Guest Article by DAVID SNOW
MY BIKE: Animal Mother, like a mama grizzly.
Just completed five heat cycles of Animal Mother’s new top end this morning and so far, so good! I’ve been nervous as hell putting everything back together, and everything’s been great but still I cannot shake the fear that I did something wrong and she’s gonna explode into a million pieces. Tonite I plan on getting her out on those nice country roads around the trailer, and the weather has been unusually cool and mild for this time of the year, so it should be a great ride. I’m as trembly as high school punk unzipping his first prom dress…
None of this would be possible without the incredible resource of the XLForum’s Ironhead forum. If it wasn’t for the forum, I’d be at the mercy of an indie at best or just chucking the whole thing at worst. But thanks to those the forum, I kept the faith, took my time, didn’t freak and did the necessary homework. Just last nite, I crammed on all the heat cycle posts— pro and con—and figured it sure couldn’t hurt anything to be cautious. All the craziness about microwelding and overheating kept me shivering like a hound dog shitting peach pits, but I set up two box fans on Animal Mother as well as having her inside with the AC running. I followed Mick’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, procedure mainly because it was easy to remember while my head was spinning and Animal Mother was bellowing to life through those vintage Cycle Shacks! Man, what a freaking rush!
I must admit it was quite an ordeal kicking an XLCH that actually makes healthy compression! I’d pretty much forgotton my ritual anyway, and must’ve pumped about 30 fruitless kicks before I checked the pushrods. I’d deliberately set’em on the loose side and so tightened’em a little and ten kicks later she roared her appreciation like a mama grizzly coming out of hibernation. God, what a strong running beast. It’s a sheer act of will to just stand there for those few minutes of heat cycling, but I did my best, although I don’t think I made it to a full 5 minutes on the last one— let’s say 4:30 before my nerves got the best of me and I shut’er down
I checked for leaks between each cycle and there was only a little oil seeping out of the rear hard line where it connects to the case between the magneto and pushrod. I didn’t remember loosening it during disassembly, but the front hard line was loose as well. That rear one’s hard to get to— I may have to loosen the mag and swivel it out of the way. Other than that, the rocker boxes, heads, and cylinders are tight, as well as being gorgeous in their new silver paint. No weird smoke, smells or noise, just that glorious ironhead thunder.
Last year I’d posted about the loss of compression and having to constantly adjust the pushrods. I kept riding well past the point of sensibility. She’d die at a light, something that she’d never done before and I could barely get one good compression stroke to fire her up again. I was living in denial, but it got so bad, I could push the kicker through with my hand. That’s when I tore her down and discovered that the top compression ring in both pistons was broken. I was a bitter pill to know she’d be facing serious downtime….
The cylinders were bored .060 over and NOS Harley pistons were used and, thanks to Dr. Dick’s advice, modern Hastings rings were used. Modern three-piece oil rings replaced the 45-year old Harley waffle irons. Animal Mother’s oil consumption had always been alarming but now I look forward to something better than the near total loss system I’ve enjoyed over the last 3 ½ years. I think I will finally have an accurate baseline for Ironhead performance— as opposed to a machine that was rebuilt over 30 years ago with a questionable past. As it is, I’m grateful I got as many miles out of her as I did! I really lucked out with this bike.
Now that I’m sure she’ll run, I can take care of such mundane matters as cosmetics. Sadly, she’s not in that groovy ’66 short frame that sits on a milk crate next to her, but I didn’t want there to be any more variables than I could help in getting her running. Like, if I ‘d swapped frames and couldn’t get her started, or she exploded, I would just know that it would have something to do with the frame swap. Silly and illogical, but I am superstitious…
My goal is to swap frames by the middle of the summer. Once she’s got enough miles and I get all the kool parts (I’m trying to give local XLCH guru Johnny Ramsey— he’s still got the ’62 he raced new— as much business as possible) and assemble a rolling chassis, I’m hoping for a painless procedure. Besides it’ll give me a good excuse for some nice long rides to Johnny’s place…