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GOING THE DISTANCE
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
NOT SHOCKING: I've had a love/hate relationship with batteries.
I changed batteries on Mabel this morning. I installed a brand new Harley AGM battery in the dead one's place. The old battery set a new record for Mabel, my '71 shovelhead stroker. This old battery lasted four years before it gave up the Volt Ghost, which is miraculous considering that Mabel is kept in an outdoor parking lot all year round. As I understand it, a battery's life averages four years.
I never take the battery out in the winter to trickle-charge it in the comfy surrounds of my apartment in the Lower Beast Side of NYC. I just leave the sucker in Mabel, and ride 'er if the winter temps don't reach an intolerable level and the road surfaces aren't decorated with snow, ice and salt. This has been enough to keep Mabel's battery charged to maintain its life. But alas, a battery doesn't live forever, even in the best of circumstances, let alone the forbiddingly harsh winter conditions of New York. A four year life span is good for a Harley battery. I swear by Harley AGM batteries. Man, they really hold a charge. These sealed AGM batteries are a godsend, compared the old types ya had to add distilled water to.
Of course, no maintenance operation no matter how small, would be a Genuine Genghis Experience without at least a minor wrinkle. Ya see, I'm charmed that way.
Simplicity is beautiful in its power, but it's a powerful pain in the ass when hap crappens.
This time, the hit that shappened was the bolt fastening the battery's ground cable to the frame, broke off at the head, leaving the shaft of the bolt firmly embedded in the frame. Nothing for a biker is ever easy in the Big City. Unlike country biker folk who have cozy garages where one's bike is generally in the vicinity of a biker's tools, my 74 is a few blocks from my apartment.
I can't just reach over for tools to rectify a problem. There is some hiking involved. Would I have to get somewhere near an outlet so I could drill the bolt shaft out? I don't have a battery-operated drill.
Snow recently described what moving back to Arkansas from NYC was like. "It's like coming back to America," he said. I can dig it. I can dig it, but I'm an inveterate New Yorker. There's a vitality of life that is found on the streets of NYC, that can't be found in more serene environs.
The trade-off is that my tools ain't where my Harley is.
Off we go back to the crib for some needle-nose pliars, and hopefully a bolt swimming in the depths of my toolbox, that will fit the threaded hole in the frame that currently houses the broken-off bolt shaft. Well, whaddya know! I do find a bolt of the approximate size of the OEM bolt! Now, if only this bolt has the same thread pattern.
Back at Mabel's parking lot, I was able to remove the broken bolt, and by gum---the new bolt fit perfectly. Allright! I fired Mabel up to wake up the neighbors. It was still early at 6:00 AM. No matter, what are they gonna do? Sleep all freakin' day? I'm doin' em a favor. They have more of the day to enjoy this way. While blastin' down the highway under Full Voltage, I was reminded of how I've always loved and hated Harley batteries. This love/hate relationship with Harley batteries began when I had my '68 XLCH Sportster, "Sally The Bitch." This was the infatuation phase, or falling-in-love stage of my relationship with Harley batteries.
Sally The Bitch was so named because she was so hard to kickstart. Sally's magneto was woefully weak in spark generation compared with Sally's battery and distributor equipped XLH sisters. Sally was tremendously cantankerous too, like a temperamental pit bull. I didn't know from day to day, whether she was gonna kiss me or bite me.
Many was the time when she kicked back, or even worse, the kickstarter slipped right through without catching. I had a severe knee injury due to the latter circumstance, an injury which bothers me more as time goes on.
Man, I was envious of the sparking abilties of these other battery-sustained Harleys, and I wanted a battery in Sally very badly. Of course, the advantage of the magneto bike was that I never got stranded on her due to battery failure, and never had to push her even once in the 18 years I had her. That was no consolation when I often kicked my guts out on Sally. I had to use the occasional steep hill to bump start Sally.
Be careful what you wish for, ya may get it.
I got my wish when I bought my '71 Super Glide Mabel, 26 years ago. Within the first six months of owning this beauty, Mabel's small kickstart battery inexplicably died without warning. That was the first time I had to push a Harley a fair distance, and it was good thing I was younger then. I don't think I'd be up for that kind of exercise now.
This battery failure led me to change the old 16 amp alternator stator to a new 22 amp stator. Let's just say that the love I had for Harley batteries was starting to lose its bloom.
This stage of my relationship with Harley batteries, was analogous to the marriage phase where a husband and wife are no longer blinded by love, to each other's flaws. The love is there but it's tempered by reality.
Suddenly, the way that yer spouse farts under the blankets is not as charming as it once was.
I seriously began to consider going to a magneto on my 74. That thought went out the window when I had Andrew Rosa convert Mabel from kick-only, to Fabulous Electric Start. This was before Andrew opened his own shop and was head wrench at New York Harley-Davidson in Queens.
Having an electric foot on Mabel was and is one of the great joys of my motorcycling life, but a magneto had no role to play in this scenario.
Looks like I'm stuck with Harley batteries forever, but that ain't so bad, man. It could be worse. I could still be singin' the kickstartin' blues, when all I want to do is effortlessly start 'er up and ride. On a related front, the Vulcan electronic ignition that Andrew installed for me, is a the final electrical piece of Mabel's puzzle. Hot spark, no plug fouling, just terrific performance for carefree riding, that is---as long as the battery behaves itself. I love my battery, I hate my battery---but I'll take it, man.