle cables without resorting to electrickery, I don’t believe that hydraulic would be the way to go there either.
It boils down to this; if the bike stops running, there can only be three causes. Lack of fuel, lack of spark or mechanical failure somewhere. This is of course true for any motorcycle but it’s a whole lot easier to track down the lack of spark when the spark is generated from something like a magneto, which is nothing more than a DC generator, a coil and a set of points and condenser. The last thing I want on the side of the road is to deal with a wiring harness that looks like the back of my stereo in 1979. You can argue that modern motorcycles rarely break down anyway, but if there’s something that CAN be relied on, it’s that those sensors and ECMs and all that WILL eventually fail. And unless you’re the sort that trades his bike in every other year, it’ll bite you one day. I’m not saying I’ll never be left on the side of the road, the spark plug insert issue is a good example of the shit that can happen, I’m just trying to give myself a fighting chance of being able to fix it in the middle of BFE and get home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#112 September 2011

Elsewhere in this fine publication, Hammer details the bullet points of our recently completed 5,000 mile road trip on our rigid Shovelheads. As I read what he wrote, it almost sounds like one disaster after another, but in reality it was no disaster. The story doesn’t describe the thousands of miles just blasting down the road, there’s no real way to describe that and even if there were, we’d need an entire issue to get all the details in. The problems we had with the exception of the Death Valley adventure, all seemed to happen at the end of the day’s riding. The issues that cropped up with the bikes never made us more than an hour and a half behind our self-imposed schedule. All told, we stopped right around 80 times between Detroit and New Orleans. Problem arose at the end of the day, problem was solved (sorta), back on the road the next day. We did have to take an extra day in Vegas over our planned stay there, but it wasn’t that hard to convince us. Plus, we got to see the other side of Vegas, Jeffo took us to a cool Vietnamese sandwich shop, the eats were good and everyone was dressed normally (you just get used to seeing everyone looking like they were headed to the prom in that town).
We had some discipline, we set fairly early wake-up and set-out times and stuck to that. The worst part of the trip was dragging all the stuff from the room and bungeeing it all to the bikes. I had a large leather backpack with all my clothes and stuff in (in giant ziploc bags), a separate leather roll that I kept my tennis shoes in (best part of each day was taking the boots off).
There was just something so cool about riding across the country like that, the changing scenery, the way we were treated by everyone... Bike-wise, we were like a slightly updated Wyatt and Billy, Hammers Longbike Shovel with the long Springer, Me with my shorter WideGlide rigid. Hammer reasoned that Wyatt and Billy were too old for this shit, I have admit, this trip would have been easier when we were in our 20’s, but I’m pretty damn glad we got to do it. I would venture that a lot of our readers would love to do this also, and I encourage you to get out there and do so. When we arrived in New Orleans (which I considered the ‘finish line’ of our trip) we were tired, hot, dirty and pretty shaggy looking. The next morning we were strolling around the streets of The Big Easy like it was any other weekend. Hammer and I have around 110 years between us, I like to think we could do this again and again if we had the time and the bikes held up. I can’t imagine doing this on a bagger, with its insular (minivan) feeling. When we were flying down the road on Highway 74 in Arizona, no helmet, no jackets in the middle of nothing but desert, it was exhilarating.
On the evening before the ACO ride in Rockingham, I found my clutch pack was one solid lump and the magneto had about an inch of water in it. Luckily there were some helpful souls in the parking lot of the hotel there with some tools and they were a big help in getting me going again.
Examining the Shovelhead upon our return, it’s in pretty good shape, once I cleaned off three weeks worth of grime. The headlight burned out on me, which wasn’t a surprise and I had grabbed it out of my 1961 pre unit Triumph project some months before. I had to replace the gas line in Santa Rosa, but only because I broke the inline fuel filter trying to clean it and had no way to join the remaining two pieces of line. There was the plug thread problem, detailed in Hammer’s story, as well as the front wheel thing. Apart from the hot restart problems, the bike ran absolutely great! I’m gonna need a pair of tires before I take it out of town, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I adjusted my drive chain before I left, and it was pretty much at the same adjustment when I got back, that amazed me. I put the old, stock kicker back on, I guess I need to save for a Fab Kevin Strong Arm. Some new tires and I’ll be ready to hit the road again.
The hardest thing about a trip like this, is to come back home and try and get back into the old routine. It’s tough to convince yourself that you need to go exercise, get in the shower and get to work on time, you feel like you should just be getting up, packing up and rolling down the road again.
It was great, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#111 August 2011 Ready to Roll??

I’ve read numerous articles about preparing for a long road trip. They universally make a lot of sense telling you which tools to take and why, what to wear and what to avoid drinking etc.etc. My problem is I always suck at taking sage advice. If someone came up to me and asked how to prepare for a long road trip, I would more than likely regurgitate the list of do’s and don’t’s as I recall them. So why, knowing all this, do I completely disregard it all when I ‘prepare’ for a trip?
As has been mentioned before in these pages, Hammer and I are due to head out the day after tomorrow (as I write this), weather permitting, on a 4,000 mile trip... and THEN do the Long Road on the way to the Smoke Out 12, which will be long over by the time you read this. On the face of it, it’s going to be great riding for three weeks straight and logging some serious miles. We’ll both be on rigids, my fuel tank is good for 100 miles at a clip, which is plenty long after a while in the saddle.
I’m not totally oblivious of preparation, this isn’t the first time I’ve logged long miles on the Shovel by any means, and when I’m on the road it seems all I need is protection from the sun, liquids often, and gas stops. The couple of times the Shovel broke down, no amount of ‘tool roll’ zip ties and crescent wrenches would have helped. Both times it was the drive to the Hunt Magneto that was a problem. The first time is was a bearing that went out, the second time it was a non-standard part in the magneto drive that failed. Neither time was a failure of the magneto itself and I still believe in them as a preferred ignition.
I’ve never really taken much in the way of tools with me, just a few basics usually, with the hope that anything more major could be handled by professionals somewhere on the road. Not passing the buck here, but if something is beyond a roadside fix, I’d like to find someone who knows what they are doing with a shop. In previous years there has usually been the ubiquitous ‘chase truck’ anyway, with a cooler full o’ Gatorade, spare oil, plugs, air conditioning etc. Well, there’s none of that this time. Just like those ‘Stampede’ guys, we’ll be out there dealing with stuff as best we can. Of course we won’t be running balls-out every day either.
And then there’s the pain to consider. These trips always hurt, I have a tendency to grip the bars too tight when I’m not thinking about it and usually end up with some nice blisters on my palms after a couple of days. The leg/foot pain is always a consideration, after a while it doesn’t matter where you put your feet. As then there’s the backside pain, this may vary from bike to bike, last year I was in serious pain as we arrived at Rockingham. I know I’m sounding like a whiny baby here, and I don’t mean to, these things don’t stop me from doing the rides, it’s just something that I really should prepare for. This year, I had my Fabricator Kevin Muskrat seat pan recovered by J-Rod over at Hard Luck Designs. He did a cool job and incorporated the HORSE logo nicely. This feels a little stiffer than it did with the gel pad under the naugahide that I’ve been running since it has been a hardtail and I’m hoping I’ll be able to go longer with it like this. So far, the rides around here with the seat have given me optimism. If I could find a spare container of Vicodin that might help also... but maybe Ibuprofin will have to do.
Because we’ve always had the truck, I’ve never had to actually haul anything on the bike, it’s been nice blasting through states unencumbered by the crap people normally have to strap to their bikes for these trips. Yeah, back in ‘the day’ for the first few Smoke Outs... actually the first seven or eight... I had to strap the old saddlebags to the bike and bungee some crap onto the back fender etc. Since the bike has been a rigid (spring 2008) the saddlebag thing won’t work because of the shotgun pipe on the right. I picked up on of those ‘left side’ bags they make to go on Softails or rigids, but they really don’t hold much. How much space do you need? No idea... more than that though. Steve Broyles keeps one on his Panhead bobber ‘Pike nut’ and it has a one gallon gas can in it... and that fills it.
So when I saw the way cool bolt-on rack that Fabricator Kevin designed and built for Hammer’s Knuckle project, I figured that was a good way to go. I hated to ask Kevin to take the time to make me one since he is a busy guy, but he was gracious enough to knock me one up and custom fit it. It’s unpainted at the moment, I’ll probably blast off the rust when I get back and have it powdercoated. I think it’s kick ass, everyone should have one of these babies! I picked up a leather bag from eBay to bungee to it, and so I figure I’m all set. I changed the oil and filter in the Shovel and changed the trans oil also.
I still need to pick up some memory cards for the video camera, since I’m not taking a computer and won’t be able to download the cards. Oh, maybe a pair of boots would be good, and remember to pack the gun case for when we go through Illinois, other than that, what’s the worst that could happen?


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#110 July 2011

I’ve probably mentioned this before in this column, but I don’t remember when and I’m too lazy to read through all the old ones, not to mention how torturous that would be for me, it would make waterboarding sound like a Sunday ride on the Pacific Coast Highway. This has come up a couple of times again lately, so I thought I’d reiterate my position on it.
Basically, the bone of contention is this: The Horse has been featuring more ‘store-built’ bikes and getting away from ‘home built’ “backstreet” choppers.
The reality is, we still pretty much have the same ratio as we ever had. Back in ‘the day’ we featured a lot of Billy Lane’s bikes (and probably will again in the future) as well as several other noted pro builders of the day. Looking back, we probably feature MORE home built chops these days than we did back then.
I have been asked why we don’t exclusively feature amateur builders in the magazine all the time. The answer is pretty simple. I view custom motorcycles as an art form, the bikes we feature are expressions of the builders artistic self. Some more than others obviously. It’s the same reason why I wouldn’t want a “Captain America” replica to be featured, the original was a one-of-a-kind created by Benny Hardy and that bike no longer exists. An ‘updated’ one with a Korean Evo-dressed-as-a-Pan with no kickstart, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. It’s like a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa. Sure, it looks similar from a distance, but the finished product is still a pale copy with ZERO artistic merit. Of course a velvet Elvis is always cool!
Also, I work within fairly narrow parameters, just because a bike has great artistic merit doesn’t mean I’ll like it. I totally despise murals painted on a gas tank, but I’ve seen some really nice work on some. The wide tire thing was cute in the early 2000s, but excess ruined that also. The big red wheel/whitewall thing didn’t seem so bad at the outset, but quickly reached saturation levels as a bunch of people jumped on the bandwagon. Right around the time that wide tires were becoming passé, people started wrapping their exhaust pipes with cool hot-rod header tape. This quickly turned into a “Hey I can hide some really shitty welds” thing, and these days I really hate to see it on a new build. Pro builders are equally guilty of this these days also, and there still seems to be a faction who love extra-short exhaust pipes pointing straight at the ground under the air cleaner! Apart from being obnoxiously loud, any dusty surface immediately decreases visibility to about six inches.
This is not to say that the home builder always turns out nice pieces of artistic merit either. I can’t tell you how many badly executed Triumphs with a bolt on hardtail and a Sportster tank painted black I’ve seen. The ubiquitous “hex” oil tank (which are usually an octagon) and the same set of el cheapo forward controls. This is followed by almost as many Ironhead Sportsters in similar condition. Now, I’m not knocking all you people with one of these, I’m sure you have a great time riding it to the local bike night or wherever, just don’t try and convince yourself that you’ve created something really special. And to be sure, not everybody CAN create something special. There’s no shame in that, just like art collectors, there needs to be a market for those that recognize their artistic limitations and would rather buy a nice piece on the open market than destroy a perfectly good motorcycle with their ham-fisted attempts.
Let’s face, if a home builder is really good at design, welding, fab and paint, it seems as if he could/should be one of the ‘pro’ builders anyway, yeah? Although to be fair, there are some home builders that could easily do it for a living, but choose not to take that path.
So basically, we feature the pro builds for the artistic quality, they inspire us and hopefully inspire our readers. Also, we make sure the pro builds fall into ‘our’ category.
We will always feature the home builds also. They won’t always be the paragon of perfection, but it’s often enough to satisfy our requirements if the creator is enthusiastic and endeavors to build a cool bike that he/she intends to ride the wheels off. Oftentimes, the home built stuff surpasses the vision of the pro builders, and we’re always on the lookout for that.
I figure, as long as I’m getting emails from both camps... “You’re just featuring trailer queens and no backstreet bikes” and “You feature too many rusty deathtraps and not enough well-finished bikes” then I must be striking the right balance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#109 (June 2011) Using the BEST!

I think most of us go about building our bikes with the best possible components we can afford at the time.

There are obvious tightwad exceptions, of course, but those people usually end up spending twice as much as they planned replacing the crappy item they skimped on in the first place. But, unless we have really good jobs, most of us can’t afford to use the very best for these things. The only way people like me (and probably most of you) can obtain these items is to scrimp and save and keep your eye out for a bargain. Back in the day, I got a second job playing bass guitar in a bar band on the weekends. I would put those earnings aside and look around for parts I needed for the Shovel project. That’s why it ended up taking five years to build!
There was a time when being an editor of the best-selling chopper magazine in the world would mean that potential advertisers would send goodies over for us to test and hopefully write favorably about, but those days appear to be gone. Just about the best we can expect is a price break along the lines of dealer cost. Still better than full retail, for sure, but it puts a lot of stuff out of my reach.
That doesn’t mean things aren’t worth striving for though. Case in point: the springer on my 1971 Triumph Tiger project that I dragged out forever in the magazine a few years back. It eventually was completed and made the cover of #74 back in January of ’08. I didn’t ride the bike much because it simply wasn’t pleasant to ride. The steering was so hard because of the 10 inches plus of trail it had, it was literally a pain to haul around the backstreets. It should have been super-stable on the freeway, but even minor corrections were tough. I determined that the only way to fix this would be to remodel the DNA springer by way of extending the rockers so the axle was about six inches farther forward than its current position. I posted something about it on The Horse’s online forum “Back Talk” and a couple of guys agreed it was the way to go. This prompted Sugar Bear to give me a call. He explained why this wasn’t going to work. If I extended the rockers to move the axle forwards, the resulting additional leverage would lower the front of the bike significantly. So, not only would I need longer rockers, I’d need to extend the whole springer at the same time.
I’ve known Sugar Bear for a few years now. He was nice enough to give me a cool interview at the second Cottonwood Smoke Out West, and since then, I’ve been proud to call him a friend. Of course I knew about his springers, the man is a legend for God’s sake! Anyway, he informed me that the best way to fix my problem would be to install one of his springers. Of course I already knew that, but I also knew that his work doesn’t come cheap, and it shouldn’t! It costs more to chrome one of his springers than an entire new DNA, and then you add on the quality of the build (all hands-on by the man himself, none of that outsourcing parts stuff).

To be perfectly honest, I had never rode a bike with one of his springers until Sturgis, last year. I was on the Sugar Bear/Michael Lichter ride and one of Mr. Bear’s friends was riding a longbike with an STD Panhead and a long Sugar Bear springer. He asked if we could switch bikes for one of the “legs,” as he was curious about riding a rigid suicide clutch Shovel. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought to myself, so I swung a leg over the Pan and took off down the road. I had a hard time at first; the front end responded so quickly to any input, I felt like I was fighting myself to stop from wobbling. At the next stop, Sugar Bear and a few of the others that saw me were having a fun time at my expense. “You’re holding on too tight!” they explained, “Just relax!” The next leg was a lot better. The few curves we did take were very easy, and I was getting the hang of hanging loose while riding. I liked it a lot by the time we had to switch bikes back.
So it was with that experience in mind that I decided that it was time to go with the absolute best. I would have a Sugar Bear springer! This was happening in August, and it took me until now to make it happen.

I was like a kid at Christmas when it arrived at the house; I made arrangements with Brian, out at Manx Motors (my Triumph mechanic of choice) to go out to his shop and install it there. The bike was out there having the ARD Magneto rebuilt in the hopes of keeping it running more than a few minutes at a time. Soon, the DNA was extracted and the class was installed. It was a simple swap, other than the riser bolts were a different size. I still have to mess with the axle spacing a little more and extend the brake anchor arm a couple of inches, but as soon as I get that done, it looks like it may be warm enough to ride! I plan on having it in Sturgis this year and can’t wait! Watch this space for the riding report in the very near future!

www.sugarbearchoppers.com 310-768-4158
www.manxmotors.com (248) 475-4733

#108 May 2011

The magazine business can be strange. I don’t want to bore you all senseless (any more than usual anyway) about the nuts and bolts of how The Horse goes together. I know all you want to hear about is bike-related stuff, but as I write this, the weather hasn’t permitted me to ride since early December, so I have to look elsewhere for inspiration!

There’s a sense that the editorial staff here dances to whatever tune the advertisers wish to play, and that just isn’t so. For instance, we never got our free sample from the “Asian Brides” ad that ran for quite a while. The ad department was quite amused at my reaction when the ad for the “Buffalo Helmet” was running. So generally speaking, the editorial and advertisement departments run quite separately. Occasionally, one of the advertisers will ask us to do a review of one of their products. When we do that, we try to be as open and honest about the review as possible.

There does seem to be a ‘trend’ lately, for advertisers to shy away from print ads and try to make more of a splash with internet advertising. S&S was one of the first “big” customers to do this, and to be honest, I have no idea how that’s working out for them. All I know, is that they pretty much dropped off the map. I don’t know anybody that clicks on internet ads. Even spam filters these days will effectively remove sales emails from the inbox before most people see them. We did see them at the Cincinnati V-Twin expo, so they are still around, and I know Hammer was talking to them about a KN engine for his new project, but in my view, stopping the print ads is a mistake. I know you’d expect me to say that anyway, right? The reality is: even though print ads bring in much needed funds for the magazine, as far as I’m concerned, it’s never made any difference to how I do my job. I just know that when I see new products and such in print, I remember them, and if I have occasion to need something like that, I’ll go through back issues and dig it up.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and web advertising is propelling these companies to new and dizzying heights, but how would I know? I don’t click on web banners! How many of you totally ignore the ad video that annoyingly plays before the item you actually want to see shows up?

But there is also a fairly large segment that refuse to buy anything made of paper when there is so much free stuff available on the internet. Nowadays, it’s pretty easy for anyone to set themselves up as the King of the Cool Kids. They’ll have their blog telling you what is cool and disparaging others’ efforts, with crappily shot YouTube videos all over and getting their message out on Facebook. The problem being, of course, that they are just one of a trillion doing exactly the same thing. They have no personal investment in any of this; just a few moments of their time, and even though some of them have some really good stuff to show and say, they are lost in the ocean of flotsam and jetsam as if they were but one pixel on your 1080p 50 inch plasma.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m some kind of Luddite. I love new technology and accumulate all I can, I just firmly believe that the printed word, on physical paper, leaves a lasting impression, and even if you don’t remember exactly what was said, it’s easy enough to leaf through the old issues to find it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think we shouldn’t expand into the New Media though. We’re acutely aware that people are reading more and more on portable devices, like the iPad, the Nook and the Kindle. Sometimes I feel like we’re in the same position that the Acme Buggy Whip Co. was in when they were reading about the new-fangled automobile “craze”, wondering whether to branch out into electric starter motors or to just make their buggy whips the best in the business, because there will always be horses. We just need to do it on our own terms and make sure some hacker has a hard time reproducing the latest mag 1000000000 times and spreading it to the masses gratis.

Maybe one day technology will get to the point where nobody uses physical publishing any longer. That will be a sad day that will, incidentally, put many Americans out of work. Until that day, far in the future, we’ll keep plugging along. Throwing the issue into the pick up truck to check out on a lunch break will still be preferable to trying to read microscopic print on the smart phone for some time to come. I’ll wager people are even less likely to tolerate ads when smart phone browsing anyway.

I just hope some of these great companies don’t go broke before I’m proven right about web only ads. Sometimes it sucks to be right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

#107 March 2011

To say we at The Horse have had a strained relationship with Harley Davidson (the corporation) isn’t much of a stretch. We certainly haven’t been very cordial towards them in recent years, our lampooning of the hilarious “secret handshake” and the “Dark Custom Handbook” for instance.

I don’t fault them for trying to capitalize on trends they see in the motorcycling world, after all, they are a business whose primary role is to make a profit, and that’s something they have in common with every business, including here at The Horse.
The rash of less expensive flat black bikes they have produced under the ‘Dark Custom” umbrella have not gone unnoticed by us. Clearly, they are marketed towards the younger rider who wants a cool looking bike, but does not have the time, wherewithal or desire to accomplish this themselves. This is where our readership and the target market diverge of course, but a less expensive, cooler looking bike is also desirable to our readers that wish to customize or chop the newer drivelines as a long-term project and still get to ride reliably at the same time.
It was with this in mind that we tested the 883 “Iron” last summer on the Long Road. Frankly, we were sorta surprised that Harley coughed up a test bike for us, but if we learned anything doing that, is was that there are some cool, passionate people working over there.
I guess this put us on their ‘radar’ because we were invited to attend the ‘unveiling’ of a brand new model this last week. Because of the lag between us writing stuff and it actually appearing in our reader’s hands, this will be old news to most of you. Now, this isn’t my first ‘unveiling’, oh no, I was there for the big ‘reveal’ of the Vinnie and Cody “V-Force” bike in the parking lot of the motel in Daytona a couple of years back. It ended up being some godawful mostly enclosed ‘bike’ that I wouldn’t be seen dead riding. So with that in mind, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for the new HD model.
The ‘event’ was in New York City, so that was a plus at least. I’ve only been into Manhattan once before and found the place fascinating. This time we were located more on the south side, so I was able to walk over to the financial district and check on the progress of the new “Freedom Tower” going up on the site of the WTC.
That evening, a few of us magazine types, a couple of website types and a bunch of HD employees met in the lobby of the hotel and walked over to Don Hill’s, a ‘hip’ little place with a bunch of graffiti on the walls (well done stuff) and very dim lighting. The stage was well-lit at least and there was a bike with a cloth over it, as well as the Dark Custom “one’ logo hanging over it like the sword of Damocles.
Willie G showed up and that meant it was time to get on with it I guess. I was getting a beer at the bar and walked back to the stage and noticed the cloth was lifted off already. So much for the fanfare! Ah well, it was just press n’ stuff there anyway (there was a second ‘unveiling’ later on when the public were allowed in, it was a little more raucous the second time around).
At first glance, all I thought was “oh well, another Softail” and just checking it out, it seemed totally unremarkable, bit of a let down, really. I don’t know what I was expecting, but after the “Iron” and “48” of last year, I was hoping for a way cool Dyna based ‘dark’ bike. The lines of the Blackline are pretty nice, the fake rigid frame gets as close as a stock bike can get to looking like a stripped down lightweight bobber. I can see where the Dyna chassis sort of locks them into a ‘shape’, rather like the Sportsters. The lead designer of this project, Casey Ketterhagen got up on stage and began explaining how he approached the project and the hurdles he had to clear. What looked, at first glance like a regular Softail, was the result of a lot of painstaking work. For instance, the plain, round Mikuni-esque aircleaner is brand new to HD, I’ve always liked that look. The wheels have aluminum rims and look pretty cool. The triple trees are nice also, the top tree is only one-inch thick, they’re nicely radiused and not like the usual HD clunky versions. The gas tank is new, only has a right side flush cap for filling and the speedo was moved to the top tree in between the new split two piece bars.
This is the lowest (24”) seat height for them of any bike, It’s also the lightest softail, so one would think the power to weight ratio would be improved with the 96” engine. The engine has the black cylinders and silver heads, which always gives it a more classic look to my eye. And Casey said that he tried to make the engine the focus of the bike. The original idea for the bars was some clip-on types, but it proved impractical. The designer struck me as a guy who liked to see what most of us like to see in a bike, minimal junk hanging everywhere, the bars are as narrow as they can legally get away with and funnily enough, are about as high as they can be also, since the seat is so low, the 15” rule comes up on you quick!
The legal shackles on the design are still all over of course, the mandatory turn signals, mirrors etc. the things we are free to play with, they are not.
Later, at dinner with the ‘bunch’ I got to talk with the lead engineer, Korry Vorndran and he reminded me of one of the tech guys from Baker, they love their job, happy to talk about the tech aspects and like cool bikes as much as the rest of us.
Anyone that has read this magazine will know I have no love for the Softail chassis, I still think it’s a compromise of form over function. However, since I like silly rigid bikes with no front brakes, sometimes that stance can feel a little hypocritical. I rode Edge’s TC88 Softail out at the Smoke Out West III and thought it was underpowered and it handled like a whale through jello.

So with this in mind, I think I could keep an open mind on a test ride. I can’t see myself showing up in a ‘Dark Custom” ad anytime soon (I’m too old for one) or buying any of the attendant “Black Label” clothing, but I’d be willing to give it a fair shake, what’s the worst that could happen?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#106 (February 2011)

I may have mentioned my affinity for the Café Racer in past issues. Indeed, it was the factory café styling of my big brother’s friend’s Royal Enfield 250 Continental that first drew me into the “spiritual” side of biking, where I realized there was more than just two wheels and an engine to some motorcycles. Something else was there that I couldn’t put my finger on, but the sound, the style moved me in a way I had previously never experienced. Until that point, I just thought they were another method of transportation, a way to get from A to B. I’m sure most of you have had similar epiphanies.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in England in the 60’s and 70’s, the term “Café Racer” was originally a derogatory term, meaning “wannabe racer,” only good for racing from one “Transport Café” to another. The fabled Transport Café was usually just a small travel trailer, literally on the side of the road in a “lay-by,” which is an area where the road is widened enough to allow for parking without blocking the roadway out in the countryside. Frequented by truck (lorry) drivers, basically the trailer was modified to have a counter in the front and you could stop and buy a cup of tea. Young “ton up” types would also pull into these while riding their Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons around the twisties that make up the English countryside. Soon, they began customizing their bikes, taking the best of two different bikes sometimes and blending them into one. The famous “Triton” was the Norton Featherbed frame with the more reliable (and less vibey) Triumph engine transplanted, and a whole host of variations sprang up, often mimicking the style of the Isle of Man TT racers, the large “Manx” aluminum tanks, rear seat “bum stop” cowling and clip-ons.

For a while, it seemed that they have merely evolved into the “streetfighter” style. People were hacking up Japanese multi-cylinder bikes and turning them into stylized street burners, but all along there were some keeping the faith!

Recently, there seems to have been a bit of a resurgence with this style of bike, of which I am in favor, as some of us never lost the love.

In fact, I am planning to build one next winter. I am going to have to start collecting parts now, figuring out how I want the final product to look and how to achieve it. Of course it will be all chronicled in The Horse. I’m trying to set up a cover photo shoot at the Ace Café in London and intend to try and find some more nice examples for featuring here at The Horse.

No, they’re not choppers, but we’ve always had page space here for bikes that are cool, vintage bikes included, and I encourage readers to send me pictures of their café projects.

I don’t know if the roadside cafés still exist in the UK. I didn’t see any on my last trip there, replaced instead by expensive “Happy Chef” services and such. If so, it’s a shame because that cup of tea, even though it was probably pretty awful by any objective taste test, sure seemed good to warm those chilly fingers after a good blast through the English country lanes.

#105 Ego Trip. (January 2011)

This is going to be hard to write without sounding like I’m all full of myself n’ shit. But I think I’ve finally got used to people Knowing Who I Am. I still never expect it, but it’s usually not a surprise any more. When I took over the Big Chair here at The Horse way back at issue #69, it literally took me about two years to even dare to believe that it happened. I was always waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ and I’d have to go back to being a truck driver.
Well, that never happened, and hopefully it never will. The magazine is as strong as ever, especially when you take the economy into consideration, any kind of recovery will only help us.
We pretty much do this job in a vacuum; we sit in our palatial offices in the shimmering towers here that is World Headquarters, and work with very little feedback. Oh sure, there’s the online version of “Back Talk”, where any mistakes we make are brought up for discussion in a heartbeat, but impartial assessments of the magazine are hard to come by sometimes. When we go out into the ‘outside’ world, at Willie’s in Daytona, or the Smoke Out, we run into the REAL readers of the magazine. Ninety nine percent of the comments we hear at these events are positive, and it’s always good to hear (of course).
Nurse Nut asked me a few months back “Have you any idea what this magazine means to some of your readers? They LIVE for the next issue!”
This struck me oddly, because I can remember searching the bookstores, truck stops and 7-11’s looking for the latest issue of Iron Horse throughout the ‘90’s, and the feeling I got when I saw the latest cover as I grabbed it off the shelf and found a place to hide while I read the whole damn thing non stop. And on the other hand, now I’m the one responsible for what the magazine has in it for the most part, I have a hard time ‘getting’ that.
When we first went to the Cincinnati V-Twin expo, it was pretty much me and Hammer, we got in under some other companies name, we had some magazines to try and pass out and basically, we might as well have been invisible. Nobody knew us; nobody really wanted to talk to us once they realized we weren’t going to be placing any orders. Well, that was ten years ago and now it’s different. It seems as if everyone in the industry has at least heard of us, so that’s a good thing… I guess.
Similarly, people I’ve never met who are into motorcycles, probably know who I am. People like… I dunno... Jay Leno? Brad Pitt? They probably know who I am. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing I guess. I asked Mr. Pitt through a couple of third parties if we could maybe check out some of his bikes for the mag and we heard…. Nothing. Almost like being the guy in line to get the OCC autograph with only $24.99 in your pocket. Jay Leno has a kick-ass collection of rare vintage bikes that I’d love to go drool over, but I’m not going to annoy him with requests to do so. Who the hell am I anyway?
I know Charles Manson knows who I am, we occasionally get mail asking for back issues and stuff, whatever you may think of him, he was an interesting guy to talk to.
So what does any of this really mean? Damned if I know. Being known by a bunch of people really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Hell, everyone knows who George The Painter is, and look where he is! (Just kidding, George).
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or whining here, this job is exactly what I thought it would be when Hammer offered it to me in 2007, it’s a dream job that makes it so I love going to work every day. Some of the people I’ve met and become friends with is one of the biggest bonuses. People like Sugar Bear, Tom Johnson, Roadside Marty, Nurse Nut and a whole host more (don’t be offended if I left you off the list). I’m under no illusion that I would not have got the chance to do any of that without this gig.
And yet I still feel like I’m unworthy, I’m certainly no one special and there’s probably 100 guys that could do this job better than I. Fortunately, Hammer is the only one that can displace me, he’s a guy that likes loyalty and that’s something I can give 100% in this job. He’s also a good friend, and that sure helps.
If I sit here and try to analyze everything, it drives me crazy, so I’ll just keep showing up every day and do what I do for as long as I can. I’m on the ‘work until you die’ retirement plan anyway and if I make it that far, I’ll have a smile on my face.

#104 (December 2010)

After all the upheaval and discord of the past few months, I’ve decided to take a radical break this issue, and talk about motorcycles! Even better... MY motorcycles.
Hammer mentioned in his editorial a couple of issues ago that my 1982 Triumph T140ES managed to lock itself up solid after a ride to Detroit. The issue being; the alternator has become so hot, the insulation had turned into molten plastic. This was apparently OK as long as the engine was running, but when I shut it off and went for lunch, it had a chance to cool and the goop set up around the alternator rotor, gluing it solid! Of course I was unaware of this and thought something had come apart in the bottom end, so I dropped it off at Manx Motors in Auburn hills, and Brian (the able mechanic/owner there) called me to tell me the relatively good news. So, a new alternator and it was back on the road! The rotor having an incorrect air gap usually causes this overheating condition. Other than that, it's been really good, the rocker clearances need to be adjusted, but I keep forgetting to order the rocker cover gaskets and I KNOW they will fall part when I remove them… unless I buy new ones first, then they'll be fine.

My 1971 “Resurrected” Tiger, which graced the cover of issue #74 hasn’t quite fared as well. I was forever having problems getting it to start and run well. I cured that by getting a pair of new AMAL concentric carbs from Tyler over at Lowbrow Customs. This got me out and about on the chop, but it certainly highlighted another problem... Handling. I did a quickie measurement of the trail on the front end, and ended up with 9 ¼ inches! This makes it a real pain in the ass to turn, it’s almost like a trike at low speed, having to muscle your way around the corner, and at higher speeds it is really stable, but I find I have to make difficult corrections just to keep going in the center of my lane. Reducing the trail will make this a lot easier, but it’s easier said than done. Ideally, I need to move my front wheel axle out about six inches, but if I just make a longer rocker for the springer, the leverage will lower the front of the bike. I asked Sugar Bear what he would recommend; after all, he makes probably the best springers around for choppers. His answer was simple, dump the DNA and buy one of his. So that’s my plan. I know he pays more for chroming than a new DNA costs, but I think it will be worth it. I got to ride a bike equipped with a Sugar Bear Springer in Sturgis this year, and once I got over the initial oversteer problems I had, I was impressed how light the bike felt and how well it handled. I can’t wait to get one on the Triumph!
Also, I had to snag the magneto cap off the Triumph when the aluminum one I had on the Shovel finally shorted out. I guess it was only a matter of time, but it lasted several years at least. I went back to Tyler at Lowbrow Customs to get a clear magneto cap; they’re just so cool! Look for an update in a future issue when I receive and install the new springer!

#102 (October 2010)

Maybe I didn’t get where I am today by playing my guitar, but I like to think it had a helping hand. When I left school in the good old UK back in 1974 at the ripe old age of 16, I decided that going to college would be a waste of time for me because, after all, I was going to be a rock star within a few short years. So instead of entering the state-sponsored Polytechnic, I got a temporary job at a factory and talked my parents into financing a brand new maple neck Fender Telecaster to facilitate my meteoric rise to the top of the rock charts. “Don’t meteors go downward?” asked my naysayer older brother. I dismissed such comments from him; he was getting a degree in computer programming which as far as I could see, in the mid-70’s, would be completely useless in the real world. See, I had it all figured out, play in local bands for a while, then scan the pro ads for someone needing me to complete their line-up for their upcoming world tour.
Transportation was becoming a problem; rock stars didn’t ride the bus to work, did they?
A friend of my brothers was selling a 1968 Suzuki T200 two stroke twin, so I made a deal with him to give him a few payments and he delivered it to the factory one afternoon… and just left it there. The good thing about being 16 is; you don’t even worry about these things, a trip to the shop to buy a helmet and get some insurance, and I’ll just ride it home… how hard could it be?
Aside from the wheelie across the intersection and into the brick wall, I made it home without incident. Of course those were the days when you could ‘fix’ the damage with a handy rock to bash the footpeg straight again.
By 1977, I was playing for a living, not exactly the World Tour on the private jet yet, but a summer season on the Isle of Sheppy, located just south of Southend-on-Sea and a favorite spot for Londoners to holiday. We rotated with three other bands playing the same three clubs every night with a Sunday matinee thrown in. The music? Eh, well it was a mixture of standards and pop tunes, typical holiday fare for the time, nothing artistically pleasing, but better than working in the factory for sure.
By 1980, I had the cold, hard reality facing me that I was unlikely to ever get very far in the music business. I was probably good enough to eke out a living, but playing the same old crap over and over just didn’t cut it for me. I might as well be working in the factory again. My interest in motorcycles remained though and by the end of the year I had my first Triumph, a 1975 Triumph T160 Trident.
The next year, I moved to the USA and held a variety of jobs, the decision to not go to college seemed to be haunting me now, but I was able to supplement whatever meager income I had by playing in bands in bars on the weekends. In fact, in the mid 90’s, I bought the beginnings and consequently most of the parts for my Shovelhead with the money I made playing polkas and 50’s and 60’s songs for old drunks once a week.
When I got involved with the magazine in the later 90’s, I put the guitar down as far as playing with bands went, I couldn’t make a commitment to play gigs with the band as well as do what I wanted to do for The Horse.
And so that’s how it was until Edge had the bright idea to have some Horse staffers jump on stage at this years Smoke Out XI… on both ends of the long road. This was going to toss XsSpeed, Steve Broyles, Chuck Palumbo and myself onto stage to play a couple of tunes for a laugh.
I got hold of XsSpeed and suggested a tune I could sorta sing; “Basket Case” by Green Day. XsSpeed suggested a tune he thought he could pull off, and so we individually, in three different states, set about learning these tunes for the big debut in Santa Rosa and followed by Rockingham.
In Santa Rosa, we finally all ended up in the same room at the hotel and tried a quickie run-through. Steve and I had the advantage of being able to do a couple of rehearsals as we lived only an hour apart from each other. The run-through revealed several problems with the ‘set list’ and XsSpeed’s original selection was dumped in favor of a basic 12 bar blues “Johnny B. Good”, coz it’s easy.
Under the best of circumstances, it’s tough to plug into someone else’s amplifier and just play, the sound is always unfamiliar and there’s no time to adapt. That said, we had a blast doing it. Chuck couldn’t make the Rockingham session, so we did it three piece. I don’t think we impressed anyone but we had a great time, and despite many requests, I believe we will do it again next year.
Hey, maybe it’s not too late!

#101 (August 2010)

This column is particularly difficult to write for this issue. We only last week got back from the Smoke Out West, the Long Road 2 and the incredible Smoke Out Eleven. Add to that, my marriage ended abruptly, and so there are all the legal, financial and emotional problems associated with that clouding my mind as I try and scrape 101 together in not much time at all. The 4th of July holiday didn't help much, and add to that I don't think the readers of this fine publication want to hear a bunch of “woe is me" whining in this column. Fine! I can tell you are a bunch of heartless bastards, but maybe I can direct this to some sort of motorcycle content.

When you're in a marriage, there's always the chance something will go wrong. Who's fault it may or may not have been is irrelevant most of the time (Michigan is a “no fault” state), but that doesn't stop your prized possessions, namely your chopper(s), from becoming mere chess pieces in the legal chess game that ensues.

I'm not pretending to be some kind of legal expert by any stretch. There's always the chance that one of the parties can find an aggressive lawyer that will take someone to the cleaners and leave them on the street with just the clothes they put on at the beginning of the day. Often, the attitude of “take it all, I just want out” will prevail, although I presume most chopper jockeys would exclude their ride if they said that... or would they? It's easy to get strapped in tightly to the emotional rollercoaster, scream like a little girl and forsake everything just to get to the end of the ride. The overpowering feeling that the last however many years have been a total failure is like a dead weight on your chest. Friends and family will “take sides”, people you knew and liked suddenly become arch enemies and even your closer friends will avoid you, probably because they just don't know what to say, or if they should say anything at all.

All I'm getting at here is; don't give up the ship. Don't just sell off the bikes to finance some legal maneuvering; you'll regret it, trust me. I know sometimes there's just no choice in the matter, and that really sucks, but you need to retain the attitude that life goes on and you are who you are. There's plenty of blame and guilt to go around, but after some time, it tends to fade.

This is the second time me and my 1971 Triumph and my 1998 Shovelhead have been through this. Fortunately, the first time, the ex realized life would be way simpler for her if she just let me keep them. It's about all I got to keep from that one. This time? Well, it's still to be determined, I guess. It's too early, and the legal wrangling has not yet begun at the time of this writing. My guess is that they will not be added to the chess pawns. Yes, there are higher priorities; my thirteen year old daughter for one. She is the product of a previous marriage and will stay with me, so I have to concentrate on that. She's been staying with relatives for a couple of weeks while I was on the road, and it has worked out well. She'll be coming back to a house that is almost devoid of furniture, with no pots or pans, bowls, silverware etc., but material things like that are almost meaningless, just an inconvenience.
This kind of thing will let you know who your friends are though. Hammer, for instance, brought a pile of silverware over the other day, just stuff he had laying around, but it's good to know that not everyone hates you.

One of the big things that brought all this to light was the realization that my life is more than half over, and it's just plain stupid to waste years not being as happy as you can be. Maybe there's an afterlife, or maybe Hammer is right and this is all there is. Either way, you gotta be happy and enjoy life. If you're not, then it's up to you to change things until you are.

This isn't my first Long Road. I know things will be fine. I have great friends, the best damn job in the world, great kids and my bikes. I'm still getting attacks of feeling like a worthless bastard, but I know they will pass.