Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Talk Back 120

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

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

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