Friday, February 12, 2010

Wide Glide's Maiden Voyage

Thanks to what I believe was a God-created set of ideal circumstances, including a brief reprieve from winter (see, I got to take my recently-purchased 2002 Dyna Wide Glide for its maiden voyage about two weeks ago ... this is the follow up post about my first impressions of my new bike (sorry this post is so long after the fact, but better late than never).

I bought the bike on Jan. 23, and since the gas tank was nearly empty, I bought a five-gallon gas can and filled the tank up with regular, 87-octane gasoline, since that's what I use in my Yamaha Virago. But then I read the Harley owner's manual and saw that it calls for premium (at least 91-octane) gasoline, otherwise it can cause detonation (pinging). Great .... So, the following Tuesday morning, I bought a hand-operated siphon pump; pumped the Wide Glide's gas tank's contents back into the gas can; poured the gas can's contents into my van; went to the gas station to fill the gas can with 93-octane gas (they don't sell 91-octane locally); and then refilled my Harley's gas tank. The lengths we go to to pamper our Harleys ... it's insanity sometimes.

After refueling, I check the oil level, which looked fine (although it's due for an oil change) and checked the tire pressure, which was slightly low, so I added air. I attached a temporary registration plate, grabbed my riding gear and documents to register the bike, and started the bike to let it warm up. I had taken the saddlebags off the bike Saturday, so I was unsure how to safely carry the papers, but I rolled them up and stuck them in an inside pocket of my leather jacket, where they were secure. Being careful of the mud at the end of my landlord's driveway, I hit the road.

As is normal with carbureted Harleys, I'm told, the bike is "cold-blooded" (that's motorcycle-speak for "the bike takes a while to warm up"). It sputtered, hesitated and coughed, so I pulled the choke out slightly and it behaved better. The bike has straight pipes and is loud (which I like), but there is a police station near where I live and I was worried about getting stopped. Few things stand out as much as a motorcycle on the road in the middle of winter in New England. So I decided to ride a bit out of my way to get to Route 1, with my ultimate destination being Middletown, R.I. My ride would take me through five towns, over two bridges and across Narragansett Bay - a well-rounded test run, with some beautiful ocean views.

I had heard the bike run before I bought it, but was unable to test ride it, so I had to trust the seller's word that the bike rode and drove well. Thankfully, that proved true. The clutch engaged smoothly, and the transmission shifted flawlessly. Neutral was easy to find. The brakes worked well.

Now, ideally, I had planned to do a few short runs with the bike on local roads with lower speeds and little traffic, until I got more acquainted with the bike, like I did with my Yamaha Virago when I first bought it. But I very quickly felt comfortable riding the Wide Glide, even in heavier traffic and higher speeds, right from the get-go. I guess it's just because I'm a more experienced rider now. I did have to fiddle with the choke a few times on the fly, since it was cold-blooded, so that was a bit awkward, as my gloved hand groped for the choke lever. Also, while stopped, I had to give the bike a bit of throttle, as it threatened to stall (it only stalled once, and it quickly restarted). But, once it was warmed up, those issues disappeared.

While my Yamaha Virago (it's also an air-cooled V-twin, although much smaller displacement) warms up much quicker than the Harley, the Harley definitely is a huge improvement in ride quality. Rhode Island roads are notoriously bumpy, and the Virago rear suspension often bottomed out, but the Wide Glide was like riding a Cadillac. I found it to be well mannered and responsive on the curves. I also like the Wide Glide's forward controls and mini-ape handlebars much better, both for appearance and ergonomics.

Then there is the torque of the Harley's Twin Cam 88 cubic inch engine ... even going easy on the throttle, which I did, 60-70 mph comes almost effortlessly, and it lost no power scaling the Jamestown and Pell (Newport) bridges. The sound bellowing from the pipes was music to this rider's ears, especially when upshifting. In contrast, my Yamaha with its original exhaust system is so quiet I like to compare it to a sewing machine.

As I exited the Newport Bridge, I became paranoid, since signs are posted saying motorcycles with straight pipes are prohibited and can earn a hefty fine. What's worse, there was a police cruiser parked right at the bridge off-ramp! I checked my rear view mirror, but he didn't come after me. Now I was in heavier local traffic, and negotiated a traffic officer directing two-way traffic through one lane due to tree crews, before reaching the Middletown police station to get a V.I.N. check for my bike.

From there, it was a short hop next door to a branch office of the registry of motor vehicles, where I registered the bike and got a permanent plate. Oddly, I remembered all the paperwork I needed to register the bike, but forgot to bring a screwdriver so I could attach the plates. Duh! I asked a few people I saw in the parking lot if they had a screwdriver or pliers, but no one did. Thankfully, there was a tire shop next door, so I soon had my plate on the bike and was ready for the 20-mile ride home, as the temperature started to dip below 45 degrees, the point where my fingers start to go numb after a while, even with heavier gloves (they survived the trip).

As I stopped to pay the ($4!!!) toll on my way back over the Newport Bridge, the toll collector, a guy who appeared to be about my age or younger, asked me how the wind was coming over the bridge. It was pretty strong, actually, and I was pushed around a bit, but I never felt unsafe, as the Wide Glide is a heavier bike and rather stable. I don't know if he rode motorcycles or not, but he seemed to like my bike ... at least he agreed that a little wind is a small price to pay to be able to ride on an otherwise perfect January day.

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