Monday, June 28, 2010

Fellowship and Ice Cream

Once a month, on a Sunday afternoon, a different member of the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association hosts a fellowship and potluck dinner at their home. These fellowships, which are in addition to our monthly business meeting, are an opportunity to get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ a little better; to discuss the latest modifications to our bikes; to encourage and support one another; and to enjoy the company of a great group of folks.

The monthly fellowships are a godsend during the winter months, when we are unable to ride, and provide a social event to look forward to. Of course, during the warmer months, the fellowships provide yet another opportunity to ride. This past Sunday was no exception. Anna and I ran into some of my fellow Romans 8 Riders at Christian Hill Community Church in West Warwick, R.I. They said some of them were meeting back at the church for a group ride, after the fellowship.

Romans 8 members Charlie and Brenda Nault graciously hosted our most recent fellowship this past Sunday, despite having been in a harrowing car accident only about a week before. They were driving on Interstate 195 in Massachusetts when their car was rear-ended by another vehicle, driven by a suspected drunk driver who police estimated to be traveling in excess of 100 mph, Brenda said. The impact lifted the Nault's vehicle off the ground before it landed on the front bumper, but miraculously, the Naults survived with only bruises and soreness for Brenda and a concussion and headaches for Charlie.

I took Anna on my motorcycle to the fellowship. Before arriving at the Naults' house, we stopped at an Italian bakery for a box of pizza strips, which Anna held, waitress-style, as she rode on the back of my bike. We pulled up next to some other motorcyclists at a stop light and I couldn't resist saying, "Pizza delivery!" to which they responded with a laugh.

Charlie cooked burgers and hot dogs on the grill while some of us lounged outdoors, while others preferred the air conditioned indoors. Pastor Joe made himself at home on the backyard hammock, while our Romans 8 president, Spike, talked to Manny about cams, a Power Commander and dyno tuning for Manny's Road King, which is out of commission currently. The long stretch of warm, sunny weather we've been enjoying lately has been torturing Manny.

"You watch - you'll know my bike is done when we get rain," joked Manny, who drove his car to the fellowship.

Manny and Spike wanted to see my bike with the new pipes and air cleaner, and I got favorable reviews from both of them.

There was also talk about the CMA's New England Rally which is scheduled for three days next month at a campground in Massachusetts. Roland Caron has offered to let me and Bob Levesque to stay in his travel trailer. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to stay all weekend, or just one day. God will work it out.

After the fellowship, Anna and I joined Romans 8 riders Andy Beaulieu and his wife, Kathy; Keith McGee; Tom Calci and his wife, Paula; and Bob Levesque, at the parking lot of Christian Hill. There was also a woman named Sandy, who rode an orange Road Glide, the only Harley besides mine. Andy led the group, and early in the ride, on Route 117 in Coventry, I saw a small black P.O.W. flag fall off Tom's bike onto the road. Keith went back to retrieve the flag while the group stopped and waited for him. Somehow, the flag's staff came unscrewed from its holder (I'm going to buy Tom a tube of Loctite for his birthday).

Andy took us out of Rhode Island and into Connecticut, where we rode on Route 49 through Sterling and Voluntown, Conn., a scenic road I have taken Anna riding on twice previously. We then rode on Routes 138 and 165, and a few smaller, winding roads. It was ideal riding weather, warm with hazy sunshine.

As we often do on rides, we stopped for ice cream, this time, at Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream on Route 165 in Griswold, Conn. I've driven and ridden by there many times, but had never stopped. Their ice cream is homemade, and, at $4 for a single scoop cone, kind of pricey, but very good. I ordered peach, Anna ordered Almond Joy. Bob Levesque won macho points for leaning on a garbage can covered with sticky ice cream residue, which grossed out some of the women and Tom, who didn't even want to touch the flapper door to the top of the can.

"They're just the right height for leaning on," Bob said.

One of the things I like most about June is that it stays light out relatively late. It was still dusk when we got back to the Coventry/West Warwick area around 8 p.m. But by the time I headed back to South County to garage my bike for the night, it was dark and foggy. Although the fog and fine drizzle forced me to remove my goggles and then eyeglasses in order to see, the coolness sure did feel good against my skin as I chugged home at 25 mph.

(The second and fourth photos were taken by Anna McCormick.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Making It My Own: Part 3 - Air Cleaner and Tuning

As was the case with my exhaust system, making a decision on which high-performance air cleaner to go with was a painstakingly slow decision. I kept browsing the J&P Cycles catalog, trying to find an air cleaner kit that would achieve both good looks and performance.

Just about any aftermarket air cleaner delivers better performance than the stock airbox, so the main issues are looks and cost. Some air cleaner kits sell for as much as $500, which is way more than I wanted to spend. I narrowed the finalists down to Arlen Ness Big Sucker and Doherty Machine Power Pacc. Of those two kits, the Doherty is more expensive (if you go with the PowerVent crankcase breather option), but my online research revealed nothing but stellar reviews of the Power Pacc kit. The backing plate is an extremely solid and finely-machined piece of billet aluminum, and the PowerVents add a nice dash of bling to the engine.

The instructions that came with the Doherty air cleaner kit were almost an afterthought (you would think the company would put as much effort into the instruction sheet as they did with their product); however, the kit is very intuitive and easy to install nevertheless.

Unlike the Arlen Ness kit, the Doherty kit does not include an air cleaner cover, although a plain chrome one can be ordered for $124 (way too much, in my opinion, for a plain cover). A chrome cover is mostly for appearance, though, since the gloss black painted air filter element retainer can act as a cover, as long as you use the buttonhead bolt to plug the center hole. The bike actually has a 'lean and mean' look without a chrome cover. One concern is that the air filter element could be exposed to rain, which, if heavy enough, could affect how the bike runs. You can install the stock 'football' or 'ham can' cover over the Doherty filter, and this would protect the filter from getting hit directly with rain, while still allowing plenty of airflow.

With the Vance & Hines exhaust pipes, my modified CV carb and the Doherty Power Pacc air cleaner all installed, I was ready for the moment of truth as I got ready to start my bike. I feared I would have difficulty starting it since the carb's float bowl was dry, but I only had to crank the starter about 10 seconds before the engine started. It actually started quite easily and idled well. Another big concern was exhaust leaks, but the gaskets had sealed well. I revved the engine and enjoyed the deep rumble from the Vance & Hines pipes.

I took a quick ride around my neighborhood to warm the engine up before fine-tuning the idle mixture screw, and immediately I noticed some differences, both in the way my bike sounds and the way it runs. The new pipes are a lot quieter when I am on the bike riding it. I could hear the normal top-end noises from my engine; my clutch lever rattling at idle; and another rattle, possibly from my backrest or luggage rack. I can also hear my gears shifting a lot more loudly now. And, I can hear the open-element air cleaner sucking air into the engine.

After a warm-up ride, I followed CV Performance's instructions for tuning the idle mixture. Using just my fingers, I turned the EZ-Just mixture screw in until the engine's idle speed began to slow, then I began to turn it out again in quarter-turn increments. I also adjusted the idle speed by ear, since I don't have a tachometer. The bike has a very smooth throttle response now, and I can feel more low and mid-range acceleration. It goes from 0-to-50 mph very quickly, and seemingly with very little effort. I did notice, though, that I sacrified some top-end performance. I imagine that is mostly due to no longer having open pipes, although for some reason, my throttle feels like it does not twist as far as it used to. It could simply be my imagination, but I will have to check my cables again to confirm my throttle is fully opening. But the best thing is that the bike has much better drivability. It seems to warm up faster, and I no longer have that annoying tendency to stumble every time I give it slightly more throttle.

It does sneeze through the carb occasionally when I roll on the throttle after a full stop, but I have been opening the idle mixture screw a few more times, and the sneezing is happening less and less often. I think I am at or near the 'sweet spot' of adjustment, since after my last adjustment, I get hardly any popping on deceleration, and the bike seems to coast down smoothly when I let off the throttle in gear.

Overall, the bike seems a lot more refined, even if I did lose some brute, full-throttle power. I am also getting used to the sound of the new pipes, which have a deep Harley rumble, and a low growl when I accelerate harder, although I can't make a bridge underpass echo like I used to, lol. My girlfriend Anna, actually liked the louder pipes, even though we can now talk to each other while riding. But, according to a guy I ride with sometimes, Tom Calci, who rides a Kawasaki, the new pipes are "still too loud" for his tastes. Just goes to show you can't please everyone when it comes to exhaust pipes, although most people like how the bike looks.

"She sure looks purty," Anna said in her southern drawl.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Making It My Own: Part 2 - Modifying the Carburetor

Before I bought my Harley, some guys I ride with tried to steer me toward getting a bike with fuel injection, but I was leaning toward getting a carbureted bike because it is simpler. Since I have trouble programming a VCR, I would rather fix something mechanical than computerized or electronic.

Some Harley owners ditch the stock carburetor for an S&S or Mikuni carb, but the factory Keihin CV carburetor is a simple, reliable, time-tested design that makes plenty of power for stock or slightly modified engines. The carburetors are set lean from the factory, due to EPA restrictions designed to reduce exhaust emissions. But, that results in drivabilty issues, such as the engine taking a long time to warm up; poor cold-weather performance; and an annoying tendency for the engine to stumble and 'cough' through the air cleaner when giving it a slight amount of throttle while cruising. This was a real bummer on group rides especially, and it also made me less confident riding the bike.

As always, I did a lot of online research before ordering a Stage 1 carburetor kit made by CV Performance (I ordered the kit through Besides main and pilot jets, and hardware, the kit includes an improved-design slide needle, slide spring and emulsion tube. I also ordered the optional EZ-Just idle mixture screw, acclerator pump nozzle and a new fuel inlet elbow made by CV Performance. From my local Harley dealer, I bought a float bowl O-ring; a carburetor-to-intake rubber seal ring; and a chrome top cover to replace the stock black plastic cover. I also bought a couple feet of 1/4" rubber fuel hose. With a factory parts and service manual, plus the instruction sheet from CV Performance, I was good to go.

After replacing my exhaust system first, I removed the carburetor, which came off quite easily. I am blessed to rent an apartment with a clean, well-lit garage and a workbench and stereo. Using my 'shop,' I took my time and disassembled the carb, spraying it with carb cleaner as I went along. The CV carb really is a simple design and I had no problems taking it apart or putting it back together. The only "oh crap" moment I had was when the EZ Just idle mixture needle fell off the bench and landed on the concrete floor with a "ping," but it didn't appear to be bent or otherwise damaged, thank God. (The only other glitch was that the carb cleaner discolored the plastic enrichener knob, but I can always get a chrome cover for that.)

The job went quickly, since I was able to save a few steps. For instance, I did not need to drill out the plug that the factory uses to cover up the idle mixture screw, since someone already did it previously. Also, I decided to leave the stock fuel inlet elbow, since it was already an all-brass piece (some of the stock fuel elbows are part plastic). While the instructions with the CV Performance Stage 1 kit were adequate, I do have a complaint with that company because there were no instructions with the EZ-Just needle or the accelerator pump nozzle. I suppose the needle probably doesn't need instructions, since it just screws into the carb, but I decided to leave the stock accerator pump nozzle since the new nozzle had no directions and I had no clue how to remove the old nozzle.

When re-assembling the CV carb, perhaps the most critical part is making sure the slide diaphragm is not pinched. I used a bit of petroleum jelly (actually, stuff used for spark plug boots) to hold the diaphragm in place, and it worked like a charm. After re-installing the carb and replacing the fuel hose, I struggled a bit reinstalling the throttle and idle cables, so I opened up the handlebar switch cover and disconnected the cables from the handgrip. I also used this opportunity to lube both cables, then adjusted them.

Next step: installing a high-performance air cleaner assembly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making It My Own: Part 1 - Exhaust System

In stock form, a 2002 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide is a pretty sweet motorcycle, with a 1,450 c.c. V-twin engine; wide, raked front forks; spoked wheels; mini ape hanger handlebars; and generous amounts of chrome. It also has a decent amount of power (especially for someone who previously rode a 535 c.c. bike).

The first owner owner of my Wide Glide, like most Harley owners, ditched the quiet, restrictive stock exhaust system for a set of drag pipes, also known as open pipes or straight pipes because they have no baffles. They are good for top-end horsepower, but rob low and mid-range torque, which is more useful on the street. They are rather loud (although loud is a relative term), but not obnoxiously so - at least not to me, but then again, I'm not taking the brunt of the sound on the bike. To me, they sound like a Harley should, with a nice 'crack' or 'backrap' when you roll off the throttle when accelerating through the gears at higher-rpm shift points. For me, that sound has been the essence of Harleys, and I sound I admired when I was much younger and had never even ridden or considered riding a motorcycle ... but I digress.

Nevertheless, the straight pipes did sound a bit 'blatty' or 'raspy' (for lack of better terms), and sounded tinny when using engine braking in a lower gear to go down a hill. I've also been avoiding certain communities, such as East Greenwich and Newport, R.I., which have regulations against loud motorcycle exhausts (when you come off the Newport Bridge, you are greeted by signs saying straight pipes on motorcycles are prohibited). Every time I approach a police car on the road, I've gotten into the habit of rolling off my throttle until I pass. And I've heard that motorcycles with straight pipes can annoy others on group rides, especially for riders behind you or to your right. Plus, as if I needed another excuse to change pipes, the heat shields on my straight pipes got scraped when I dropped the bike a few months ago and it was bothering me.

I spent the last several months researching exhaust systems. In some respects, it was a fairly easy decision. I knew I wanted a full exhaust system, not slip-on mufflers. Also, I knew I wanted to stay with a 2-2 system. Yes, a 2-1 system is more performance-oriented and will produce more low- and mid-range power, but I like the looks of a 2-2 system better. As for brands, I wanted to stick with a well-known brand such as Vance & Hines, Python or Samson. I did a lot of online searches for opinions on exhaust system brands, and read some negative reviews on Samsons (although in fairness, many people are happy with that brand). The reviews for Vance & Hines were nearly all positive. In the end, though, I based my final decision on looks, and I liked the clean lines of the Big Shots Staggered exhaust system from Vance & Hines. They have slick-looking billet tips that can be positioned one of two directions (I chose the slash down). I also purchased the optional V&H "quiet baffles" after reading reviews that said the baffles that come with the Big Shots Staggered are pretty loud. The quiet baffles aren't really quiet, but they tone down the bark and give a nice, deep rumble, according to several people who have installed them. I ordered the pipes and baffles from and was happy with the service.

Being a perfectionist can be good and bad. Whenever I install a part or accessory on my Harley, I like to be prepared with all the little parts I need, or that I might even potentially need, before I begin. In this case, I bought new exhaust port gaskets (which I definitely needed); a new front exhaust flange (which I didn't really need, but bought for strictly cosmetic reasons because the chrome on the old one was starting to deteriorate); and new exhaust flange nuts (the old ones were rusty). I also bought some stainless-steel bolts to replace the cheaper zinc-plated ones that came with the V&H exhaust system.

I had most of the tools for this fairly simple job, but on a Harley, the lower rear exhaust flange nut is tough to reach with a wrench or socket. After trying several different wrench and socket combinations, I found a Sears Craftsman 1/4" drive, swivel-joint, six-point 1/2" socket that fit the bill. Three of the four nuts came loose easily, but the fourth nut (of course, the one hardest to reach) wouldn't budge, so I sprayed it with PB Blaster the night before and it came loose easily the next day.

Before installing the new V&H exhaust system, I had to install the quiet baffles. The baffles are held in by a single bolt, but, unfortunately, the bolts are obstructed by the heat shields, so the baffles cannot be changed while the pipes are on the bike. While I think the Vance & Hines pipes are good quality, I also think it's stupid that they are designed so that the baffles can only be changed with the pipes OFF the bike. All the company had to do was drill a small access hole in the heat shields ... but that probably would have cost the company a whopping extra $5 in production costs, for pipes that cost about $500 retail ... okay, rant over. The quiet baffles come with fiberglass packing that is taped on, but I took the advice of other Harley owners who wrapped wire around the fiberglass to hold it in place so it would not bunch up when the baffles were inserted into the pipes. That worked like a charm.

I tackled the job on Tuesday. Removing the drag pipes from the bike was easy.
I used an O-ring pick to remove the old exhaust port gaskets, and applied anti-seize compound to the exhaust studs. I installed the exhaust support bracket supplied with the V&H system, and, after putting the heat shields on the pipes it was time to install the system. It was not too awkward putting the pipes on by myself, although I'm sure an extra pair of hands would have made the job easier. As much as I was dying to hear how the bike sounded, I waited until the next day to start it, when I had finished modifying the carburetor and installing the new high-flow air cleaner.

Well, the new exhaust system with the quiet baffles are quieter, and, as anticipated, have a deeper tone and a nice rumble at idle and low rpm. At higher rpm, the pipes have a throaty roar. When I am riding on the bike, they do sound quiet,
and I can hear more engine noise (which might explain
why some bikers complain they are too quiet) but the pipes sound plenty loud when I am standing next to the bike. On my second test ride, they seemed to get a bit louder, maybe due to the fiberglass packing settling in. Overall, I am happy with the system, and it is the sound and appearance I wanted to achieve. Plus, it will be nice to not have to wear ear plugs on longer highway rides and not have to avoid riding through certain places for fear of getting busted for loud pipes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Third Annual Ride for Tomorrow

The annual Ride for Tomorrow was one of my first large motorcycle charity runs last year. In memory of Mariah Burda, a 14-year-old girl who died of cancer in 2007, the event benefits The Tomorrow Fund, which provides financial and emotional support for patients and their families at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Last year's run left me with many good memories, so I was greatly anticipating this year's event - even more so, now that I have someone special to share it with - my girlfriend Anna.

God blessed us with perfect riding weather - clear skies, temps in the 80s and calm - as Anna and I left South Kingstown around 8:15 yesterday morning. Neither Cameron nor Duke, my fellow Romans 8 Riders who live in South County, were able to attend, so it looked like we would be riding solo to our rendezvous point at our Romans 8 chapter president Spike's house in Seekonk, Mass. But, as we were riding north on Interstate 95 in Warwick, we spotted two motorcycles belonging to Romans 8 members Bob Levesque and Cathilee DeLorto (who usually rides with her little dog), so we joined them and got to ride to Spike's with a group after all.

At Spike's, we were joined by his wife, Pam; Roland Caron and his wife, Sue; Bob Morra; and Paul Clement, a member of the Combat Veterans Association who sometimes rides with us. After praying, we rode to the ride's starting point, Mildred H. Aitken Elementary School in Seekonk, to register for the ride, set up our tent with Christian Motorcyclists Association literature and prepare to bless motorcycles. We arrived sometime before 10 a.m., signed a release form and got a ride T-shirt and rubber bracelet. Cathilee and Bob ended up not going on the run with us. Cathi-Lee caught a screw in her front tire, and Bob's back was hurting.

Over the next couple hours, motorcycles gradually streamed in and filled the semi-circular driveway in front of the school. At a rough guess, I'd say there were about 100 motorcycles. The guys who were organizing and leading the ride asked to have their bikes blessed, and I got to pray over one of their bikes belonging to a guy named Kenny, which I had asked to do since we share the same first name. Later, a couple came to our CMA tent and asked to have their bike blessed, so several of us walked over to their bike, a blacked-out Dyna.

Then, Bob Levesque, who knows Anna wants to learn to ride a motorcycle, spotted an ideal beginner's bike for her - a 250 cc Hyosung Aquila, owned by a woman named Christine. Anna walked over and began talking to Christine, who started out riding on the back of her husband Kyle's bike. Two years ago, she took a motorcycle safety course, got her license, bought the Aquila and has been riding it since.

Anna and I got into conversation with Christine and Kyle as Anna admired her bike. I have to give Anna credit for being observant, as she noticed that neither of their bikes had been blessed. Our CMA tent had been packed away by now, but when I didn't say anything, Anna persisted, "Baby, YOU should bless their bikes!"

I have never blessed a bike on my own before (usually, I am with at least one or two of my CMA brothers and sisters), so that was why I was a bit hesitant, but I thank God for Anna for helping me to get out of my comfort zone that day. After sharing the gospel of salvation and blessing each of their bikes, we chatted some more. Suddenly, we heard motorcycle engines starting. The ride was scheduled to begin at noon, and we had lost track of time. I had parked my bike toward the head of the pack and we were not close to it, so Anna and I sprinted to my bike. (Last year, I was also caught unprepared for the start of the ride, and almost ended up getting left behind, so I didn't want to repeat that scene.) We made it to my bike and quickly put on our goggles and helmets, and I started my bike with maybe 30 seconds to spare before the ride took off. That was a close one!

The ride ran smoothly for the most part. I was toward the front of the pack, with only about a half-dozen bikes in front of me. We had the benefit of police blocking traffic at several major intersections, and at the less-busy intersections, the first few bikes took turns blocking traffic. I wasn't sure of the route we took, but I imagine we rode through at least a few towns in Massachusetts (I only remember seeing a sign that said Dighton), on a mix of back roads, country roads and state roads, some smooth, some bumpy, some flat, some hilly, with a good mix of curves thrown in.

One of my favorite things about large motorcycle runs is that people standing in their yards or driveways often wave to us as we ride by. I especially remember an elderly woman who was rather excited to have us ride by. She put out her thumb, as if hitchhiking. "I think she wants a ride, baby!" Anna said.
My motorcycle ran well, and because it was warm, it didn't have that annoying tendency to stumble whenever I slightly twisted the throttle. However, much of the ride was at speeds between 30 and 35 mph, which had me constantly shifting back and forth between third and fourth gears. Anna complained that she was sliding back and forth on my seat. She though I was riding less smoothly than usual, but I thought I was riding the same, and I told her it must be because I recently put some vinyl conditioner on my seat. After the ride, I asked Roland, who rode behind me, to my left, how my riding was, and he said I did great. "It's funny you should ask," Roland said, "because I was going to tell you your riding has improved 200 percent."

As I mentioned, the ride went smoothly most of the way, until we reached Taunton Avenue in East Providence, a four-lane road in a busy commercial area (on a Saturday, no less). We had no police blocking traffic there, and there were a few awkward moments as cars tried to break into our group. I saw the exasperated expression on one man's face as he was about to pull out, then stopped, realizing he was in for a long wait while a huge pack of motorcycles rode by. At one point, an SUV came pretty close to Paul Clement, who was up front, sharing in the blocking duties. I saw Paul pull up next to the driver's door of the SUV and stop, and he appeared to be saying something to the SUV driver, so later, I asked Paul if the two had exchanged words.

"Oh, a few," Paul said, shaking his head. "He asked me if I owned the road."

East Providence (as do many parts of Rhode Island) had some particularly rough roads, so thankfully, we soon reached our ride destination, Houlihan's Tavern on the River, where food, a band and a raffle awaited us. By the time we parked and dismounted, some of the riders were already quenching their thirst with a cold beer. After riding about two hours on a hot summer day, I was a bit dehydrated and a cold beer sounded good, but I opted for a bottled water instead. Inside, two waitresses tried to offer Jello shots, but I declined, telling one of them that I've been sober for one year and four months. As much as the beer tempted me with my parched throat, Anna, who is trying to quit smoking, was tempted by several people smoking outdoors.

We got in the food line for burgers, beans, macaroni salad and cole slaw, and sat in a room with a view of the water. Cathilee, who had ridden her bike home, drove her car to Houlihan's to join us there. Romans 8 members Tony Calci and his wife Judy also joined us there.

As we awaited our 'second course' of roasted pig, Anna and I browsed the tables of raffle prizes. Normally, I don't buy raffle tickets, but that day, I had bought several, including the 50/50 raffle and the prize raffle, where you could somewhat
choose your prizes by dropping tickets into containers placed next to each prize. Anna and I decided not to wait for the drawing, so, after getting lost briefly on East Providence side streets, we got back on the highway and headed home.

That day, I rode two-up; ate two courses; and, I found out after I got home, won two raffle prizes: tickets for a Pawtucket Red Sox game, and a barbecue grill kit, which will come in handy since I am rebuilding a gas grill.

(The first two photos were taken by Paul Clement.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rediscovering Priorities

I've been thinking about my motorcycle a lot these past several weeks, but I haven't been riding it a lot. I can't really blame the weather; although we've had more clouds than sun lately, it's June and certainly warm enough for enjoyable riding. And my work has slowed down the last couple weeks (I'm self-employed).

Truth be told, I've been spending a fair amount of time buying parts and accessories for my bike, including a Vance & Hines full exhaust system; a Doherty Machines high-performance air cleaner; and a carburetor modification kit from CV Performance. Besides these planned mods, I've been running around getting countless little parts like gaskets, clips and specialty tools I will need to install the above parts.

A stock Harley is like a blank canvas waiting to be customized. Even in stock form, my bike, the Dyna Wide Glide, has a generous amount of chrome, but there's something about owning a Harley that makes you want to "make it your own." The previous owner kept it mostly stock, with a few upgrades, including a touring seat, drag pipes and a sport windshield. Now it's my turn to customize it. Right now, I'm focusing on functional upgrades, but I would like to make some strictly cosmetic upgrades as well.

As much as I have the urge to do it all at once, my finances won't allow that, so I browse through catalogs and online, planning and researching future upgrades for my motorcycle. But today, I realized that my priorities are starting to go astray. I mean, it's peak riding season, yet I haven't ridden my bike in over a week! I bought the bike to ride it, not turn it into a show bike, but my character flaw of being a perfectionist was starting to take over. I don't have to wait to turn my bike into the "perfect" bike before I ride it. Like me, it's a work in progress.

So today, I hopped on the bike for a ride to Westerly, with the purpose of stopping at a certain hardware store to look for a particular tool. It was sunny, warm and I wasn't working, so I had no excuse. I'd almost forgotten how my cares and concerns just melt away while I'm riding. It's just me and the bike, God and nature, and I'm living in the moment. My only concerns are other motorists. It's a zen-like state, with only the sound of the wind rushing past my ears and the V-twin engine throbbing between my legs ... pure bliss.

The hardware store did not have the tool I was looking for, so I was a bit bummed out, but only for a little while. As my girlfriend Anna says, "It's not the destination, it's the ride." And I truly felt blessed to be able to ride today.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2010 Oakland Beach Bike Blessing

God's plans survive minor (or major) setbacks. A good example was the second annual bike blessing at Oakland Beach (dubbed "CMA by the Bay"), sponsored by the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

With skies alternately sunny and overcast, the threat of rain or thunderstorms loomed large, and a strong wind whipped off the bay throughout the day. The unpredictable weather undoubtedly reduced the number of motorcyclists who would otherwise be out riding on a Sunday in June, but as our chapter president, Spike, said, God is in control and whoever is meant to be here, will come.

Last year's inaugural event featured vendors and Christian rock bands. Although the bands returned this year, the vendors opted out because of stricter requirements from the city of Warwick. Also, this year, the city failed to unlock the public bathrooms at the park. Nevertheless, a fair number of motorcyclists who rode the one-way loop around the beach decided to enter the park to get their bikes blessed.

As I did last year, I posted myself at the entrance gate to the park, waving at passing cars and trucks, and asking any motorcyclists if they wanted their bikes blessed. If so, I directed them inside the gate. I called my job title 'greeter,' but my girlfriend Anna, who stopped by to accompany me, said I was a 'fisher of men.'

"Go get 'em, baby!" she said every time a motorcycle approached.

I really like being a greeter at this blessing. Besides getting to listen to some great Christian rock, it feels good to be part of a team - Jesus' team. I have only blessed a few bikes, and it is something I want to do more of, but as a relatively new Christian, I figured at this event, I could best serve by bringing the bikes in, and letting my more mature brothers and sisters in Christ do the blessings and share the gospel of salvation.

Not everyone driving by shared my enthusiasm. Some bikers declined my invitation to get their bikes blessed, and some motorists ignored my friendly wave. Before I was a Christian, rejection would have bothered me, but not now. I approached my job with the attitude that God loves every person, and wants every person to be saved through his son, Jesus Christ. I was simply extending the love of Christ.

Anna and her 10-year-old son, Ricky, are getting bitten by the motorcycle bug, and it bit both of them strongly at this event. As much as Anna enjoys riding as a passenger on my Harley, lately, she has been talking about learning how to ride her own motorcycle, and today, she saw a Honda Rebel 250 she liked. The woman who owned it let Anna sit on the bike. "I can balance this!" Anna said.

Ricky tried on my helmet and goggles and, at one point, I caught him sitting on Bob Levesque's motorcycle, a Kawasaki. I wasn't sure if he had asked permission, but Bob said he had let him. Now Ricky is hounding me for a ride.

Some motorists and pedestrians slowed down or stopped to get a closer look or listen at what was going on. One man driving by slowed to a crawl, as the band, 4 A Cross, played a Pink Floyd tune ... perhaps the Christian lyrics threw him off.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Ultimate Sacrifice

For many, Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start of summer. Some people look forward to retail sales, cookouts or simply having three days off from work. But the real purpose of Memorial Day is to honor those Americans who lost their lives while serving in our military.

Anna and I decided to attend a different church on Sunday, Quidnick Baptist Church in Coventry, R.I., because we know its pastor, Joseph T. Campbell. Pastor Joe is also a member of the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. For his sermon, Pastor Joe read from Psalm 144, sometimes referred to as the 'soldiers' psalm.'

"Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues people under me." (Psalm 144, vs. 1-2)

U.S. soldiers, past and present, willingly put their lives on the line so that we may enjoy several freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There is no greater sacrifice than to lay down one's life for another.

Just as soldiers have died for our freedom, Jesus also willingly sacrificed His life on the cross so that mankind may have eternal life. "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9).