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.