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How I fell in love... with a motorcycle parts 1 & 2

    • 266 posts
    November 21, 2016 5:05 PM EST
    from my very first ride on the '84 lo...
    This is a 5 part story regarding the affection between human and machine. The unwritten pledge of dedication to one another.

    I never thought a motorcycle could break my heart the way a dying horse could; but its nearly equal in grief. Both share miles through seasons and years recalled with the nostalgia of steadfast service on challenging rides. Both have lifted my spirits when my brain and body defied me. Both have filled my mind and soul with the food of wonder.

    part1 first sight...

    It was August 2009 and I had ridden on a couple Harleys with some good guys. One a candy apple red Sportster and the other a black and gold Ultra Glide. They were later models, not Shovelheads, not vintage, not as prone to the fussy adjustments that the older bikes demand. "Why not" he answered to my self indulgent email to ride on his Harley sometime. That's where my affection began.

    When he showed up for that first ride, he was wearing a faded Harley satin jacket and a broad smile, reaching out to shake my hand. I noted that was uncharacteristic body language for a biker, but my attention was on the bike. Road-weary, it was dusty, dirty and lean looking. It had an outlaw feel about it with black leather seat and sissybar pad mounted on a gleaming chrome frame. Left and right indicators mounted in chrome hubs bolted on either side of the small VT license plate. A slim profile windscreen on chromed elk horn handle bars with smooth black rollers for hand grips. A modest tool bag of rolled, weathered leather was strapped firmly to the forks under the smallish head lamp.
    a modest headlamp for the slimmer
    framed low ride
    The classic tear drop tank was pure black with a gold fine-line and a red lettered decal prominent on each side. The left one faded and ragged from fuel leaking from the chromed gas cap over his decades of riding. A simple, black "dashboard" spanning the split tanks, with the speedo and tach aligned to the yoke ,completed the spartan styling. The pegs were substantial, chromed and adorned symmetrically with black rubber rings to enhance their stout appearance and boot grip. I noticed occasional elements of custom HD graphics and features throughout the bike, all mounted on chrome. Smitten with the bling, I was quickly seduced by the chrome.

    An '84 LowRide, from the dyna class, a cruizer for rolling over the roads. Later I would learn the story of how he acquired it; had been the only owner, the adventures he took with it; the miles of precarious travels and the precious respite it gave him in his youth. All were confirmed by the stone chips, rust blisters, smudged clear cote and dull scrapes pocking the bodywork of this bike. All evidence that it survived close calls, near misses and tougher miles. These were better than tatts, club patches, or brand-name leather apparel in defining competence; they were the badges of rugged ridding and a testament to this bikerman. He knew how to ride, really ride, and that mattered to me.

    This was the first ride out in six years, the expired inspection sticker confirmed that. A rule bender and backroad rider...I would later nickname him "Outlaw". Throughout six years of riding as his pillion, I would discover how this bike lived up to that moniker as well. A little lighter and more nimble than the bigger bikes, it could carry us places that one didn't usually navigate with thi 668 lb cruizer. The shovelhead was made to endure, to be bold, to be indomitable in its element.

    He broke into my forensic haze as I was welcomed to mount the smallish pillion seat, sitting tight behind him, close enough to feel him breath. We rolled north to Newport VT, over hill and dale through sweepers and straights that revealed captivating views. I was comfortable with his command of his trusted bike. It could bend deeply in the corners and thread the better part of rubbled roads with ease. We were "in the bike", riding at a near perfect center for agile performance with the sound of hard pipes filling my head with an indelible melody. I was falling in love...with this bike.

    At our lunch break he apologized for the age of his motorcycle, " was 25 yrs old.... it was a Shovelhead and he hoped to take it cross-country when his son graduated high school..." Shovelhead, what was that? I thought to myself; I would search it on google later to learn that there was a historical time line depicting the evolution of Harley Davidson Motorcycle engines from 1901 to present.
    '84 LowRide, Shovelhead V-twin block with kick starter

    The more I learned about the art and machinery of these engines, the more enamored I became. Over the next six riding seasons, I would learn that Shovelheads, the powerful V-twin engine blocks, with few electronic amenities, were the last series made that bore the accessible basic features that allowed for owner maintenance. It was this design that would position them to become the famed Chopped Bikes of custom builds for iconic films and bike show center pieces. This '84 LowRide was factory built in that last model-production year; the last year with a kick starter to back up the power switch. The last year that it took strength and resolve to crank a motorcycle to life.

    This bikerman would espouse his love of getting his hands dirty completing the pre-ride check list;
    a spark plug for each cylinder, one rich and one lean
    his passion for the active physical attention its driving required. There were eccentric operational quirks like palpable heat from the block, a fine spray of oil from the jugs splattering the black leather chaps wrapping my right shin, a constant vibration that would take his hand off the throttle and sometimes tease a little foreplay in the seat. It was a fickle machine, but never boring. As a passenger, I learned a lot from the dialogue this motorcycle evoked. All love affairs begin with a conversation and this was little different.

    He would take this fearless machine over grass fields, on dirt lanes and ancient roads etching the irregular terrain that only an off-road bike would desire. But it never failed us. In part, the driver's skills made it look easy, but this slender bike would take it in stride. It lived up to the mission set forth by the earlier days of motorcycling, as a recreational sport for other-road adventures where pavement was scarce, if there was any at all.

    part 2 the bike....

    It broke down once in 2009, stranding us in NY with a failed generator; but it was rebuilt, if not badly, and carried us on until the next failure caused by loose jugs that were not bolted down properly. This was the time when I learned that not all motorcycle mechanics, fondly referred to as "a wrench", were created equal. After some searching we found a skilled mechanic and the network of vintage bike shops. Harley dealerships were not interested in rebuilding a vintage ride; they would shame and cajole us into trading up. The pressure was intense at some franchises, but the high prices and nostalgic loyalty steeled his conviction to restore and ride and restore again.

    It became more than an intimate partner; it became a teacher in preparation, physics, limits, expectations and the value of simplicity. It had great strengths and tender chinks, like any living soul. Yet it was made of metal and machining, with narrow rubber traction to haul our visions of grandeur over and under and through all matter of space and time. It coaxed me into the world of the way things work as I found myself interested, for the first time in my life, in the order of operations for an engine. It allowed me to lurk in the shadows of the minds who could imagine such a thing as a combustion engine. I would find myself surprised at my interest and embrace of these principles; and startled in my perception of their beauty as the engine came to life. When the starter engaged, the engine roared to life and he would let it idle on choke for a warm up. That trade mark, V-twin Harley sound was music to my ears. Like a Pavlovian trigger, it became the song of my longing.

    As summers came and went, we would visit motorcycle shows and notice heads turning at the sound of its loud pipes. Hardened by time and a hot running motor, they made an awesome sound that was both foreboding and intriguing. People, the bikers that worshiped the old makes of rides, would stop, turn and watch in silence. Them that knew that distinctive Shovelhead sound, would ask "what year is that?...shovelhead?" and their stories would unfold almost always ending with tones of regret. Regret that they "let theirs go".

    My outlaw bikerman would beam, walk a little taller and counter with stories of our travels. Pride in his ride; the mark of a respected biker, no poser here. It included me, the dedicated pillion, clad in leathers and Americana lid. Our sun burns, oil stained boots and dirty finger nails were like badges of the real deal. It became clear to me, Shovelheads were the real deal.

    That notion sat secure in my mind, worn well on my heart; it gave me a distinguished seat at the motorcycling table. It is my most prized avatar, setting me free of my limits for the time we rode. Dark, handsome, like a rebel soldier never to be discounted, this Shovelhead was my chrome pony, sweeping me off my weary legs as we rolled to our "anywhere" of the day. It gave me a real-ness that escaped my differently-abled self. As long as the wheels rolled, the pipes rumbled and the wind refreshed us, I was whole. Like a lover, it nurtured my being.

    coming soon, the rest of the story .......

    peace ~ resa
    • 4 posts
    September 5, 2017 7:54 PM EDT
    Love it