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GOING THE DISTANCE
Photo by Genghis
It's often the simpler things in life that make life worth living. "Such as what?"....you may ask. Okay, wiseass---such as washing and waxing your bike. Such as taking pride in your Harley after you cleaned her. Such as taking your pride and joy out for a ride soon after washing her, not to show her off---but simply because you do take an inordinate amount of pride in the righteousness of your Harley as you've done since time immemorial, or so it sometimes seems. I'll tell ya the truth, bros and sisses. I don't feel as good about my stroker Harley when she's dirty, as when she's clean. I admit it---I dig her lookin' good. I could never ride a Harley rat and enjoy it to any significant degree. It's poor condition would tear at me inside.
There are some bikers who are happy as clams if their bikes are marginally running and just on the precipice of mechanical failure---and looking like crap. This sorry condition of ratbikes---both mechanical and cosmetic---may in some other universe reveal some inner altruistic attributes of these owners, as if being careless to this degree about the functionality and looks of their bikes provides proof of hardcore bona fides. Far from it. All it proves is that they lack the motivation and necessary involvement with their motorcycles, to maximize the condition of their machines.
Now, my '71 Shovelhead "Mabel" is no show bike, and I'm no genius bike builder---that's fer sure. Mabel is just a clean and unpretentious---but righteous at the same time because of her bloodlines---38 year old Harley-Davison that I've been involved with enough, to make sure that she runs as good as new. There ain't nuthin' wild about Mabel. She's held together by the venerable four speed swimgarm frame that has provided bikers the basis of righteous rides since 1958. She's motorvated by a Rosabilt 86 inch stroker that's reliable and powerful enough fer me. She's had electric start added for an easy life, and electronic ignition that gives great spark, man. She's got a short wide glide fork four inches under stock just like in the good 'ole heyday of bobjobs. Mabel is just your average well-kept Harley, bulletproof and righteous. Me? I'm just an average street biker who makes no pretensions about having any talent whatsoever abiut customizing bikes. In fact, my finest hour as such might've taken place forty years ago when I disassembled my '68 XLCH (pictured above) and molded her frame with fiberglass, then painted her candy apple red with spray cans from the local Aid Auto auto supply store before reassembling her. It was in fact, a perfect and impressive paint job done with hours of sanding. But that was then, and this is now. I've not been that ambitious since 1969. Mabel's stroker motor was built by ace wrench Andrew Rosa. Andrew also rebuilt her four speed tranny. Paint was done by Kolors By Ken in Long Island. Me? I put in gas and change the spark plugs. I also ride her, which is fun. Can Mabel ask for more?
No man, I'm no great mechanic or bike customizer. What I am in spades, is someone who has been willing to find professionals who have done for me and my Harley what's been necessary to keep her in the primo condition she's stayed in since I've had her for the past twenty-four years. That's the whole key. If a biker is involved enough with his or her Harley to make sure by any means---not necessarily by his or her own hands---that the bike stays righteous, then that biker is a true biker. What I'm saying here is not new. Just remember that David Snow said essentially the same thing in Iron Horse in the late 80s and until IH went kaput in 1997, with his "who's a biker?" riff. Snow stressed the involvement with one's motorcycle, and I couldn't agree more. If one is involved with one's motorcycle to the degree that the bike's well being is maintained, then that's what counts as far as being a biker is concerned. If you own a bike that runs, and you ride--then yer a biker, pure and simple. Ya don't have to be a one percenter. You didn't have to build your bike from the ground up. You don't even have to know how to tear down your motor and reassemble it to a working state to be a biker. You just have to have a bike, and ride baby. You are a biker if you fulfill those simple requirements. It also doesn't hurt if that bike is a Harley. In fact, it's preferable. Snow did trip people up with circumstances where the biker's bike is down for repairs. Using this simple formula, that biker is not a biker again, until his or her bike is up and running again. That's one thing I loved about the old Iron Horse. It made you think. There were exercises in self-evident truths, that get lost these days in the miasmic frothing at the mouth over bike building and celeb master builders.
The emphasis placed on custom bike building that's been over-hyped by the newsstand rags for the past few years, I find ridiculous in the extreme. This emphasis of course, coincided with the popularity of celebrity bike builders---AKA "master builders" with their own TV shows and one hundred grand price tags on their customs---has shifted the stress from the reality of bikers just being average street bikers, to having to strive toward being Jesse James wannabes. This introduced some unwanted and unrealistic elements to the biker identity: peer-pressure driven status symbolism using the motorcycle as an ego-bolstering prop, and the phony celebrity atmosphere that pervades Hollywood. Wotta buncha crap.
This shift in the subculture to bike building ability as a prerequisite for identities as bikers, I find ludicrous and insulting to intelligent bikers. Then again, the Me-Tooists who have blindly followed this trend, may not be so intelligent, after all. Here's what I'm here to tell ya: that's it's okay if you're no master bike builder in the Celeb Builder Mode. It's okay if you're involved enough with your Harley to keep it righteous over the long haul. Just go the distance with your hog, and she will be your faithful machine servant for all time.
The biker subculture's history has been long, and deep. It is deeper than the superficial spin put on the culture that the biker rags have imposed on it for the past few years.
I washed my bike today. I also topped off Mabel's rear brake's master cylinder. Then I took her for a ride, and man was it great! See how simple things can be? Every simple act of involvement, every single ride ya take on yer Harley is a celebration of life and living. As long as ya don't confuse the "celeb" part of celeb-ration too seriously, that is. Taking care of your bike and riding your bike is as ordinary as getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth. Later.