Another New Indian Rider

In A Tale of Two Test Rides, I talked about riding two 2019 baggers back to back and riding one home. What I didn’t mention is that my buddy Spaz (formerly known as Corvus) came with me because he had never ridden an Indian before and was curious. I’ll let him tell his whole story when he gets his act together and gets his own blog, but to cut to the chase he bought a bronze 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse a few days later. I asked him if he’d submit to a brief interview here.

You rode Harleys for a lot of years. How did you land on Harley? Did you start there or did you ride other bikes first? Did you grow up in a Harley household?

I landed on Harley primarily due to my father. He rode Harley’s when I was young and before he married my mother. He rode a lot with the Hell’s Angels when he lived in California as well. After hearing story after story over the years I think it just set me in a place where I had to eventually land on a Harley. The first bike I owned though was a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Cruiser. Close to a Harley look wise but not what I wanted to land on. It also was the first bike I dumped. I didn’t even make it 24 hours and I crashed the bike.
How important is “Made in America” for you when it comes to motorcycles? How important has it been to you that Harley is a big employer and local icon in the Milwaukee area?

Being a Military Veteran I want to continue to fuel American jobs as best I can. This of course is becoming harder and harder today as more and more manufacturing goes over seas. Being from Wisconsin Harley is sort of part of our culture too so I sort of felt I had to support the home team. I feel the same about Indian which is also manufactured in the US. I do have to say though as of late I am looking more broadly at other manufactures as well.

Talk a little bit about your riding style. Mostly 1up or 2up? Poker runs and bar hopping? Camping? Commuting? Cross-country touring?

I am a bit of a mixed bag as far as riding styles. I used to do a lot of 2up riding until my wife got her license. After that it is mostly 1up unless I put a kid or one of my wife’s friends on the back of the bike. I’ve done a bunch of Poker runs as well as bar hopping. I’ve only really camped once from the motorcycle although I’m yearning to do this a lot more now. I commute as much as I can depending on the weather in Wisconsin. As for Cross Country touring I’ve made several 1000+ trips on my dressers over the years. Primarily only to the East Coast and the South. I’m looking forward to a West Coast trip in the future.

I’ve noticed you do a lot of performance tuning work, what’s the allure of fast cruisers for you? Do you have a similar obsession with fast custom cars?

I am an adrenaline junky in general. I’ve had tuner cars and performance vehicles a lot throughout my life. Once I got into bikes I started messing with them from intake to exhaust to now engine work. My ideal world is to have a bagger that can blow the doors off most crotch rockets. It will take time to get the right setup. Not sure if I’m going super charger or turbo yet :).

Comparing an Indian Chieftain to your batwing-style fairing Harley is a much better comparison than the Road Glide I rode. What differences stood out to you right away between the Chieftain you rode and your Ultra classic when it comes to the ride, handling, power, Infotainment, and engine/exhaust sound?

My first impressions of the Chieftain was that is was more agile right out of the gate. In my stable at home we have not only my Ultra Limited but my wife’s Street Glide as well. We actually swapped bikes a week or so ago so she could try mine. The big difference to me is the leg space and agility. Stock the Indian sounds better than any of the Milwaukee Eight bikes I’ve heard. My wife’s comment when she heard it was “do you even need to put exhaust on it.” My answer of course is yes though… Handling wise as I said earlier the Indian is more agile out of the box. On the Harley navigating a round a bout at speed I tend to scrape my foot boards. I have yet to hit them on the Indian and I take a much faster and tighter turn. On the power front the Indian is not much behind the 114ci motor I have in the Ultra limited. I am about to get my bike back from the 116 upgrade so we will have to see what I think after that. As for the infotainment side the fact that bluetooth works out of the box including when you introduce a bluetooth helmet to the mix is awesome. My Harley you have to spend $300 on a WHIM Module and then buy a HD stamped Sena helmet or headset as you will not get stereo without it. I just found that out and the more I get into this chapter of my riding life the more the HD logo is starting to wear off from me.

You’re jumping right in to customizing your Dark Horse. How has your experience so far been with Indian aftermarket vs. Harley aftermarket.

Right now my primary upgrades I’m doing to the Dark Horse have been Indian certified components. As I’ve started to look for more aftermarket parts it is evident that industry isn’t supplying much still. I hope that changes over time but I can understand why vendors may be reluctant still. Harley Davidson on the other hand has a very large aftermarket industry. There are just so many things you can do to your Harley without needing to by Harley direct parts. I am hoping that the market changes though as I do love this new bike.

What on earth possessed you to add a Chieftain Dark Horse to your garage?

I’m a bit of a spontaneous person. There was something about the feel of the Dark Horse that called to me. The other problem was I couldn’t get the dang Bronze color out of my head. I then thought I could convince myself not to get it by bringing my wife to the dealer to see it. Her comment after seeing the bike was “Well it does look like you…”. That sold it for me. It wasn’t just me but my wife also saw something about that bike. At that point it was just how much stuff can I buy. I do have to give credit to Metro Milwaukee Indian for putting up with me. I came near close and they stuck around to finish off financing and answer all of my questions. I’ve been very pleased with their service so far.

What are your motorcycling plans for the future?

My wife and I are now talking about our new house and how we need a larger stable. We are actually talking about a real stable now so each bike gets it’s own stall. Motorcycles are part of our family. My oldest daughter is now looking to get something soon as well. The big things for me is my boys are big enough to ride on the back so we will be setting out to do some riding and camping with them this summer. I plan to make my first trip to Sturgis as well this year. I’m looking for more adventures and different styles of riding to look into so we will see how that goes.

 

Am I a Real Biker? Are You? Does it Matter?

I’ve seen so many Facebook threads, internet memes, and satirical Youtube videos lately focused on one question: What makes someone a Real Biker­™?

Why does it matter, because it apparently matters a lot? Let’s unpack this idea in a few stages.

Why does anyone care what a real biker is?

Firstly, it’s nearly universal that when people attempt to define what “A Real XXX” is, there is high perceived value in being A Real XXX. Real social status, deserved fear, privileged access to resources, or unassailable authority is attributed to members of that in-group. There are no arguments about who is “A real serial killer” because it’s not considered desirable to be in that group and it confers no advantages. A “real biker” has an opinion that matters more than a fake biker, is assumed to have more and better stories and more and “more real” experience than the RUBs. Real Bikers are true and Original, possessed of motives as pure as the driven snow, modern day cowboys or desperados. Modern day Pirates, banditos and gangsters on two wheels. Guys want to be them and women want to be with them, and even when the cops are busting them they are thinking: god dammit they sure are cool though.

Side note on RUBs: if doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers hadn’t bought a lot of Harley’s in the ’90s would American motorcycling have been decimated? Should we thank the RUBs for their investment dollars but not let them play in our reindeer games?

In any community where you can be considered either a piece of shit or a god and everything in between, there’s a notion of “paying your dues”. Did you grind for years on the stand-up comedy circuit or play every shithole bar and birthday party with your band? Did you work as a waiter and do unspeakable things to gain your first big acting break? Congratulations, you’ve Paid Your Dues. Paying Your Dues is a common value in Honor Cultures. Another common requirement is a Rite of Passage or Initiation. Boot camp is a rite of passage any US Marine has in common with every other Marine. The “Rush” in fraternities. Residency for doctors. The bar exam for lawyers. These shared experiences knit a group together: it’s completely reasonable for a group to be suspicious of those who did not pay their dues and go through the initiation rites. The rich would-be politician who uses wealth and celebrity to instantly “make it” is reviled by all the others who worked their way up from Town Alderman to State Senator to US Congress.

Those who view themselves to be in a good place and they got there the “right” way will naturally revile those who took a different path.

Secondly, the inverse of the “Really belonging” idea is the notion of being a tourist, a fake, a poser. These are clearly undesirable labels.

What’s a tourist? Well, the dictionary says “A person traveling, especially for pleasure.” That’s fine, but I prefer my friend Chris A’s definition, a definition with a lot more negative connotation: “A person who travels to observe a radically different way of life, but they see it as one would see an animal in a zoo and don’t allow themselves to be changed by it.” A great example of this is a huge influx of people visiting Woodstock, Alabama after the hit podcast S-Town. People showed up to (Steve Irwin voice) See the wild US Redneck in his native habitat. No one wants to hang out with someone who’s going to go back to work Monday and say “Oh man, you would not believe what these bikers actually say!”

Fake should be self explanatory.

What about a poser? Well when I was a kid this meant people who wore Vans and carried around a skateboard but basically couldn’t skate. It implies that the thing that makes you a part of the community is hard or dangerous but you want that social status without putting in the work, so you pretend.

Side note on posers: a lot of people hate on those who trailer their bikes, especially to big events like Sturgis. While I’m generally not a big fan of “purity tests”, I tend to agree that if the baseline assumption is that you rode there, you’re riding on stolen valor if you rolled your bike off a truck 10 miles out. This is not meant to disrespect folks who can’t do that for health reasons.

Side note on danger & difficulty: I will wave to any biker on the road, but I am torn about things like Can-Am riders. Traveling balanced on two-wheels is just harder and more dangerous and it seems like that’s table-stakes in our community; when I see an old-timer on a trike I wave my respect, assuming he’s one knee-replacement too far to trust his balance anymore but still wants the wind in his face, but a lot of people I suspect should just buy convertibles instead. That’s my bias, peace.

In any culture where there’s any kind of purity test or acceptance test, you will face arguments and standards that evolve over time. This results in a no true Scotsman kind of attitude, where the criteria for being a “real biker” evolve over time to be more exclusive as more people fit the old criteria. I am told, by someone who would know, that in the ’70s you were either in a club or you were a fake. I’ll bet there are a lot of independants out there today that would pass absolutely anyone’s smell test for being a real biker.

The entire first season of the country music podcast, Cocaine and Rhinestones, has many examples of this kind of thinking. Throughout the 19th century the definition of “real country music” was always basically one generation behind what was going on in the country music scene. The lesson is one of dictionary conservatism: if you are not exactly like the status quo, you are fake.

So then, what is a real biker?

For some background I think it’s good to go all the way back to Hunter S. Thompson’s 1967 book on the hell’s angels. There may be more and better sources, but this is a pretty good one. A lot of what’s taken for granted in biker culture today comes out of this place and time, and I do not mean any special favor to the Hell’s Angels here as a modern club. People do things because they’ve seen others doing them, and have no idea why.

Wearing leather. Wearing a German Iron Cross. Being tough. Patches. Choppers. Racing. Being outside of society, misunderstood by the law. Being A Proud Outlaw. Codes of respect. So much of what we know as biker culture has its beginnings with men who came back from World War II and Vietnam. They found that the country they loved and fought for did not offer them the same opportunities for close brotherhood that the military had (see the links on honor culture above). The safe streets of America seemed boring to their heightened tolerance for danger. They brought together the danger, exclusivity, initiation rituals, ranks and titles, logos, and much more from their former military lives and created motorcycle clubs. These men were rebels. So bikers were originally:

  • Blue collar
  • Believed in some kind of Honor Culture, has a code of mutual respect
  • Tough, manly men
  • Outlaws and rebels
  • Misunderstood Outsiders
  • Risk takers, thrill seekers
  • Rode motorcycles everywhere
  • Wrenched on their own bikes

I am the first person in my entire extended family tree to go to college, so I’ll never be a  Real Biker. No woman can ever be a Real Biker. No weekend warrior who doesn’t ride his bobber to a factory job every day can ever be a Real Biker. No one who voted Democrat, or is gay, wears safety gear, or has a white collar job can ever be a Real Biker. So on, and so forth.

except

Except that, as Cocaine and Rhinestones illustrates better than I ever could, the distance between the “Real OG Old-skoolers who truly get it” and the “Upstart pretenders who are ruining everything”, in any human subculture, is always nearly exactly one half of a human generation. Country music? Check. Hip-hop? Check. Muscle cars? Check.
Guns? Politics? Sex? Bikes? Check, check, check, check. Everyone is watching the next generation destroy their pure faith and their perfect culture. If I had studied Latin in college I could bust out something profound sounding like a priori ergo melior. Before is better.
Every American generation is more or less convinced they’ve got it all figured out, while they watch their kids and grandkids send the world directly to hell in the most efficient manner possible. Motorcycling is no different.

Can ladies be badass bikers? That seems clear to me. Can even rich Hollywood types be bikers when they slept by their steeds in the wilderness for over a year? Seems reasonable. Can a lawyer be a biker when he’s got half a dozen Iron Butt Extreme rides under his belt? Why not? No matter what the price of belonging is, some will still find reason to shun the newcomers.

Obviously it’s not up to me to say who is and isn’t a “real biker”. I’m not one, and no amount of three-thousand mile trips and rugged two-wheeled camping will make me one. I can claim that it’s a continuum: be more biker-y and not less biker-y.  We used to be a nation of individuals. Don’t let a Facebook thread or a motorcycle commercial tell you what you are. A motorcycle dealership can’t make you a rebel. Wearing the same thing as everyone else doesn’t make you an individual. Get out, ride, camp with nothing more than you can carry, ride through the rain and cold, stop and help someone on two wheels stuck on the side of the road, stop at a dive bar you’ve never been in before, show respect, be real, be judged by your actions.

The world could use more bikers.

 

 

A Tale of Two Test Rides

I’ve been wanting a new bike since Victory was killed. I’ve come up with tons of reasonable-sounding justifications, like parts getting scarce and so forth. The reality is: who doesn’t want a new bike if they can swing it? There’s shiny new things like touch screen nav systems and loud new stereos. Bigger engines with more torque. I was determined to swing it this year.

I wound up riding Victory for the past four years for a few  reasons: I really liked how they were styled, they were extremely good values, and here around Milwaukee there are so many Street Glides I couldn’t bring myself to join that crowd: yes I wanted something different and as long as you’re not buying garbage or spending a fortune to prove a point that’s fine.

Someday I’ll think about why it is that I’ve never “gotten” Harley people, it’s just not a community that’s ever called out to me (I realize how loaded that statement is). They are expensive, and at least when I started riding in the ’90s, there was no dealing: this is the price, fuck you, there’s 11 guys behind you if you don’t like it. The Motor Company, however, has been doing a lot of good work. First, they are focused on building riders in addition to motorcycles and this is huge. They upgraded their infotainment; they engineered some of the vibration out of their new bikes. The Motor Company is moving forward, but are they competitive with folks who didn’t grow up lusting for the shield and bar their whole lives?

I decided to ride two bikes back-to-back. I cannot stand the “batwing” fairing on the Harley Street Glide, it’s too retro, it’s too much like a C5 Corvette. However the “Shark nose” fairing on the Road Glide is unique and excellent. If I was to get a Harley, it would be a Road Glide.

As for Indian, I recognize that I was giving Polaris another chance to screw me over. Still, when they started offering bikes without the front fender sweep and came out with their new Ride Command system, I had to try one.

2019 Road Glide Special

First I headed to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to ride a 2019 Road Glide Special in Denim Red. If possible, I would get the burnt orange color shown at the top of this post.

Image result for 2019 road glide red denim

The last Harley I rode was the 103 engine, and it shook, a lot. I know this is part of the appeal for a lot of people but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve also long preferred the blacked out look to the chrome look; I could say I liked this “before it was on-trend” as Harley marketing says, but the reality is the first blacked out bike I ever saw was the now-extinct V-rod Night Rod. Not good for long trips, but this bike forever changed my mind on how a motorcycle should look.

Image result for v-rod night rod

The 2019 is a much more refined experience, very little vibration. While it took me a minute to get used to drive-by-wire, I found this bike to be powerful and enjoyable despite what felt like a lot of weight compared to my Victory. It was easy to pair my phone with the Boom system so I could hear some familiar tunes on the new radio.

Given what I had heard about the 114, I expected the engine to tear my head off with power, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was very powerful with low end torque and plenty of get up and go all the way through the RPM range. I think word-of-mouth had just left me with expectations that couldn’t be met. Still, a great bike anyone would be happy to own.

I got a number for my trade in and discovered that it would only take them two weeks to get the burnt orange color in.

2019 Chieftain Dark Horse

Next I headed to Indian Motorcycles of Metro Milwaukee to ride a 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse. My buddy Corvus came with me since he’d never ridden an Indian before.

Image result for indian chieftain dark horse

Fixed fairing vs. fork mounted fairing. Harley vs. Indian. How were they different?

Firstly, despite tipping the scales at very similar running weights, the Chieftain is a little lower and it makes it feel lighter than the Road Glide. I’m 5’9″ and this bike felt more maneuverable to me.

Secondly, in “standard” ride mode the ride by wire on the Chieftain feels even more twitchy than the Road Glide and I never got quite used to it.

The Thunderstroke 111 feels more torquey than the Milwaukee Eight 114 through the lower 75% of the RPM range. The Milwaukee Eight has more room to run through the top end of the range and particularly in 6th gear.

From the handling perspective, the Chieftain felt much more nimble. It corners like a cloud, and felt natural and controlled through roundabouts. The suspension was also fantastic: Wisconsin roads are generally terrible but even going over railroad tracks was very easy going.

Finally, I do think the RideCommand is a little bit better, and the 100watt stereo has power power than I’ll ever need even at 80mph in the rain: most songs are too loud at 3/10 on the volume dial.

So what did I decide?

In the end, the feel and the ride of the Chieftain Dark Horse was clearly the right ride for me, and I rode it home. My 2015 Victory Cross Country, whom I affectionately called Red Sonya, is no more. Say hello to Black Sunshine.

She’s totally stock for now, as I fight a cold Wisconsin “spring” for break-in miles. The exhaust and engine sound so good stock I don’t think I’ll be messing with it for a while, but a bigger windshield, back rest, highway pegs, etc. will be on the way soon.

Mama Tried 2019

It’s hard to believe that two years ago it was more than warm enough to ride to Mama Tried in February. Really, that’s what makes this part of the year in Wisconsin so difficult for me: I’m constantly staring at the extended weather forecast because we could thaw out any day now.

I don’t have a lot to say this year that I didn’t say about the 2018 show. I had various dad duties on Saturday, or I might have gone to the Chicago Motorcycle Show instead.

I did not spring for a press pass this year, so it was cell phone camera only, and I took some monumentally shitty pictures this year. Some people did ride through the snow, good on you guys.

Anyway here’s some bikes.

 

Goals for 2019

Like in 2018, I have some goals for 2019: Goals for what I’m going to do for the good of motorcycling in 2019 and goals for myself and my love of motorcycling.

  1. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a new bagger. Why? Nothing’s wrong with Red Sonya except that Polaris is no longer making Victory. Plus, well, who doesn’t love the excitement of a new bike when they can afford it? Once the dealers are doing test rides, I’ll be picking a new two-wheeled freedom machine and writing about the experience.
  2. Get one person their first motorcycle: I have someone in mind who’s very close to joining the life.
  3. Participate in ABATE Bikers in the capitol day. More information coming in a podcast soon.
  4. Take lots of video: watching bikers on youtube helps get me through the winter months.
  5. I need to get Mrs. Roadrunner on her bike. Like, a lot. Why should be obvious, but additionally…
  6. Late in 2019 I will start planning motorcycle trip around Scotland in 2020, riding its famous NC 500.
  7. I’m going to camp more than I did in 2018.
  8. This year I’m planning to ride:
    1. To either Colorado Springs or Pocatello to visit family. On the way could be Deadwood, Needles Highway, Cheyenne, Beartooth pass…
    2. The Hurricane Highway in the UP of Michigan
    3. US 2 in Northern Wisconsin
    4. The Hoka Hey off year event.
  9. And of course I’m going to keep spreading the idea that motorcycling is mindfulness.

That’s a lot of fun for a working guy with kids at home, but I’m willing to try. Additionally I’ll probably hit some of the yearly motorcycle events like the Slimy Crud Run, Momma Tried, Brewtown Rumble, The Milwaukee Rally, and other small scale goofing off.

Looking forward to a great 2019. I’ll see you on the road.

Cool Camping in Buckhorn State Park

It was 37 degrees the night before, but I was still excited to get up on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 and ride towards Mauston & Necedah, WI to camp in Buckhorn State Park. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/buckhorn/

If there’s not snow on the roads, I need little excuse to ride somewhere. My friend Beefy has had a rough time of late, and he’s taking a rare and amazing space of time for himself. 7 days camping in a remote location alone; alone except for me joining him for one night. I had just come back from camping at the Tomahawk Rally and had a couple of new pieces of gear I was eager to try out.

I already carry a small complement of survival gear in my bags at all time: tactical flashlight, husqvarna hand axe, emergency fire starting materials (dryer lint, etc), towel, emergency hand warmers, and various other crap. The new gear I was bringing was a hand chainsaw and a Klymit sleeping matt.

You can see the chainsaw here. This comes from some experiences camping with just my hand axe and getting worn out trying to harvest deadfall. The good news is, the thing works well. The bad news is, it will make you overly confident and you’ll spend way too much time sawing through a 12″ log.

The Klymit sleeping pad is my second new addition. Compared to my ancient self-inflating Coleman sleeping pad, it’s a huge improvement. It packs up into about 1/3 the space, but you have to blow it up. Well, this non-smoker can inflate the Klymit in about 30 seconds and it is more comfortable and keeps you off the ground and warm. A good upgrade for sure. It still takes < 5 minutes to set up my camp.

We had an outrageously wet August & September in Wisconsin this year. Closer to Lake Michigan in places like Port Washington this mean roads washed out and homes flooded. Out in North-Central Wisconsin, it just meant standing water all over the place. Standing water means mosquitoes. Unbelievable plagues of mosquitoes. I just utterly hate any “real” bug spray with Deet in it, it makes me sick. I’ve tried a lot of natural repellents such as various kinds of wood (peña wood is a popular one) , lemon-eucalyptus bug sprays, and the like. The fact is, out in the north woods I can spray the organic shit directly on the mosquitoes and they lap it up like catnip. Only fire, tons of smoke, and/or extreme cold will do.

No problem. We’ll just make a fire. But everything is extremely wet. It’s been raining like crazy for a month. No problem: I’ll just cut wood in half, saw deadfall in half with my new hand chainsaw. Trim tiny slivers off with my Coupon Cutter. Shave magnesium filings off the primitive firestarter.
Fine, bust out the lighter.
Fine, bust out the bag of dryer lint I keep in my saddlebags for emergencies.
Fine, bust out the bone-dry peña wood I brought up just in case.
FINE. Pour the kerosene meant for the camp lamps onto this fucking mess.
I consider myself pretty good with fire, I can usually get a fire started with pretty primitive means, like careful knife work and a magnesium fire starter. It took us two hours to get a fire started. Still, when it’s a couple guys in the woods, what else do you have to do besides drink beer while you work on the fire?

Food acquired, we set about the work of cooking steak and mushrooms in a large cast iron pan. I’m a pretty handy cook at home, and I love primitive cooking. It was made easier this time by Beefy bringing his cage and more kitchen gear than I can usually fit in saddlebags. Glorious ribeyes and beers by an open fire are among the great simple pleasures of being alive.

Speaking of Beefy’s cage: I have a poor track record of converting cagers to riders. My wife is the only one I can claim credit for. However, we talked at length about how things were changing for him and that it was reasonable he could get a two-wheeled freedom machine soon. Another brother of the road? Yea, life is good.

My 3-layer military sleep system of nested bags can be a bit difficult to get into after a lot of beers, but waking up in extreme cold provides the necessary clarity. Beefy made eggs over a campfire that, once again, took too long to get rolling, and I rolled home and left him in his solitude.