(or, "Why It Can Be Important To Know One's Bike")
(The "Drive-By Shooting" - Katrina VanOrder snapped the shutter while whipping past the
Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, Little Five Points, Atlanta, on any Sunday)
October 31, 1992
Piglet is taking shape.
After 5 hours of greasy wrestling this afternoon, the Sportster rolled out of my garage with new forward controls, by Custom Chrome Inc. This aftermarket modification moves the shifter pedal (on the left) and the rear brake pedal (right side) forward approximately 18 inches. The practical advantages are especially noticeable to someone over 6 feet tall: I can stretch my legs a lot more comfortably. The controls are integrated with footpegs at the frame corner. Now, my feet live as far forward as they can when I ride, instead of being pegged directly under my hips. Another neat effect of this is to sling my body weight more evenly along the length of the bike, netting a lower center of gravity. This is the biggest engineering change that I've ever laid on this machine and, suddenly, I understand a lot more about why certain Harleys look the way they do. It will be important to change the shocks on the rear end: lower. Get the weight as low to the ground as possible. The benefits to handling and braking will be wonderful.
The forward controls look good. The sides of the bike aren't messy with the black rubber clumps of the stock footpegs. They've been replaced with brilliant chrome linkages running from the new positions, aft to the shifter and master brake cylinder. CCI did a great job of design and manufacturing, machining the parts from 3/8 inch cold-rolled steel, triple chrome plated. The effect is one of hard elegance. There is not an ounce of fat in the application: all that's needed for splendid function, and no more.
The sharp beauty of the new CCI gear completes the first stage of my 883's transformation from a stock yawn, to a machine to catch the eye of the casual pedestrian and knowledgeable biker alike. Selected proceeds from the En Vogue tour have produced a complete set of stainless steel front cables (brake, clutch, speedometer, and throttle set), chrome chain guard and electronics cover, braided stainless steel spark plug cables, and various stainless steel nuts and bolts. Now, the Sportster easily attracts the glance of the odd passerby on Peachtree St. who might catch me at a stoplight. It also gives brief pause to experienced Harley riders. They can see what I'm doing to it.
None of that matters to me as much as the way it feels when I'm riding it.
I just recently met Rocky and Dorothy. They are the husband and wife team who run PhD Engineering off of Brockett Road in Clarkston. Their shop is a very cool place for learning about Harleys. The place is full of ideas. All I have to do is hang out at the counter, leafing through parts catalogs and listening to the conversation.
Piglet is looking about as good as it's going to look for a while. My next moves will center on performance upgrades, rather than the sort of cosmetics that the casual Harley rider indulges. Open pipes will increase horsepower by almost 10% in a straight bolt-up application. Carburetion will follow, and then suspension. By the time spring rolls around, if things go according to a rough plan, I'll be ready to cruise to Daytona and hang with the spooks at midnight... which is normally edgy turf for Sportsters in general, 883's in particular. The trick is to know what you're doing.
I rode down to Lakewood tonight. John Woodruff, heir to the Coca-Cola fortune, threw his annual Halloween bash: "Harleyween", this year. John and Robert Roth are pals, and John always spends a lot of money on lighting his parties. My brother, Bryan, and me mate Scooter designed the gig.
Tonight, the Buckhead Kidz were out in full regalia: rich people having fun. John put the bash in one of the exhibition halls at Lakewood, and there was enough room for 35 or 40 bikes. I pulled my 883 into the line next to a 1340 Fat Boy and let it gleam. The 1340 drew a lot of attention from cultured attendees cruising the line in expensive costume, as did many of the other bikes. It was done in the stock National School Bus Chrome Yellow, straight off the showroom floor. A natural eye-catcher, without question.
It wasn't the coolest bike in the room, though. The place was full of Fat Boys; they're very popular. In the entire gathering, there were only two machines that made me stop and linger over them, cigarette smoke curling thoughtfully about my furrowed brow.
There was a pre-war Knucklehead 61. This is the same engine type that Joe Petralli rode to the world speed record on Daytona Beach in 1937 (61 cubic inches, 134.83 mph). This bike was wonderfully done, with attention to engineering detail matching the faithful cosmetic rendering of the period. The "suicide shift" linkage was chromed in just the right places, as were the details of the springer front end. I could tell that this was a working bike: there were bugs on the front of the tank, and the old 61 was seeping just a tiny, charming, bit of oil around the lifter blocks.
You could tell who knew their Harleys, and who didn't, just by watching the crowd. A few who stopped at that Knucklehead looked long and hard. Most, however, would nod vacantly and move down the line...
...to the 1990 Evo (Blockhead) FXR sitting right next to it. I called this bike the class of the field. I wondered about its owner. True or false? The engineering had me leaning toward the former. Who would run honest-to-god nitrous oxide injection on the street if they didn't know what they were doing? I couldn't believe it. This bike was custom framed (Kalifornia Kustom Kruisers) 4 inches over stock length, the same principle found in drag designs. KuryAken dual piston brake cylinders fore & aft, RevTec carb, dual spark heads, braided stainless steel everywhere (oiling, fueling, hydraulics, electrics, & controls)...the gear on this machine was endless. Of course, it had the look, too: Arlen Ness Gunfighter seat, chromed everythings by Ness, KuryAken, CCI, and many custom fabricated parts.
Whoever owned it clearly had an unlimited resource base, when it came to his bike.
I happened to be nearby when the guy saddled up for departure. At a glance, I made him for a stylist. I went over and greeted him with my compliments on his machine, above the roar of his 1340 blowing out through straight shotgun pipes. He answered a couple of my questions in a perfunctory way, and I left him alone. When he pulled out, he burned off a bit of his rear tire on the slick concrete of the exhibition hall. It was an impressive display.
I left about ten minutes after he did, zooming the dark streets, out toward the highway. On the two lane, limited access road which runs into I-85, I passed a couple of bikes sitting on the right side, in the dark. I rode on for a quarter of a mile before deciding that I couldn't pass up that scene without inquiring whether assistance was needed. I rode back, turned around, and pulled up...
...next to the monster FXR. "Oh, man," I thought, "What a shame." I honestly hated to see it.
The guy looked terribly uncomfortable sitting there. When I pulled up next to him I asked if he was alright. There was a lovely woman standing there, next to her Heritage Softail, and they both nodded to me in the affirmative. I could tell something was wrong though...a bike like that doesn't sit on a dark stretch of road for no reason.
He told me that it had simply stopped running. "Hmm...Do you have any electrics at all?"
"Yeah," he said, "it'll crank, and it'll even run, but not for long."
He cranked it. It ran, very roughly, for about 15 seconds, and then sputtered to a stop.
That's when I got a grip on him.
"That almost sounds like fuel starvation to me," I said, convinced. "Are you sure you have gas in it?"
He mumbled something roughly affirmative, but cracked one of his gas caps and stuck his finger in the tank. I could tell that he wasn't getting the right answer when he kept sticking it in as far as it would go.
My question lingered, pregnant with implication, in the chilling night air, until the woman put it to rest:
"I mean," she said, "we just got it back from our mechanic's shop this afternoon."
I knew they'd be okay. She would pile him on the back of the Softail, and they would find civilization and assistance. I bade them good luck, and a pleasant evening. Piglet and I became a receding dot to them.
Bless their hearts: a big budget is a cool thing to have around these machines, but it ain't enough to hang with the spooks at midnight.
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