Monday, February 27, 2012

#114 November 2011

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

#113 October 2011 Tech Geek Luddite.

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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#112 September 2011

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#111 August 2011 Ready to Roll??

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#110 July 2011

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#109 (June 2011) Using the BEST!

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

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

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

I was like a kid at Christmas when it arrived at the house; I made arrangements with Brian, out at Manx Motors (my Triumph mechanic of choice) to go out to his shop and install it there. The bike was out there having the ARD Magneto rebuilt in the hopes of keeping it running more than a few minutes at a time. Soon, the DNA was extracted and the class was installed. It was a simple swap, other than the riser bolts were a different size. I still have to mess with the axle spacing a little more and extend the brake anchor arm a couple of inches, but as soon as I get that done, it looks like it may be warm enough to ride! I plan on having it in Sturgis this year and can’t wait! Watch this space for the riding report in the very near future! 310-768-4158 (248) 475-4733

#108 May 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 6, 2012

#107 March 2011

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

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

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