Having been a big fan of the brand for oh, about 15 minutes a long time ago, I thought it was high time that I defended my position even though no one asked. As I have suffered on numerous occasions on their account, it’s payback time.
When I moved to Texas in 1979, I became re-acquainted with Tom Maples, whom I grew up with in Indiana. He had ridden motorcycles all of his life, mostly Harleys. At that time, I had a 550 cc Suzuki which I eventually brought down and we began riding on weekends. It wasn’t too long before I noticed we spent more and more time checking his bike over, mostly at my insistence. My bike had sealed chain, his had a chain oiler. I had a halogen headlight, he a sealed beam. I never ceased to be amazed at how crude the Harley was in comparison. Nor did I forgive H-D for their poor QC as Tom usually got a new bike every other year, they always had problems and they always looked the same to me. So, how can you build the same shit year after year and still not get it right? It’s not like there was any evolution (other than in name) involved in the design/engineering (If there was any engineering done. They were probably the last to retire their slide rules, if they have).
We rode mostly within 100 miles or so with an occasional nearby rally thrown in until another friend who rode told us about a big rally in Ruidoso, NM. the Aspencade. It just so happened that that year, Honda was renaming their big touring bike after the rally and the rollout was going to happen there. The only time I was in New Mexico before, my wife and I were driving back from LA and we stayed with a college friend of mine at a tuberculosis sanitarium turned commune up in the Black Range. I went to college in the 70s, you see.
The whole time we were driving there I was thinking what a blast it would be to be on a bike. We were in.
By this time, I had a bigger bike, a Suzuki GS750 which handled like it was on rails and Tom had a new Harley Low Rider which handled like a ’63 Cadillac carrying six passengers and their luggage. We camped out and our friends were in a motel. It rained the whole time and seldom got above 45. Our friends actually found our tent while we were gone. They pinned a note on it, assuming it was us by the large stack of whiskey bottles and beer cans we had piled up. In a futile attempt to stay warm, we tried alcohol which backfired miserably. Once it got nice and toasty in your sleeping bag, you had to get up and pee. All night long. They invited us to sleep on the floor of their motel room. We did.
The weather turned nice as we left for home and all was good until we stopped at a rest area and Tom’s key broke off in his ignition as we left. He had to leave the bike running until we could get to a dealer, the nearest of which was in Roswell, about two hours ahead. We found the dealer and finally shut that poor, hot engine off by pulling off the spark plug wires and told the guy about our dilemma. He told us there was nothing he could do as it was part of HD’s anti-theft policy not to make keys. That pissed me off so I went around to find a locksmith. I found two and they both confirmed what the dealer had said. Now, I’m really hot. As we’re sitting out in front of the dealership, a gorgeous customized yellow ’56 Chevy pickup pulled up next to us. The guy went inside and when he came back out, I asked him if he had a tire iron I could borrow as we were stuck. He let me use it and with Tom aghast, I snapped off the bolt holding his seat on so I could get at the wiring. Took about a minute. So much for HD’s anti-theft program. I had the otherwise useless parts guy make me a small piece of wire with alligator clips on each end. We hotwired the ignition, shorted across the solenoid with a screwdriver to start it and were on our way. Unfortunately, not for long.
Sometime in the wee hours of the night, Tom flashed his lights at me. He rode behind me as his night vision wasn’t the greatest. As I slowed down, I could hear the problem before he signalled to me that there was one. Something was dramatically unhinged or was about to be. We were just West of the town of Post, TX (Grape Nuts, that Post) so we decided to go where there was some decent light and see what was wrong. We headed into town to find the city park figuring, if we couldn’t fix it at least we could sleep there. Now, Post is a pretty town with lots of nice buildings with lots of nice brickwork. As we were going through downtown, Tom, a bricklayer, was admiring all of that long gone craftsmanship when he sideswiped a curb, smashing his pipes and breaking a bracket. Turns out, what started all of this was one of the nuts had fallen off his front exhaust pipe and the other one was on its way. Not having any spares (Who would? You can’t carry enough spare parts to anticipate what will fall off of a Harley and, something will usually fall off. Tom’s tool bag fell off somewhere on the way out.) and not having any wire, dumpster diving was our only option. Tom fished out a coathanger about the time the cops pulled up to see what the hell we were doing. While he crawled out of the dumpster, I explained what had happened and as it was about 3 am, they were cool, they wished us luck and left. We wired the pipe back on, tied his exhaust system together and he made it all the way home.
But wait, there’s more. This was one trip. There were others.
Once we had the taste for riding in the mountains, a stroke of good fortune reared its head. An ex-girlfriend of mine, Susie Rhodes, became postmistress of the little village of Moose, WY, in Grand Teton National Park. I invited us up there and she was cool with it. We trucked the bikes to her house and rode across Wyoming to the rally at Sturgis, SD. We made this trip almost without incident as Tom had beforehand, purchased the shop manual for the bike, borrowed a torque wrench from a neighbor and we proceeded to dismantle the bike and Loctite every nut and bolt, torquing them to factory specs. Sweet. The tail light came loose but didn’t fall off.
On our way back to WY, we stopped at a c-store in front of a KOA campground to stretch our legs a bit when we heard this horrible Harleyesque clatter coming up the road. It was a guy from CA on his way home when his back cylinder started coming loose. It was jumping up and down as we could plainly see as he got closer. The only available tools were the metric ones that came with my bike when divine providence, in more ways than one, came to save his ass. We talked with him for a while when this young guy rode up on a bicycle that had a fairing and small saddlebags on it. He was carrying a small zip-up bag with him. He was from Providence, RI. He had ridden to San Francisco and was on his way back. He asked us what was going on around here as for the last few miles, the sides of the road where he was riding were littered with tools and he had picked up as many as he could carry. American size tools, we found out as he emptied his bag out on the ground. He told us to take them as he only used metric sizes on his bicycle. Tom and the guy on the Harley thanked him for the tools and went to work tightening up his cylinder while I explained to the kid that the reason why he had found all of the US spec tools was because there had been a big rally with lots and lots of HDs, they most likely vibrated their tools off and there was an example of that right in front of him. We wished the kid well as he left then we had a beer with the guy after he got his bike back together to celebrate his good fortune.
We had more adventures like this but, I know that anyone who’s read this far is anxious to see the logo design so, here it is.