by Wes Clark
In my first newsletter article last month, I encouraged everyone to read motorcycle books by Hell's Angels president "Sonny" Barger. In retrospect this seems odd, even for me. What I probably should have done was to simply write about Motorcycle Things, which I think about when I'm on my Road King during a ride. Here are some.
Freedom: It's a word bikers use a lot, and I suspect that Harley-Davidson would trademark the word if they could. What it means is probably best defined by each person. But I recall my very first long(ish) ride, last May. I had only been riding a month when I bravely ventured out upon a one-hour-and-forty-minute ride to Front Royal (from Springfield) along Route 55. I was on my beginner bike, a 2008 Suzuki Boulevard M50 which I got for a song. I was frequently the only thing on the road. As I watched the pavement slide along at a bold 60 mph just inches below my pegs, and as I enjoyed the breeze, I reflected that I wasn't wearing any seat belt, there were no air bags and that I had no protective pieces of metal around to shield me. "How is this still allowed?" I wondered. The fact that I could do this ride was and is one way I define Freedom. I have rarely felt so completely unconstrained.
Heel shifter: My Bully didn't have one. What riders always tell me is, "Once you use one you'll never go back." Fair enough. But I was surprised and delighted to find out that the toe shifter on my Road King was ideally suited to my foot placement on the floorboard. I don't need to move my boot at all to get into any gear - my heel stays in place. In fact, it takes more effort to use my heel shifter because I have to lift my foot. As a result, I never use my heel shifter at all. It's easier not to!
Highway pegs: I got a big, chunky steel set for free from my son-in-law, a Harley guy. Somehow he had extras. The TSA guy at the airport said to check them in and not carry them on - they seemed like weapons. Satisfyingly, they have the bar and shield logo on the tops. When I first installed them, putting my boots on them was kind of scary and tricky - it seemed as though I was giving up immediate shift and rear brake control of my bike - and I figured I'd only want to use them on static rides on the freeway. Surprise! Nowadays I use them whenever possible. I-95? Yes. Fairfax County Parkway? Yes. A ride down residential streets to Baskin-Robbins? Yes. Parking lots? Well... not quite. I never would have figured having my legs splayed out in the position of a gynecological exam would be the way to go on a bike, but there it is.
The Weirdest Thing I Have Seen So Far on a Bike: Other than to wonder how guys can maintain smoking cigarettes in a 60+ mph frontal gale, I was once at a stop light when I pulled up behind a rider on a Street Glide. He had one of those smartphone attachment devices on his handlebars, and was idly swiping the screen with his finger, advancing through what appeared to be images. As I looked closer I realized that these were images of nekkid wimmen: he was viewing porn at a stoplight! I laughed loudly, he realized that I was in back of him via his rear view mirrors and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Hey - why not?" and blew out of the intersection when the light changed. That's the weirdest thing I have seen. So far.
Cleanliness: It really bothers when my Harley is dirty. My cars can be dirty, the house can be dirty and my clothes can be dirty but I will not suffer bugs, waterdrop stains or road crud on my Harley! My wife, naturally enough, takes exception to a mesh jacket or pants bedecked with dead bugs.
Boots: When I was in junior high in 1969 the thing was boots with those three straps and circular metal pieces on the ankle - motorcycle boots. The term "badass" hadn't yet been coined, but that's what they were, and as a thirteen year-old I yearned for a pair. I never got them UNTIL age 61 after I bought my Bully. Justification! And I even figured out what the metal circular pieces were for: Ankle protection. Right? Well... maybe not. Maybe they are 100% styling. But I've been happily wearing my Dingos with the three straps - perched upon the highway pegs for motorists and onlookers to admire - until it occurred to me that my friend's Harley boots with the grippier, oil-resistant soles and the extra leather patch on top to protect against wear by the shifter was the really useful thing to get.
There's always Christmas.
YouTube: Do you watch motorcycle videos on YouTube? I do. John Maxwell, a Harley tech in Georgia, has a great video blog where he takes bikes apart and explains what he's doing. Matt Laidlaw is associated with a family Harley dealership in Southern California; the Motor Company should really pay him for advertising because he's an excellent spokesman and promoter of all things Harley. My wife and I took his online motorcycle riding lessons. Ryan FortNine, a Canadian lad, is whip smart and does an entertaining general motorcycle video blog. Lemmy from RevZilla doesn't necessarily look like a polished, articulate, knowledgeable and intelligent reviewer, but he is, and while the Shadetree Surgeon sounds like he's doing his best imitation of wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage, his channel is a lot of fun. Check out his "How to be an Instagram Biker"; it's hilarious.
Crashes: When I first started riding I used to watch motorcycle crash videos on YouTube. Why on earth would I want to do that? To learn from others' mistakes. I quickly realized, however, that the vast majority of these crashes were not experienced by mature riders on touring bikes. They were guys in their twenties doing stupid things on sport bikes. Somebody gave me words of wisdom: "More horsepower will not get you out of problems that horsepower put you into." So, no, I won't be doing any wheelies. I'm content to leave those in my 1964 Schwinn Sting-Ray days. (And is a wheelie even possible on a Road King?)
More Motorcycle Things next month, probably.