Occupational Hazards of Vintage
I love my new Road Glide, it is head and shoulders above my last. Infotainment is seamless, tour bags now open with ease, 103 inches of power WAY smoother than the old 96, and the ergonomics of seat position just make sense to my ass. Not to mention the ‘Amber Whisky’ paint scheme name the company came up with just sounds so stripper like. “Amber Whisky to the main stage!!!” Right? There’s a lot in a name. Well, Amber and I are beyond the ‘break-in’ period, so we’re now at the adolescences of our riding relationship. I’ve done Sturgis on her and a couple of weekend iron butts, and the obligatory ‘round-town’ duty. The southern winter riding was great with the newly designed fairing and lowers providing copious amounts of cover. I’m a scant 10,000 miles in and I really can’t complain a bit about the Rushmore Project’s most recent itineration. I like the modern bike, but it’s not where my heart lies. When you really get down to brass tacks, when the rubber meets the road, at the end of the day (blah blah blah) – I just love the old Harleys way better than the new. As much as I like my Road Glide, I just see so many people on the HD fixed faired bikes lately it’s become a bit cookie cutter. It used to harken memories of those big ‘windjammer’ fairings cruising by me on bikes from the 70’s in my youth. I barely look now when an HD Road Glide style bike rumbles past. But when an old knuckle or pan chugs by, I croon my neck and if you are reading this, so do you. I have a few examples of the old school Harleys and find their simplicity sooths my soul. No electronics, no plastic, no frills like ABS or heat shields on exposed mufflers and pipes. Just don’t stand too close. I suspect that OEM correct examples refurbished and restored come in around the price range of the new Harley’s once the part searching and the check writing are over. I mean you can whip together an old ‘45 flathead with Chinese tins and recast wheels for 10 or 15 grand and be perfectly old school cool going down the road. But is that really where you want to be? To have some old goat pick out your shortcuts outside a bar. What’s worse than a show judge telling you ‘points off’ for no period correct thin brace fender struts. I’ve been there. Do it right, or just buy a new bike. Bringing an old bike back to life is a responsibility not relegated to the faint of heart. I’m not saying I don’t love an old patched together amalgamation of swap meets and Craig’s List finds. Those bikes have their place. I’ve built and ridden them many times over countless miles when budget and timing demanded it in my life. I’m talking about restoring an old motorcycle to its original grandeur. For the purpose of show and also harkening back to what rolled off the showroom floor when men were men and suspension was sprung steel with seats of horsehair padding and leather off a bull’s ass. In “restoring” a 1936 Knucklehead, one obligates themself to honoring the ghosts of those who toiled in the factory bolting the fresh motor to shiny black frame with calloused and greasy hands. To the spirit that once piloted that bike across the young highways of America on forgotten trips over forgotten miles. To the mechanic who adjusted and lubricated and tinkered with the bike through decades of use and wear and trips with no particular destination. And finally to the soul who parked her at one point, not relegating her to the junkyard or the scrap heap, but just parked her in a barn or a tool shed. He or she who thought that someday YOU would come along with enough ambition and enough forethought to make her run again. I see these people again and again across the globe at shows and rallies and on Facebook and web sites proudly displaying the fruit of their toils for us to admire and dream. Some do one in a lifetime because THAT is all they need. Some incessantly built one after another after another, in obsessive-compulsive campaigns of time, energy, money, and love. Sometimes they do it for profit, sometimes for notoriety, sometimes for self-satisfaction and often, hopefully enough, simply to ride the thing. To ride these machines born from a mechanical era that was free from the electronics and modern accouterments of our ever-complex world. I can tell you there is some solace in piloting a bike that is simple in its function. The whine of the cogs and gears and the lash of a metal drive chain, the flicker of a filament bulb and squeal of a bias ply tire. In its proper place I appreciate the modern with its GPS and stereo hi fi, gas gauge, LED lights and all the trappings of modern moto travel. But there is a time and there is a place. I understand the age-old internal combustion cycle. Simple spark, igniting simple flame, atop simple pistons, all culminating in the down force which spins a crank connected to a pre unit transmission, pulling a chain, rotating a sprocket, rolling rubber on tarmac propelling you forward as it did your biker forbearers. My Road Glide has a basic combustion cycle that I kind of understand but my comprehension is clouded by the 11 computers built into the motorcycle all connected together with 3 football fields of colored wires tucked, soldered, crimped and hidden up and down the frame. In all honesty, I only understand the basics on that machine. I possess neither the tools nor the knowledge to do much more than adjust a clutch or change fluids. Fly by wire throttle, injected fuel, oxygen sensors, it escapes me. Malfunction requires my cell phone, not my tool kit. To a diagnostic computer and a properly trained tech. There are things that ensure safe operation on the new Road Glide. Like the aforementioned heat shields on exposed mufflers and pipes. I looked at her in the garage recently and for some reason opted to kick my old Triumph Bonneville to life instead. I spun around the block on my old Bonny last week. I hadn’t run her in a while. Gas had set up in the matching Makuni’s. I had to drop the bowls and blow the jets out with air. Simple fix for a simple combustion cycle engine. I changed the oil while at it. Necessitated a few miles to heat the oil to a thinner liquid. Just enough engine heat to warm the header pipes to a few hundred degrees before reaching the peashooter mufflers. Just enough heat to reach out and grab me on the back of the leg as, like a dummy, I had done all this in shorts. My Bonny’s modern American cousin in the garage, sat there smug with her heat shield’s gleaming chrome reminding me there are some things the modern ushers in that the vintage didn’t know, nor care about, like safety. Such is the life of a vintage aficionado. If you are one, you’ve got this same burn scar. Maybe not as fresh. Maybe on your arm. Maybe bigger or smaller. Either way, it’s just an occupational hazard of vintage. If my Road Glide could chuckle at me, I’d have to tell her to hush up, its an old guy thing!
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.
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