Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Few Notes On Antique Harley-Davidsons

Owning and riding a nice Harley-Davidson is to many people an experience that is often difficult to put into words. I often hear things like freedom, leaving your worries behind, natural high, etc. I sometimes call my bike my "mechanical therapist", among a few less flattering words you don't say in polite company.

Owning an antique Harley brings with it a whole new set of rules, pleasures, feelings and life's little lessons. Here are a few things that differentiate the WWII era bikes from the new push a button and put wind in your face bikes. You know...the ones that you see running and being ridden!

Plan on two hours of maintenance and cleaning/polishing for every hour of riding.

If you stop anywhere, you will meet that old dude who will want to spend the rest of the day telling you about the bikes he, his friends and his family had and the rides they went on. Trouble with that is, they are great stories and you want to listen.

Shock absorbers and electric starters are just passing fads. I keep telling myself that...

You spend a lot of time checking the mirror. Not for traffic, but for anything that may have fallen off.

The mirror vibrates so bad that in order for anything to be seen, it must be the size of a tailgating bus with the high beams on.

If you lack mechanical ability, you won't for long.

Leave lots of stopping distance! Old style drum brakes suck.

Always bring a cell phone. Old bikes are hard to push and for some unknown reason only break down where you have to push uphill.

You will spend hours pondering things like how in the Hell did people ride these damn things from coast to coast before cell phones, major highways or high quality lubricants and parts!?!

You do not own an antique Harley-Davidson. It owns you. It is older than you and will still be here when you are dust. Face it, you are just it's latest curator.

With all the people who want one, why don't you see more of them on the road? About half the bikes like mine (1945 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead) I've seen are sitting in a museum.

You spend hours picking and fussing to get that bike looking and running perfect. Then you go for a ride...repeat.

Most projects have an end. But when you start on an antique Harley, you will never be done. There's a good reason my bike was nicknamed "Time Bandit".

You will use very expensive oil so it will leak out. Hey, if it's leaking at least it has oil.

All that said, the feeling of an old bike that is running perfect on that perfect 80 degree day as you go through the gears (foot clutch and hand shift) is nothing short of a religious experience........crap! What was that shiny, bouncing thing in the mirror?!


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