Gravel Road…King

The struggle is real. I can only imagine walking the hallowed halls of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 2019, the weight of a legacy built by Harley and Davidson brothers pressing down on you. With over 115 years of constructing this legendary icon and searching for the ways and means to continue this brand for another 115 years, must be stressful. A brand that has survived through literally generations is quite a feat, all-the-while forecasting the future wants and needs of their customers and trying to remain relevant in a ever changing landscape. It’s not easy living in the present and the pressure must be tremendous.

I have to hand it to The Motor Company. The last few years they have made a commitment to bring a plethora of new models to market and contrary to what we see about the LiveWire, not all of them are electric. The new Pan America and the Bronx are classic examples of a more forward thinking company. I, for one, have traded my off my Harley-Davidson Road King for a BMW GS. After logging several hundred-thousand miles on Harley’s tying to find myself, I’ve come to realize I may be hiding down some lonely gravel road or cow trail. And a Gravel Road King it was not.

I, for one, have traded my off my Harley-Davidson Road King for a BMW GS. After several hundred-thousand miles on Harley’s tying to find myself, I’ve come to realize I may be hiding down some lonely gravel road or cow trail. And a Gravel Road King it was not.

But these challenges aren’t exclusive to Harley-Davidson. This modern day dilemma finds a cell phone in every hand instead of a throttle. It’s easier to watch a few internet sensations on YouTube doing what we all should be doing – getting out and experiencing life the way it should be. I applaud Harley-Davidson for taking a leap into other segments, and the development of the Pan America and Bronx are a great start. Looking back, maybe the relationship between Buell and The MoCo came at the wrong time. And before you comment under your breath, the Buell Ulysses was a good motorcycle. And let’s not forget the Sportster XR1200. This is a classic example of Harley actually stepping up their game with a model and a market that wasn’t ready. With all the hoopla surrounding the Indian FTR1200, one would think the XR1200 would be a success on today’s showroom floors. We get excited about new models, but if customers don’t make the purchase, plugs get pulled. Another good bike lost to lack of sales.

Just as the Founding Fathers would never fully see the success of the motorcycles they built, they could truly see the effect their motorcycles had on riders of the day. Besides basic transportation, their motorcycles were a part of the social piece that Harley-Davidson is known for. Rides, races and gatherings brought those with this common bond together – and the sights, sounds and smells were the glue that kept it going. With all this social media we have now, I believe something is missing. Maybe it’s the social part.

their motorcycles were a part of the social piece that Harley-Davidson is known for. Rides, races and gatherings brought those with this common bond together – and the sights, sounds and smells were the glue that kept it going.

I consider myself an average guy. As a Harley-Davidson enthusiast maybe I’m part of the Motor Company’s problem. As I get older, I’m finding I still love all things motorcycle, but my interests are changing and my desire to see the same roads differently are high. Let’s throw in a random dirt road or trail in for good measure. My last three Harley’s were touring bikes and right now I don’t need another one. I need something that takes me back to when I first started riding and the joy I felt. A dirt bike? No. Because I still need to commute and have the ability to travel. When selling motorcycles over the years I’ve always said “any of these bikes will take you wherever you want to go, but is that how you want to get there?” And at this moment in my life, my Road King isn’t how I want to get there.

As I get older, I’m finding I still love all things motorcycle, but my interests are changing and my desire to see the same roads differently are high. Let’s throw in a random dirt track or trail in for good measure.

Had the Pan America’s release been a few years ago, I would have been riding one. I like it. I also like the direction Harley is going but with it comes the struggle of bringing it’s customers along for the ride. To build excitement for new and old riders alike can be difficult, but not impossible. It can be harder for a company like Harley as they are continuing their legacy. When rumors of the Rushmore Project came out for the 2014 model year, before the Twin-Cooling was introduced, I said in a previous blog post if they build a liquid-cooled bike the masses will buy it. I hope the same for the Pan America and the Bronx.

Shaking the Rug

 

20161010_154312_hdr1On this evening’s ride home I noticed my shadow, stretched long and thin, riding ahead of me as I headed east. It’s getting darker sooner and the temperature is dropping faster as the day quickly comes to an end. Or is it the evening is beginning sooner? We motorcyclists are bracing ourselves and preparing for cooler rides led by our headlights. I’m not sure if its my age or not but cool is now cold and cold is now really cold. It could be I’m just getting old.

I’m not sure if its my age or not but cool is now cold and cold is now really cold. It could be I’m just getting old.

But I still make my mind up to ride. Just since Sturgis I’ve racked up about 10,000 miles on my Ultra Classic and I felt it was time to trade. Coming in with just under 70,000 on the clock, it still had a lot of miles left on it but if I were to continue riding it by next summer it would have had around 85,000 to 90,000. I traded a Road King in on the Ultra and now as you can see, a Road King it is again. I’ve been asked why I would give up the trunk and stereo but honestly I’m a fan of the Road King. It fits me and it’s a kick in the pants to ride.

There will always be a slight transition when you move from one bike to another. I have a tendency to carry more than I need to and this gives me an opportunity to sort and whittle down what isn’t necessary. Much like the bikers of old, we should carry the bare minimum when we ride. I found stuff in my saddle bags that really shouldn’t even be on a motorcycle. Socks? Really? So it’s like spring cleaning for me but only in the fall. I’m sure it won’t take long to accumulate those random items all over again in the next couple of years, but once in a while you just need to shake the rug if you get my drift.

So if you follow along with this blog you see a different bike in the picture. The Road King will evolve a bit over time but for the most part what you see is what you get. Even I find it remarkable to the transitions from a Heritage to a Road King to an Ultra Classic and back again. There sure have been a lot of miles and memories on each and every one of these Harley-Davidsons and I can appreciate each one for taking me on their own unique journey. I can’t wait to see where this one takes me.

The Snot Indicator

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For the last couple of weeks I’ve been battling a cold. Headache, coughing and a runny nose, along with the usual achy feeling you get when the crud is winning. That, combined with extremely cold weather, has kept me off my Road King for a few weeks. Now that it appears all that remains is a runny nose and the Kansas temperatures are back to what’s typical in January, I’ve been back to riding to work. This morning as I was getting my leathers on to leave for work, stopping every few minutes to blow my nose, I thought to myself once I get my helmet on I won’t have the chance to blow it again for about 25 minutes. So the helmet goes on as I go out the door.

When its 18 degrees outside before you get on your bike, you know you’ll be in for a cold ride. I’ve been here before and for me it’s more of a mental thing. As long as I’m prepared inside my helmet, I’ll be okay. It only takes a few miles to realize where the short-comings are in your winter riding gear as my fingers start getting cold. The face shield of my helmet is opened slightly to keep it from fogging over so my eyes start watering and of course that runny nose of mine is a bit of a nuisance. As I slow down two miles west of town to make the corner, I raise the face shield and use my gloved thumb to wipe the snot from my nose before it goes any further down my lip. Nobody ever said riding a bike in the winter was glamorous.

Another 5 miles and my nose is needing wiped as I roll down the hill to Skiddy. Again, I raise the face shield of my helmet to use my thumb and another crisis is averted. This allows me to focus on more important things, like I shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee before leaving the house. It’s still a beautiful morning no matter how cold and it’s seeing the sun shining and the few clouds in the sky that make it all worth the hassle. As I came to a stop at highway 77 for the final leg of my ride, I had a realization; my nose had quit running! It appears that at 18 degrees with a wind chill of who knows what, snot will eventually stop running from your nose. A small victory I know, but I’ll take it. I finally pulled into work and removed my helmet and found a paper towel to blow my nose on. Much like molasses when exposed to this temperature, snot will slow if not stop when placed under harsh conditions such as this. My gear is a pretty good indicator of how cold a temp I will be willing to ride in, but my snot indicator tells me the colder the better.

100 Miles

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One hundred miles sounds far, doesn’t it? If you had to walk it or even ride a bicycle that far you would have a full day ahead of you…or in my case several days ahead of me. But we ride motorcycles and one hundred miles may take a couple of hours if you find the right road. You see, as bikers it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about the quality of the ride. It can actually be a “longer is better” mentality. Do we do that in our car? If you drive a classic Mustang convertible or a Jeep Wrangler with the top off you might feel this way. But the Chevette isn’t the “long way” approach of getting there.

That’s the difference of enjoying the ride or plain transportation. The motorcycle can pull double duty combining the commute with the long way home and that is often the case for the motorcyclist. For those of us that ride we might even take the long way home while driving our car because we know the mental benefits of doing so. But I might add that if you don’t ride a motorcycle and you find yourself taking the long way home-you are a biker in the making. You just don’t know it yet.

So this one hundred mile theory works just the opposite for bikers. We WANT the ride to take a couple of days if not literally, then figuratively. We NEED the ride to last longer than a mile a minute, so we take the long way. If it was all about getting there in a hurry we could drive-maybe not in the Chevette, but you know what I mean. We want one hundred miles to feel like three hundred.

I can’t change time and distance from the seat of my Road King, but I can change the speed it which I travel. I can change my attitude and the direction I go. So in a sense, I have a little bit of control over how late I will be when I get there! If you ever find yourself tired with your commute, that same old road you travel every day, think about taking the road less traveled. Motorcycle or not, you control how you get there. If you’re in a hurry, you might have to ask yourself “why.” Don’t we spend enough of our day in a blur? Slow down, go the extra few miles, and appreciate the scenery. You might be surprised how good the “long way” really feels!

The Reason I Ride

sturgis100_4434To look back over the forty years I’ve been riding motorcycles is easy. I like thinking about all the experiences I’ve had and even looking at the photographs I’ve got stored away in an old envelope on the shelf. Notice I said “shelf” not “memory stick” or “hard drive”. That’s back in the day when someone had to take your picture and then a conscious effort was needed to get the film developed all the while hoping at least one of the pictures wouldn’t be blurry. If nothing else the old photos prove that at some point in my life I have been in shape and I have had a full head of hair.

So as I look back I often wonder why the motorcycle impacted my life instead of football or any other type of sports or recreation. Simple explanations for gravity or inertia I can give, but an explanation of why I ride might be difficult. But I ride when those friends of mine don’t. They’ll watch football or basketball and I’ll watch Supercross or Moto GP racing. The funny thing is the majority of my friends don’t ride motorcycles. I know what you’re thinking. A guy like Jeff must be surrounded by the latest and greatest machinery out there. He must ride a million miles a year and his house is filled with trophies of championships and with friends who ride and do nothing but talk about two-wheeled adventures. The reality is I do ride a lot and I rarely hang out with my motorcycle friends. My close friends all watch the games on TV and come Monday I’m at a loss for what to say when everyone is talking about the weekend in sports.

Going through my formative years at school in White City, I just didn’t play much football or basketball. In a community where team sports are the talk of the town, I was riding my motorcycle out to the trails to practice, eventually racing motocross until I broke my leg in 1987. Was I any good? From the side of the track I probably appeared to be somewhat awkward and squidish. From inside my helmet looking out I was awesome! Fast and smooth and wheeling away from the pack! But average is more like it, although I finished my best year ranked third in the state.

I think the real reason I ride runs a little deeper than just individual sports versus team sports. I missed my chance to play team sports and if I could do it over I would have played more in school. This is something I’ve come to realize as I have gotten older. Again, from the sidelines at the game I’m sure I would have appeared awkward and squidish, but I would have been there all the same. I wouldn’t necessarily change things as they turned out, but it would have been a life experience to add to the many I already have. So back to the reason… 

Just like those folks that like football or NASCAR, I like motorcycles. It really doesn’t need to be explained at all. We are individuals that have our likes and dislikes and I like the two-wheeled kind. I think most people associate me with motorcycles by now and that’s no surprise. They sure don’t mistake me for a guy in shape with a full head of hair!

Hard RD.

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Every morning  on my way to wherever I go I pass HARD RD. It’s a southern Geary County road that runs North and South, into Morris County. A quiet country road that looks interesting enough, but the name changes the perception just slightly. From the Seat of my Road King  it’s a beautiful area and would be even more so if it was called “UNICORN RD” or something along those lines. But HARD RD it is. We have all passed this road at one time or another and sometimes we’re even on it. I know from time to time we’ve all experienced our own hard road. A time in your life when you think to yourself  “this road will never end”. But we hit the next intersection in life, gas it, and we find our way on to a better road. I haven’t found EASY ST. yet, but someday!  There really isn’t any guarantee that we won’t be back here making the same tracks we’ve made before, but we have to remember that it’s up to us to turn the corner to get off the hard road when we find ourselves on it.

I’m pretty optimistic about life in general, but it’s things like this that make me think. So many times we take the path of least resistance and that works for a lot of people. It’s easy and convenient and requires so little effort. It gets us to where we are going and in most cases it’s where we want to be. It’s usually when we find ourselves on the hard road, we automatically think it’s a bad thing. We all know that it’s the difficult things in life that make us stronger and maybe we should approach those particular roads with this in mind. Even as we travel down this rough road, there will be those who are also rolling down the same direction looking for the exit. Stop and give them a hand. Just because you find yourself on it, doesn’t mean you can’t stop and help someone else who also finds themselves there. It’s the hard roads and “uphill both ways” that makes the rest of life enjoyable and rewarding.

Asking directions, whether driving or life, may get you to HARD RD, and even without help we can end up here anyway. That’s when we need to think about who is giving us directions and how reliable they are. Listen to your heart, trust God and your instincts and obey all laws. But remember, this road will end and then it’s back on the pavement until the next bumpy road comes along. If you are like me, you’ll enjoy the scenery on any road, watching the world go by. Watch the signs and you’ll be fine! Just try to avoid DEAD END.

Seat of Your Pants

Over time I’ve come to notice that all of my bikes have improved through the years. Suspension, handling, fuel injection and looks to name a few. Style and appeal are a matter of taste, and if I do say so myself, mine is about average. I have taken it for granted that the next bike will be better than the last in terms of reliability and ride ability, so it’s always been onward and upward when a trade happens. And as the bikes get better, the ride and experience should get better as well. And it does. But the fun we have as we ride really hasn’t changed that much over the years. The wind in your face and the sounds made as you crack open the throttle give you the seat-of-the-pants thrill we all seek.
 
What is it about the motorcycle that the automobile lacks? A true performance car can give you the kick-in-the-ass feeling of power and acceleration, but what about everything else? As cars have evolved, they have gotten quieter and more high-tech. They almost drive themselves. Designers have taken the car and turned it into an office or living room depending whether you are sitting in the front or the back. But a motorcycle gives you the elements. Weather, road conditions and even the sense of danger. Motorcycle manufacturers have also taken some models and pushed them to the limits of technology, performance and comfort without sacrificing the wind in your face feeling. Fast or slow, in a group or by yourself, that motorcycle feeling is always there.
 
 I guess you could argue that whether you are behind the wheel of your latest vehicle or hanging on to the handlebars of your new bike that there isn’t much difference from the previous one. And I would agree. Usually the new one has a little more power, the handling is a little better, and you look cooler on it. But it’s the “fun factor” that I’m struggling with. Old bike or new, the fun is about the same to me. I would almost go as far as saying that back in the day of  low-power, worn out tires and soft suspension, the fun level was a little higher. You had to compensate for what the bike didn’t have in those categories, and in the mean time you could see the smiles from miles away. The seat-of-the-pants meter was pegged out!
 
The roads are all the same and the dirt hasn’t changed. The trails are a little steeper to ride and the ground is a little harder. But when it comes to my pants…the seat that is…the fun is always the same!