Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Motorcycling Year in Review: 2009

Well, with only a few hours left in 2009 as I type this, I guess it's time for a "year in review" retrospective (geez, I hope I don't sound too full of myself, lol). This was a very eventful year for me as a motorcyclist ... mainly because it was my first year as a motorcyclist.

My big goal for 2009 was to own a Harley. Although I did not reach that goal, I still consider my freshman year on two wheels a success.

In January of '09, I didn't even own a motorcycle, and was frantically scanning Craigslist for a ride that fit my modest budget of $1,000-$1,500. Good-running bikes in decent condition are hard to find in that price range.

In February, I went to my first big motorcycle show - the Northeast Motorcycle Expo in Boston - with Spike, Bob Levesque and Mike Chretien. There, I sat on my first Harley and drooled over bikes I couldn't afford. It was eye candy galore and sensory overload. The motorcycle bug bit me hard.

Then, at the end of February, I bought my bike, a 1987 Yamaha Virago, on consignment at Rider's Motorcycles. The original owner had hardly ridden the 22-year-old bike, which still had the original (dry rotted) tires and only 3,000 miles on the clock. I bought it for $1,000, a few hundred less than the asking price, since it needed new tires. Buying the bike was only half the battle, since I then had to get insurance and register it. I ended up having to sell some tools to get that bike on the road.

By the time I registered the bike in March, the snow had finally melted, and I rode that bike every chance I got, even though it was still fairly cold. Actually, I'm kind of glad I got my bike when I did - otherwise, I may have been a fair-weather rider. I was too excited to care about my fingers going numb from the cold. Plus, it made me appreciate the warm weather that much more! Because I had not ridden a motorcycle since taking my safety course the previous October, I started out slowly, sticking to side streets, until I became more confident riding in heavier traffic and higher speeds.

April was a very busy month. On April 5, I rode in my first group ride (the "ice breaker" ride), with my local CMA/Romans 8 Riders chapter. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, since I tended to fixate on the bike in front of me, instead of the road ahead, but eventually I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the ride. (I now look forward to group rides.) Later that week, I rode to Lincoln, R.I. and then to nearby Massachusetts to the home of a Christian biker for a presentation on sharing the Gospel at bike blessings (that was my first major ride on a highway and sort of a 'test run' for my 535 c.c. bike, which, I disovered, had no trouble reaching 95+ m.p.h. - not that I hit those speeds very often). On April 19, our CMA chapter conducted a bike blessing for the Blackstone Valley H.O.G.s in North Attleboro, Mass., where I blessed my first bike, followed by a hearty breakfast and a group ride. I didn't get to go on the ride with the H.O.G.s because I decided to take my truck instead of my bike that day, because it was just cold enough that my fingers would have been numb by the time I rode up there (yes, I caught a good ribbing from my chapter members for taking my cage!). On April 24-25, I earned my CMA back patch after completing a ministry and evangelism course at the "Seasons of Refreshing" conference in Greenfield, Mass. I rode up in a truck with another guy in my chapter, since he didn't have a bike at the time, and my bike is not set up for a longer highway ride. It was unusually warm for April on the 25th and 26th, the latter date being our chapter's first annual Motorcycle Cop Bike Blessing and Rodeo at Rendezvous Leather in Uxbridge, Mass. I had parking duty, but got to watch the motor officers handle their police Electra Glides as effortlessly as if they were lightweight scooters.

I missed some major biking events in May, including CMA's Run for the Son ride; the Providence shipyard bike blessing; and the special Olympics torch run. I hope to catch all three of these events in 2010.

In June, our Romans 8 Riders CMA chapter held its first annual "CMA by the Bay" bike blessing in Oakland Beach (Warwick), R.I. We were blessed with hot, sunny weather and a great location, stategically located near Iggy's, famous for its clamcakes and chowder, which I shared with Bobby Cesario and his wife Donna, when Bobby and I took a break from hamming it up as we greeted bikers and cagers driving by the park entrance. On June 27, I participated in my first big group ride, the 2nd Annual "A Ride for Tomorrow," ( a well-planned ride which began and ended in Attleboro, Mass., followed by a barbecue. I learned a rather embarassing lesson at this ride - when you hear the "start your engines" signal, you better be ready. When the pack began to move out, I was still fumbling with my helmet and gloves and was caught off guard, and had to duck-walk my bike off to the side so I didn't hold up the riders behind me (and I was close to the front of the rather large pack). By the time I got my gear on, I was toward the end of the pack. But I did enjoy the ride and the food afterward.

During the summer, I was voted in as a full member of my Romans 8 Riders chapter. In July, I attended three events: the New England CMA Rally in Chaplin, Conn. (July 10); the 14th Annual Ocean State Hogs and Hot Rods at Ocean State Harley-Davidson in Warwick, R.I. (July 18 - it was hot that day!); and the 4th Annual Motorcycle Ride for Corinna's Angels, in Cranston, R.I. (July 26). It had rained before the Corinna's Angels ride, but luckily cleared up. The guy I was riding next to bore an uncanny resemblance to Toby Keith (who just happened to be in concert locally that day), but it was not him. So he may not have been Toby Keith, but hey, at least he had a Harley and an attractive woman on the back ... maybe I will too by next summer, God willing.

August was kind of a quiet month, although I'm sure I did a lot of solo riding. In September, I installed a passenger backrest on my Yamaha Virago (a real test of my patience, let me tell you), and had my first experience carrying passengers, including two women from my Bible study group; my ex-girlfriend Beth; and a woman from Facebook, of all places. Riding two-up adds a whole new dimension to the riding experience, but my bike is really too cramped and lightweight to carry passengers comfortably (unless the passenger is around 5'0", which two of them were).

By October, the riding season was winding down, at least for the fair-weather riders. I was still riding when I could, but was having electrical issues with my bike, which left me stranded a couple times. I wanted to go on the The Artic Mission Toy Run in Coventry, R.I. on Oct. 26, since I had not been on a group ride in a few months, but was nervous my bike might break down again. I took a chance and went on the ride, and had no problems (I think the problem was due to a poor ground connection, which I corrected a few days before the ride). On the toy run, a deer hit a guy who was riding a Honda trike; thankfully, nobody was hurt (not so sure about the deer, though). The trike's owner, Bob, earned the nickname "Deerslayer."

November rides were scarce, but I rode to Mike Chretien's house in Little Compton, R.I. for a Romans 8 Riders fellowship/potluck. And, on Dec. 3, it was exceptionally warm for that time of year (about 65 degrees), so I rode to our Romans 8 Riders monthly meeting that evening. The first big snow storm about two weeks later, plus colder-than-average December temperatures, pretty much sealed the lid on the 2009 motorcycle riding season.

Okay, so I didn't get a Harley for 2009, but I did get a motorcycle, logged about 6,500 miles on it without injuring or killing myself, and had a lot of smiles to go with those miles. I learned a lot about my bike and its quirks, and got back into wrenching again, something I had not done on a motor vehicle since I drove clunkers in my teens and early 20s. I met a great group of guys and gals in my Romans 8 Riders chapter. All told, I would say it was a successful year, and I can't wait until the 2010 riding season begins. Happy New Year, and God Bless!


(Special thanks to Sue Caron for maintaining the Romans 8 Riders website on Yahoo. Without the calendar function on that site, my memory alone never could have recalled all the names, dates and locations.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tale of Two Wide Glides

Well, I've decided that Harley's Wide Glide model is my first choice, so the hunt is now on full swing. My first try at one ended in failure (read my last post) and soured me on dealers a bit, so, after taking a break, I decided to look at private seller bikes. I saw a 1999 Wide Glide on my local Craigslist, and a 2002 Wide Glide for sale in Massachusetts (the '02 was being listed on both Craigslist and eBay).

After a flurry of emails and phone calls, I managed to coordinate the schedules of three parties - not an easy task. I can't thank my CMA brother Roland Caron enough for offering his time and resources to help me look at Harleys. The plan yesterday (Tuesday) was for me to stop at Roland's house, then the two of us would go look at the '99 bike (which happened to be less than five miles from his house), and then go look at the '02 bike in Massachusetts.

But the guy with the '99 WG called me a few hours before our appointment and said he just sold it. I wasn't disappointed, because the '99 (and some 2000) Harley twin cam engines had issues with cam bearing failures. This bike had fairly low miles (about 15K), but the seller (who is not the original owner) didn't know if the bearings had ever been replaced. I would have felt like I was riding a time bomb ... I'm avoiding 1999 and 2000 model years, unless I found one at an extremely low price. But this bike had sold, so it was a moot point.

Roland and I drove over an hour to Massachusetts to see the other bike. We plugged the seller's address into Roland's GPS. Even with the aid of satellite navigation, we had trouble finding the house, since it was dark and it was in the boonies. The seller was not much help with navigation, since there were so few landmarks, but, after some aggravation, we found the house.

After nearly breaking my neck sliding down a snow and ice-covered hill in his back yard, I saw the bike, crammed into a shed next to another (metric) bike. It was so cramped in the shed that we had to do the limbo to inspect the bike. It was very clean, with low mileage and no leaks or evidence of damage. Although the seller had warmed up the engine prior to our arrival, Roland said the engine sounded good.

The ever-helpful Roland even brought his helmet and coveralls in case the seller allowed a test ride (it was around 15 degrees that night - what a trooper!). But with the snow and ice on the roads, a test ride was obviously out of the question. Still, Roland gave the bike a thumbs-up.

Since the bike passed muster, the next issue was price; the asking price was $7,900. The eBay listing said the bike's price had been reduced twice. Seeing that most bids on similar motorcycles on eBay only go as high as $5,000-$6,000, it was doubtful it would sell this time either.

I would have been satisfied to get the bike for an even $7,000, but was reluctant to offer more on a bike I couldn't test ride and had no warranty, so that's what I offered. The seller did not actually own the bike; he was selling it for his friend, so he called his friend and left a message for him. This morning, the seller sent me an email saying his friend would not accept $7,000.

"He will drop to $7,750," he wrote. "It will fetch that in the spring no problem."

I emailed him back telling him he might as well wait until spring, since I was not willing to increase my offer.

So, I'm back to square one again ... as much as I love riding motorcycles, I sure hate shopping for them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My First Serious Harley Prospect - Lessons Learned

(Disclaimer: Normally, I try to be as specific as possible in my writing, but I am being intentionally vague on certain details in order to protect the identity of the 'other party' in the story. Read on and you'll see why.)

This tale began a couple weeks ago, when I had to run an errand. It happened to be near a place that sells motorcycles, so I stopped there to look at a Dyna with mid controls that was within my price range. The Dyna didn't grab me, but I saw a black, older twin cam Wide Glide I really liked. It was a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I was told I qualified for financing.

I returned to the sales outlet a couple days later to put a deposit on the bike. Although I was pressed for time that day, my intention in putting the deposit down was to hold the bike until I could return a few days later, when I would have more time to give the bike a thorough inspection and possibly take it for a test ride. Before I plunked down my deposit, I made sure to ask if it was refundable should I change my mind about the bike. I was told yes, it was refundable.

So, when I was able to return five days later, my friend Roland and I closely inspected the bike. As sharp as the bike appeared upon first glance, it had some significant problems, including an engine seal that was leaking a fair amount of oil (plus some oil seepage from the bottom of a cylinder head) and some bare electrical wires where the wire insulation was worn away. There was also evidence that the bike had been down (scrapes on a mirror and hand control lever). The salesman, of course, downplayed the problems and suggested that perhaps I would be better off buying a new bike, but he would not come down on price.

At this point, I asked the sales manager for my deposit back, but he balked, and said he would have to run it by the owner. Needless to say, I was not happy (this was the very same manager who assured me the deposit was refundable). I waited three days (it was over a weekend) and called the manager. He transferred me to the salesman, who offered to include an extended warranty at no additional cost.

But they did not offer to fix the problems with the bike (ideally, you would think they would have gone through the bike and corrected any problems BEFORE they put it on the sales floor). Nor did they offer to reduce the price. So I said "no, thanks" to the extended warranty, and requested my deposit back. The salesman called me back a few minutes later and said I could come by that day to get my deposit. I drove up a few hours later and the sales manager gave me a check in the amount of my deposit, but he said that I "basically wanted a new bike at a used bike price."

I disagree with that statement, and so do my CMA friends. This sales outlet was trying to get top dollar for an older bike with problems, when bikes much newer, with much less mileage, are selling elsewhere for very close to the same price. I'm not expecting a perfect bike cheap. I'm just expecting a bike fairly priced.

So, this incident left a bad taste in my mouth, and they lost any future business from me. I did learn from it, though. Trying to do things in a hurry is never a good idea, and I will never leave a deposit on a bike without thoroughly checking it out first.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Speed Trials and Cold Finger Experiment #2

Thanks to warm temperatures and an overnight rain, I awoke this morning to find most of the foot of snow Mother Nature dumped on us last weekend gone. Plus, it was about 50 degrees and partly cloudy - with January a mere five days away, how could I not take my Yamaha out for a ride?

I called my CMA brothers Cameron and Duke to see if either one wanted to join me for a ride, but I couldn't reach either one. If I was going to ride solo, I at least wanted a destination. I thought about riding to Ocean State Harley Davidson in Exeter, but, after checking online, learned that they're closed Sundays.

So I decided to ride to Home Depot in North Kingstown (exciting, huh?). Although it was close to 50 degrees and I was wearing my insulated leather riding gloves, my fingers started to go numb and turn white after about 20 minutes of riding.

My purpose in going to Home Depot was to buy some "HotHands-2" hand warmers, the packets that you put inside your gloves or mittens. After taking them out of the packaging, you shake the packets, and then have to wait 15-30 minutes for the heat to activate. There is a Dunkin' Donuts next to that Home Depot, so I went inside and drank some hot chocolate while the HotHands heated up, and my fingers thawed out. Once I was ready, I put the gloves in my tool bag, and put the HotHands packets inside some insulated mittens.

The black ski mittens I had picked up for $10 won't win any style awards or "cool points" on a motorcycle, but if they keep my fingers from freezing, I'll deal with the geek factor. Besides, I felt like the Maytag repairman of motorcyclists today, since I saw not even one other biker during nearly 70 miles of riding today - well, unless you count the other kind of 'biker' (cyclist) who nodded at me.

For this "cold finger experiment," I wore no glove liners, only the mittens, which were plenty roomy enough for the heat packs, which I placed on the top sides of my fingers. I could feel some wind infiltration through the mittens, so I was pessimistic at first. But I was pleasantly surprised as my fingers, although not toasty warm, did not go numb or get cold for about one hour of sustained riding (at highway speeds, no less). I rode north from Route 102 in North Kingstown, to Route 2, Route 4, Interstate 95 and Interstate 295, finally getting off the highway at Route 7 in Smithfield, before getting back on the highway to return home. I really had not planned on riding that far or long, but the mittens/heat pack combo worked better than expected.

My thumbs were the first digits to get cold, and I began to get some numbness/whiteness in my fingers after 75 minutes of riding, but that's a lot better than only 20 minutes of useful riding time with my so-called winter motorcycle gloves. If the mittens were made of heavy leather or suede, I think they would be even more effective, especially in combination with some thin neoprene glove liners (perhaps for my next experiment). By the time I finished my ride, the temperatures were in the mid-40s.

For a change, my fingers were not the weak link in the cold this ride - it was my legs. It was kind of damp out, so the moisture didn't help. I do have leather chaps, but I have never worn them - for me, they conjure up that "Village People" image I can't wrap my mind around. It's amazing how deeply the cold penetrates your leg muscles when you're only wearing jeans. Thank God my apartment has a gas fireplace; I pressed my thighs and calves against the glass of the fireplace for a quick thawing out. I may follow up with a hot shower for good measure.

Today's ride was also a test of the fuel system cleaner, Sea Foam, I put in my bike's gas tank a few days ago. Until today, I had not had a chance for a real test ride, although I did notice on the day I added it that it improved my bike's rough idle. As soon as I began to ride my bike, I noticed that it ran as smooth as glass, and had better acceleration, even by my "seat of the pants" dyno.

Whereas before, my bike would only reach a top speed of about 65-70 m.p.h. and seemingly took forever to get there, today, it accelerated to 75 mph more quickly (heck, I was even passing cars while going uphill on I-295), and topped out at 80 on level stretches of highway. That's a 10-15 m.p.h. improvement in top speed from just one tank of gas treated with Sea Foam. This stuff really is as good as they say. And I've read a second tankful produces better results. I'm sold already.

So all in all, it was a good day riding, and the experiments with my bike and riding gear were fairly successful. Next time I go out, though, I will wait until the roads are dry. I wore a full-face helmet and kept having to wipe my face shield due to drizzle kicked up by the cages, so visibility was definitely a problem. When I stopped to get gas, I left my helmet on, and just before I got back on my bike, I grabbed one of those squeegees with windshield washer fluid and used it on my helmet's face shield, while it was on my head. I hope nobody captured that on video and put it on YouTube ...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Put her to bed ... well, sorta

Since we got hit with about a foot of snow last weekend, I resigned myself to the fact that the 2009 motorcycle season is definitely over. The only thing left to do was put my motorcycle "to bed" for the winter. These days, there's not much involved to winterizing a motorcycle - just put some fuel stabilizer in the gas tank, plug in the Battery Tender (trickle charger) and maybe throw a cover over it.

I was running errands today and had to buy some fuel stabilizer at the local Auto Zone, so I looked for a product called Sea Foam. Several motorcyclists swear by this stuff, which, besides stabilizing fuel, cleans carburetor jets and can cure problems like rough idle and lack of power. My local Auto Zone does carry it, and three of the guys there also sang its praises. It was $9.99 for a 16-oz. can, not much more than Sta-Bil, the most well-known brand of fuel stabilizer, which sold for $6.99.

So I bought the Sea Foam, went home and poured two fluid ounces in my Yamaha Virago's gas tank, which, at about three-quarters full, only had about two gallons of gas in it. I backed it out of the garage and went to start it. The battery was low since I haven't ridden it in about two weeks, and it had barely enough juice to start the bike.

It was cold out, so I had to fully open the choke, and then stepped it down to half-choke after a minute or so, but I have to say, the bike DID idle much smoother. Usually, if I don't ride it for a week or longer, it tends to stall unless I hold the throttle open. It will also stall the first time I put it in gear. But, after the Sea Foam treatment, the bike never came close to stalling, and it purred like a kitten. I was impressed!

As the bike idled in my driveway, which is mostly covered with packed snow, I walked out to the road, which is down to bare pavement. The road was a bit wet from the sun melting the snow. To watch a perfectly good motorcycle running in the driveway seemed like a shame, so I impulsively decided to take the Yamaha out for a quick spin on my street (I wonder if the cages I passed coming the opposite way were surprised to see a motorcycle this time of year). I wasn't behind any vehicles, so I didn't get sprayed with salt, but, if it was a Harley, I would not have taken it out. A little salt on a 22-year-old metric bike I can deal with ....

The ride lasted all of half a mile, and less than three minutes. But, I had problems pulling into the garage. I eased the clutch and the throttle ever so gently, as the rear tire slowly spun and fishtailed, left then right. There's a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had to rock a motorcycle stuck in snow. Bet not too many guys can say that ....

Anyway, I did get it inside with no harm to the bike or myself. I will throw it on the Battery Tender (it already has the quick-disconnect permanently installed on the bike) and wait for God knows how long before another opportunity to take it out.

In the spring, when I can take it for a real ride, I will be curious to see if the Sea Foam will cure the lack of top-end power I've been experiencing with my bike for the past few months (it won't go faster than 70 mph, when it should be good for 95-plus). Over the winter, I may take the carbs apart and see if there are any holes or cracks in the vacuum diaphragms, which, I've read, can also rob top-end power.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Road trip update

Last month, fellow CMA/Romans 8 Riders member Roland Caron graciously invited me to Daytona Bike Week 2010, which takes place from Feb. 26 to March 7. This would be my first time at a major bike rally, plus a chance to ride in temps in the 70s and 80s, while New England deals with temps in the 20s, 30s and 40s.

Roland goes to Daytona every year, towing a luxuriously-appointed travel trailer (complete with a 'garage' for his motorcycle) behind his heavy-duty Ford pickup. Myself and two other CMA members have been invited to stay in Roland's trailer for a week.

Since Roland goes down for two weeks, and his wife joins him the second week, I would have to provide my own transportation there and back (my cargo van, with my motorcycle in the back), but at least I would have place to sleep and cook, for very little money. Let's put it this way - my share of the campground fee for a week would be roughly the cost of one night's motel stay. Plus, I get to hang out with Roland and some other CMA brothers - and you can't put a price on that, lol.

Roland called me last Wednesday to update me on the plans and give me more details on what to expect for expenses if I decide to go on the trip. It appears my biggest expense may be gas. He said it takes him about five full tanks of gas, each way. My Chevy Express van gets 14-15 mpg highway, roughly the same as his diesel pickup truck, but I have a smaller gas tank, so I might need an additional gas stop. Based on $2.75 per gallon, multiplied by 31 gallons equals $85.25 per fill-up, times six fill-ups, equals $511.50 each way, or a total of approximately $1,000. Oops, I forgot, I will also need gas for the motorcycle!

If I wanted to drastically cut fuel expenses, I could attempt to ride my motorcycle to Florida (I know of a guy from Massachusetts who rides his scoot to Daytona and back), but Roland doesn't recommend this, even with a touring bike, because that kind of continuous riding is very taxing on the body and it would be nice to arrive in the Sunshine State looking forward to riding, not being tired of riding. Besides, I would have to fight the gauntlet of cold weather (and possibly snow) much of the way, and my hands do not take kindly to the cold (see my previous post).

Besides gas, the other major expense would be for food. Some meals would be eaten at the campground (there is a supermarket nearby, Roland said), but since we would be making day trips on the bikes, with early starts, that means stopping on the road and eating out, he explained. Then there is any pocket money needed for souvenirs, etc.

Roland said he plans to leave Rhode Island on Feb. 26, and says I have until mid-January to decide whether I want to go. I would definitely like to go, and I certainly have the time. The only roadblocks are whether I can get a Harley between now and then (I just started looking), and how much money (if any) I have left over from purchase of said Harley. Taking my little Yamaha Virago 535 to Daytona Bike Week just wouldn't be the same as taking a Big Twin Harley ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting closer to a Harley

"You have caught Harley fever ... an affliction that causes a normally sane and sensible man to turn into a wide-eyed, drooling, impulsive, overspending, freak ... although there is no known cure, other than a HD purchase ... God have mercy on ya." (a member of

Well, this past week, I have begun shopping in earnest for a used Harley. I've scanned the Internet for bikes for sale at Harley dealers; independent dealers; online classifieds; eBay and Craigslist.

I'm finding that most Harley dealers have a limited selection of used bikes, and most of their used bikes are late-model years. Few H-D dealers in my area have 2000-01 or older model years (I saw a sharp 2001 Wide Glide at a dealer, but it's a bit more than I had hoped to spend - more on this bike to follow).

Online classified sites like Cycle Trader, Chopper Exchange or, have few bikes I like in my price range.

I've seen some Harleys in my price range on eBay, Craigslist and some independent used motorcycle dealers. Buying a motorcycle halfway across the country through eBay doesn't appeal to me for obvious reasons, so I made a few calls on bikes listed on Craigslist. None of the bikes I called about sounded promising, though. There was a 1993 Wide Glide near me, but I didn't want to look at it since it had a heavily-modified engine and had probably been ridden hard (it sounded like a young dude on the phone).

Other Craigslist bikes in my price range were either a bit older (late '80s/early '90s) than I'm looking for, or else the owners knew little about the bike's maintenance and repair history. I was kind of hoping to find a one-owner Harley that had been lovingly cared for, but apparently there are few out there when you're talking about bikes between 1995 and 2001. At least I didn't come across any so far in my search.

There are two used-motorcycle dealers in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire that have some used Harleys within my price range, but they tended to be higher-mileage bikes or had some minor damage. One of the Massachusetts dealers had a really clean 1998 Softail Custom advertised for $5,995, but the listing didn't mention the mileage. I called about the bike and was told the odometer was inoperative, therefore, the title was listed as "total mileage unknown." I knew there had to be a reason for the low price. Next ...

Besides calling dealers, I've been doing research on Harley-Davidson discussion groups about the merits of the Evolution (Evo) 80-inch Big Twin engines (pre-1999), versus the 1999-up Twin Cam 88 engines. I'm told the 1999 and some 2000 twin cam engines had problems with cam bearings, so I'm avoiding those two years. Another weak link on twincam Harleys is the cam chain tensioner shoes, not limited to any particular year or years.

Then there is the decision of carbureted versus fuel injection; all Harleys 2004 and newer are fuel injected.

It's enough to make this newbie's head spin, so thankfully, my brothers in CMA - Spike, Roland and Cameron, all Harley guys - have been helping me sort through these issues. All of them have been more than helpful in schooling me.

I was on the phone tonight with Cameron and told him I'm finally about to join the "club" of Harley owners.

"It's the ONLY club," said Cameron, who rides a 2002 Road King. "I'm excited for you!"

At least I've narrowed down (somewhat) the particular models I like, and have even ranked them in order of preference. My first choice is the Dyna Wide Glide (FDXWG), followed by the Dyna Low Rider (FXDL), Softail Custom (FXSTC) and Softail Standard (FXST).

I would consider some other models, such as a Dyna Superglide or Sport; a Fat Boy; a Softail Springer; a Heritage Softail; or possibly a Road King. But for me to choose a bike in this second group, it would have to be an extraordinarily good deal.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A failed experiment

Today, it was about 45 degrees, which is when I begin to have problems with my fingers going numb from the cold and turning white after anything longer than a 10-mile ride, even with heavy, insulated leather gauntlet-style motorcycle gloves (which I paid $50 for last year).

After doing some research online, I learned about a few options:
  • Become a fair-weather rider (not really an option for me, as I love to ride);
  • Get some heated gloves (again, not a viable option, since the electrical/charging system on my 20-plus-year-old bike is marginal);
  • Install an accessory called "Hippo Hands" (basically, these are small fairings that mount around your handgrips that are supposed to shield your hands from the wind); or
  • Try mittens instead of gloves.
A motorcyclist from Massachusetts recommended Air Force "extreme cold weather mitts" from an Army/Navy surplus store, worn over some lightweight wool gloves. "I wear this setup to scoot from Mass. to Daytona each year in February/March," he wrote.

I've been wanting to try this recommendation, and there happens to be an Army/Navy surplus store near me. I got home around 2:00 this afternoon, so I took my bike out and rode to the store. The college-aged kid behind the counter wasn't the most knowledgeable clerk, and he called another store, which had something supposedly similar for about $40. I didn't want to ride (or drive) that far, so I took a chance and spent $10 on a pair of insulated mittens (like basic ski mittens) and $5 on some lightweight wool gloves. I reasoned that if these mittens didn't fit the bill for cold-weather motorcycle riding, I could always use them to shovel snow.

I wore the mittens over the wool gloves and it was bulky, but I was able to operate the brake and clutch levers okay, although with less precision than leather gloves. I use a throttle rocker (a/k/a cramp buster), so I don't really need to grip the throttle. I hit Route 108 in Narragansett, one of my favorite local roads, and stopped for gas. As I was leaving the gas station, a guy wearing a full face helmet rode by - the only motorcycle I encountered this afternoon - and gave me a fist pump, as if to say, "Rock on, bro - we ain't no fair-weather riders!"

At first, the wool glove/Thinsulate mitten combo felt very warm, as I pushed my bike through some twisties around Galilee, Point Judith and Scarborough Beach. It was great to have the roads practically to myself. But, eventually, after about 17 miles, the cold began to invade my fingers like needles and pins.

My experiment with the new "gear" wasn't a total failure. I was able to ride a bit longer before the cold bit my fingers, and it didn't bite as severely as with the leather gloves. They were red and painful, but they hadn't turned white or blue yet (there is a name for this - it's called Raynaud's phenomenon, I discovered during my research). At home, I did my usual cold weather post-ride routine of holding my fingers under lukewarm water to thaw them out, and they returned to normal more quickly.

So, it was an improvement, but only a slight improvement. I don't know if the "extreme cold weather mitts" or "artic mitts" would be a further improvement, but I'm not sure I'm willing to spend $40 to find out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Random thoughts ...

Here's a few random tidbits that, individually, are not enough for a bona fide blog entry, but together, will do the job:

Roland's Prayer
My brother in Christ, and fellow Romans 8 Rider, Roland, who works in the construction industry, was recently laid off. During a praise report at our monthly meeting last night, Ro said that after getting laid off, he didn't pray for anything to do with money. Instead, he said he prayed for peace during his time out of work. (I thought that was really cool!) God has definitely answered his prayer, reported Roland, who added that he has been very content, at peace and often smiling. He has received the added blessing of being able to spend a lot of time with his son Jeff. After the meeting, I told Roland I really enjoyed the two days we spent painting at Bob's house, including our conversations, wisecracking and especially, his Three Stooges impersonations.

Today, I spent six hours grinding a cement patio to help my friend Ben. My back was aching, so he offered me a Tylenol, but I declined. Ben, who is in early 60s, and I got into a conversation about our temperamental backs. I told him my back doesn't usually bother me when I'm standing, but mostly after I've been sitting or laying down, especially when I get up in the morning. "I suppose I should buy a new mattress," I told him. Then, without missing a beat, Ben (who used to own a Harley and knows I'm in the market for one) smiled knowingly and said, "But you'd rather buy a Harley."

Moving up
I recently decided I want to get a Big Twin Harley, instead of a Sportster, but if I was going to get a Sporty, there's a cool-looking 1200 Custom that's been for sale locally for about a month. It is customized with a Fat Bob gas tank and bobtail rear fender, which sets it apart from your typical Sportster. When I first spotted it on Craiglist, the owner was asking $5,200. The second time I saw the ad, the asking price was $5,000, and now it's down to $4,800. My friend Pat, who owns a 1995 FXDL, knows I'm looking to buy a Harley. I saw Pat at a meeting Wednesday night, and he gave me the phone number of a guy he knows who is looking to sell a bike. Turns out it is the same bike I've been watching on Craigslist. According to Pat, the bike's owner is selling the bike because he wants to move up to a Big Twin.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you see a chance, take it ....

To paraphrase the Steve Winwood song, if you see a chance to ride in December in 60-plus-degree weather - take it! In addition to the balmy weather, I had another perfect 'excuse' to ride - the monthly meeting of the Romans 8 Riders was this evening.

I saw about a half-dozen motorcycles drive down my street today, and I was itching to hit the road during the day, when it topped out at 66 degrees, according to weather. But, I chose to do the responsible thing, and spent the daylight hours roofing an overhang on my landlord's property. By the time I was losing daylight, I only had a few courses of shingles left to nail. The meeting didn't start until 8 p.m., but most people arrive at 7 and eat dinner and fellowship at the restaurant. I was determined to finish the roofing job, since I only had a little more to go, and didn't want to have to drag out the tools and ladder a second time. It took me wearing a headlamp while I was on the roof, but I got the job done.

I didn't finish the roof in time to join my fellow Romans 8 Riders for dinner, but at least I would make it to the business meeting. It was still about 58 degrees at 7 p.m. when I began the 25-mile ride from my apartment to the restaurant. The trip is mostly highway, and I was thankful that my fingers didn't turn white and numb, like they do when it's below 50 degrees.

As I pulled my bike up to the restaurant, I saw about a half-dozen other people had also rode their bikes to the meeting, where dates for fund-raising dinners, a Christmas party, a fellowship and a visit to the VA hospital were announced. We also received a handout listing the dates of major CMA events for next year's riding season.

The ride home was a bit cooler, but still warm for December. I rode part of the way with Duke and Cameron, the only other guys who live in South County.

Besides being able to ride without numb fingers, I had another bonus - some of my bike's top-end speed came back tonight. A few months ago, I first noticed that my bike would go no faster than 65 mph on the highway (previously, I have had it up to 90-95 mph no problem). I haven't figured out why my bike lost some top-end power (a new fuel filter and spark plugs didn't help), but tonight, I got it up to 80 mph. The only thing I did recently was add some fuel stabilizer/conditioner to my gas tank on the last fill-up. Maybe the carbs need a good cleaning ... a good winter project.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Down by the sea

As has been the case lately, Sunday is the only day I have time for a decent ride, and this Sunday was no exception. It was sunny and in the low 50s, about as good as it gets, considering it's almost December, so I took advantage of the weather and hopped on my bike. I saw many other bikers out today, as if they instinctively realized that this would be one of the few semi-pleasant riding days remaining before the snow flies.

It was around noontime and I had a craving for clamcakes and chowder, so I called the three popular clam shacks near the Narragansett beaches. Two places had recordings saying they were closed for the season, but the third, Monahan's, had a recording saying that they would be open this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with all menu items half-price! Excited, I hopped on my bike, got gas, cash and made beeline for Monahan's. I should have known it was too good to be true - the place was closed. Whoever recorded the message didn't list the dates for their final weekend, and the recording had not been updated. Oh well.

I rode past the sea wall, passing two groups of motorcyclists, and up Route 1A, where I stopped for a meatball grinder at Subway. From there, I took the bridge to Jamestown and decided to go to Beavertail Point, a rocky peninsula with a state park and lighthouse. There was a decent number of people sightseeing there, despite the brisk temperature. This time of year, it strikes me how Beavertail can be so desolate and beautiful at the same time.

By the time I rode home, my fingers were half-numb from the cold, so I did a quick-thaw, holding them under warm water. I then treated my bike to an oil and filter change. I don't know if it's just psychological, but the bike seemed to run better and quieter after the oil change.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I got a fever ....

I was driving my van on Route 1 this morning when I saw a motorcycle in the breakdown lane. He started moving, so I let him on the road ahead of me. I could tell by the sound of the exhaust that it was a Harley.

I passed him, but found myself hoping he would pass me so I could listen to the bike again.

Some people like the way motorcycles look, and I do too, but for me, motorcycles - especially Harleys - stimulate my sense of hearing the most. I love that Harley rumble (or roar, depending on the type of pipes).

Eventually, the rider, who I think was riding a Sportster (eventually, I'll get better at identifying Harleys), passed me, and I rolled my window down so I could hear the pipes blaring.

It reminded me of that classic Saturday Night Live skit that featured guest host Christopher Walken, who played a music producer obsessed with the sound of the cowbell percussion instrument.

"Guess what?! I got a fever, and the only prescription ... is more cowbell!" goes Walken's famous line.

I got a fever too. My only prescription: a Harley. Nothing else will do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Awesome song!

I was at Beth's house last Sunday watching television, when a commercial for the video game "Left 4 Dead 2" came on. Neither one of us is into video games, but we both digged the song on the commercial so much that we Googled it, and then listened to it on YouTube.

Beth couldn't stop dancing to this song, and I couldn't help thinking the song would go great while riding a Harley. And I'm not the only person who thinks the song would be a good pick for a Sons of Anarchy episode.

Anyway, the name of the song is "Electric Worry," by the band Clutch (the band's name is appropriate for motorcycling). It's blues/rock song with a driving beat, kind of like the ZZ Top song "Le Grange," but harder.

Here's a link to the song (just copy and paste into your browser):

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Knees in the wind

There's been some decent riding weather this past week, especially for this time of year. Many days have been sunny, with high temps in the 60s (and close to 70 on Friday!), but I've been too busy with work these past few weeks, so riding has taken a back seat, so to speak. The night time temps have averaged in the low or mid-40s, which is too cold for pleasant riding, so lately, the only day I've ridden is Sunday.

This Sunday morning, I just had to ride my Yamaha Virago to church; I was having withdrawal symptoms from not having ridden in a full week, so I just had to get my "knees in the wind," as another biker and fellow blogger wrote.

Apparently, my bike was having withdrawal symptoms too. She started no problem, but kept wanting to stall unless I gave it some throttle. The choke did not help. But, by the time I hit the first stop light, the engine smoothed out, and the 13-mile ride to church was enjoyable as I banged through the gears and leaned through the turns. Yep, all was good again! I wore my half-helmet, so even though I had not drank much coffee at home, the brisk air hitting my face woke me up quite well, thank you.

Motorcycles are increasingly scarce on the road this late in the season (or I guess we're in the post-season now), so they tend to stand out a lot more. I passed what appeared to be a black Sportster on Route 1 north (I'm not certain it was a Sporty, because I was traveling 65 mph at the time and didn't want to take my eyes off the road too long). On the way back from church (I took a longer, scenic route home), I passed an on road/off road bike, and later, a sport bike (or, as I like to call them, "crotch rockets"). We all waved as we passed each other. I think because there are so few of us riding in late November, there is an even greater camaraderie. Whether you ride a Harley, metric cruiser, crotch rocket or even a dirt bike, it sure feels good to get your knees in the wind, even if the wind is brisk.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The "Vicarious Shopper"

Our Romans 8 Riders chapter president, Michael "Spike" Ludwig (pictured on the left), has been one of my closest friends among my CMA brothers and sisters. He has helped me grow both as a biker and as a Christian, and is always there with an encouraging word or helpful advice.

When I mentioned a couple months ago that I was outgrowing my Yamaha Virago, Spike was quick to agree. When I added that I wanted my second bike to be a Harley, Spike, who rides an Electra Glide, was even more enthusiastic:

"I think it's time for you to step into a 'biker' bike, now that you have some experience riding," he wrote in an email.

I told Spike I'm looking for a used Sportster between $4,000 and $5,000, so he has been on the lookout for me, and sends me emails with links to potential deals he finds online.

We agree that I would be much better off with a 1200 Sporty, instead of the 883, which is sometimes known as a "chick's bike". Spike also doesn't like the standard Sportsters, which have the short 'peanut' style gas tank. Instead, he advises, "get the custom" model, which sports a longer gas tank and spoke wheels.

I had some time to kill this afternoon and stopped by Rider's Motorcycles. Spike and Mike Chretien just happened to be there, helping the owner, Frank, clean some old parts out of storage. Spike asked if I've been getting the emails he's been sending of Sportsters, and it's clear he enjoys searching for bikes, even if they're not for him. I guess he's shopping vicariously through me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The pitfalls of buying motorcycle parts on eBay

Well, I just got burned again buying parts for my motorcycle on eBay. This time, I bought a used rear fender for my Yamaha Virago that was described as being in good condition, with "no dings or dents." I paid $40, plus about $15 for shipping.

I received the package and opened the box to find the fender creatively packed. Instead of newspaper or styrofoam peanuts, the seller had used two empty Bud Light 18-pack cartons to cushion the fender. But he may as well have not even bothered, since the fender was NOT in good condition. The mounting holes for the left and right rear turn signals were both deformed, indicating the donor bike had been dropped on each side. This was the reason I wanted to replace my fender in the first place. Second, two rather large holes had been drilled on each side of the fender. This was not mentioned in the auction description. Needless to say, I am ticked off and will be contacting the seller seeking a refund.

The first time I bought a part from eBay, I also had a problem with the part, an aftermarket turn signal stem. The part fit poorly, and I had to modify it (i.e., butcher it) to get the wires to run through the stem. I rode it, then the bike blew a fuse, leaving me stranded at night. I have since disconnected the wiring to this turn signal so it will not short out again. Also, the stem will not stay secure, so it rotates until the lens is pointing skyward, not to the rear. That seller said he rarely has complaints about that particular aftermarket part, but he did apologize and promptly gave me a refund.

Original parts from the local Yamaha dealer cost a small fortune (for example, about $300 for a fuel pump - basically just a tiny electric motor). Good used parts for a bike more than 20 years old are hard to find. Also, there are relatively few add-on accessories for my bike, a 535 cc model, compared to its big brothers, the 750 and 1100 cc Viragos.

My plans for the bike over the winter were to get a good, straight rear fender, a used rear turn signal, also in good condition and a mirror to replace one that broke off. Then I wanted to remove both fenders, side panels and gas tank, paint them black, reassemble the bike and give it a good detail cleaning. The bike, now a dark red, would look sharp in black.

Now, I'm not sure I want to keep spending money on parts for my Yamaha when I'm saving for a Harley.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Something to look forward to ....

Today I was doing some painting with Roland C., another Romans 8 Rider, and somehow the conversation turned to Daytona Bike Week, a big motorcycle rally in early spring. Roland goes each year, driving his pickup truck, which tows a spacious travel trailer that carries his motorcycle, an Electra Glide Ultra Classic.

Roland usually hosts a guest or two, and this year, he invited me to stay with him and another CMA member, Butch S., at the campground. The epicenter of the rally, Main Street in Daytona Beach, Florida, gets pretty crazy, he said, so they don't spend much time there, but make a lot of side trips, including a day at this place (I forget the details) where anyone with a valid motorcycle license and a helmet can test drive just about any motorcycle currently manufactured.

Just being able to ride in a t-shirt in early March, in 70 to 80-degree weather, is worth the trip to Florida.

Roland said I could drive my van down, with my motorcycle inside. He doesn't recommend riding a motorcycle from Rhode Island to Florida, even with a touring bike, because it's just too taxing.

I'm seriously thinking about taking him up on his offer. I've been laid off for a year, with few prospects of finding a permanent, full-time job anytime soon, so there's a fair chance I'll still be in the same boat come March. Even if I do find a job, I can always tell an employer that I will not be available the first week of March due to a prior commitment.

So, the only issue will be whether I have the money. Time will tell.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How I Came to Ride, Part 3 - My First Motorcycle

By December 2008, I had my motorcycle license. My goal was to save enough money to buy a used Harley-Davidson Sportster for somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000. That was a tall order, seeing as how I had gotten laid off from my job a couple of months before due to the bad economy.

I saved every bit of money that didn't go toward paying bills, even rolling coins. I put off things like eating out or movie tickets. I scrimped and saved, and got odd jobs here and there. Meanwhile, I scanned motorcycles for sale on Craigslist. In early February, some of my fellow CMA/Romans 8 Riders members and I attended the Northeast Motorcycle Expo, my first big motorcycle show. Several used bikes were for sale, and I sat on my first Harleys.

Seasoned bikers told me the best deals on bikes were in the winter, and prices would go up in the spring. I had abandoned all hope of getting a Sportster, since there was no way I'd save up enough in time for spring, still being out of work. In fact, I began to worry if I'd even be able to get any kind of bike. Realistically, I'd only managed to save about $1,500 by late February, and from browsing online, there appeared to be few decent bikes in the $1,000-$1,500 range.

Then, a few people from Romans 8 Riders suggested I call Frank Rider, who owns Rider's Motorcycles, a repair shop in West Warwick, R.I. Frank, who is also a Christian biker, also sells motorcycles on consignment. I called Frank and he had a 1987 Yamaha Virago 535 for sale. The owner was asking $1,500 for it. So I went down and looked at the bike, which was very clean for an older bike, plus it had very low mileage (3,000). I didn't get to ride it, but Frank, whose shop had done the recent maintenance on the bike, assured me it ran very well. Since it needed new tires (it still had the original tires, but they were dry-rotted), I offered $1,000, and the owner accepted my offer. Frank's shop ordered and installed new tires, and a few days later, I picked it up in my van. I believe God had reserved that bike for me. Someone else was about to buy it shortly before I did, but the deal didn't go through.

After getting an insurance policy, the next step was registering the bike. At the registry, I got an unwelcome surprise - I couldn't register the bike because I owed taxes to two towns for my van. I'd moved so many times since I'd bought my van that I never got any late notices. I found out I owed $500 to one town, and $400 to another. This put a huge crimp in my budget, and the bike sat in the garage while I scrimped and scraped enough money to pay the back taxes, sales tax and registration fees. I even had to sell off some tools. Finally, in mid-March, it was registered, and by that time, the snow had melted, so I took to the road, cold be damned - I was too excited to wait for warmer weather.

At first, I stuck to roads in my neighborhood. Then, after a few days, I went on two-lane roads with more traffic and traffic lights. Then when I was comfortable with that, I drove on four-lane roads with higher speeds. Before long, I was riding on interstate highways.

The Virago 535 is a good beginner's bike. It is well balanced and easy to handle, has enough power to ride on the highway, and is fun to drive around town or on back country roads. I've had it up to 95 mph, although once you get past 55, the engine is buzzing pretty hard. The suspension leaves a lot to be desired, especially on the lousy Rhode Island roads; the bike feels like it bottoms out a lot and the ride can be jarring. The stock exhaust systems looks cool, but makes the engine sound like a sewing machine.

I found out that Virago 535s - which have kind of a cult following in England, Europe and parts of Asia - have a lot of quirks, such as a gas tank that is underneath the seat (the seat actually swivels up to access the gas cap); a fuel pump; an electronic fuel reserve switch instead of a petcock; and a sticky starter button that may cause your headlight to go out (there is an easy fix for that).

I've had newer cars and trucks the last several years, but I quickly found that owning an older bike means you either learn to be a mechanic, or else be prepared to constantly pay a garage for repairs. I chose to do my own repairs, since I used to work on my own clunkers in high school and well into my 20s. I replaced a throttle cable, changed the oil and filter, adjusted the valve clearance and changed the fork oil on my Virago so far. This summer, it left me stranded a few times when the main fuse blew. I think it may have been a bad ground connection. I cleaned the ground connection and it's been okay since, so I'm hoping that was the problem.

The bike has no saddlebags or windshield, so it's not really suited for long rides. Your butt gets numb after about 45 minutes on the bike.

Still, for all its shortcomings, it was fun to ride, and stylish to boot. I put 6,000 miles on it between March and November. I've never dumped it while riding. The only times I dropped it was when I parked it and thought I had the kickstand locked in, but apparently it wasn't. It broke the left rear turn signal and dented the rear fender a bit. Another time I had to push it off the road after it broke down. I lost my balance on some grass, and the bike fell over and broke the right mirror.

In late September, while riding on the highway, I began noticing the bike would not go faster than 65 mph, even if I buried the throttle. I suspect a faulty fuel pump, but haven't had time to really troubleshoot it. But the bottom line is I have outgrown this bike, which weighs just over 400 pounds. Even before the possible fuel pump issue, I had been wanting for more power and acceleration. Basically, it's just not a Harley ...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How I Came to Ride, Part 2 - The CMA

In October, 2008, I was going through several life-changing events. Having gone to court for my divorce at the end of August, I was having a tough time emotionally. Court went smoothly, since it was a simple, uncontested divorce, but I wasn't prepared for the emotional aftermath. Something inside of me (I later realize it was God) told me I had to deal with these emotions head-on, instead of drinking and using women to numb them. So, I got active in AA and found a Christian-based divorce recovery group at a local church. Soon after, I made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Around this time, I was also working on getting my motorcycle license, when I got an email from Pam, a friend of mine. She forwarded me an email from her friend, Bob, who I had met once before. I forget what the email was about, but Bob's email signature had a link to a group called the Christian Motorcyclists Association. So I clicked on the link and learned about the CMA, whose main purpose is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the motorcycling community. I thought it was great there was an organization that combined two of my new interests - Jesus Christ and motorcycles.

I saw that Bob was the road captain of the local CMA chapter, Romans 8 Riders, so I emailed him to ask some questions. He invited me to the chapter's next monthly meeting, which was at a Bickford's restaurant. I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the restaurant. I didn't know if I would fit in - I didn't even own a motorcycle yet. Several members greeted me, some of them were intimidating looking - a few big guys, with tattoos, earrings, leather, including one guy named "Spike" (now our chapter president) - but their smiles and friendly attitudes made me feel welcome. They had dinner before the meeting, and followed with a group prayer.

Well, I've been going to just about every monthly meeting of Romans 8 since November 2008 and quickly got to know everyone. After several months, I became a CMA member and earned a back patch after completing a ministry training course, and then was voted in as a member of Romans 8 Riders chapter soon after.

You couldn't ask for a nicer bunch of people. Besides the meetings, I've participated in group rides, bike blessings, bike shows, retreats and a toy run. I've gotten to know people from other CMA chapters also. My CMA brothers and sisters helped me find my first bike, improved my riding skills, prayed for me and encouraged me when I've gone through difficult times. Basically, they have helped me to become a better biker and a better Christian.

How I Came to Ride, Part 1 - The License

I don't come from a family of bikers, and never had friends who rode. Prior to 2008, I had only ridden a motorcycle on two occasions. Around 1990, an acquaintance let me take his bike for a spin around the neighborhood, and in 2000, my boss at the time let me take his bike around the block a few times. Neither bike was anything special, just older, mid-displacement metrics, around 600 or 700 cc's. The motorcycle bug hadn't bitten me.

After I got married in 2001, I casually mentioned the idea of getting a motorcycle to my wife, who quickly vetoed the idea. She was riding on the back of her first husband's bike and they went down. They weren't badly hurt, but it scared her off motorcycles forever. Like I said, I didn't have the bug then, so I let it go.

I separated from my wife for good in 2007, and, in the spring and summer of 2008, I was basically living like a 40-year-old frat boy. Outside of working hours, my life focused on drinking and chasing women. I was making up for lost time, you could say. The idea popped into my head about getting a motorcycle, preferably a Harley, now that there was no wife to veto the idea. I thought it would be a fun diversion, and a way to impress women. I think it was partly a mild case of midlife crisis.

The only problem was, I was broke, even though I was working full time then. Most of my money went to support my soon-to-be-ex-wife, who had not worked for a year and a half while she attended New England Tech. Even though I had moved out of our apartment, I was still paying her rent, utilities, groceries, insurance - all her expenses - while I had to move back into my mother's house.

Still, I had to get a motorcycle endorsement on my license before I could get a motorcycle anyway. So I signed up at for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider course at the Community College of Rhode Island in October, 2008. The two classroom sessions were mostly common sense. For the riding sessions, I bought cold weather riding gloves ($50) and borrowed a helmet. The written portion of the test was easy. The riding portion of the test went fairly well ... I did okay for not having been on a motorcycle in nearly a decade. I went to the registry to get my motorcycle permit, and, after holding it for 30 days, went back to the registry to get the motorcycle endorsement on my license. So, I had the license, but no bike, and my prospects were not looking very good. It was almost December, and I had been laid off from my job.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another Harley convert

Tonight, my local Christian Motorcyclists Association chapter had its monthly meeting. The buzz was that Mike C., who rides a Honda Goldwing, is now the proud owner of a Harley Electra Glide Ultra Classic.

Mike was among members of our CMA chapter, the Romans 8 Riders, who attended the Blackstone Valley (Mass.) H.O.G.s toy run last Sunday. The run kicked off at Precision Harley-Davidson in Pawtucket, R.I., which had several used motorcycles displayed outside for the occasion. Mike saw one he liked and asked about it, mostly out of curiosity, and a salesperson invited him inside. He said he hadn't planned on buying the bike, and, as the talk progressed, didn't think he would be able to, but he was approved and took delivery of the bike a few days later.

"I'm still floating," said the often-reserved Mike, who was unable to stop smiling that night. Hmmm ... much like the same effect my test ride on the Sportster had on me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My first ride on a Harley ...

A local (non-Harley) dealership has a 2002 Sportster 1200 they took as a trade-in. I stopped by last week to look at it and ask if they allowed test rides, which they do, so I called today to schedule a test ride. It has forward controls, drag bars and straight pipes. The aftermarket seat was comfortable, and the forward controls were a bit awkward at first (my bike, a Yamaha Virago, has mid controls), but I quickly adjusted and found them more comfortable. I disliked the drag bars, though. They made me hunch forward too much, and the all-chrome grips were, well, hard to grip.

The bike was cold-blooded. The temp was in the mid- to upper-60s, and my bike would start and run fine with no choke. The Sporty had to be slightly choked, and it coughed enough to be slightly annoying, even after what should have been enough warm-up time. Also, the vibration levels on pre-2004 Sportsters, which some people have complained about, turned out to be an issue for me too (the 2004 and up models have rubber-mounted engines). The foot pegs buzzed much more than my bike, especially at highway speeds. If it was enough to annoy me on a 10-minute run, how much more would an hour-long trip wear on me? And the rear view mirrors vibrated so much I couldn't really identify what type of vehicle was behind me. That was important, because the Sportster is like a Corvette on two wheels, so I was on the lookout for cops - it was fast, loud and red! The torque slid my butt back on the seat, and I was only giving it maybe 80 percent of wide-open throttle, since I was unfamiliar with the bike and it wasn't mine. Zero to 70 mph elapsed quickly, and at that speed, the Sportster was easily chugging along, whereas my Virago would be revving pretty high.

Contrary to reviews I've read online, I did not find the Sportster to be "top-heavy". The seat height is significantly higher than my current bike, but it felt better, and I could still flat-foot it while stopped (I'm 5'8"). It felt well-balanced and agile. Admittedly, I didn't push it hard in the turns and curves (and there were few in the suggested test route), but I didn't have to "muscle" the bike to keep it down in a turn, another comment I've read. Sportsters aren't known for having road-absorbing suspensions, but, compared to my bike, it rode like a Cadillac.

Other than the aftermarket drag bars, the bike had good ergonomics. The speedometer and tachometer were in easy view, and the levers, turn signal switches and choke lever were all within easy reach. I was most impressed with the smoothness and quietness with which the gear lever shifted the five speed transmission. It was like butter! My Yamaha is much clunkier changing gears.

To me, the exhaust sounds are the best part of riding a Harley. I don't know if there is a word that adquately describes the growl or crackle the pipes make when you roll off the throttle as you upshift while accelerating, but it's a sound that seems to penetrate my soul, and is why I want a Harley over another make. Let's just say that even an hour after I ended my test ride, I had a grin on my face ....

Yes, I had to return with the bike, which has 22K on the odometer. What they are asking seems like a really good price, almost too good. The bike would come with a 30-day warranty, but I'd want someone who knows Harleys to check it out for me. But at this point, I'm not sure I want to commit to this particular bike. I've saved almost enough to buy a decent used Sportster, but would have to save double what I have now if I want to buy even a basic a Big Twin model. Whatever I decide to do, I am determined to buy with my head, not based on my emotions - which is a difficult thing to do when it comes to a Harley.