Archive for August, 2011


August 30, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

THE MIND PULLING IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: We all have contradictory thoughts.


“I still dig ’70s jappers, even japper choppers. It did seem to me to be a niche of a niche. If I was gonna have a second bike it’d be a sunrise orange Honda CL 450 on/off road scrambler.”


“In terms of pure workmanship, personally, I don’t like Harleys. I ride them because I’m in the club, and that’s the image, but if I could I would seriously consider riding a Honda ST1199 or a BMW, We really missed the boat not switching over to the Japanese models when they began building bigger bikes.”


Snow muses about having a Honda 450 as a second bike, sitting in his garage next to his ’69 Harley XLCH “Animal Mother.” Sonny Barger speculates in his autobiography, that if he weren’t in his club, that he very well might be astride a Honda. What’s this world coming to, if two hardcore bikers speak their mind, and contradict the sanctity of one of the biker subculture’s most treasured tenets, a tenet that we bikers consider well-nigh inviolable?:

It’s gotta be a Harley, man.

This doesn’t bother me. First of all, their biker cred is unassailable. Secondly, they’re both on Harley-Davidsons, okay, so chill. We all play the “what if” game once in a while, and it’s a harmless diversion, in the vein of, “What if I had a few millions dollars, then I’d….” This type of speculation, usually internal but sometimes becoming part of the public conversation if it enters the public domain, I find interesting and amusing, but not disturbing.

Who among us hasn’t thought to ourselves, “Gee….I wonder how it would feel to ride that two-second, zero-to-sixty, 190 mph sportbike?” Okay I admit, I never thought that….ahem….but, I’m sure most of us have engaged in a bit of casual daydreaming like this. Consider that most if not all of us have said to ourselves when we were particularly disgusted with our bikes, “I’m gettin’ rid of this piece of crap, I’m sick of it!”

Of course If I did, I’d never admit to it (my ever-lovin’ Shovel Mabel, would get upset). But we all have inner thoughts that go against our well-established grain. The key is, do we ever act on these verboten impulses? In the end, in spite of wildly divergent fantasizing, we all revert to reality and our own basic natures. Our basic nature as bikers, is to ride Harley-Davidsons. Anyone who says that’s not true, is in deep denial.

But there’s a larger point I’d like to make about people like Barger and Snow, and I’d like to think that this applies to me too: They don’t know and don’t care, what others think. They only care about what they themselves, think and feel. That’s always been my outlook. “Hey man, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think about me or what I believe. If ya don’t like it, you can lump it!”

Here’s an anecdote to put this issue into the proper perspective. You all know or know of Andrew Rosa, the legendary Harley dragrace record holder and Harley motor builder, who built Mabel’s Rosabilt stoker motor. Andrew’s beast of a shovel-powered dragbike ran in the 9 second bracket. One day a few years ago, I rode Mabel out to Andrew’s shop, Rosa’s Cycles to have Mabel’s tranny rebuilt. As is my custom, and as this was a weekday, I rode to the shop on Long Island very early to avoid traffic. I left around 5:00 AM. After I got there, I just hung out in front of the shop, which is right across the street from a cemetary.

Around 8:00 AM, I heard this sound….“BZZZZZZzzzzzzz…” that got louder and louder. I looked at the cemetary, and could make out a solitary figure on a moped wending his way through the cemetary on one of the winding pedestrian paths. The moped rider finally emerged from the cemetary and pulled in front of the shop. It was Andrew, on a little red Honda moped with a basket attached to the handlebars. Andrew explained, “Hey, it’s just easier this way, I can ride it through a shortcut through the cemetary–can’t do that with the Super Glide. Besides, this thing is great for carrying parts and tools to make road repairs on bikes broken down, when the shop van is occupied.” I sure wasn’t going to question Andrew’s biker bona fides!

I don’t know Barger, but I do know Snow, and this is what I know about him: He is a freethinker and a freespirit, who marches to the beat of his own motor idle, whether that motor is a shovel, Evo, S & S, Sportster or Honda 550. He does what he wants, and screw all those who don’t dig it, man. He is a man of conviction, surfing the waves of passion, that are generated by his own unique mind. I suspect that Sonny Barger who I never met, is the same type of unflappable individualist. Individualism is a trait that I value greatly, a trait that is maybe somewhat lacking in our culture. There is already too much “me-tooism” in the scene, as the obedient minions who use exhaust wrap and fat rear tires can bear witness to. Now, I wonder what it would be like to own that Kawasaki…..nah. Just kidding. Later.



August 27, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

BACKSTREET MOPEDS: A “wider” subculture.


“……’whose time has come and gone.’

You’re 100% right there. I’m not sure any amount of great writing, photography and vision could replicate that time. Even if it could be done, the audience is such a narrow subculture, it’s doubtful a publication could survive in today’s ever decreasing paper magazine market.

I vividly remember living for each new issue, frantically searching newsstands when I thought there should be a new issue out. Towards the end, the issues contained dire warnings of what may come to pass and when I eagerly picked up the latest issue, only to be confronted with the Pfouts version, I felt like I was standing on a runaway elevator in the Empire State building.

Over the last couple of years, I have had more and more people come up to me to tell me they live for THBC, can’t wait for every issue and read it all cover to cover. At first, my reaction (that I kept to myself) was “Well, you’re an idiot”… I refused to believe anyone could read THBC and be as into it as I was the Snow IH. But these people seem to be otherwise normal, and there has been so many of them lately. I’m not saying that what we’re doing is on a par with IH at its peak, just that it’s different and not for everyone of course.

And for the record, I don’t think a chopped Triumph is a ‘Wannabe HD”, I detest it when they have XL tanks on them, as is well known, and FatBobs are even worse. Brit bike chops evolved right alongside the HDs. I realize they were looked upon in certain circles as a ‘stepping stone’, i.e. Get a Brit, trade it for an XL and then dump that for a Shovelhead as a rite of progression, but not everyone saw it that way.”


If the audience of Snow’s Iron Horse was aimed like a laser to a “narrow subculture” (namely, for bikers), and contemporary magazines are not, that begs the question: What audience are current biker magazines written for, if it is not members of the biker subculture? If these publications aren’t meant for bikers, than what is the point of publishing?

Sure, I understand “publish or perish,” but what’s the point of survival if magazines have transformed into amorphous entities, undefinable by their subject matter? I always thought that the point of maintaining the financial viability of a publication, was so that the rag in question can continue writing for its target audience. The target audience of a biker magazine is supposed to be bikers.

Biker magazines not being produced for bikers, are like skateboarding magazines that’re made for roller skaters. Or car magazines made for bicyclists. Or gun magazines made for archers. Or photography magazines made for oil paint artists. Or martial arts magazines for dancers. What really, is the point of continuing in a meaningless existence?

The truth in advertising doctrine would dictate that magazines rename themselves. Like “Back Street Biker Lites.” How about “Honda Horse?” The idea that magazines are purportedly for a “narrow subculture” like bikers, but are then written for the Kawasaki Hackers MC, makes no sense. A Yamaha with a rigid frame and Sportster tank, does not a Harley make.

Here’s the funny thing, though. The owners of these rigid Hondas and Yamahas, believe that they are part of that that “narrow subculture” that these magazines are avoiding tailoring their content for, yet the same magazines promote their mission as writing for the biker subculture.

Confused? Don’t worry about it, nobody’s more confused than the Kawasaki Hackers MC, who think that they’re a hundred miles deep within the biker subculture—in spite of these magazines’ avoiding writing for the subculture like the plague, for survival reasons. An admission from a biker magazine editor, that his magazine is not written for bikers, is nothing short of the types of confessions that TV’s Columbo used to wring out of crime suspects, in the last few minutes of the shows.

Snow’s Horse was aimed straight between the eyes of the biker subculture. There was never any ambiguity of who Iron Horse was meant for. It was meant for the hairy greaser with the tats, compiling parts for his hardcore XLCH. It was for the guy with the sleeveless t-shirt kicking over his panhead. It was for the regular Joes blasting down the highways on their knuckleheads and shovelheads. It was for the 25 year old guy thinking of putting a hardtail on his Harley, and the 50 year old biker thinking of reverting his Harley back to original swingarm status. In short, Snow’s Iron Horse wa for you and me, narrow subculture that we are. Later.


August 25, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

STOCK AND STEADY DOES IT: The Fairbanks Morse magneto served me well on Sally The Bitch. See the spring holding it at full advance?


“Interesting read, I didn’t know about the screwed tire thing, only seen that on dragsters, what were the torque specs on that bike? As far as the magneto, I’ve never had one and they always seemed a bit iffy to me. Do you think the stock H.D. one performed (or held up) better than the aftermarket ones(Morris/Joe Hunt)?”


If you’ve seen the video of Snow starting his ’69 Sportster XLCH, you know that it took him eleven kicks to start ‘er up. Man, that’s not bad, considering that his magneto’s stuck at full advance. This calls for a thorough dousing with WD-40! If you haven’t seen it, you can find a link to it at the Going The Distance website.

Ideally, these magnetos should be retarded to optimize starting. The retarded position provides a better spark at low revs, and it also mimimizes the chances of the mighty XLCH motor kicking back at ya, and driving your right leg through your hip bones like an inverted jackhammer. Normally, the magneto rotates clockwise to the retarded position for starting the bike, then rotates counterclockwise to the advanced position, which provides a hotter spark at operational motor speeds. The usual arranagement for controlling retardation and advancement, is a cable from the handlebars to achieve this. The push/pull cable is attached to a lever at the base of the magneto, moving it in either direction, with a twist of the left grip on the handlebars. I did it differently to simplify the bike.

If you look carefully at the picture of my ’68 XLCH “Sally The Bitch,” you’ll see a small spring that is attached to this lever on the base of Sally’s magneto. On the other end of this spring is a small hook, which I hooked onto the support bracket of the carburetor to keep the magneto at full advance. If you look carefully at the photo of Sally, you’ll notice this spring crossing in front of the magneto, on its way to the carb support bracket.

By using this spring, I was able to retard the magneto by hand to start the bike, and then advance it by hand after the bike started, and locking it in the advanced position by attaching the hook to the carb bracket. I eliminated the cable system by doing this. There’s that Occam’s Razor again–simple is always better, baby. Just as a sidenote, I eliminated much on this bike by rewiring it. I got rid of the kill switch on the handlebars, by connecting the kill switch wire from the magneto, to an on/off toggle switch that I hung on the bracket on the left side of the bike that routes the spark plug wires to the motor. Now instead of being a kill switch, this functioned as an ignition on/off switch. Simple is better.

With even perfect timing, plugs, points and condenser, Sally would ususally start in cold weather with between 10 and 15 kicks. On occasionally bad days, it might take up to 30 kicks. Very occasionally, She might start on the first kick. When warm she would always start on the first kick with the S & S Super B carb. With the gawdawful Tillotson, she would not automatically start on the initial kick while warm.

The Fairbanks Morse magneto that came on Sportsters like Snow’s and mine, were extremly reliable. As I’ve said in the past, Sally’s never stranded me due to magneto failure, so the question of whether aftermarket magnetos like the Joe Hunt are any better, is a good question. Now, I’m no electrical engineer but I can tell you what I’ve always thought about aftermarket magnetos. A lack of substantive knowledge, has never prevented me from giving my opinions before, so why start now?

The performance limitations of the magneto stem not from design, but from the inherent drawbacks of magnetos when compared to battery systems . It’s no secret that the magneto produces a relatively weaker spark at cranking speeds than a battery and distributor system. Since the Joe Hunt magneto is nothing more than a copy of the Fairbanks Morse magneto, it’s hard to imagine that an XLCH would start any better with it, than with a stock magneto. The longevity of the Fairbanks Morse has also never been an issue. Look at Snow’s bike, “Animal Mother.” The magneto’s 42 years old, and the bike still starts within 15 kicks, and that’s with the magneto frozen in a less than optimum fully advanced position.

The Joe Hunt magneto has a billet points plate which supposedly hold the points in adjustment better than the stock plate, but so what? This doesn’t really produce better performance, per se. I had a single instance in the 17 years I had Sally, when the points went out of adjustment, but that was from the points adjustment set screw not having been tightened enough. What you’re getting with a Joe Hunt magento, is a newer Fairbanks Morse. A label with “Joe Hunt” slapped on the magneto body may get you more admiring glances from bikers standing around looking at your bike, but that’s about it.

The magnets in the Joe Hunt unit are the same size as those in the Fairbanks Morse, so the starting capabilities to me, would be the same for both. Sally never lacked for spark at speed, she ran great, so what are the advantages of the aftermarket magneto? Beats me. There were times after years of owning Sally, that I considered sending her magneto magnets to be remagnetized. I read back then, that weakened magnets produced a weaker field and therefore a weaker spark. But I never bothered having the stock magnets remagnetized, because as far as I could tell, Sally started as well after 17 years of riding, as the first day I bought her new from Harley-Davidson of Manhattan—which was not so good. This “not so good” standard didn’t deteriorate to “worse than not so good,” so why remagnetize the magnets? For that matter, why change to a more shiny, perhaps more prestigious aftermarket duplicate of the original? Didn’t make much sense to me to do that.

It’s always this way: Enterprising vendors offer a “better, newer, more shiny” knock-off of an original part, and the newer, shinier version is invariably more expensive. Meanwhile, a careful scrutiny of the copy reveals a component with the same dimensions and essentially the same parts as the original unit. We are led to believe that somehow, the copy transcends the original’s design limitations, with enhanced capabilities commensurate with its increased price. I don’t think so. Later.


August 16, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

DRAG PIPES: Some traditional parts never die.


“I was always for loud pipes, an unmuffled Shovelhead at slow idle is still one of the best sounds on the planet.

However, some of the popular exhausts today, just irritate the hell out of me. Especially the style with the pipes about 18 inches long that both terminate looking at the ground under the air cleaner. If there’s any kind of dust on the ground, it looks like a damn hovercraft, and the noise is ear-bleedingly loud and doesn’t sound good at all.

It’s popular among the Japanese v-twin copies to run a 2″+ unbaffled pipe, these sound horrendous and stupidly loud.

These days I am running a tuned baffle in my Shovel drags, it gives me good low end torque, sounds great and doesn’t have the neighborhood gathering outside the house with lit torches.”


fad Noun: A fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time, a craze


Goldfish swallowing. Hula hoops. Cramming people into a telephone booth. Cramming people into a Volkswagen beetle. Ant farms. Flagpole sitting. Doing the limbo. Ouija boards. Rubick’s cubes. X-Ray glasses.

Some were more ridiculous than others, but they had one thing in common. These fads didn’t last long, because they didn’t have any significant value in life. Guess what? You can add super-short bike exhausts to the list, because these pipes, along with dozens of other trendy motorcycle fashions, don’t have any significant value in the biker subculture.

Here’s an idea for fashion-conscious bikers who’re enamored of the short-pipe look: They should cut the height of the cylinders of their Harley motors by half, accompanied by midget pistons. Hey man, the shorter stroke would allow the mills to rev to redlines of 10.000 RPMs! Make that shovelhead scream like a sportbike, baby! A shortened motor would also leave a ginormous space between the top of the motor and the frame’s top tube. A potential opportunity presents itself here for a new fad!

There might be enough space above the motor for an additional set of fatbobs. Less gas stops, man—there is no downside. Besides, can you imagine the crush of customers lining up for aftermarket piggyback fatbob tanks? Aftermarket vendors can triple the price for double the volume. There is no shortage of copycatters who follow the latest stupid human tricks fer bikes. Me-Tooism lives in the biker subculture. Two sets of fatbob gas tanks have never been done before! There’s that “one-off” exclusivity some are lookin’ for!

As far as the wheels are concerned, might as well stick to the short is more motif. How about cutting your wheels’ dimensions for that trendy appearance? Run an eight incher in the rear, and a ten inch wheel up front. Who needs a sixteen and a twenty-one? This way, you can save money by interchanging parts between your minified Harley and your Vespa.

Whatever extra exhaust wrap—another moronic fad—that’s left over from your amputated Harley pipes, can be used to mummify the entire moped! Give it that Lon Chaney Jr. look, man! If there’s any left over after makin’ your Vespa into a new iteration of “The Mummy Returns,” you can wrap your Harley’s down tubes, top tube, and swingarm. Cool, baby! While yer at it, why not wrap the gas tanks too? Also, why bother covering your seat with leather, when surplus exhaust wrap will do just fine?

If you think that any my suggestions are ludicrous, then think about this: They aren’t any less ridiculous than exhaust pipes that are shorter than the distance between your elbow and your fingertips. They serve no function other than being different, and isn’t that what all fads have in common? Fads will come and leave just as abruptly as they materialized, but classic parts will always be around. What was cool yesterday or yesteryear, will remain cool. Later.


August 7, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

SEEING OUR OWN REFLECTION: Scopin’ out a video of a biker riding his Harley.



“There’s something in this vid that really strikes a nerve with me. This guy is hardcore and havin’ fun without posin’ and posturin’. I’m talking about the overall feeling I get when watching this clip. I could give a….about the surfin’, but the attitude!”


“I agree. Just all out fun and not trying to be badass, which, of course, makes him totally badass. Anyway, I dig the hill climb, ’cause I’ve done it several times.”


“I don’t know. Looks like what I do every time I ride. Except for the hill climb and bike surfing. When’s the last time in the real world, did average street bikers ride up grassy knolls and bike surf on freeways? Watching any biker riding his shovel is righteous. No doubt about it.”


Gotta admit, I never hill climbed like Snow, and never surfed on my motorcycle either. Unless I’m mistaken, Snow wouldn’t attempt to bike surf either. Neither would I. I put motorcycle surfing into the top five category of things I wouldn’t do, a list that includes subway surfing, being shot out of a cannon, and trying to escape handcuffs and chains underwater, ‘a la Harry Houdini. Oh yeah, I forgot about holding an apple in my mouth while some sharpshooter tries to shoot the apple with a .45. This will tell ya what I think of motorcycle surfing. When I heard that Indian Larry fell and died while performing this motorcycle surfing stunt at a bike show, I had a single thought:


I have a theory about why true bikers react to the alluded-to video, like we do: It’s all about us. It is a reaffirmation of who we are, and a recreation on film—something we rarely see documented videographically—of what we experience when we ride our Harleys. How often do you see a film clip of a biker riding a shovelhead, replete with the familiar sounds of the motor, the tranny clunking into gear, the exhaust brapping wildly as the rider backs off the throttle in fourth gear, seeing the bike leap forward like a cheetah when we twist to throttle back to its stop.? All that’s missing is the smell of 60 weight. Man, seeing and hearing a biker going through the joy of riding, is like looking into a mirror. That’s why we relate so much with such videos. Such films act as Rorschach tests, and what most of us see is ourselves.

It is authentic.

A short video clip like that is worth more in reality points than all the biker related movies like “Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” While Hollywood flicks feature pure simulation and acting, clips of real bikers doing what we do every time we ride, is a heavy dose of reality in a cinematic world where accurate representaion of what it’s like to ride a righteous shovelhead, is all but unknown. It’s refreshing to not have to depend on an actor to have this vicarious experience.

Even a movie like “Roadside Prophets” which more accurately depicts what’s it’s like to ride a Harley 74, is more like looking at a static photo on the wall, compared to an authentic video of a real world biker on his shovel. The real world clip of the Japanese shovel rider, shows him being followed by the camera as he blasts down streets and highways, passing cars, switching lanes, just having fun doing what bikers do: In short, what we do. Riding our Harleys, no more, no less.

Seeing a video of the Japanese biker on his shovel having fun, is like seeing a video of ourselves on our bikes, if we had a chase truck following us with a videographer documenting one of our rides. That’s the way I felt when watching the video. Except for the hill climb (this was no median crossed to change direction on a highway by the way, the hill the Japanese biker climbed looked like a 45 degree ascent) and playing surfer boy on the bike. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Later.