Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God Worked It Out

One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8, verse 28: "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." To me, this means that God, who is ultimately in control, loves us. For those who put their faith in his son Jesus Christ, that passage is a promise that God can work good even through bad decisions and circumstances.

While we have free will and can and do make bad choices some times, if we seek to follow God's will for us, He will work things out for our ultimate good, even if we can't see it at the moment.

So how does this apply to my life, as it relates specifically to motorcycling? Glad you asked ....

Much of my life has been controlled by fear, and even as a (relatively new) Christian, fear can still creep in. If our faith in God was perfect, we would have no fear. But, I don't think any Christian has perfect faith. We're human, therefore not perfect.

I'll admit I was very nervous about buying my 2002 Harley Dyna Wide Glide. Yes, at first, I was more nervous than excited about it. Even though Roland, an experienced Harley guy, helped me check out the bike, I was still fearful I was about to buy a lemon, since I couldn't test ride it due to poor road conditions where the bike was for sale. After talking to the owner, though, my gut had a good feeling, and I decided to buy it based on his word that the bike shifted and rode well.

Even after I completed the deal last Saturday, I feared, "What if the bike turns out to be stolen?" Since the bike had an out-of-state title and was newer than 10 years old, my state's registry of motor vehicles requires a V.I.N. check at a police department. I had fears the V.I.N. would come up stolen, the bike would be seized and I'd be out nearly $8,000. Yes, my mind sometimes tends to think of worst-case scenarios.

Monday, we had a good, soaking rain, which washed whatever salt remained on the roads where I live (the snow had melted several days earlier). My plan was to go to the main Rhode Island registry and get a temporary registration plate, so I could then ride the bike to a police department for a V.I.N. check. Then, I had a few weeks to register the bike and pay the sales tax.

Usually, I am in and out of the main registry within an hour, but for some reason, the place was mobbed Monday. I pulled ticket #693 when I arrived at 11 a.m., but they were only on #430. I went out for lunch and did some errands, but when I returned around 1:45 p.m., they were only up to about #530, so there was clearly no chance of them getting to me by the time they closed at 3:15 p.m. So I wasted a trip, and was in a funk the rest of the day. That was the result of my plan.

Now, this is where God's plan came together where my plan failed:
  • First, I had received a check for $500 on Monday for some previous plumbing work I had done (an amount that nearly covered the sales tax).
  • Second, I went to the registry branch in Middletown, R.I. this morning and had only a half-hour wait.
  • Third, the female clerk who waited on me and issued a temporary plate was very helpful. She suggested I come back today, get the V.I.N. check at the Middletown Police Department, which was right next door, and then pop into the registry branch again, where I would not have to wait since I had been there earlier in the day.
  • Fourth, by the time I got home from my first trip to the registry, the sun and wind had dried the roads, which had been wet from the day before.
  • Fifth, I got to ride my bike for the very first time, and it ran as well as the seller said. I did not break down in the middle of the Newport Bridge, as my fear factory of a mind had worried. Nor did I get pulled over by any police.
  • Sixth, there was no problem with the V.I.N. check (the civilian employee was friendly too).
  • Seventh, I returned to the registry, paid the sales tax and completed the registration. I even remembered to bring all the correct documents!
My maiden voyage on the Wide Glide was a blast (details on that to come in another post), and the weather was ideal for mid-winter around here ... 45 degrees, sunny and no salt on the roads! God created the perfect conditions, and a window of opportunity for me to take the bike out. I never imagined I would be able to get THREE transactions done in one day: get a temporary plate; get a V.I.N. check; and register the bike. Just learning that the bike is not stolen and runs well took a huge load off my worried mind.

Yes, God's plans are better than any plans we could imagine! I need to learn to trust Him more!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Dream is a Reality - I Bought a 2002 Dyna Wide Glide!

After an unproductive road trip to Connecticut last week to look at a couple of used Harley prospects (see http://harley-bound.blogspot.com/2010/01/hunt-moves-to-connecticut.html), I was a bit discouraged. I scanned motorcycles for sale on Craigslist every night, and scanned eBay every few days, but there were no other decent prospects nearby for any of the models I wanted (Wide Glide/Low Rider/Softail Custom or Standard) in my price range. A Harley dealer in New Jersey had a nice 1998 Wide Glide listed online for $7,800, but when I factored in shipping costs (about $500), the deal wasn't as attractive. Besides, I really didn't want to drive that far to look at a bike.

Then, I decided to see if the 2002 Wide Glide I had looked at in Massachusetts last month was still available. It was listed on eBay and Craigslist for $7,900. After I went to see it on Dec. 29, the owner rejected my offer of $7,000. He counter-offered to sell it for $7,750 - no less - adding that he could sell it for much more in the spring (see http://harley-bound.blogspot.com/2009/12/tale-of-two-wide-glides.html). The eBay auction ended without the bike selling, but I didn't see it re-listed on either eBay or Craigslist. In the meantime, I had saved up some more money, so I emailed the seller on Jan. 14 and said I would be willing to buy the bike for $7,750, if I could test ride it. But there was still sand and salt on the roads where the bike was, and the owner said the salt would damage the chrome. I didn't want the salt attacking the chrome, so I agreed a test ride was not a good idea.

Next, I had to find someone with an enclosed motorcycle trailer to help me transport the bike. I put out the word among my Christian biker network (and even my Facebook page), and chased several leads. I also considered renting a U-Haul truck. Then Mike Laplante, a Christian biker and member of the CMA Kingdom Kruzers chapter in East Bay, R.I., offered to use his pickup truck and enclosed trailer to get my bike. After coordinating schedules with the seller and Mike, we arranged to get the bike Saturday morning.

On Friday afternoon, I went to my bank and withdrew most of my savings account, asking for mostly $100 bills. I have never held so much cash in my hands in my life, and I was nervous. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night.

I arrived at Mike's house at 8:00 the next morning, and his truck and trailer were ready to roll for the 90-minute drive to New Braintree, Mass., where, unlike Rhode Island, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, as well as sand and salt on the roads. The seller, Don, had plowed the road to the shed in back of his house, where the bike was being stored. Also, Danny, the owner of the bike, met us there. (Don and Danny are friends, and Don is selling the bike for Danny, who works a night shift job.)

Danny gave me the title, bill of sale, owner's manual, two keys and stock exhaust pipes, and gave me a quick rundown on the bike's controls. Then, I counted out $7,750 in cash, and we loaded the bike onto Mike's trailer. Mike had the bike tied down in less than five minutes, and we were on our way back to my place in southern R.I., a two hour, 90-mile trip.

We unloaded the bike in my driveway, started it up and I rode it into my garage, as Mike, who was just as excited as I was, took pictures to commemorate the occasion.

The whole thing felt like a dream, and I literally had to pinch myself to realize this was indeed real. My CMA Romans 8 Riders chapter president, Spike, a diehard Harley guy, knows quite well what I'm feeling, because when I saw him today, he asked me, "So ... how many times have you been out to the garage to look at it?"

I just have to thank God, through Jesus Christ, for blessing me with the bike of my dreams - right down to my first choice of color! God is awesome!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Midwinter's Ride

Since I had no appointments to look at motorcycles today, and it was a relatively warm (for January) and sunny day, I called my friend Duke and accepted his offer to take our motorcycles for a ride. I told Duke, who is in my CMA chapter, Romans 8 Riders, that I would meet him in the Park n' Ride commuter lot near the North Kingstown Home Depot. On the ride up, I saw another motorcyclist in my neighborhood taking advantage of 45-degree weather. After I met up with Duke, we went in the Depot, where I got three pairs of HotHands hand warmers.

Although there was still some snow on the ground, the roads weren't too bad, with standing water from melting snow in only a few spots, and manageable amounts of sand. We went south on Route 102 and caught Route 1-A near Wickford, where we passed another motorcycle coming the opposite way. Then we got on Route 138 east and crossed the Jamestown Bridge, with our final destination being Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown, R.I. We walked along some cliffs and looked out at the ocean, marveling at the natural beauty of God's creation. We agreed we were blessed to be able to ride while there is still snow on the ground.

Duke's motorcycle, which you can see in the background of the above photo (courtesy of Duke's cell phone camera), is a Yamaha Royal Star, which has a V-4 engine with a distinct exhaust note. It has clean, flowing lines with the gas tank, rear fender and hard saddlebags, especially when viewed from the back, and is a very comfortable bike. I sat on it and the riding position of the floorboards actually felt more comfortable than the Harley Fatboys and Heritage Softails I've sat on. Plus it has a really cool digital speedometer that is reminiscent of a 1960s Chevy Impala (long and horizontal). As much as his bike's got going for it, Duke conceded there is at least one advantage Harleys have over his bike: there are many more handlebar options for Harleys, he said.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Hunt Moves to Connecticut

Today I took my hunt for a used Harley to the neighboring state of Connecticut. I had a fairly long drive, but I planned to look at two bikes that happened to be located fairly close to each other.

My first stop was T.S.I. Harley-Davidson in Ellington, Conn., about a two-hour ride from my apartment. I had printed out driving directions from Mapquest.com, but made a wrong turn as I got near the dealership. I don't think I have EVER had a set of Mapquest directions that got me to my destination without an unplanned detour, or at least some uncertainty. I would have kicked Mapquest to the curb long ago, if it wasn't free.

Anyway, at T.S.I. Harley, I met Kevin, who had a 2001 Dyna Wide Glide for sale on Craigslist. It was around lunchtime, so I followed Kevin (who works in the dealership's service department) to his house nearby to look at the bike, which was black, my favorite color. Kevin told me he had bought the bike cheap from a guy going through a divorce, with the intention of reselling it for a profit. The bike had about 18,000 miles, but it was not what I'd call a clean bike. There was some pitting and corrosion on the chrome (including the spoked wheels), and flaking paint and rust on the lower frame. There were also some questionable wiring splices that looked like they used a good portion of a roll of electrical tape. The engine sounded good and the exhaust (Vance & Hines Short Shots) was loud, and as I revved it and let off the throttle, it had that backrap sound I always associate with hearing Harleys in the distance.

Kevin was asking $7,900, and I offered $7,500, but he said the price was firm, so I shook his hand and went on my way. Truth be told, I wasn't impressed enough with the bike's condition to even pay $7,500, but I was curious to see how flexible he was.

After stopping for lunch, I went back to T.S.I. H-D to look at their used bike inventory. I sat on a few bikes, but they had nothing that interested me. I decided I don't want a Heritage Softail or a Fatboy, because I don't like floorboards or the angle my knees were bent while sitting on those bikes. I like the leg position of the forward controls on a Wide Glide much better.

Next, I drove about 10 miles to Shark Cycle, a Victory motorcycle dealer in Stafford Springs (and got lost again - thanks, Mapquest!). They have a 2002 Dyna Low Rider listed for about $7,300 on Cycletrader.com. I had called about it a few weeks ago and the dealership's owner, Bob, said someone had put a deposit on it, but was unable to pony up the rest of the money, so he said if I wanted the bike, it was mine. I got busy and forgot about this bike, until I decided to go look at the other bike and figured I'd kill two bikes with one stone, as it were.

My first impression of Shark Cycles, was, well ... not too impressed. The used bikes were crammed so close together that I could not sit on one, or even closely inspect it, without the salesman having to move other bikes. And when I told the salesman that I wanted to start the engine, he tried to see how serious I was about buying it before he walked it outdoors so I could hear it run. C'mon guys ... looking at a bike shouldn't be this much work, should it?

The bike, which had about 15,000 miles, was clean and had forward controls, and its engine also sounded fine. The rear tire didn't have much tread life remaining, but I wondered if the bike had been dropped in the past (the dealer took the bike as a trade-in). There was a dent in the left side of the gas tank; the stock handlebars had been replaced; the rear fender was off-center; and the front tire was worn more to one side (although I've been told that any one of these things doesn't necessarily indicate accident damage).

I noticed something else a bit odd: The tachometer and speedometer housing on the gas tank was crooked, and the rubber gasket was cracked, faded and loose - it didn't fit the general condition of the rest of the bike, and something seemed "off," even though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Just intution, I guess.

Of course, the owner and salesman tried to get me to commit to the bike with at least a deposit, but I told them I would have to think about it. They would not lower the price. Before I left, I used their bathroom, which had perhaps the weirdest sign I've ever seen posted in a rest room. It read, "Please don't go #2 in here. Ask us about a more private bathroom."

I returned home, having logged 200 miles on my van with no Harley to show for it. Tomorrow, the hunt continues ....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Today, I experienced many 'firsts': It was the first time I rode a motorcycle in the month of January; it was my first motorcycle ride of 2010; and it was my first time riding in temperatures in the 20s. The roads were finally clear of snow and ice (although my landlord's driveway still has packed snow, so to be safe, I walked my bike from the garage to the street).

The first cager I passed on my street shook his head at me, as if to say, "Buddy, you're crazy to be riding a motorcycle in 25-degree weather!" I just nodded at him, unfazed, and glad to be able to ride my scoot. Two wheels still move the soul, even in sub-freezing weather. After a gas stop, I rode to a local bank and then back home, less than 10 miles total. A customer outside the bank said he was impressed I was riding around in weather this cold.

I had more errands to run one town away and was initially going to take my van, but the cold really wasn't too bad and it was sunny, so I decided to take my motorcycle instead. Like I did the last time I rode, I wore ski mittens supplemented with HotHands chemical-activated heat packs, and they kept my digits acceptably (but not toasty) warm and functional.

Strategically planning your stops when riding in weather this cold becomes crucial. I stopped at the North Kingstown, R.I. Town Hall to pay some motor vehicle taxes, and plopped my helmet, gloves and semi-raw hands on top of a hallway heater that was blowing nice, hot air. My taxes helped pay for that heat, so I might as well take advantage of it. Then I rode into downtown Wickford, actually found an on-street parking spot and walked into Wickford Diner, where I claimed a seat at the counter directly underneath a heating register in the ceiling. The waitress, spotting my motorcycle helmet on the next chair, promptly gave me a cup of black coffee. I ordered a very reasonably priced and mouth-watering juicy char-broiled 1/2-pound hamburger with fries, and experienced a little taste of heaven on a cold winter day!

After thawing out and filling up my tank with coffee, beef and carbs, I rode to a nearby meeting, where I reconnected with people I had not seen in several months. One woman said I was the second motorcyclist she'd seen that day - and here I thought I was the only one!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wishful Thinking

Why is it that most people who are trying to sell a used Harley-Davidson think they are sitting on a gold mine?

Case in point: A friend of mine, who works for a large corporation that has inter-office computer classified ads, forwarded me an ad he spotted for a 1999 Dyna Low Rider. The woman selling the bike is asking $9,500.

Now, the Kelly Blue Book retail value (a price one might expect to pay at a dealer) is $8,440. But, a private-party sale should be less than retail, since a private seller offers no warranty; you are buying the bike "as is." The trade-in value, according to KBB, is $6,170. So, a $7,000 offer is not unreasonable, in my opinion. Not to mention that 1999 is the year Harley big twins had the cam bearing issues.

The NADA guide values the bike between approximately $5,500 and $6,500 retail, which some feel is more representative of a motorcycle's true value, but most people selling bikes naturally go by the higher Kelly Blue Book values.

Anyway, I called the seller's phone number and informed her that book value on her bike is about $8,500 - IF it were being sold by a dealer with a warranty. I said I would only be interested in the bike if she was willing to consider an offer of around $7,000 to $7,500.

The woman, Jeannine, responded that the book value is $14,000. I asked her what book she got that price from and she said Kelly Blue Book.

Shaking my head, I said, "That must not be same the Kelly Blue Book I'm looking at."

Jeannine acted like $9,500 was a real bargain, adding that she received several calls. She did not offer to lower the price, so our conversation was brief.

It's a strange market for used Harleys. For about $500 less than she's asking for her '99 Low Rider, I could buy a 2005 Night Train from my local Harley dealer.

I just don't get it ... with the economy in the tank, high unemployment, layoffs and foreclosures still a regular occurrence, this is supposed to be a buyer's market. Where's the bargains?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

So Many '99s ... and Keep Your Hammer Away from My Harley!

I really would rather avoid getting a 1999 Harley, but there seems to be a bumper crop of them for sale lately. That was the year the twin-cam, 88-cubic-inch engines made their debut in the Dyna family of Harleys, replacing the reliable 80-cubic-inch Evolution ("Evo") motors.

The '99 (and some early 2000) Big Twins are known for camshaft bearing problems. Not every engine of this vintage will develop bearing problems, but I'd rather not play Russian Roulette.

There is a 1999 Dyna Wide Glide for sale on Craigslist in Milford, Conn. I called the owner, who is asking $7,500 for the bike, last night. It has had some mild customization done to it. The bike has about 14,000 miles, but because the seller is the third owner, he doesn't know if the cam bearings were ever replaced. He told me he'd be willing to sell it for $7,000, but, as I said, I'd rather not buy a '99 unless it was really cheap.

Then, this afternoon, I looked at a 1999 Dyna Low Rider that is for sale on consignment at a custom motorcycle shop in Coventry, R.I. That bike, which also has low mileage (about 12,000), has an asking price of $7,800. But it has been for sale for a year, according to an employee at the shop. This bike was mostly stock and fairly clean, but, after sitting on it, I quickly realized I couldn't stand the 'buckhorn' style handlebars, which put my arms and wrists in a very awkward riding position. While I wasn't crazy about the color (somewhere in between purple and royal blue), the handlebars alone killed whatever interest remained in that bike. (Plus, if it's been sitting for a year, the seller probably isn't too motivated to deal.)

At the shop, the employee showed me an older Road King that had an interesting story behind it. The seller had bought it to fix and resell, but it didn't have accident damage - it was the victim of a bitter divorce. The previous owner's wife got so angry at him that she took a hammer to his Road King, smashing the speedometer and several other components on the bike. Although the bike was salvaged, I'm not so sure about that marriage ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wide Glide Didn't Sell ...

Well, as expected, the 2002 Wide Glide that the seller declined my offer of $7,000 (http://harley-bound.blogspot.com/2009/12/tale-of-two-wide-glides.html), failed to sell on eBay. (The bike was also listed on Craigslist, and the seller had the right to end the auction early if the bike sold locally.)

Bidding in the seven-day auction, which also had a "Buy It Now" option to purchase the bike for $7,799, started at $150. There were a total of 10 bids from seven bidders, and the high bid was $6,000, which failed to hit the reserve price, so the bike did not sell (even though it has been listed at least twice previously, and had its price reduced for the third time, according to the listing). I don't know how much the seller has been dropping the price, but he was only willing to drop it $150 for me.

The auction's results didn't surprise me, since the bids on the majority of Harleys listed on eBay fail to reach the reserve, so a low percentage of bikes listed are selling. From what I've seen, people are only bidding up to around $5,500 or $6,000 for Dynas. I can sort of understand that, since I would not be willing to pay a lot for a bike if I did not see or inspect it in person, and it had no warranty (this was a private-party bike). In that situation, you are basically taking the seller at his word on the bike's condition (I once saw a classified ad describe a car as "mint condition," only to go find the car looked like it had sat in a junkyard the last five years). Of course, photos help, but they don't tell the whole story.

Personally, I would not buy a motorcycle that I did not see in person (this particular bike was less than 100 miles away from me, so I was able to physically inspect it). I will keep looking on eBay in case there are other prospects that are fairly close to me.