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.


  1. Reading this reminds me so much of my search for my first Harley. I don't know if you read any of my old stuff on my blog but I tell all about that in my early postings. Basically I decided that a gently used 3 year-old 1200 Sporty was more desireable than an older big twin with many miles and potential headaches. That worked for me. An XL 1200 is a good bike, and if you set it up right, comfortable enough to tour on. I rode mine to and from Milwaukee for the 105th in the summer of 2008.

    When I got the settlement money from my accident I bought my Springer, so now I obviously have a different perspective. Riding the Sporty again after getting used to a Softail was like there waqs nothing under me. A big twin is just more comfortable, and the lower center of gravity gives a better feel than the ever-top-heavy Sporty. I still don't regret starting with my 1200, but I will say that if you can find the right big twin for the right it. If you weigh more than 175 pounds you grow out of a Sportster real fast...even a nice one like I had.

    Be patient and you will find something. Now is a good time to buy a bike. With the bad economy, lots of people are forced to get rid of their toys. Other guys moving, getting divorced, can low ball and really get a deal if you have cash and good timing.

    Good luck. You'll get there.

  2. Got an '07 Dyna Low Rider. To me it's the best transition bike from a more traditional non-cruiser, Japanese or Brit bike. I love it, but it was touch and go as to whether I would get the Dyna or a Road King. This deal just came first.
    Don't dismiss the Road King. When you take all the stuff off it, you've got a beautiful, classic HD. Heavier, but rides very well.