Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Talk Back #126

The lure of the new bike.

I turned fifty five this year. No big deal I guess, I can order from the senior menu at Denny’s now, my beard is almost totally white and catching a glimpse of my reflection in mirrors scares the shit out of me. As a child, I always had lung problems. Bronchitis was a constant companion and really didn’t improve a whole lot as I aged. I’m at the point now where it’s pretty much all downhill from here. Yeah, I could improve things with a better diet and more exercise and such, but that’s not going to help with the creaky joints, arthritic hands and the daily fight to get enough air into my lungs.

I’ll be honest here, I’ve always been a little derisive of people who ‘sell out’ their choppers and buy some stocker bagger later in life so they can keep riding in comfort. I suppose that makes me hypocritical because lately I have been considering a (gasp) new bike. I’ll admit there have been times, when I’ve had to kick the Shovel 100 times to get it going, that I sometimes think I’d be better off just having a modern bike that I could just hit the button and go. I know the Shovel only fails to start like that when there’s a problem somewhere, bad gas, fouled plug, dirty points etc. When I get it back to the house I can usually figure it out and get it back to one or two kick status. As most of you know, I do have a ‘stock’ bike that I can use for carrying a passenger when the need arises, my trusty 1982 Triumph T140ES. So my newest bike is thirty years old and naturally, the Lucas electrics on it are giving me the usual problems. The clutch has been finicky lately and it has a tendency to overheat if I keep it at 70 for longer than 15 minutes.All fixable stuff of course, it’s just a matter of finding the time. I had Brian of Manx Motors replace the alternator, so hopefully it’ll keep charging the Antigravity battery properly now.
When I test ride new bikes, I always take into account whether I could live with one of them in my garage. Usually, it’s easy to dismiss them because I always already had bikes to fill the role. 
I think even the most ardent chopper jockey has times when they think maybe it would be nice to have a modern bike at their disposal, usually during a period when the other rides all have problems. Let’s face it, if you have multiple bikes, it’s really difficult to keep them all in tip-top condition. This one needs tires, this one needs bearings somewhere, this one needs a trip to the junkyard...
Back in the day, when i had one bike, it was simpler. You can concentrate on one and keep it up. You even get time to clean it once in a while, but I seem to have a problem in this respect... I can’t give up my project bikes.

I guess it all comes down to the “Bar Hopper” thing. The perception that choppers are only good from hopping from bar to bar on sunny weekends. This is the same as the old “Café Racer” tag, bikes that were race-styled but only good from racing from one transport café to another. If you accept this premise, then it’s perfectly OK to have a late model bagger sitting in the garage next to your chopper. One for fun and the other for ‘serious’ riding. Hammer and I have pretty much proven (as has many others) that you can use your chopper for long distance riding and still have a great time doing so. 

Really, once you reach my age (or thereabouts) you start feeling like you don’t have to prove anything to anybody, so why not have have a new Harley-Davidson FLHAEIOU and sometimes Y to just jump on and run to the store in comfort? Passion, that’s why. It’ll be a cold day in hell that I buy a new bagger (or even slightly used) because I can’t handle riding my chopper any longer. The day that happens they will be real close to shoveling dirt on my face anyway.

But back to the point, I could see myself picking up a new bike, either a 1200 Sportster, a basic Dyna or a Triumph twin to have that element of über reliability at my disposal. If all the chops go down at once (and it’s happened) there would be a backup plan that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen on. Not that I really care what others think of me, but I put it in the same category as being seen with a “Sons of Anarchy” colors shirt.

You know what I mean!

Talk Back #125 December 2012

Winter project time!

This being the December issue of The Horse, Project Season is well under way here in the frozen north of the USA. The mandatory downtime dictated by the ice-covered roads is traditionally the time when we make those improvements we’ve been thinking about all riding season. If not improvements, then maybe repairs of problems that weren’t serious enough to stop riding, but certainly was enough of a concern to limit distances or cause many prayers in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere!

There are also those hardy souls who are beginning their Amateur Chop Off bikes (hopefully I’ll have it all sorted out by the time you read this). Only a few short months before wide-eyed idealism gets T-boned by grim reality of trying to build a bike with a deadline. It looks so easy on TV. I mentioned earlier in the year I was building my own ACO-type project just so I could get a taste of it. The bike was not done when we had to leave for the Smoke Out, but I could have trailered it there and it would have made the ten miles on the mandatory ride to the Rock. The charging system was not working and it took me a few weeks after we got back to sort that out. The bike would have made the run on a freshly charged battery.

This year, I’m not sure which way to go.

The Shovelhead is running great, tires are good, brakes work fine etc. The only thing I’d like to do is replace the primary drive with the Baker TTP setup. Well, that and completely rework the bike to accept a thirty-over Sugar Bear front end and a sissy bar with king and queen seat... but I have several problems to overcome, not least of which is the potential destruction of the VIN sticker, which is the only number on the frame, placed there by the State of Michigan in 1998 when I finally got it registered. That and the amount of money such a conversion would cost.

I have a 1968 Triumph 500 that already has a rigid frame, I’ve slowly been working on bits and pieces. The inside of the engine and trans looked like it had been at the bottom of a septic tank since 1970. It’s such a shame because things like the bottom end has never been apart, the rod bearings were standard size, the actual crank journals didn’t look bad at all. I had Brian, out at Manx Motors have the crank reground for me. The sludge trap was surprisingly clear, indicating there wasn’t many miles on the engine at all. I have a way-cool Lowbrow peanut take for it and I have my eye on a Factory Metal Works stainless exhaust. What I don’t have, is wheels or a nice front end. 
The main problem I’m having, is trying to get myself to work on it. I originally bought the project to put together for Nurse Nut to ride. The 500 is fairly light and pretty forgiving. When I got the Hondamatic and decided to go that way instead, the 500 was put on hold. Nurse Nut LOVES the Hondamatic and so it makes me doubt she would ever ride the 500 when it’s finally completed. So, I guess I could ride it, yeah? Well, yeah I could, but I have a pair of running Triumph 750s right now, the 500 will feel like an oversized moped to me. This is the main reason I gave my oldest daughter the Triumph 250 project a few years ago. These bikes are pretty cool, but not my favorite. I COULD put it together as a Stampede bike, although the rules allow Brit 650s, so it would be silly to go for the more underpowered version. I really don’t know if my ass could take doing the Stampede anyway. I don’t mind riding long distance, but my biggest trouble is usually ass pain after about the third day of 600 mile sprints. Maybe if I lost 80 pounds...

Project financing is always a problem. I could budget this part for this month and that part for next month and such, but stuff like three kid’s birthdays, all the Christmas stuff and the usual unexpected car/furnace/replicator blowing up and requiring half the mortgage money to fix will no doubt conspire to foil my plans.

The biggest problem is drive. I don’t really have the drive necessary to buckle down and get the 500 finished, although I will be working on it as time and finances allow. I’d like to work on the duplex framed pre unit in the corner. But that’s looking like big bucks.

What I could really get into, is building a cool longbike, Sugar Bear front end, S&S Panhead with Baker primary and transmission. The drive is there for that one, but the finances are not, I’m guessing that’s something I share with a lot of the readers.
I know, I should just stop whining and get on with it and I probably will.

Good luck to all of you with your winter projects.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Issue #122 September 2012

Danger, Will Robinson!

I shouldn’t have to mention that motorcycling, generally speaking is a dangerous thing. And really, that has always been part of the attraction, flying down the road at silly speeds wearing tennis shoes, blue jeans and a T shirt on some cobbled together contraption built by some crazy guy in his shed, nothing feels as good and at the same time, you KNOW what will happen if that nut you forgot to red loctite backs off at just the wrong time... and it isn’t going to be pretty.
There is, of course another completely separate segment of motorcycling that believe in ATGATT. This annoying acronym stands for “All the gear, all the time”. 120º out? Only going to 7-11 1.5 miles away? No excuse, the multi-buckle boots, the armored knee leather pants, the armored elbow and shoulder leather jacket and the full face helmet MUST be worn.
Now those guys have perfectly sound logic and reasoning as to why they do this, they want to have the best chance of surviving a wreck as possible, they have the facts and figures to back up their arguments and will always point to the guys racing bikes for a living that fall off at 200 mph and then get up and stroll nonchalantly back to the pits for an iced tea.
So, why do I not ascribe to that theory? I have family and loved ones to whom it would be devastating if I were to splatter my unprotected body across the interstate. I’m sure some of you readers would miss me for maybe an issue. Maybe it’s pure laziness, I would probably rather jump into the air conditioned truck on a hot day than climb into all that gear. I LOVE the freedom of just putting on the shades, kick and GO! I don’t think I’ve put the helmet on in Michigan since they repealed it earlier this year. I don’t think I have some secret desire to live the rest of my days with a feeding tube in my mouth and family members arguing about who gets to pull the plug.
Clearly, the best protection is afforded by the full face helmet. But I’ve never liked them, the distortion of the shield, the affect on peripheral vision, the dulling of the ambient sounds around you, the weight on your neck, the ‘oven’ effect when stuck in traffic, hell even the lack of smell annoys me, and don’t get me started on the fun of sneezing while you have those things on. In reality, even when there was a helmet law in Michigan (and all the other states we have run in), I only wore a ‘novelty’ beanie helmet anyway, just for the appearance of legality so I wouldn’t be hassled by the ‘man’. Any sort of comfort one may have taken from the protection of such a cheap device would be at best wishful thinking.
The reality (as I see it) is that the ATGATT guy probably wouldn’t be any better off than me if a minivan ran into him, but I feel I have a better chance of hearing, seeing and reacting faster without all that stuff on.

This brings me to the point that prompted me to write this editorial in the first place... it had become a LOT more dangerous out there in the last couple of years. I am, of course, referring to the cellphone impaired driver. Now, I know lots of people that can drive perfectly fine while talking on the phone, but you do see a lot of drivers out there that cannot. After a while, you get used to looking for them with their hand to their ear, careening the minivan through the parking lot as if they were a Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. As annoying and dangerous is this is, most of us have adapted to it. What is getting worse, however, are the damned texters.
If you’re cruising in traffic at all, scan the drivers side mirror on vehicles, if you see the tell-tale look down.. look up quick.. look back down... look up real quick being repeated over and over, you know this drive had no idea of what’s going on around him. I saw a hidden camera report that showed teenagers checked their texts every 30 seconds and had no second thought about replying while driving. I have no great words of wisdom about how to solve this one. It’s already illegal in a lot of places, but that’s not going to stop most people and we know it. I know people who think it’s perfectly fine to endanger the lives of others while texting or updating facebook because they ‘can handle it’. Well bullshit!
Listen, I’m no safety nazi, I don’t give a crap if you wear seatbelts or not, only run a questionable back brake or think that shorts and motorcycles are a great mix, if you’re texting/surfing/updating FB etc. while driving, you’re a damn menace, right up there with the repeat drunk driver and probably deserve it when you run into the back of the parked big rig.

So watch for them, we need to limit injuries to when we are doing stupid shit on the bikes, let’s get back to when we were our own worst enemy!