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by Genghis

Photo by Genghis

I was in the middle lane of a three lane highway yesterday on my Stroker Shovelhead "Mabel", just digging the sensation of speed, as uniquely rendered by a finely tuned Harley-Davidson, as we passed cars in the lanes on both sides of us, reveling in the superior torque of the Harley motor as she screamed in fourth gear. Hey man, we are so much better than those cars! This feeling of superiority manifests itself every time I ride. Even with the baffles in her straight pipes, the sound was loud and irreverent as it bounced off of the concrete where rubber met the road. Just as impressive as hearing Mabel's revs rise, was the defiant bark of her voice as we backed off of the throttle, just prior to entering every corner at a reduced speed....


Unfortunately, I got carried away with the moment as we carried too much speed into the next curve. We went in too hot and even the severe lean we went into wasn't enough to compensate for the excess of speed into the corner. The extra speed carried us involuntarily, like a reluctant defendant being dragged to trial---drifting into the right lane. I'll say this much: it's a good thing that there wasn't another vehicle occupying that space in the right lane, that Mabel and I ended up in. Otherwise we would've been toast. Hey man, it's physics 101. Two objects cannot occupy the same space. However, the exhilaration that I felt just before that moment of dreaded recognition of the unintended consequences of our exuberant speed---is a common denominator of every ride that I take on my bike. Leaning a bike at speed is a lot like banking an airplane, and much different than driving a four wheeled vehicle. Do you remember your first ride on a real motorcycle, and the realization that this was different than anything you've ever experienced on the road as a vehicle operator? I'll admit that I still feel the same awe of the riding experience, as I felt forty-plus years ago.

The feeling I get is what I felt back in '68 when I rode a real motorcycle for the first time. That motorcycle was my '68 XLCH Sportster. Up until that time, the only motorized two wheeler I rode was a Honda 50 that a driving school let me use to get my motorcycle license. The difference between the 50 cc Honda and the Harley, was mind-blowing! Every twist of the Sportster's throttle made the bike shoot forward like a gun. At the time, it felt like it was on the brink of uncontrollability. It was borderline joyous insanity on two patches of rubber. Now, keep in mind that at the time, I had my '64 Vette with 365 horses under the hood, so I was not unfamiliar with speed. This however, was different breed of speed. One that was millimeters away from disaster if you weren't careful enough. I was addicted, man! It wasn't just the straight-line power that one's throttle hand could cause that impressed me so much, it was also the leaning aspect of motorcycling when cornering that left an indelible notch in my brain. The cause and effect of a biker's riding technique, is dramatic and immediate.

It was this cornering technique, along with the sheer feeling of power in one's right throttle hand, that hooked me on motorcycles to begin with. It is the relative instability of the motorcycle---just like that of an airplane---that impressed me so much over forty years ago, that it left me with a lifetime passion that expresses itself in my brain with every ride taken on my Harley. Even now, the thrill ain't gone, baby! It's still lives and it happens every time the rear sixteen starts rolling. When you drive a car, the physics of the vehicle keep you more or less on an even keel. The operative word here, is "stability." When you ride a bike or pilot an airplane however, you are constantly banking---or in the case of the bike, leaning the vehicle to make turns. One is always at the mercy of gravity, momentum and speed affecting how much more space one has to expend to complete the turn. The faster you go, the farther from your intended path you must by necessity, wander. This is how riding an motorcycle is analogous to operating an airplane. Leaning a bike, an activity that is so second nature to us, that we don't consciously plan and execute it, is like an airplane pilot banking an airplane to make it turn.

Besides the sheer joy and exhilaration I feel when I ride my Shovelhead, I also have feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. Why accomplishment? Because it takes so much more skill and coordination to operate a motorcycle, compared to driving a four wheeled vehicle. In that sense, we are superior athletes compared to the rest-of-the-roaders. We are men among boys when it comes to the highways and byways. We Rule, baby! Is there any finer feeling than gettin' it done with a good running Harley? I don't think so. Every time you ride, revel in the experience.

Don't get too caught up in the social aspects of being a biker. To me, the riding experience trumps gathering at peer-pressure fueled events like Daytona or Sturgis, where the primary consideration is impressing a bunch of shallow biker lites. The pride and joy a biker feels when he maneuvers his motorcycle along the highway of blissful speed, is where it's at, man. That other stuff is just incidental. This is the core of being a biker: being one with the bike, and being wrapped up in the experience of riding and workin' the bike on the streets. The superfluous crap surrounding the bike as a prop or status symbol, or the gangster attitude that so many cultivate---all that has no real importance. Later.