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GOING THE DISTANCE
"A VALENTINE FOR MABEL"
Photo by Genghis
MABEL: My one and only.
47STR8LEG AT THE SEEDY EX-BAR
"I just read Iron Horse issue #116 where you found that 'barnfind' '39 Flathead in the basement of your optician's building. Man, that bike was the bomb!! As much as you like the Mabes and her swingarm (I know about all the "practical" reasons for NYC riding.) I couldn't help but wonder if you would have switched allegiance to hardtails had you've gotten it. Your palms were sweaty for good reason. Look at that baby!! I think you may have had another 'Hell Yeah' smile on your face just like you must have had after your first ride on the Mabes. Would there have been room for another lady in your life (hushed silence fills the room...). Could you see yourself as one of us "swingers" with more than one lady in your life? Like the late great bluesman Jimmy Rogers sang....'Now there ain't but 4 women in my life,my mother,my sister ,my girlfriend and my wife.'...."
"I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender."
"Nothing is more noble, nothing is more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind."
Regarding Tim's suggestion, I actually entertained doing just that, when I was writing for Snow's Iron Horse magazine: Owning two bikes. In fact, I went so far (you will find this shameful episode if you scrutinize old Iron Horse issues carefully enough) as to name my potential second bike. She was going to be Nadine, a logical choice of nomenclature, since "n" (as in Nadine) follows "m" (as in Mabel) alphabetically. Nadine was going to be a clean rigid.
My preplanning included a vendor for a rigid frame, and the impending search for a suitable Shovelhead (what else?) engine. However, one unforseen factor, entirely derailed this best laid plan of micely man:
I'm not sure how seriously readers take my perception of motorcycles and cars as sentient beings with souls, personalitties and feelings, as I make it out to be in my writing. Rest assured, you should all take it very seriously. Didn't you ever wonder whether your bike is aware, and is capable of sensing your moods and adjusting the way she runs on a given day to your moods? C'mon admit it. There's nobody here but us bikers.
When I talk about how I name my vehicles, and talk to 'em as if they are alive, I ain't kidding, man. This is exactly how I think of my vehicles. They think, they feel and, they hold grudges. This is the key to my attachment to my vehicles. I believe that they are unique and living entities, and my attachment and loyalty to 'em flows from this contention. It always puzzles me when other bikers can switch motorcycles periodically, without a scintilla of a sense of loss, with respect to the discarded bike. These bikes might as well be disposable appliances like toasters or vacuum cleaners to these bikers. These types of bikers have no feeling for their bikes, no measurable emotion that can be quantified as "love." Let's leave this lack of respect and affection for motorcycles, for the Biker Lites and Junk Bike Lites. In their world, the next "new bike" is but a Gold Card purchase, or junkyard-find Hondamatic away.
I don't think that my poorly-conceived dementia in planning for a second motorcycle (a rigid no less!) lasted for more than one or two issues of Iron Horse. Soon after making my intentions known in my Going The Distance column, the 'ole noose of guilt began claustrophobically closing around my gullet. I felt like I couldn't breathe, as I contemplated gettin' prepaid cell phones for my second motorcycle and me, so that my Motorcycle Wife Named Mabel wouldn't find incriminating texts and images on my regular cell phone! I ain't payin' no Motorcycle Alimony, man!
I could hear in my mind, what Mabel would be saying to me, when she busted me fer making clandestine nocturnal trips out of the house, carrying motorcycle components to parts unknown...
"Hey chump! Where ya goin' with that Paughco frame, huh? And why do ya have one in the first place? It better be for a gift fer a friend like that shiftless Snow, ya know what I mean? That better not be for another girl in our house, or yer ass is grass"
All levity and dramatization aside, this was a guilt that I did feel in the certain knowlwdge, that I could not divide my loyalty between two motorcycles. It is as simple as that. I know myself well enough to know that my Well of Loyalty is not deep enough to feel the same depth of passion for either of two potential bikes that I'd own, as the depth of passion that I hold for just one motorcycle. That motorcycle, is Mabel, my ever-lovin' Shovel. When one has intensity of an emotion, dividing that intensity, diminishes that intensity.
However, this only answers part of Tim's question. The other issue he brings up, is perhaps more concrete than the ambiguous issue of dividing emotional intensity toward one versus two bikes.
This other issue, is how I view rigids.
"I don't know why anyone would ride a rigid."---Andrew Rosa.
I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew. In fact, I have agreed with this sentiment, ever since the early '70s. That's more than 40 years of conviction, brothers and sisters. I've always felt that bikes that were born swingarms, which were converted to rigids by way of attachable hardtails or aftermarket rigid frames, were an affectation. I do not include early Harleys who were born with rigid frames in this category. Bikers who ride Knuckles and Pans that were born rigid at The Firm, are righteous bikers who revel in the history and tradition of rigid Harleys. They appreciate the history behind their models, as I would. However, guys that switch out their As-God-Intended-Swingram frames for rigid mounts, as far as I'm concerned, these guys are nowhere. They in fact, are caught up in a false race to chase image only, spurred on by the type of mindless peer pressure we find in certain segments of the biker subculture.
It is the same shallow type of biker who hardtails his righteous post-'58 four speed frame, and trades his reliable battery/electric start format for a lousy magneto (and then gripes about how his bike won't start), that I'm rappin' about here. In other words, bikers who will do anything to chase a false idol known as "image" to impress others. Bikers who change their bikes for the worse, seem self-destructive and delusional to me. Sacrificing motorcycle capability for ego-inflation, merely reveals weakness, not strength.
It's folly to chase others' idea of what a biker's ride is supposed to be. This just demonstrates a lameness of character.
Real bikers are true to themselves. That's what makes 'em "true bikers."
Also in Tim's speculation, is the underlying and unstated assumption, that I find rigids more attractive, more righteous-looking than a swingarm---and that "practicality" in my mind, trumps the "better looks" of rigids. This assumption couldn't be more distant from the obvious truth.
Here's the deal: I don't think this way. I don't consider "compromise" as a viable concept, when thinking of what a Righteous Harley consists of. Some do. A biker once pointed to his Harley Wide Glide, and said disgustedly, "This thing's full of compromises!" In this biker's mind, only a rigid consituted the lack of "compromise" in a bike. But I don't think in this manner. I have a different view of a rear-suspended Harley. In point of fact, I see the massive shocks of post-1958 Big Twins, as the Muscular Haunches of a strong running back in football, with bulging glutes, hamstrings and quads. Some might think that a skinny halfback with spindly legs and slender hips looks impressive, but I don't. Frankly, some rigids look so diminutive and dainty, that their riders look like they're riding a kiddie tricycle.
In a motorcycle, the Power implied in the looks of a rear-end of a swingarm Big Twin, is unmatchable in a rigid. There is also something to be said for the power that emanates from function.
A perfect example is the new C7 Corvette coming out in the near future. The new C7 has extremely sharp angles, dramatically so, with all kinds of vents on the hood and along fenders and quarter panels. Some people denigrate these styling cues, because they're unknowledgeable about why they are there. A long-time Ford fan just recently remarked to me, "Why didn't Chevy make it more like the Ferrari, with less flash?" Possibly because the racing Vettes in the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) series, just kicked the Ferraris' asses again for the GT class championship.
The styling cues of the new C7 Vette, were taken directly from the aerodynamic bodies of the Chevrolet factory Corvettes that run in the ALMS series. The body styling of the new Vette, as is the body styling of the racing Vette, is all about performance. If freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, then performance is just another word for the power of functional beauty.
Function equals a type of power and beauty that is not present, in empty and affectatious beauty. "Functional beauty" is more real and more enduring. Empty beauty is fleeting, and has no stamina aesthetically.
Those that realize the rationale behind functional beauty, can truly appreciate it. Those that can only appreciate the shallowness of peer pressure-related appearances, are as shallow as the affectatious looks that they so prize.
Tim highlights "practical" reasons as my motive for preferring swingarms, ignoring the real possibility that "function" produces its own beauty. In the world of machines, the realization of the role of function in a design, opens up a whole new vista of perception in the eyes of the beholder. Beauty is indeed open to the interpretation of the beholder. A four speed swingarm from the 1958 to 1986 era, is a beautiful thing to behold. As Mickey from the Rocky flicks might say, "It's a ting 'o beauty!"
A well-turned out rear-suspended beauty like a '71 Super Glide with her righteous four speed frame, judiciously equipped with S & S stroker motor innards, a short wide glide fork with disc brake and an FXE electric starter, is a mechanical ting 'o beauty.
It has the best of all possible worlds for a traditional biker, lubed by the Harley tradition of forward and backward compatibility of parts from one era to another. The real beauty in such a bike (And you know I've described Mabel, my Shovel), is what it can give a biker in real world terms: Power, class looks, relative agility, a comfortable ride and decent braking ability. This is a real motorcycle that can do it all for a biker. In this sense, this is "no compromises."
That's what real beauty is to a biker, not merely an affectation as we see in some rides.
Af-fec-ta-tion: A show, pretense, display adopted to give a false impression.
Two of the greatest developments for Harley Big Twins, were the telescoping hydraulic front fork, and rear-suspension. In 1949, the Harley Hydra-Glide was born, ushering in the era of the modern front end, with the introduction of the classic wide glide fork. In 1958, The Firm introduced the Duo-Glide, which further advanced Harley-Davidson suspension technology, with rear shocks. This is the ultimate setup in Harleys, as far as I'm concerned. If some outlaw motorcyclist had the inclination and technical talent back in 1957, to have taken a '57 straightleg Harley frame, and custom-made a pivoting arm rear suspension system for it in his home-shop, he'd be praised to the heavens today, as a prescient genius. We might be today, complaining about how The Firm took this idea from some smart outlaw, made it their own and took credit for it. FTF, man!
The bottom line is this: My Harley 74, Mabel, will never have to worry about having to share her owner with another motorcycle. That ain't gonna happen, man. My loyalty is to my beloved Shovelhead, and only to her. There'll be no Motorcycle Wife Swapping in our house, man. Here's something else to consider: Rich men who have many toys, have very little love, passion or appreciation for those toys. The man who has one toy, cherishes that toy beyond all measure. Happy Valentine's Day, Mabel. Besides, I'm not crazy about Flatheads. The excitement starts at 1936 for me. Later.