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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Welcome to the blog--Trading Bro Status for Clear Mirrors

As usual, I am a day late and a dollar short on something--in this case blogging.  I am going to try to post some random thoughts on motorcycles--not just Harleys or choppers--but all bikes because I really do like all bikes.  Certainly some more than others, but I still like them all.

So when I first planned to do this blog LAST YEAR IN JUNE I wrote this little piece that will follow...sums up quite a bit of what I feel these days

Trading “Bro” status for clear mirrors

Long-time, incredibly loyal Motorcyclist readers will remember my name. As the shop foreman back in 1993 through early 1994, I was always weaseling my way—and my name—on the pages of the magazine. Appealing as washing motorcycles, schlepping them around in a van easily mistaken for an abducter van, it wasn’t actually writing about motorcycles that I was doing. Nope, I was standing on the outside looking in at what I really wanted in my life. Come mid-1994, I jumped ship to assume a position as Feature Editor at Hot Rod Harleys, Petersen Publishing’s foray into the wildly successful H-D world. Then staffers John Burns, Tim Carrithers, Jason Black and Mitch Boehm ragged on me with every Harley joke you could imagine. But the bottom line was, I was hanging up my wash rag for a seat at the table of the fourth estate.

I was out of place in the V-Twin world, wearing an Aerostich suit, full face helmet and doing wheelies and burnouts on Harleys. I wasn’t so concerned with being seen as I was with having a damn good time on a motorcycle. Every chance I had to go a step further on those pages, I did. And I did my best to embrace the Harley world, even selling my GSXR 750 and replacing it with a Buell S2. Then I really stepped up my Harley credentials, I bought a Dyna. That bike--and the next Dyna to follow--had everything possible done to make it handle better, stop better and go faster. No lowering, no straight pipes, no ape hangers—and I wore a full face helmet each time I rode it. I was an outsider in the Harley world, but I was at least getting paid to ride motorcycles and write about them.

Well, things change and I recently left my connections to the V-Twin world behind and bought the first in-line four cylinder motorcycle I have owned since 1996. Actually it is also the only in-line four that I have put more than 30 miles on in those years as well. The day I had the deposit on my Dyna come in (thank you EBAY!) I rolled down to the Kawasaki dealer and took a test ride on a 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14. Because I had not been riding sport bikes and the like didn’t mean I had not been following the other side of the motorcycle world and I knew what I wanted. The ride was short; no more than 10 miles, but it was enough to know I would own the bike.

So, its 1000 miles into the new ride and I am in heaven. There are some downsides though, as I discovered the first night of ownership. As a rule, regardless of what brand motorcycle I buy, it comes home, rolls into my garage and I tighten everything. The two or three hours spent are well worth it. So I roll into the garage, click on the ceiling fan and the radio, roll the shop seat up to the bike and reach into the toolbox—oh damn. I own like three metric tools, everything else is standard American sizing like you would use on…a Harley. I used to have a huge array of metric tools, but some jerk felt he needed them more than I did when he stole them from the storage area of my old Santa Monica apartment. So it’s off to Sears for a restocking of the toolbox. While not a terrible way to spend the night--who doesn’t like shopping for new tools—it was an unexpected surprise.

The next adjustment came in the form of wind noise. I had not heard wind noise in so long, I forgot how the shape of a helmet in conjunction with the jacket you are wearing can make for different levels of wind noise. See the last H-D had a 116ci S&S engine that pumped out just over 120hp and 125 ft/lbs of torque. It needed that Vance and Hines Pro Pipe to make the numbers it did. The pipes were not as harsh as straight pipes, but they sure were not quiet. That monstrous canister on the Concours 14 manages to strangle every sound coming from the engine, so I hear the wind again. Looks like some new helmet shopping is in order soon.

Finally, my biggest adjustment came this weekend when, after installing a new Corbin seat with backrest, my wife Marcia and I hopped on the 14 for a nice ride along the Mississippi to nearby Red Wing, Minnesota. The route leads you along Ol’ Miss winding through plenty of small towns including Wabasha, yes that Wabasha, where you can find Slippery’s Bar from the movies Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men. And my friends back in California question why I live here. OK, back to the big adjustment, apparently my “Bro” card was pulled when I sold the Dyna and I didn’t even know it. See on all my rides for the last four years of living in Wisconsin, tens of thousands of Harley riders have given me the “Bro” wave. You know, a fingerless gloved hand slides off the left hand grip and points to the ground much like God points to Adam in Michelangelo’s famous painting—the “Bro” wave. Same roads, same jacket and helmet, just no dudes on Harleys waving at me…don’t they realize I spent close to 15 years as a card carrying “Bro”? I packed nothing but H-D specific tool kits, knew the difference between a pan and a shovelhead. I could pick out the fake S&S teardrop aircleaner in a crowd. Dammit I still have a book about custom Harleys coming out this year, but the minute I swung a leg over that oh-so-quiet-and-smooth Kawasaki I lost my status.

But not all is lost friends, no, no I say, not all is lost. See, on this 200 mile cruise today I saw something I didn’t for about 15 years now, a clear image in my mirrors. For 15 years the mirrors of my Harley vibrated so badly that everything behind me looked like a third year impressionist art student had filled them in. So, I lost my street cred, my “bro” status, but I can see what is behind me. Maybe it’s not such a bad trade off.