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.

#100 (July 2010)

It’s hard to put into words exactly how momentous reaching issue #100 is, for me at least. I clearly remember picking up issue #100 of “Iron Horse” and, after reading it, resolving never to miss another issue... which I didn’t... until after David Snow left and Chris Pfouts came in, and the content went downhill faster than George’s health after the last Smoke out. #100 of the old IH featured the first encounter with Genghis, the Shovelhead-loving martial arts type, whose writings were instrumental in me acquiring my first (and only) American V-Twin powered machine. A couple of times back then, I sent in stuff for “Back Talk” and remember how cool it felt when I’d open my favorite magazine and see something I’d written in there. Never, in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined I’d be doing what I do for a living now.

Yeah, after Snow left and the infamous “Fish Bike” Triumph was featured, I figured it was the end of an era. There was no longer any point in searching the truck stops for the magazine. It felt like I’d lost part of the family. Then, one day I caught sight of the first issue that Hammer was editing.. the cutline read “The Boys are Back,” saying that JT Nesbitt, Flynch and Genghis were back on board. This was a huge relief to me. It’s like everything was okay with the world once again. As a bonus, Genghis mentioned in his column that he was frequenting internet bulletin boards...which was a strange concept at the time and prompted me to search around to see if I could find a reference to it anywhere. This led me to a message board entitled “The Seedy X-Bar and Grill” where, indeed, Scott Wong was chatting to us mere mortals on the ‘net. It was here that I first encountered other staff members of the magazine, notably Hammer and a couple of other local guys. It was cool that there was a Michigan connection, and I even got to meet a couple of them at a local swap meet. This was when I decided to try and send in my first submission, featuring the Shovelhead I had built from the ground up, mainly in my basement and a friend’s barn. It looked pretty much like a stock four speed swingarm Shovel, complete with electric start, blinkers and FatBob® tanks. To my delight, this article was published in Iron Horse #163, and even though the dummy laying it out cut the top of my head off in the picture, it certainly inspired me to do more.

I wrote a follow up piece entitled “Caveat Emptor” which detailed how much fun it was to discover that part of your new project came from a stolen vehicle, and how humorous it was to see it rolling into the impound lot. But then the unthinkable happened. Princeton Publishing went belly-up and took dozens of titles... including Iron Horse... with it. Dammit...so much for my aspiring writing career. My only comfort was the plans that Hammer and his associates had for continuing the magazine. I was lucky enough to be included in a lot of the goings on. They had Loon, some Canadian guy, set up a website for them, including the first iteration of the “Back Talk” message board. There was a lot of crossed fingers going on regarding the launch of the brand new magazine. As Hammer mentions elsewhere in this issue, the first issue of The Horse was #165 in an effort to show continuity, but that never made it to issue #2. Right about issue #3, “Loon”, the webmaster, suddenly disappeared without a trace. This led to concern about the website, as it needed to be updated with the latest issue. This led to a posting on Back Talk:
“Anyone here know HTML?”
I thought for about a nanosecond about this, and then replied “Sure, I can do that.” This was what we in the publishing world call: A Big Fat Lie. Hey, I thought, how hard could it be? They gave me the post of provisional webmaster, and I spent the next few sleepless nights researching how the HELL I was going to pull this off. Luckily, I found a “wysiwyg” (what you see is what you get) freebie program and was able to fake it until I made it.

So that, eleven years of loyalty and a lot of grunt work later, here I sit with the best job on the face of the planet. By the time you read this, you’ll know that Edge has talked me, Sean, Steve Broyles and Chuck Palumbo into playing a couple of tunes onstage at the Smoke Out XI. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything I’ve just written other than the best part of this job is getting feedback about the magazine in person from you guys, and frankly, I can’t wait.

#99 To chop… or not to chop... (June 2010)

That is the question... but should it even BE a question? I’ve mentioned before my penchant toward classic bikes. I love to see old iron out and about, and have drooled on pictures of totally stock Vincent Black Shadows enough times over the past 35 years or so. But here we are in the foremost chopper publication around, so should I not be preaching that there are no sacred cows? Whatever the bike is, should it be chopped? No mercy?

If I stumbled upon a basket case Vincent, would I chop it? Hell yes I would. It’s long been my dream to have a Vinnie chop, but if I stumbled across a basket case Vincent that had all the correct parts, matching numbers etc., I would be more inclined to pass it on to someone who would restore it, while maybe trading it for a lesser “find” to chop.

I must be getting old I guess. I’m a fan of the 1969/1970 650 Triumph Bonneville in its stock trim, and these days, my heart kinda sinks when I see a bad hack job on one. At some point, simple economics would have to come into play. These days, a matching numbers 60’s Triumph costs a fair bit more than one with a bolt on hardtail and a rusty XL gas tank. This could be the reason we are seeing a lot more small capacity Honda twins and the like being chopped. Yes, I know that restored Hondas from the 60’s are fetching more and more, but there’s so many of them around, I can’t see the supply drying up anytime soon, and they do seem to be the perfect starting point for the wannabe or just broke chopper jockey.

Case in point, I just picked up a 1982 Triumph T140ES. It has seven thousand miles on it and it is just about bog stock, turn signals and everything. This is the cool electric start 750 twin; they altered the timing cover to look like the pre unit, and added a starter motor in the old magneto position. This engine would look KICKASS in a chopper! But on the other hand, this is one of the last bikes ever produced by the “real” Triumph factory in Meriden. I’m not going to get into whether the “real” factory was in Coventry or other such boring details. Suffice to say, every Triumph I’ve owned was built there. Well, ok, maybe my Trident and my 250 single were really made at the BSA plant in Birmingham, but that’s beside the point. This bike is a true survivor and it would...well...it would be a shame to chop it up. I’m having a good time just riding it as it is, so I’ve decided to leave it alone as far as originality goes.

So, is this chopper heresy? Should I be hauled in front of the Chopper Supreme Court for judgment? Well, personally I don’t much care what anyone thinks of the decision, it’s my bike and I’ll do whatever the hell I want with it, which in this case is just ride it. Likewise, if you have a perfectly preserved Crocker in your shed and you want to slap some huge plastic bags on the back and go with a 30” front wheel, be my guest. I can’t approve of such a conversion, but that decision is not mine.

Listen, I’m never going to be one of those geeks you see at these shows, berating a bike owner because his cad plating on his restored AJS is the wrong shade or somesuch. I’m just saying I feel that some old classics deserve to be left alone and ridden as is. Of course, a beautifully done Velocette chopper will catch my eye just as quickly as a restored version, the key being a well-executed custom. Nothing is sadder than a once great classic in a bodged up hack job death trap… and fewer things cooler than someone riding a vintage, unrestored bike with original patina.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tour De France (Almost) from #11 November 2000

March 1981 was a pivotal month for me, I had just sold a way fast Honda 900 and bought a more sedate 1975 BMW R90/6 900 (too sedate as it turned out, but live and learn).
My buddy Steve and I had decided it was time to finally do the European tour we had talked about for years. We were going to ride the length of France, follow the Mediterranean to Spain and Monaco, dip into Italy, and then come back up through Switzerland and Germany on our way home. The maps were purchased, the ferry information acquired, the day set! March in England is not exactly ideal riding weather.

At 4am, as we set off from Portsmouth on our way to Dover, it was a typical cold, drizzly day, but the thoughts of Mediterranean sunshine warmed us inwardly as we headed East. Within an hour or two, however, the warm thoughts just weren't doing the job. I had a set of electrically heated gloves which, of course, had decided to give up the ghost that very day. We rode until my fingers were totally numb, then foolishly stopped to try and get feeling back into them. The pain was excruciating as feeling returned with a vengeance, but as soon as it subsided to a dull throbbing, we were back on the road. I had purchased a helmet-to-helmet communicator so Steve and I could chitchat the miles away; I had installed a tape player in the fairing with the intention to hook it to the helmet speakers in the near future. The Windjammer fairing kept most of the weather from us, but after a few stoplights the relentless drizzle was beginning to soak through my leather. Water would well up from my gloves whenever I squeezed a lever, all in all, a pretty depressing start to the adventure.
After what seemed like a full day's riding in the rain, we finally approached the continental ferry port in Dover and the trip was almost aborted right there! There was a long downhill right hander toward the docks, the wet drilled disc on the BMW was not even close to what I was used to with the Honda. We picked up speed down the hill and I grabbed a handful of front brake ... Nothing! In fact, it seemed to speed up a little more!
Luckily, the combination of the wet back brake and the slowly drying disc up front barely allowed me to avoid disaster at the bottom of the hill. Loaded up as we were, plastic saddlebags, tents and sleeping bags on the rack, a big tank bag and the fairing stuffed full in every crevice (Not to mention riding two up) the Beemer was a tad unwieldy in tricky situations.
At Dover, at the time, there was quite a choice as to how you could travel to France. There was the huge Hovercraft, cars and trucks could just drive on, and they would rise up and sweep across the beach and out to sea, very impressive looking and sounding machines. There was the Hydroplane service; it looked very boat-like until they fired it up, and it would rise out of the sea on a pair of skis and take off at a high rate of speed. We were opting for the cheapest method (of course), which was the car ferry.

These ferries are huge, twin decks for cars and trucks and spacious accommodations for passengers. After buying the ticket to Calais, we waited in line until they waved us to ride onto the boat.
The Steward inside directed us to the motorcycle area, and we lashed the bike to a padded post as per his instructions, and went upstairs to watch the departure. It was a calm day and the crossing went without incident, we sat in the cushy seats and watched England disappear on the horizon, relaxing in the to and fro motion of the ship.
Somewhere between arriving at the docks and strapping the Beemer down in the bowels of the ferry, we had misplaced the cord that connected the helmet communicators. Disaster had struck already! There were no such items available on the boat, so we resolved to get one on the other side. It was a simple four-wire connector, how hard could it be to find?
We looked with excitement, as the French coastline loomed ever closer; it was our first time out of the country and we really didn't know what to expect. Finally, the ferry docked and we went down the stairs and unbound the Beemer in anticipation of driving out onto French soil. We had our passports at the ready, but disappointingly, they didn't even ask for them, nor did we have to go through customs, just all of a sudden, there we were, in a foreign country!
It seemed very strange to be riding on the right side of the road, made for a few scary moments as cars and trucks hurtled toward us. The houses and other buildings looked a little different, but not to the point where anything looked really "alien." I suppose we had expected instant sidewalk cafe's and French guys wearing berets with onions strung over the handlebars everywhere. Within a couple of miles we spotted a small electrical store and pulled in. I don't know if we just expected the girl behind the counter to naturally speak English or what, but she didn't! Well, sign language was called for then huh?
We showed her the two ends that the cord connected and tried to tell her it was a four-wire connector. She didn't understand "four." Ok, we realized we could only count to three in French at this time. So we were playing charades, counting un, deux, trois ... and then holding up four fingers. She gave us the deer in the headlights look. We tried again "Un, Deux, trois" ..... "quatre?" she offered. Ah yes, we nodded vigorously and she disappeared into the back room and reappeared with the correct component.
Back on the road we ran into another slight problem. For some reason all the directional signs were written in French! The plan was to head to Boulogne and camp out for the night. It had seemed like a long day and the weather was only marginally better than that we had left behind. At least it wasn't raining. We spotted the sign that we assumed we were going in the right direction, and I cranked the Beemer up to about 60, hoping to make some time. Almost immediately, the engine faltered. My heart skipped a beat... engine trouble already? The engine died and we began slowing.

I reached down and turned the petcock to "reserve" and the engine jumped, then caught, and we were back up to speed. I had not even thought to fill up before getting on the boat. I guess it was time to try and figure out how to buy petrol over here! Everything looked foreign but I spotted what looked like petrol pumps off on the service road, so I took the "sortie" and cruised into some kind of odd-looking self-service gas station. There seemed to be two main types there, "essence" and "supercarborant." The "essence" was considerably cheaper, so I decided to risk it first. I didn't like the smell of it as it was going in. Sure hoped it wasn't diesel! Neither term was covered in our handy little phrase book so I didn't fill the tank all the way just in case. Soon we were back on the road; the bike ran but not well. I resolved to use the more expensive fuel in the future!
Back on the road we were amused by the road signs that made no sense to us "risque de verglas" and such, the curves had speed limitations of 90 on them, had to remind myself that it was kilometers and not miles. The weather had warmed to the point where it was no longer painfully cold and we were able to enjoy the picturesque countryside of Northern France. Steve spotted a Mirage jet, apparently parked in someone's back yard. There were these large mushroom looking constructions that we could not determine the use for. (Looking back, I guess they were water towers.) The landscape did look different in comparison to England (to be expected I suppose), the churches looked older and more ornate, some of the country houses looked very fancy, while others seemed overly simple. There were fields of what we presumed to be vineyards, and the grazing cattle appeared to be a very yellow-looking breed we had never seen before. We pulled into Boulogne about five o'clock and discussed finding somewhere to camp. My stomach reminded me that we had better eat first. We had kind of been putting that off, as we were totally useless with French, so we knew ordering food was going to be an adventure. The town looked really old, with ancient cathedrals and cobblestone streets (fun on an overloaded BMW I can tell you). We spotted a restaurant on a back street and parked outside. Almost immediately a small group of children were attracted to the bike. I had seen very few big-bore motorcycles on the road, although there were hundreds of kids on mopeds zinging in and out of the side streets. They seemed to keep a respectful distance, especially when they discovered we were foreign.
We pulled our multiple layers of outer clothing off and strolled into the restaurant. It seemed fairly familiar inside. We sat at a table and attempted to make sense of the menu. This Les cuisses de la grenouille sounded good; luckily the waiter had a smattering of English at his disposal. "Those are the Frogs Legs M'sieu." Ahh, well, we were there for the entire French experience so we went for it, a good excuse to leave the escargot until the next time. There was a rather large dog wandering around in the restaurant, evidently he lived there. It was odd because no one paid any attention to him. Steve and I just stared at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
The frog legs were good (tasted like chicken haha). The waiter later brought the fromage (cheese) tray around for dessert. By now we were suffering from alien landscape overload, and so we asked the waiter where the nearest hotel was and he directed us to a nice little inn/cafe a few hundred yards away. After a few minutes of talking with our hands, we got the message across that we needed a room for the night. That evening we went downstairs and mingled with the locals, drank a few beers and attempted to communicate with varying degrees of success. We seemed to be well received once
we got the message across that we weren't undesirables. We went up to the room to discuss the day's events. It took a few minutes for us to stop using our hands when we were talking to each other. We had gotten so used to playing charades with the locals it was difficult to stop.

In the morning we were served giant croissants and soup bowl sized cups of coffee for breakfast. It was hard to shake the surreal feeling of waking up in a foreign land and it was still a surprise to hear nobody speaking English in the cafe. We loaded up the Beemer and headed south toward sunnier climes. At first I was more concerned about not dumping the bike on the cobblestones of the back streets to notice I was riding on the left side of the road; old habits die hard. The approaching gaggle of Renaults and VW's soon reminded me and I gingerly moved to the right lane.
The road south took us through Paris. There was a bypass of sorts there, but we decided to go through the city, check out the Eiffel tower, Arc De Triomph etc. The road to Paris was pretty pleasant. I managed to keep up a cruising speed of about 75, stopping at the first petrol station to fill up with the superior supercarborant; the bike ran much better on that. I was beginning to become concerned about finances. Steve had brought very little money with him and I had put enough for the return ferry trip away, but we had already went through a lot more than I had planned. I resolved to find a campground at our next overnight stop to save resources. It seemed like we got to the outskirts of Paris in next to no time. There was a bewildering array of directional road signs all, of course, written in French! I suddenly had a new appreciation for dyslexics in the city. We took "La prehipherique" to be the circular road around the city so we headed for "Toutes directions" (whatever that meant).
Soon we were in the city; it's quite the adventure on a motorcycle I can tell you. Every traffic light seemed to be six lanes of traffic all sitting at the start line, revving their engines waiting for the green light. When the light changed, the race was on to the next light (and there were a lot of them). The majority of the cars were small commuter types, many with dents and dings from the daily combat of driving in this place. Of course there was the ever-present hordes of children racing around on mopeds. The architecture in the city was magnificent, although it was hard to take my eyes off the road to appreciate it.
There was always another red light approaching; the car drivers apparently oblivious of our presence. Steve saw the tower first and alerted me to the direction we should take (naturally I had to cross about six lanes of traffic to turn left) and it seemed we were on our way. A few miles later (we kept losing sight of it behind the buildings) it was evident we had gone too far. Steve saw it again and told me which way we should be heading, once again I turned and rode for another mile or two. This was getting frustrating. I saw the tower off to the right just before Steve told me I had to go in that direction; I about bit his head off. This damn tower had better be good! Finally we came to an intersection and looking to the right, we could see the tower straddling the road in that direction! Well, at least it had at one time. We pulled up to the parking area around the tower. The road we were on had been blocked off some· time ago to make a plaza for tourists to mill about on and buy souvenirs.
The first thing to strike me about the tower was that, unlike the pictures I had seen where it appears to be painted gray, was actually just bare metal, wearing a thick coat of rust! It was early in the season, so there were not that many people milling around there. The odd elevators that travel diagonally up the leg of the tower were creaking up and down. We decided to forgo the tour and hit the road. Getting out of the city was nearly as hard as getting in; we followed the river for a while. I told Steve that you'd have to be crazy to swim in that river. He fell for it, "Why?" he asked. "Coz you'd be "In-Seine."
We saw the original Statue of Liberty standing on a podium in the river (it's way smaller than the one they sent to New York). We gave up on seeing the "Arc De Triomph" but the road we were on just happened to lead us right to it. It's a long road and you can see it from some distance. The road evidently went right under it, but as we approached the structure, the two lanes to the left of us (and our lane of course) suddenly swept to the right; in a minute, we were underground! I was not comfortable at all riding at the breakneck speed preferred by Paris traffic in such close quarters, but I managed to keep up for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly we were outside again, the Arch in my mirrors!
Oh well, to hell with it. Time to get out of this place! The sun was already getting low in the sky. It had taken much longer than I anticipated to get though the city. At least I knew which way south was and we spotted a sign telling us that Marsellies was this-a-way so with a smile I banked the Beemer hard and gunned the engine onto the highway out of town.
The sun was getting lower in the sky, but I was determined to put some serious miles between us and the city. The air had warmed to where it was pleasant to ride, but not so that we could shed any layers of clothing yet. The BMW was comfortable at 75, while the windjammer fairing kept most of the air off us (from the front anyway) and we settled down into a kilometer eating state of mind. That is until the motor hiccupped. I could not believe we'd be on reserve so soon, but I turned the lever to the "reserve" position anyway. It did it again, more of a miss this time, we began to slow down. Of course Steve was asking me what was wrong and it was one of the times I'd like to have pulled the plug on that device. We were heading through a small-ish city called Fontainebleau so I exited the highway; the crippled Beemer backfiring occasionally. This was scary. I had no real idea how to go about fixing any problems on this bike. Hell, I'd only had it a couple of weeks and it had never shown any inclination to do anything but run flawlessly.
The city was quite picturesque, apparently Napoleon had a palace there, but I found a cheap-looking hotel there and pulled in. Steve checked us in while I broke out the few tools I had brought with us. I pulled the spark plugs and replaced them with a set I had brought just in case. I started the bike; no difference! Ok, I pulled a fuel line off one of the carbs and turned the petcock. Petrol was flowing with no problem. By now it was getting dark and I was more than a little concerned about being stuck in the middle of a foreign country with a dead bike! Last thing I could think of checking in the waning light were the points. Where the hell were they on this bike? The only removable panels on the engine were the one for the air filter on the top rear, and the whole front of the engine appeared to be held on with allen bolts. I set about removing it and I was gratified to see the alternator and auto-advance sitting on top of the points. I called Steve down to crank over the bike while I stared at the point gap. Hmmm, what point gap?
The points had almost completely closed up. It seemed hard to adjust the points with the auto-advance in the way, so I unbolted it and removed it. Duh! The cam for opening and shutting the points was parts of it, so I replaced it. We were working by flashlight at this stage. I pulled the spark plugs out and put the bike in gear. Steve was working the rear wheel to move the breaker cam around as I tried to gap the points successfully. I resolved right then to never own another bike that didn't have a kickstart. With the points now correctly gapped I hopped on the bike, remembered to put it into neutral (this bike would run down the road on the starter motor, found that out when the clutch cable snapped once) and hit the starter. Wheee, the motor turned over way too fast. Oops, put the plugs back in first I guess. After the re-installation of the plugs the Beemer fired right up and idled nicely. I was SO relieved! We were hungry so we walked down to a Chinese restaurant that was close by. Seemed a little odd, here we were in a country that is famed the world over for its cuisine and we were in a Chinese restaurant! The waiter spoke English, which was nice, although it was a little tough understanding a Chinese-French accent; reminded me of Tattoo on Fantasy Island. It's odd, but we had the best food there of the whole trip. They brought us these little cups with a glass bubble set in the bottom. They looked pleasant enough, but when they filled it with a rice liqueur, the glass bubble revealed a picture of a naked Chinese girl! Of course we had to buy one of those each. Except for a few Francs, I was about out of French money. I had some English money yet, but we'd have to find a Bureau de Change the next day.
The next morning, the sun was out, it was getting warm already as we loaded the bike up once more. I turned the choke on and hit the starter, she fired up nicely and within a few minutes we were back on the road. I was able to leave my jacket unzipped it was so nice out. It was still about 300 KM to Marseilles and for me that was an incredible distance. A trip to London for me seemed a long way (72 miles) and it always seemed to take a couple of days to get to the North of England, even though the whole country is only about 300 miles long.
We cruised at our customary 75, stopping once for petrol and about three hours later arrived in Lyon. This was a good-sized city and seemed like a good place to try and change the remainder of the money. We cruised downtown and parked on a commercial-looking street. There were no obvious money-changing spots around, so we asked a local Gendarme (cop). Luckily, he knew a little English and directed us to a local bank that suited our needs.

I exchanged the last ofmy English money, excluding that which I figured I'd need for the ferry back to England and petrol to get home once there. I looked at how much was left, clearly we weren't going to make the ambitious route we had originally planned, and we weren't even half way! We were hungry again so we looked around for a restaurant. There was a nice looking one not far away so we left the bike where it was by the bank and walked across the street. Once again, we lucked out by having a waiter that knew some English (I wonder if it's part of French-waiter training?) and we perused the menu. We had stopped at a few places a eat on this journey and we had always been impressed how cheap steak was at most of these places. However this menu listed steak and Beef steak! The beef steak was pretty darn expensive, but the steak was the same low price we had been finding it for all over the country. We asked the waiter and were horrified when he explained that "steak" meant horse meat! Steve and I looked at each other with our mouths open for a few seconds, then I said "What the hell, we might as well have the horse!" I didn't think we'd have any trouble eating it, as we had been all along, but it wasn't the same (plus it was underdone). We ate way too much however, so when we got back on the bike and continued our quest south, it wasn't long before my body kicked into "I want a nap" mode. By now, I was a little despondent about not being able to complete the entire trip I had originally planned out, so we threw any pretense of camping with the tents out of the figurative window, and decided to find a nice Hotel for the night and turn around the next day. We pulled into a nice little town that had only one hotel in it so at least we didn't have to expend any mental energy on the choice! It was a three-star hotel, however, and the price was a bit of a shock, I wasn't in any mood to go load up and go to the next town, so we checked in. The room was incredible, oak-paneled and spacious, lovely view and everything. After taking the much needed nap we relaxed in the luxurious surroundings, sampling the local brews in the bar close by.

Examining my finances, I determined that we would make it back as far as petrol and ferry fare went, but there would be very little left to eat on. We went to bed early that night in preparation for the upcoming marathon ride home.
In the morning, we skipped breakfast and loaded up the bike before dawn. It fired up effortlessly and we rode a few blocks to the petrol station. A tank full of supercarborant later, we were on our way back north. The weather was still warm, the sun began to peek over the horizon, illuminating the French countryside in an eerie red glow, the ever-present scent of garlic in the air. I had finally got the hang of relaxing on the Beemer while cruising, earlier I would always find myself tensing my legs or arms for some inexplicable reason. No doubt the cause for the earlier fatigue I felt when riding even short distances. There was little to no conversation from Steve as we soaked in the views of the still alien-looking landscape.
I planned two more fuel stops, one on the south side of Paris, then one more in England. We should make it on that. We made pretty good time; there was no longer any point in stopping to eat because we couldn't afford to. By the time we pulled into a petrol station at the southern entry to the Paris by-pass, our stomachs were grumbling their discontent. We scratched together a few coins for a couple of candy bars and continued.
The traffic wasn't too bad around the by-pass (certainly less than going through the city) and we were soon on the road north to Calias. Fortunately, the way to the ferries was well signposted and I had no problems finding the way to the Dover ferry. I bought the ticket and we waited for the man to wave us on. When it came to our turn he came up to us and told us where he wanted us to go. Steve and I were astounded. "Hey, I understood him" Steve exclaimed, it was the first real English we had heard for days (besides ourselves of course). I rode on and we repeated the lashing down of the Beemer. We went up the stairs to the lounge, feeling very hungry by now and found a seat by the window. The weather was looking very grim; it had begun to rain and the wind had picked up quite a bit since we had arrived. I sure hoped that the weather would be less wild and woolly when we got back to England.
There were a lot of teenagers on the ferry, all of them seemed to be eating something (funny how you notice that when you're hungry). They seemed to insist on looking out of the window where we were sitting as they munched on bread rolls etc. and generally pigged out on the assorted goodies on sale there. As it turned out, it's probably a good thing we had nothing in our stomachs. The sea was rough, very rough. Soon the waves were so tall, we were literally in free fall for a second on the way down, and felt like we were pulling a couple of G's on the way up. Just about every one of the teenagers that had tortured us by eating in front of us proceeded to regurgitate their munchies into brown bags all around us! This was a source of great amusement for Steve and me, our hunger forgotten in the wake of the floorshow they were putting on for us.
The light was fading as we docked at Dover, the English customs service insisted on making us wait in line and asking questions before letting us through. It was not raining, however, and the temperature was above freezing. It felt a little odd at first to be riding on the left again, but within a few miles it was like we'd never left. I rode non-stop until we reached Portsmouth, dropped Steve off at his house and went home to my own bed, where I slept like a dead brick.

In retrospect, it's just as well we didn't try and follow the original route, it would have taken us over the Swiss Alps in late winter. I don't think we would have been very well prepared for that. I don't know if it comes across here, but it was fun. A lot of fun as a matter of fact. I highly recommend the experience, especially if you're young and looking for adventure. I haven't talked to Steve in ten years, and soon after this occurred, the ad I placed in Easyriders came out and changed my life forever.

#98 3 Wheels on My Wagon (May 2010)

This issue I decided to try and change the way some of you feel about the much-maligned (in this country) custom trike. In the USA, when you think of a trike, the first thing that pops into most minds is the vision of the Lehman® type of setup, the big bike with lots of plastic, huge chrome wheels and the geriatric pilot. Other companies, such as Boss Hoss®, have even bigger and uglier versions with excessive chrome and width that hasn’t really been cool since the 1959 Cadillac lineup. Together with that, and the poor man’s version -- the “training wheels” setup -- it’s easy to see how the average chopper jockey (if such an animal exists) would be totally turned off by these behemoths, relegating them to the very old or infirm that cannot ride a ‘normal’ two wheeler any longer.
But it was not always this way. In Europe, the custom trike was, and still appears to be, an accepted member of the chopper family. I’m sure most of you remember the trike that Russell Mitchell built for the “Biker Build Off” Discovery channel series. Yes, it’s huge, but it retains a lot of the coolness factor of the European designs. When Russell made the rear end available for sale, USA sales were pretty low, while the exports to Europe went well.

What makes the euro versions different? Well, just as the USA versions all look like someone took a servi-car and pumped it up to twice the size, the euro trike has always been a stripped-down, bare minimum chopper. Usually it’s a converted car rear end, solidly mounted to a regular bike front frame loop with the minimum of fluff behind the drivers seat... no huge boxes and the like. Also, as can be relied on with the Euro scene, it’s certainly not limited to V-Twin style power plants. You’re just as likely to see a Japanese 4 out front as any other type.
Back when I was riding my five year old Triumph T160 around, a friend constructed a cool little Triumph trike using a 3TA (350cc twin) powerplant. The little engine had a problem with the bikes mass, so a 5TA (500cc) top end was added, and it did fine after that. Something that can’t be gotten away from is the fact that they are totally different to ride. You have to physically turn the bars to steer, and the whole feeling of flying that you would normally get from riding a wellsorted motorcycle is just not there. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun though, just different. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about trikes that “lean” as you turn. I’m not sure if anyone remembers the Ariel 3, a 50cc “moped” brought out by BSA in 1970… same concept… strange execution. It’s March as I write this, and I’ve just returned from Daytona after attending the Willies Tropical Tattoo bike show that we co-sponsor down there. I was happy to see a stripped-down trike entered there. Look for a feature to appear soon in these hallowed pages.
All I’m asking is for you to keep an open mind on the subject. Trikes aren’t just for the old and crippled. You may even get to like them some… if we see some of the right kind.

#97 Asleep on the Wheels (April 2010)

Back in 1985, I was living with a friend in Austin, Texas. After being evicted from an apartment and living first in the car with the wife and eight-month-old baby daughter, and then on the frigid streets (that year anyway) of Austin, I was earning enough doing day labor to share a roach-infested motel room in the evening, leaving just enough left over to buy baby food. I eventually scraped together the money to send the wife and kid back to Michigan to stay with the in-laws while I got our life together in Texas. I got a better job and acquired a Kawasaki 440 LTD to get to work and back while I was staying with this friend, and I decided it would be good to go and visit the family in Michigan one weekend. I still had very little money, but I reasoned if I metered it out correctly, I could make it. I had enough to stop mid-way on the way up, but I knew that coming back, it would be a non-stop affair.
The trip there was fairly uneventful, if painful. The LTD’s seating position caused incredible pain and raised large red welts on my backside. I arrived at the in-laws house all proud of myself that I had made the trip without incident… and promptly wiped out on the soft sand driveway 20 feet from my destination. After a day to recover, it was time to head back.
It was 1,571 miles there, and I assume the same back (didn’t keep track). I extended my day some by forgetting to return the petcock to the “run” position after I had switched to reserve last time, and so ran out of gas on US 31 in Indiana a few miles south of Kokomo. I just popped the gas tank off and started walking with it under my arm. Must have looked comical, but someone stopped and gave me a ride to the gas station.
Anyway, things were uneventful after that until I got to the stretch of I-40 between Nashville and Memphis. It got dark, I was tired, and there was not a lot of traffic on the road, and even less in the way of stuff to look at. I started feeling really tired, so I got off at an exit and walked around, etc. Made me feel better for a couple of minutes, but then I was nodding again. Bear in mind the Kawa 440 LTD is not exactly the most exciting motorcycle ever, nor was it well suited for distance, but I was super poor and it was a real bargain.
I pulled into a rest area; I had determined I would have to sleep a little. This place had big concrete picnic tables, so I stretched out on one and started drifting off... but the local insect population had other ideas. Within minutes, there were squadrons of incoming skeeters, apparently unable to resist the huge meal laid out on the picnic table. I was able to cover my head and arms with my leather jacket, but the armor-piercing capabilities of these superbugs continued to drill through the rest of my clothing, so that within ten minutes I had abandoned the attempt. I figured the little bastards had got me wide awake and pissed off enough to make it to Memphis, and hopefully the lights of the city would give me something to concentrate on. I hit the road, wide awake... for about another five minutes anyway. But this time I saw no alternative but to press on.
Obviously I don’t remember actually falling asleep. I do remember waking up as the front end went off the shoulder and hit the grass on the way to the ditch... I have NO IDEA how I kept it upright or what I did there, but I was back on the freeway totally freaked out and doing about 40 mph for a while. The fear of doing THAT again kept me awake until Memphis, and I was able to make it the rest of the way without repeating the problem. South of Dallas, it was hot (August). I hit every rest area and stuck my head under the faucet, which was good for about a mile and a half before the fatigue set back in. It was like riding into a big hair dryer. The engine started making a horrible ticking noise (oil level was good), but I made it back to Austin without further incident. Looking back, it was a dumb idea; no preparation, under-funded, and the furthest I had rode before that was probably 300 miles, tops. But, it’s something I’ll always remember and unless I suddenly decide to do the Stampede, I won’t be that unprepared again!

#96 Grey Area (March 2010)

I used to play in a band with a lead singer who would, for some reason, assign a number to every “personal compromise” he needed to make. I thought it silly at the time. Things had to be done, and so we all did our part to make it happen. He was an ‘artsy’ sort of guy who always wanted to do things for the purity of the art, and things like having to play at the equivalent of the local redneck bar just for the money to enable us to do other things really irked him. More recently, I have been contemplating these things in my own life.

It’s easy to make a stand, lets say, against a company like V-Twin®. Most of their stuff is from Taiwan it seems, and there have been “incidents” where certain parts, such as the ones developed and made by people like Fabricator Kevin and Crime Scene Choppers, have been copied and inferior versions included in the V-Twin catalog. Okay then, that’s the last time we buy from them. But what if you needed a part, and NOBODY else makes it? You have to have it, and there it is sitting right on the offending page of their catalog. Do you go without it? Scour the swap meets for useable original parts?

I was recently accused of not being very “Backstreet” when I advocated a Baker transmission for someone, the thought there being that the cost of that particular piece was more than most budgets would accommodate. Furthermore, since I obviously got a ‘deal’ on the one I run in my Shovel, that made me a shill for the company. The truth here is this: even had I not got a ‘deal’ on the Baker 6 into 4, I would still be running one because I believe it’s such a necessary piece of my personal ride. I would have found a way to make it happen. Some things are not a good subject to compromise.
Or how about you need an electronic part NOW, but you’re strapped for cash? Hey, Wally World has your part for less than you can get on eBay from frikkin Hong Kong... what do you do? No use whining about foreign electronics. How
many computers/TV’s/cameras are made in the USA? Recently, there was a discussion on the online version of Back Talk about people doing tattoos in their kitchens vs. the people who are paying out the ass for licensed premises.
One of the replies went something like “Hey, I’m an outlaw biker, so I don’t play by the rules.” Does that make it right for them to take the bread off the tables of the guys doing it the legal way? Apparently, the aforementioned ‘outlaw biker’ didn’t have a problem with it. Now, I’m sure there are some very talented artists working out of their kitchen, but I don’t think I would be comfortable being worked on by someone with such low regard for his peers. And that’s what it all comes down to I guess: your own personal “comfort zone.”
I recently heard an interview with Pete Townshend in which he said something to the effect of “We stopped playing ‘My Generation’ for years because we felt we would be thought too old to be singing that, but now, since it’s obvious we are too old, we started playing it again.” Again, the comfort zone, something can make you uncomfortable for a while, but then sometimes you just no longer care. I personally know quite a few people who have no problem whatsoever downloading music off the Internet free.

Or watching illegal copies and downloads of new movies, or using ‘hacked’ versions of computer programs so they don’t have to pay for them. I’ll admit that for years I never even thought about such things, but I have come to realize that the theft of intellectual property... is still theft! Somebody, whether it’s a studio technician, a musician, someone who makes a living by working for a promotion company for movies... a whole HOST of characters... are being screwed. You might as well be jimmying the door of their shed and making off with their motorcycle. Oh sure you can point to some example where you found a version of a song where all the members of the band are long dead and nobody really cares, but come on. You can argue that you watching some new movie on an illegal download would only cost Joe the light guy .00000002 cents, but it’s not the point. It all adds up to millions. Joe the light guy gets laid off because the studio can’t afford him any more.

I guess my outlaw biker days are behind me. Sometimes, buying the inferior product is our only choice. When it isn’t, I try to buy the best I can afford. I’ll continue to utilize great tattoo artists such as Jeff Shea and Richiepan. But Wal-Mart televisions? Well, they do sell The Horse there too.

#95 Soft Focus Lens (February 2010)

One often-repeated phrase of the last few years was, “I’ll be glad when the fad is over!” This Coming of the Reckoning was supposedly going to bring us a slew of reasonably priced motorcycles for us to chop up as the monied yuppies lost interest and dumped their former “investments” on the market.
Everybody looked forward to the Harley-Davidson® comeuppance as demand dropped off for their models and there was no longer a six month waiting list, and shop managers would be forced to abandon their previous insistence of not selling you the bike without a mandatory plethora of bolt-on Taiwanese chrome.
Well, it happened! There are deals a-plenty out there. It’s no longer nearly as much in vogue to buy a big fat tire stretched-out monstrosity to illuminate with neon as one cruises around the streets of Daytona twice a year. HD® inventory is pretty high. I don’t see where you couldn’t just walk in and buy the model of your choice right now... except for one thing: the reason that brought about this downturn to start
with is the general dip in the economy. Sure, there are deals out there, but hardly anyone has the money to pick them up! You can buy the HD® of your choice... if you have the money, and nobody does! There are exceptions, of course; some people’s incomes are not affected by the economic downturns.
People in Government come to mind. Everything is rosy in governmentville; hell, they’re spending money at a record pace now. What the hell, they print the stuff too, right? That tactic didn’t work so well for post war Germany, but I’m
sure everything will be fine.
The things that DO concern me is the fuzziness I’m detecting on the old chopperscope here. There seems to be a leaning towards “acceptance” for the bagger rider, a “they’re not so bad” feeling toward the Softail® frame setup and a general feeling of compromise towards the “rest” of the motorcycling world.
Oh, we’ve been feeling the ‘pinch’ over here at The Horse, some advertisers
are running low with their ad budgets, heck some are on the verge of going out of business, things are tough all over. Fortunately for us, rack sales are still very strong, so we feel like we’re doing something right.
Which brings me to my point here: although you may see compromise in other magazines as far as content, focus and quality, we here at The Horse will never be a “one mag fits all” setup.
Yes, we’ll make exceptions every now and then, like the Tom Johnson piece in this issue about his Softail®. It’s an interesting piece, doesn’t matter who you are or how choppercentric your world is. We’ll also print interesting road tales from people who didn’t do the trip on a chopper; some things are universal when it comes to riding. Our focus now and always will be to inspire the garage builder to get out there and start chopping.

We don’t care who made the original driveline; it doesn’t matter; just DO it for f@*ks sake. And yes, we’ll have bikes from established builders in the mag.
These guys are real artists that can also inspire the young and seasoned chopper
builder/jockey alike. What you see here is what you’re going to be getting in the
future. If that’s not for you, then tough shit. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Friday, January 27, 2012

#94 (December 2009)

Back on October 17th (2009), on our online forum “Back Talk” someone named Will was recounting how a bad day had opened his eyes a little. Here is his post:

“Had a crap day on Thurs, but had an epiphany because of it. Was riding to work about ten to eight, getting ready to pull into the parking lot. Now I haven’t owned a car in about 9 years, and I have been riding for 23 years, so I don’t really think too much about just getting on the bike and going. Was running a few minutes late and really wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. Signaled to change lanes and miscalculated the speed and distance of the vehicle in the lane next to me, and got clipped by an SUV. Not her fault at all, and it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Bike was rideable (after I replaced the clutch lever that broke), and I have a little road rash and a sore, swollen leg, but I am limping around fine. Came to the realization, though, that having ridden 23 years with no major incidents, that I had let myself get way too comfortable and complacent while riding. If I had been like some of the guys I have seen (riding in shorts, t-shirt and sandals) I would be getting skin grafts right now. I had on a set of military surplus “tactical pants” made from ripstop fabric with my summer riding jacket with armor, and my work boots. The only thing that didn’t survive was the boots. Tore the sole of the heel away from the boot. We have all gone to ride somewhere and had someone say “be careful,” “Keep the Shiny side up,” or any one of a million other things that has been said and replied to with a casual “yeah, you bet” or other contrite response so many times it is almost cliché, but we all need to remember that this is a dangerous activity that we love, and it could take our life at any minute if we let ourselves get too comfortable with it. Don’t mean to get anyone down, or anything, and I got up and rode home the same day, and have ridden every day since, but I will do my best to avoid getting too comfortable while traveling through traffic.”

This sparked a few responses about how complacency can be dangerous, if not fatal.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Some of us are so familiar with our bikes it’s easy to forget they are heavy, hot dangerous machines with whirling pieces just waiting for you to get too close so they can take a bite out of you. I have been running open primaries for a long time, so I don’t even think about it, of course. I remember what happened to the new owner of the Sucker Punch Sally bike at the Smoke Out West 1 a few years back: a few beers plus new open belt drive plus fingers do not go well together.
But just yesterday, on an unusually nice day (for the Detroit area at this time of the year) I walked up to the trusty Shovelhead, two squirts, two kick throughs and one live kick and she roared to life, as she always does. For some unknown reason I got on the bike from the right side. I don’t know why I habitually mount the bike from the left side... goes back to horse riding days maybe? Anyway, I jumped on from the right and lifted the bike off the side stand… and she bit me! The spinning clutch ate its way through the leg of my pants and started slicing n’ dicing the skin underneath. I was shocked. This had just never happened before. Sure, I’ve ‘zinged’ the heel of my shoe numerous times on the front pulley, but nothing like this. Of course I was left to curse my own stupidity. The clutch didn’t dive out there and grab me. I put my leg right against it. Dumb. Some of us (including me) ride without mirrors. This seems reckless (not to mention illegal) but it keeps you paranoid and makes you LOOK every time. You even develop a ‘sense’ when something is coming up on you, but it would be crazy to rely on that. Most people have done something dumb around their bikes when they just ‘forget’ that you can get hurt, even if it was only touching a disk brake after a long ride and stopping moments ago. Who knew they got that hot?
Well, you should. Bill from Austin made some great points also:

After last year’s serial catastrophes, I have to admit a good chunk of it was due to complacency. After thirty years of riding, I took for granted things that should never be taken for granted, trusted things and people I shouldn’t have trusted, and ended up wiping out several times. In May, a moss-covered low-water crossing, just like dozens I’ve crossed over the years, turned out to be slicker than owl snot, and had me flat on my back before I knew what happened. Based on prior experience, I took for granted it would be safe to cross. Even with a DOT helmet, I got a concussion that bothered me for weeks afterward. In June, an asshole pulled across the
street in front of me. I took for granted he would behave in a normal manner, and go on his way through the intersection, so I didn’t slow down enough. By the time I realized he had stopped for no apparent reason and completely blocking my lane, my only choices were to T-bone his cage, ride into oncoming traffic, or lay the bike down. I laid it down, destroying the clutch and damaging the tranny in the process, and narrowly avoiding serious injury.
In early October I towed a loaner bike to Arizona, so my brother and I could finally take a long-anticipated ride together. Although he is an experienced (and usually skillful) rider, I knew the statistics about crashes on unfamiliar bikes, and knew he was having trouble getting used to the BMW’s shifter. Still, I took for granted he could handle the differences, right up to the moment he missed a downshift in a curve and grabbed a fistful of front brake. He was left with numerous fractures, and I towed a badly damaged Beemer back to Texas. In December, I got a wild hair to pull the 21” off the front of my shovel, and stick a 16” back on there. Got it all done and took it for a lengthy test-ride. Everything felt good, so on a chilly Sunday morning I loaded up the toys I intended to donate to the annual toy run that day, spun a couple laps around the neighborhood to warm the tires, and hit the road. I took for granted the tire I had mounted was fine, right up to the moment I hit the turnaround lane to get on the highway. Then I really hit the road, so fast that I swore for days afterward, someone must have spilled diesel fuel in the curve. Only later did I figure out just how long that 16” tire had been sitting up under my workbench - ‘way longer than I realized when I put it on the bike! There wasn’t any diesel fuel; just hard-ass ten-yearold rubber!
I want to thank you for posting this, Will. I believe a reminder is in order for all riders that motorcycling entails risk, that our best efforts will not eliminate all risk, but that we can do certain things to manage risk. Things like Beginner’s and Experienced Rider Safety Courses, studying and practicing safety techniques like counter-steering and powerbraking, riding sober and alert, not taking things for granted, and making sure our bikes (and tires) are roadworthy, etcetera. “Ride Hard, Die Young” or “If it’s my time to go...” may sound really bad-ass, but not every rider who crashes dies. Pavement hurts, broken bones suck, and paralysis really bites.
Don’t go there if you don’t have to.

These are all great points to remember next time you’re out there. My leg is reminding me right now, but that will heal quickly. Hopefully, I’ll be smart enough to avoid the same thing.

#93 Sit Up Straight!! (November 2009)

With all the hideous medical
problems George has been having of late, it got me wondering about what we can do to prevent such debilitating pain from potentially making our chops impossible to ride and some old-guy road couch suddenly look attractive. Personally, I can’t see one of those plastic-encrusted baggers ever looking like a viable option (and I don’t need to hear a bunch of defensive riders telling me they do 100000000000000000 miles a year on one because basically, I don’t care). So how does one avoid such an ignominious fate? Well, obviously I’m no doctor (I do have Google, however) but a lot of this stuff has to be fairly simple. Anyone that’s ever worked in a factory must have seen those posters everywhere about the correct way to pick up heavy objects. Back straight and lift with the legs, right? Similarly, just about everyone who has read that poster a thousand times (life gets boring in factories) has (at one time or another) absent-mindedly bent over to pick something up that was heavier than they thought and POP, put themselves in agony for a few days. Hell, once I sneezed unexpectedly and put my back out for two weeks. That shit HURT!
Some of George’s problems have to be attributed to his propensity for falling off the bike. This last time was captured on tape and is visible on the Smoke Out 10 DVD as the bikes all nonchalantly ride up the drag strip, only to notice it gets pretty damn slippery up at the other end. By the way, we have a boatload of those DVD’s left, so if you don’t have one, you really need to buy one.
Anyway, I look forward to the reports of pieces of plastic being scattered far and wide when George dumps whatever road la-z-boy he ends up with (if I were in his shoes I’d just revamp the Shovelhead with advanced suspension and electrics), but I digress.
Since Fabricator Kevin hardtailed my stock four speed swingarm frame, I’ve traversed I-40 twice and generally put a boatload of miles on the bike, but so far I haven’t experienced any significant back pain. How can this be? Well, although it may not be readily apparent when you look at me, I do exercise on a regular basis.
I’m a big believer in at least keeping the upper body flexible and I think it’s paid off. When I’m lifting weights, I’m very conscious that it would be REALLY easy to pop my back out just by moving the plates around haphazardly. There are certain exercises I avoid because I can feel them ‘tweaking’ my lower back.
It’s also important to maintain good posture. Some people, such as Fab Kevin and Steve Broyles II, are quick to point out I look silly riding down the road because I tend to sit straight up, no matter which bike I’m riding. The truth is; slouching is hard on your back. I know it looks cooler going down the road hunched over the tank Jesse James style, but it’s not for me.
It’s always a good idea not to let the old beer belly get out of hand also, although I’m obviously not the best person for handing out this particular lecture. It has merit by taking the forward strain off your back.
And we can obviously see that the beer belly scenario wasn’t part of George’s risk factor, but if he hadn’t have had that layer of skin holding his bones together he’d have just shattered when he hit the ground!
Far be it for me to tell anyone how to live their life, but the very thought of being condemned to a Geezer Glide for the duration should be enough to scare anyone into the gym!

#91 First Sturgis (September 2009)

Well, it looks like I’m going to finally have to go to Sturgis. After a lifetime of successfully avoiding the event, it looks like this time I have little choice but to go. I don’t want it to sound like I’m whining about it, I just have had no desire to join the throng of baggers that undoubtedly infest the town, or to endure the “titties and beer” crowd lecherously yelling at every female, hoping they will whip out some floppy mammaries for their drunken enjoyment.
Don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate naked ladies as well as the next guy. It just seems at these events the ones that get displayed the most, really ought to be hidden. But hey, I’ve never been, so maybe it’s different there… maybe.
But like other “Major” events I’ve been dragged to… umm… attended, the actual amount of fun that can be had is always determined by one’s choice of cohorts with whom to hang out. I know many people that will be there, so hopefully that will render the location irrelevant.
I will be there, ostensibly, to check out The Horse Chopper Show on Monday. Take some pics and get a feel for what goes on, hopefully to make the report in the next issue somewhat more coherent than in years past. Before, I would get a collection of photos and some information, but without first hand experience it was always a huge challenge to make sense of it. I’m not sure I ever was successful at that.
So hey, I’m going and I’m going to make the best of it. I’d love to take a couple of weeks and just cruise out there on the Shovel, ride around the badlands and all that happy horseshit, but as usual, I just don’t have the time. So I’m flying in Sunday and I’m flying out Wednesday, all the fun and games of non-direct flights. But it’s work so I can’t bitch. I have the greatest damn job in the world and if I must go and hang out with some buddies for a couple of days instead of slogging away in the office, then so be it!
By the time you read this, it will be all over… in fact summer will just about be over. It’ll be time to start working on Hammer again to establish a ‘southern command’ so we can get the hell out of this frozen wasteland for a few months. By the time you read this, the DVD of The Long Road will likely be sitting in your disk players and you’ll be kicking yourself for missing it. We’re working on the 2010 calendars now, so hopefully we’ll have the dates for next year’s Smoke Out XI and Long Road 2 soon. I can see who wants to be in the 2010 Amateur Chop off... and Pro Chop Off for that matter, and we’ll start the whole process all over. Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait! Sturgis pic by Dawn Rosa Cole

#90 (August 2009)

Once again, mechanical problems conspired to keep me from riding the entire Long Road route (well, it wasn’t called that when we did it last year, but you get the point). This time it was my beloved Shovelhead that caused me the problem.
This year I was ready, Fab Kevin had installed a set of auxiliary mid-pegs for me so I would have numerous combinations of foot position available. If you’ve ever done one of these long rides, you know that it can really help to rest your feet in a different spot every now and then. I had fresh oil and filter, a nicely tensioned drive chain, air in the tires. I was ready, dammit!
This bike has been a one-kick wonder for almost three years now. People would look on in amazement as it fired up time after time with no battery on board and rock-solid reliability. Well, this time it was going to be a little different. For one, it was becoming a three or four kicker to get going in the mornings. This was unheard of, so when we got to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, I popped the mag cap off to see if there was any contamination of the points. There was a nasty black substance all over in there, not exactly sure where it came from, but it certainly was interfering with the operation of the mag. Steve Broyles gave me a hand checking it all out and soon it was squeaky clean and ready to go. The next morning it fired up first kick as George the Painter began his long start sequence that usually ended up in pushing the bike down the nearest hill. I think it would start a lot easier if he wasn’t 85 pounds soaking wet! I knew this was going to be a fun part of the ride as I could see my breath as I was donning the rainsuit. We hit the road and within five minutes I had a really good Ice Cream headache going. Hey, this is New Mexico for God’s sake, what’s with this weather? The rain came and went several times in the next couple of hundred miles. It looked like it was finally drying out when the bike just died. I was in the ‘fast’ lane trying to catch the leaders of our little group, Stogie was the official keeper of the speed, since he had the speedo (meter) and the engine just stopped co-operating in midstream. I looked down and saw the magneto was suddenly at about 90º to the bike instead of its usual ‘straight ahead’ position. I moved the mag back to the forward position with my right foot and the Shovel jumped back into life. I pulled over toward the shoulder and the bike died again as I used my right foot to hit the brake. After I had rolled to a stop, I dismounted and check out the mag. I was hoping the lock-down wedge had somehow become loosened… no such luck. It was tight and I could physically rock the mag diagonally. This was bad. After a seemingly long while, Kevin came back to look for me and the prognosis was equally grim. I reluctantly loaded the Shovel into the Horse trailer and we determined that the best course would be to get parts shipped to our next stop. The next stop was Nashville because we were blowing by the Arkansas stop in order to have a ‘day off’ while the rest of the LongRiders were catching up. A quick disassembly revealed the broken piece, the housing that the wedge piece actually locks in was the culprit, and so a replacement was overnighted to our hotel. The next day the parts arrived and we set about replacing the lower part of the mag drive. Steve got the parts together very quickly and in no time had the assembly together and in the bike and timed! Time to kick.. and kick.. and kick.. nothing. Steve popped the top off the mag and saw the rotor wasn’t turning... uh oh. We pulled it all down and discovered a sheared locating pin in the worm gear screwed to the cam. The part appeared to be a square keyway in a two piece worm drive, we didn’t have the tools to pull it apart, but luckily Panhead Phil of Music City Motorcycle was there to lend us a hand and the use of his machine shop. We went back and forth to the shop and the bike several times during the course of the day, we sheared two or three square pins before we got it right and the bike ran for the rest of the ride and at Rockingham. It turns out that the square pin isn’t even a Joe Hunt part, no wonder they were confused when we told them what was happening! They use a roll pin and the worm drive is welded together, so somewhere along the line a third party replaced that part. Kudos to Joe Hunt for getting me the parts I needed and getting me back on the road, good to know there’s people you can depend on out there!

#89 Shipper's Remorse (July 2009)

As I write this, the incredible event that will be the Smoke Out Ten is mere days away. We sent out a boatload of stuff this morning ahead of us, such as the trophies for the bike shows, camera equipment and last, but not least, the bikes.
Sure we’d rather be riding them west ride now, but the time constraints are overwhelming, I have to get this issue ready to go by Wednesday night and I have a lot of spaces to fill. The last thing I want to do is rush through and have a sloppy(er) magazine on the shelves, especially at a time like this when the whole industry looks shaky. As I write this I just read that Source Interlink, the publisher of titles such as Hot Bike and Baggers had filed bankruptcy. Luckily for us, the readers of The Horse aren’t followers of bike fashion and trends, the hard core riders and readers are still with us and our rack sales continue to be healthy.
Fab Kevin and Steve Broyles II are riding west in a day or so. They will be headed out on a chilly Michigan morning. Hopefully it won’t be raining here when they leave, but damn I wish I were going with them. Too late now anyway, my bike is likely already out of the state.
Looking around the message boards I’m constantly amazed at how many people won’t even consider the Long Road, or worse, tell people they are going to go, only to weenie out at the last minute. This is a phenomenon I frequently see, people make arrangements to go on an epic ride, attend a big event or whatever, but then as the day approaches, they drop out one by one until there is just you left. But let’s face it, riding alone is the best way to go anyway. Sure, there’s safety in numbers, the guy on the Ironhead Sportster is likely carrying a boatload of tools with him (come on, you know that’s true), the guy on the garbage glide can whip out his SatPhone and call in a napalm strike four clicks north of the river, but in the end, it’s good to be able to set your own pace.
On the Stampede, you’re on your own, sure there’s all kinds of camaraderie before the start, but once on the road all that is out of the window, if you break down, you deal with it. On The Long Road it will be different, it’s not a race, no one cares who gets in first. But does that mean we will all have to stop when someone’s 1970’s XL gives up the ghost on the road? OK, I know it sounds like I’m picking on Ironhead owners a little here, but I’m sure if someone was crazy enough to attempt this run on a 60’s or 70’s Triumph the results would be equally annoying on the side of the freeway. This year, the pro chop-off builders have to run the Long Road, one of those bikes is based on an Ironhead Sportster and one has an old Norton engine powering it across. I’m looking forward to all the Chop Off bikes making it to Rockingham, and by the time you read this, we will all know. The old cliche goes “The world is run by those who show up” so don’t be one of those who don’t. Say what you mean and mean what you say, if you tell people you are going to be somewhere, then be there. Yeah, shit happens sometimes, the bike gets hit by a meteor, the dog ate my mapquest printout and such. To be sure, real things happen too, family emergencies, the Boss being a dick and not giving you time off from work, the deadline for the next magazine etc., but except for real, unavoidable circumstances, there’s no excuse for just weenying out of a long ride because you’re frightened your ass may hurt after a while, deal with it!

#88 Stiff Arm Tactics (June 2009)

One of the most difficult aspects of this job is trying to find something to write about for this particular column. It would be great if I could just whip up something inspiring, creative or just witty at a moments notice. If I complain about anything here, I get all kinds of mail telling me to stop whining. But a rant on a subject is better than just a blank page. So this issue, it’s not going to be so much of an editorial as a “what I did on my day off after getting back from Daytona.”
Because while in Daytona, I finally scored one of the new Baker straight-arm kickers I have been lusting after since I saw the first raw prototype over at Baker central almost a year ago. The lovely and gracious Trish (the BAKER marketing and events gal and resident Cool Chick) presented it to me the first evening in Daytona, which instantly made the whole trip worthwhile. “So what” I hear you say. “It’s just a kicker arm.” Well yes it is, but it is one I have certainly been waiting for. “Why” you say? Well as you may or may not be aware, the BAKER six speed overdrive transmission is a might wider than the original four-speed it replaced. The stock kicker arm has a curve to it in order to clear the exhaust pipe when at full ‘kick’ but with the extra width of the six-speed, it’s just not needed. In fact it sorta sticks out quite a bit, sometimes getting in the way when sitting on the bike and using foot power to move forward, resulting in that wonderful ‘ratcheting’ noise when the engine is running.
I’ll include some before and after pictures here, I won’t insult your intelligence by doing a ‘how to’ unbolt the old and bolt on the new. Suffice to say the new unit cranked down nicely with no wobble on the kicker shaft.
It’s a nice piece, very well made with nice pedal swing-out action.
Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ll already know that www.bakerdrivetrain.com is the home for these fine pieces or 877 640 2004.