Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The '82

I don't ride my old Harley as much as I used to these days.  Its a phase I guess, pushing pedals instead of twisting throttle.  I haven't forgotten the old Hog though...we've been through a lot together.

I bought my FXE brand new in the spring of '83.  It was a carry-over from the previous year and the dealer was hot to get rid of it to make room on his floor for newer stuff.  He made me a smoking deal and so my Sportster passed into history and the Superglide came home to roost.  It was pretty plain as Harleys go; the only thing I got extra was a turn-out tail pipe with no baffles to replace the fat, ugly baloney-shaped stock muffler.  The only thing that made it special was the fact that it was screaming, gaudy, burn-your-eyes, fire engine RED.  Maybe I was the only one crazy enough to buy one that bright but having a big motor was my goal and it was the only way I was getting there. Back then, that 80 inch iron engine hooked to a four speed hanging on two wheels was all I needed to be right with the world.
After a couple of years spent on my stiff-legged Sporty, it rode like a Cadillac even though I had to wear midnight-dark shades to cut the glare off the tank.  I promptly started pouring in high-test and rolling up the miles.  I did find a need for a sissy bar and forward foot rests so a little accessorizing got the red monster set up the way I wanted and life was good.

The first fly in the ointment was my discovery of a fairly large pool of tranny fluid on the ground one day as I was getting ready to ride out to lunch from work.  This was not a good thing. The dealer said he'd look at it so I topped off the transmission and headed for the shop.  Dissection found that a hex bolt head had sheared off, digested itself in the gears, cracked the case and pretty much wrecked the whole works.  The really bad news was that the warranty had run out the week before and H-D was not remotely interested in covering it.  This was really not a good thing.  Having just spent a boatload on the bike and since it was only days off the warranty, I kind of thought they might bend a little and fix it, especially since it was a manufacturing flaw as opposed to abuse.  Nope.  This was my first hint (more on that another day)  that all maybe was not rosy with the Motor Company in Milwaukee.  The long and short of it was; no amount of threatening or pleading was shaking them loose so I bit the bullet and had the shop wrench tear into it.  He managed to weld up the cracks, clean out the metal shavings and stuff Pandora back in the box.  It cost a bundle and there was no promises as to how long it would last but I was back on the road.  Wiser and poorer but moving again.

Fortunately, that was the worst of it for years thereafter.  The transmission held together (and is still holding) as a testament to the mechanic's ability.  And the miles just flew away.  I jammed all over the northeast  (those are stories to tell another day too), commuted to work, took off on the weekends and just generally rode the wheels off it like there was no tomorrow.  Unleaded gas went away so the valve guides wore out fast and the rings got sloppy so a first re-build came along somewhere in there.  Tires and brakes changed like my socks as the odometer cranked around into the 40's.  At some point the red paint finally got to me and one winter, the old girl became basic black.  No emblems, no pinstripes, no flames...just black like a Harley should be.  The painter wanted to put a badge on the tank but I figured anyone who cared would know what it was and anyone who didn't know didn't matter so why mess up the gloss?  So now it was black on black with the chrome starting to show some dings and rust.  The turnout pipe got razor-sharp on the bottom edge from dragging it around corners and the instrument lights gave up the ghost around 50K.  And still we rode.

Chris and I finally decided to get married in the summer of '87 and the only way she and I were leaving the church was on that black scooter.  On the big day, she put a helmet over her wedding hairdo, stuck on some Wayfarers, gathered her wedding dress up in her lap, threw a leg over and away we went.  As usual, the Superglide was in on everything.  We ended up living in a trailer for a while and at one point even owned a second Harley.  I came across another red '85 FXE (what is it with red?) and picked it up out of an estate.  It was nicer and newer than the '82 so it became our primary ride for a while.  It wasn't meant to be though, the payments were a little big and along came a house with a mortgage.  The '85 went, the '82 came out of semi-retirement and then there was only one.

The kids came next and hard riding went on the back burner while we did cars seats and mini-vans.  We'd sneak out for a ride when we could get someone to watch the boys but there were weeks on end when the big twin never fired.  Years came and went while the guys got bigger and still I hung on to the bike...hell, it was the only thing I had that was paid for.  I rode it while I taught rider education courses to a flock of novices for a decade or so but that was mostly commuting and demonstrating what I wanted my charges to do.  The days of packing a bag and taking off for Virginia were temporarily (I hoped) gone.  What riding I did took a toll though because the bottom end finally developed a persistent knock that could only be a sick crank bearing and that meant another round of rebuild after almost 90,000 miles.  This time it was a lower end, a bore job and yet another set of valves.  She came out running like a champ with a couple mor cubic inches but still hanging on to the bone-stock Japanese carb and the original clutch plates.  I couldn't seem to wear them out.

Suddenly, my boys are in high school and the old shovelhead is parked under a tarp on the patio.  That carb finally managed to vibrate itself to death a couple of years ago so a new S&S took it's place under my right knee.  The brand new and shiny chrome on the air cleaner is almost embarrassing compared to the way the rest of it looks.  The sudden increase in horsepower that came with better breathing instantly did in the clutch so that got a little upgrade to end the slipping.
Chris and I ride a bit more now that the kids are pretty much self-sufficient but still nothing like the old days.  The bike's got about 106,000 on it now and all those miles show.  She's rusty in spots, the pipes are mostly blue for about a foot from the heads, the chrome is pretty much shot, the forks leak (along with most everything else), the black is faded and after almost 30 years, I still can't see anything out of the mirrors because they vibrate so much.  For all of that, it's still the bike I rode to and from my wedding, the one I rode in the heat and sun and snow and rain for what seemed like a million miles, the ride that took us to a string of crummy hotels in strange places because that's as far as we could go, the one Chris used to fall asleep on when we rode all night, the one I took my kids for their first rides on...the one-owner scoot that always starts no matter how much I neglect and abuse the thing.

Yeah, I ride bicycles a lot these days and it takes up time I used to burn up on the Hog.  I haven't forgotten the old shovel though.  We've been through an awful lot of changes and roll with them like the song.  We'll get back together again one way or another.  I've even threatened to turn it into a chopper someday when I hit the lottery but I doubt I could do it.  I'd probably just shine up the black, re-plate the chrome, buff off the rust and ride some more.  It just seems like the right thing to do for an old friend.

No comments: