Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE LONG RUN--WHO CAN GO THE DISTANCE?"
(Reprinted from Iron Horse #107)
Photo by Genghis
1975: Sally The Bitch.
The following article was my very first article in Iron Horse magazine. It was the precursor to my Going The Distance columns. I sent this article to David Snow, with the hope that he would find it interesting enough to publish in Iron Horse. Fortunately for me, he did. This article was published in Iron Horse issue #107, which was the July 1992 issue. This was months before Snow decided to offer me a monthly column. David included with the article, a sidebar about my 1968 Sportster XLCH, "Sally The Bitch." In this reprinting, the sidebar precedes "The Long Run--Who Can Go The Distance?" I am nothing else if not consistent in my views. You will see philosophical themes in this very earliest of my IH writing, which have been echoed (for better or worse) in my Iron Horse columns and in my website writing up to the present. For those of you who don't have issue #107 of Iron Horse, I hope you enjoy this blast from the past. It has been faithfully reproduced here, word for word.
I believe this photo was taken in 1975. Here are a few fun facts about this little Sporty.
By the time this photo was taken, the bike had gone through its second customization. In this reincarnation (even though you really can't appreciate it in this black and white), I had taken the bike down to engine and frame. I molded the frame with fiberglass because I didn't trust bondo to hold up over the years of road pounding and vibration. There was probably less than an ounce of bondo on that bike---and the fiberglass was like steel---never broke up. It was fun (being facetious!) mixing that fiberglass up, what with those itchy fibers and all---I had to wear surgical gloves so the fibers wouldn't get into my skin, otherwise, it woulda been doctor time.
I chromed the swingarm---which I regretted---because I prefer a black swingarm to match a frame (now). What I shoulda done was paint the swingarm the same color as I did the frame, tank and fender. I (myself) painted the frame, tank and fender painstakingly, using spray cans, doing at least 15 coats of candy apple red---and at least 6 coats of clear over that. I sanded in between each and every coat, which gave me a professional-looking, flawless finish, devoid of ripples or orange peel. Rear fender struts were custom by a compnay that was popular at the time, Smith Bros. & Fetrow. The Sporty front end had 5 inch risers, and the same drag bars which are on Mabel now! Oil tank was chromed. Carb was S & S, after I trashed the Tillotson. I rebuilt an SU that I got in a junkyard off of a Brit sports car---but decided at the last minute to use an S & S. The shocks were not stock---they were shorter shocks that Harley had available at the time, which were about two inches shorter than stock.
The seat was an old one-piece contour from "Cheetah Co."---now defunct---that I cut up and and made into a two-piece---solo with pillion. The original seat had a high (2 1/2 feet high!) back to it, before I cannibalized it for a sleeker look. I did a lot of personal customization on this bike---which is why I got upset when I learned that the Sporty, which I gave to my father-in-law out in California---traded the Sporty in for a FLTC dresser. Can you imagine---trading this nifty Sporty with that great molded frame and all for a garbage wagon?
Once in a while some well-intentioned straight will ask me, "So, why do you ride the motorcycle?" I'm usually tempted to give the usual cliche about riding being "in my blood," or something to the effect of, "If ya hafta ask, ya wouldn't...." Cliches they may be, but there resides in those time-honored platitudes some hard and fast truth. The reason that straights can't relate to anything a biker tries to tell them about the profundity of riding or the great meaning a biker's Harley has to him, is that to a yuppie---especially a yuppie who might be the same age as me (I'm 45)---nothing within his existence has a parallel value as a bike does to a biker. It's as simple as that. We bikers are blessed---sometimes I think cursed---with something in our lives so wonderful and amazingly spell-binding as that Harley beneath us---and beside us---and within us---that mere words fail to convey such strong love.
THE SOUND TELLS IT ALL
Man, if that exhaust note on the Big Twin as you back off on the throttle at seventy on the highway doesn't give you a high no other thing in the world can, then you truly wouldn't get it, cliche ot not. The engine running at full song, wanting to climb higher, and that "B-r-a-a-a-c-k-k-k" as you back of the gas---tells it all. It means that you are right in the middle of life itself, at that frozen moment in time. If all of the rest of life were that good, all of the time---then the microcosm of life that is enveloped within that highway moment would signal an extremely happy life, indeed.
I'm not the type of biker who rides all year around. I ride for the pleasure of the experience, and am not one who feels that "Mabel" (my '71 FX) is a proving ground for endurance contests in ten degree weather. Being an admitted warmer weather rider---it has to be thirty or more degrees for me to enjoy it---there comes a single day during the year which is super-special to my sensibilities. That day is the "first ride of the year." There are certain advantages to being a biker in a seasonal area like New York City where winter demands that the bike be inactive for a few short months. Chief among these advantages is the anticipation that builds in me, as the snow gathers on the ground. By the time the yearly thaw begins, my enthusiam reaches a fever pitch. "Yeah, get that engine running again---let's hear that sound!" A rider in San Diego cannot ever have this experience, because he gets no hiatus in which to gather true appreciation of the bike as we New Yorkers do.
When the day approaches, I get real butterflies. My hands sweat on the way to the garage. They tremble as I unlock the Cobralinks. My patience has worn thin by then, and finally, when she starts---there's no finer experience in this world than feeling and hearing that throb of her exhaust. She lives!
AREN'T YOU TOO OLD FOR IT NOW?
I call this the "Dockers Syndrome." When I get some 45 year old acquaintance---who has given up most of his older ideals, in order to "conform" to what others in society tell him with what and how he should enjoy his life---who intimates to me that it is "inappropriate" for someone my age to be doing something he did twenty-three years ago, I truly pity him. Why? It's simple---because he will never know the joy of existing with one's bike at the center of one's life. He can never really experience anything like it---unless you count ecstasy at going over one's inflated bank statements as something similar. We all know it doesn't come close.
To me, one's age is irrelevant to the continuing enjoyment of that special machine that some of us, yes---actually name---so special to our existence is that Hog. Harking back to childhood some forty years ago---I learned an important lesson when I was about five years old. I was a somewhat greedy child at that age, wanting more and more toys. What I discovered at that tender age has had a profound effect on my way of thinking throughout my life. When I "acquired" more than a few toys, I discovered that I actually began to care less about a few treasured toys, now that I had a collection. With each and every toy acquisition, my "devotion" and love for each toy became more diluted and fragmented. I had learned that in order to truly appreciate a toy, one had to have fewer of them. I believe that is why I'm so attached to "Mabel," my Shovel---because of this early lesson.
In today's world, when more and more yuppie types seem to be astride Softails, it seems to me that to this type of rider, his bike is nothing more than another materialistic acquisition---like his Porsche that his bike sits next to in his duplex garage.
To me, this type of yuppie straight---a "Brando-come-lately"---is actually worse than the straight who can't understand "why I ride." More dangerous too---because in many senses, he is invading my territory when he has no business being there. Ten years ago when it wasn't fashionable to to ride Harleys---and ten years from now, when the "fad" dies way---this type of biker will be extinct. He will no doubt retreat into the yacht world, or whatever.
To this type of dilletenate-biker, the calling siren-song of his Harley's exhaust will not be appreciated like it is by us. I recently caught sight of a well-publicized club on television, extolling their virtues on being Madison Avenue types who were donating contributions to something or other. I think that some of you will recognize this publicity-seeking club from New York City. Do you know what I noticed about their bikes? It is interesting that none of their bikes were apparently older than two or three years. Certainly, there wasn't a Shovelhead among them, never mind a Pan. This speaks volumes about their so-called dedication. To tell you the truth, it was absolutely sickening to see these people on TV.
DEVOTION TO FEW
When I see people who have had "numerous" bikes in their lifetime, I wonder about their dedication to their bikes---and how it must be apportioned so stingily among each machine they purportedly "loved." In the twenty-four years I've been riding, I have had only two bikes---a '68 Sportster ("Sally"), and my current and last Harley, a '71 Super Glide ("Mabel"). When I caught the motorcyle bug, I was a car hotrod guy, who had no experience riding bikes. So strongly was my determination to enter the Harley world---in spite of my non-riding experience---that I sold my Vette to get the cash to buy that Sportster. Actually, the salesman at the then Harley-Davidson of Manhattan told me I was crazy not to ride a bike a little smaller and less volatile than the '68 XLCH. The only lesson I had was the morning I picked up the XLCH from the showroom. The owner of the dealership, Augie---insisted that one of the older riders accompany me to give me a riding lesson. With me on the pillion (she had a solo seat and a pillion pad at my insistence) we crossed the Queensboro Bridge to an empty street in Long Island City, where I received my lesson. To that older rider's credit (can't even remember his name), he rode pillion back to Manhattan, while I controlled the Sportster on the trip back to drop him off at his bike. He was either a brave or stupid man!
I loved that bike to death! It was the center of my life the way no Evolution is to these yuppie bikers of today. It wasn't until I decided I wanted a bike dimensionally larger, that my single-minded devotion was transferred to "Mabel," my ever lovin' Shovel. This type of true dedication to a bike is missing among those straights who insist on riding Harleys today. They probably trade-in as often as they file their income taxes. As to the question as to which type of straight is more obnoxious---time will take care of the yuppie biker.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
If you're no longer a "youngster," don't be lulled by acquaintances or society pressure, to "give up the bike," or to "act your age," ad nauseum. Your age has nothin' to do with the way your heart sings when you hear the exhaust note of that beloved Hog. Other less dedicated to their Harleys---like those Madison Avenue bikers---will no doubt be weeded out by the tincture of time. Just make sure that you're not.