There are things you can buy that are more or less tried and true, steady and dependable you might even say: is a Leatherman pocket tool really going to be that much different from year to year? Is one year’s Mustang going to be so radically different from the next year’s Mustang that you hesitate to buy before the next model year comes out? Is refrigerator technology going to radically advance such that you’ll wish you’d waited?
But some things are not “tried and true”, some things are advancing so quickly you are always at risk of buying old news … and Fear Of Missing Out keeps you on the sidelines. You risk fear of feeling like a stooge for taking the discount on the current model year as they make room for something different and better and amazing. Cell phones come to mind, maybe gaming consoles, mayve TVs. Motorcycles? Naw…
As I mentioned in A Tale of Two Test Rides, I rode a fixed fairing Road Glide on the same day I decided to take my Chieftain Dark Horse Home.
Six months later, Indian unveils this:
Obviously, there’s a lot of real-world miles ridden on fixed fairing bikes: this is a good configuration for long haul touring. That’s why I was interested in a Road Glide! (I also hate the lines of the ‘batwing’ Harley fairing.) You also get a little bit of extra storage in the fairing. I have been privately suspecting for a couple of years that European emissions standards were going to basically force liquid cooling into more motorcycle models before too much longer – it can be very expensive to have radically different platforms on each continent for global manufacturers, and the world is on high alert after the BMW diesel emissions cheating scandals. Even someone like myself, with a somewhat poor level of V-Twin of engine knowledge, though, knows that air-cooled engines require looser tolerances. Metal expands as it heats up: pistons rub against the block, tiny metal shavings wind up in the oil, break in services are required at 500 miles vs. 5,000 miles or “never” on liquid cooled engines. This need for a little fudge factor impacts engine design in fundamental ways such as what compression ratios are safe.
This new PowerPlus 108 also makes more HP. A lot more HP. The stock ThunderStroke 111 makes 79hp. Keep in mind, I love this engine, but as I learned earlier this year, HP does matter even when you have a torque-monster bike that can shred tires at every stop sign. Passing HP and fun on the highway and sweeping turns needs that higher RPM power. 125 HP and 128 ft/lb of torque? That’s an amazing stock engine even if the bike does way 800lb dry.
In addition to the extremely appealing new engine and the fixed fairing, there are some tech upgrades:
Lean sensitive traction control.
Those red line tires…
New Ride Command with weather and traffic overlays – this is a big deal. People who have ridden with me know I’ll happily ride optimistically into the storm of the century because we can “just roll through it”.
This motorcycle is a big jump, and I’m not just talking about the War Bonnet on the front fender lighting up or the puddle lights. This motorcycle is a bridge.
My father, and his boomer generation pals, grew up lusting for a Harley long before most of them could afford one. In the ’90s and early ’00s, many of them finally got them, and set up a bubble and a generational gap that has landed Harley where it is today. There are enough people like me who want an American V-twin but not enamoured enough of Harley to pay the premium for a bike that isn’t all that premium to give Victory and Indian enough sales to cause a ruckus in the marketplace. The Challenger is a bridge product: those who have some nostalgia, and US home-bias, and want an American V-Twin but not enough to go get an air cooled machine. They also want performance and technology, but not enough to go get a BMW or a GoldWing. They want reliability, not the promise that “If you break down there’s Harley dealers everywhere!”
This motorcycle is a bridge for all those who want technology and dial-tone reliability, gas mileage and turn by turn directions, but who also have to admit that an American muscle machine is just plain cooler than a GoldWing. People who appreciate the engineering of a turbocharged Subaru but who might buy a Dodge Challenger or a Mustang instead for the exhaust sound and the body style.
As I was typing this, Harley unveiled the new Revolution Max engine on it’s 2021 Pan America.
60 degree V-twin. Liquid cooled. High horsepower. An engine that may not appeal to those for whom an air-cooled pushrod motor is the One True Way. This engine did not come out overnight in response to the Power Plus – Harley is looking in the same crystal ball as Indian and trying to be ready for the future. I think they’re both doing the right things, and I think competition is good for everyone.
My riding season consists of several things: taking the 1st 70 degree day off work, taking in a bike show or two, a local charity ride or two, a bike night or two, riding to work, and one big trip. Having gone to the Smokey Mountains in ’15, ’16, ’17, and ’18 I wanted to do something different this year. My sister (a crazy person) moved to Idaho, and I had the beginnings of a plan.
I knew I wanted to avoid the “Sturgis Scene”, but the timing worked out to be hitting South Dakota as Sturgis was closing out. I talked to people who had been and I was assured that Sturgis was mostly over by this point and finding a place to sleep wouldn’t be a problem. With the beginnings of a route in mind, I put out the call for riders: the timing was bad, work was too busy, the distance was too far. Only one rider could make it work: good ole Wingnut Dave.
Since I had only recently moved over to a 2019 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse, I was still in the process of outfitting the bike and trying some new gear myself. As I approached doing 5,000mi service on Black Sunshine, I added a few things:
Alaska Leather Sheepskin Buttpad – I was skeptical that the “Gunfighter” seat new to the 2019 Chieftain line would be good enough for touring and wanted a little softer seat. I turned out to be more than right…
Kuryakyn Tank Bag – I liked the idea of having clear glasses, flashlight, sunscreen etc. close at hand.
Cardo PackTalk Bold – Wingnut Dave had long used a CB system on his ‘Wing, but I thought this would be an easier entry to road communication. This meant in addition to my usual half helmet I’d be bringing a modular helmet.
Day 1: Motorcycling is Mindfulness
My family, Wingnut Dave, and myself were all attending a conference at the Kalahari in the Wisconsin Dells. I was speaking on my favorite topic: mindfulness meditation. As the conference wound down, the siren call of the road was too powerful to ignore, and we left with a first day goal of reaching Fairmont, MN. Heading West on I-90 is just as straight, flat, and boring as you can imagine. After reaching the hotel we picked up some of the necessary supplements for traveling together: microbrew, bourbon ( I had accidentally left my flask at home ) and some Fireball. Dinner that night was great at the Bean Town Grill.
Day 2: Fairmont to Keystone
The weather attempted to make it exciting by providing some of the worst headwinds I’ve ever ridden through: leaning at a 45 degree angle just to keep from being blown off the road at 80mph. We did see at least one bike down headed East. For the entire day we didn’t pass nor were we passed by a single bike headed West, but we did see hundreds of bikes going East presumably headed home after Sturgis.
If you’re heading out here, a National Parks annual pass might be worth it. It would turn out that I spent more money on park entrance fees than I did on beer this trip. As for Badlands National Park, I’ll let the video speak for the beauty.
The restaurant here was pretty good as well, serving me the first of many bison meals on this trip. I had a fantastic view, and once I went back to my room for the night I was completely overcome by gratitude. I was on an 8 day trip (with padding for weather), I was on a new bike with all the gear I could want, my wife was at home taking care of the kids, I was seeing one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I recall feeling so grateful I could just sit and stare.
Look at this doofus blocking the sign!
Stations like this would become the norm out here.
My driveway for 2 days.
Bison prime rib!
I found Black Sunshine an Indian pal to park next to.
Day 3: Taking It All In
Today was the day I got to see why people return to the Black Hills area again and again.
The motel was directly on the Iron Mountain Road so we were able to do most of this completely by accident as we made our way to various other attractions. First up was Mount Rushmore, which I had not seen in at least 30 years. I stared at the mountain, I thought about how lucky I am to have been born in America, and I don’t have anything new to say about Mount Rushmore.
There are many pictures of Rushmore, but this one is mine.
No drones, denied!
This guy again…
The closest viewing area was under construction.
This individual is why people are skeptical of meditation…
Next up we went to the Needles Highway. This both contained some of the most technical switchbacks of the entire trip, and yet also failed to live up to the hype. It was a bit like the Tail of the Dragon: while technical the views are largely limited by trees and too many cars. We followed a truck hauling watercraft that I dubbed “Captain Canoe” for most of the road.
While I’d been obsessing over some parts of the trip for months, I went into the Crazy Horse Memorial knowing nothing about it other than a little about the historical figure, Crazy Horse. From the photos, it’s hard to get a feel for the scale, but all of Mount Rushmore would fit on his forehead. When finished, it will be the world’s largest sculpture and include a University for Native Americans. The story of the treatment of Native Americans by the US Government is… unflattering. For the second time on this trip I was completely overwhelmed. We took a bus down to the base of the mountain, and our guide suspects they might finish the sculpture in another 70 years. As of 2019, they were working on the knuckles of his hand. We had some ‘meh’ tatanka stew and an excellent microbrew and headed for deadwood.
This “Sturgis Edition” Chieftain was being raffled off.
I expected Sturgis proper to still be a complete shitshow, but since I’d recently been watching the HBO series I wanted to see Deadwood, SD. There are various plaques an callouts to the town’s history, but otherwise if you’ve seen one town overrun by bikers, you’ve seen them all. At a different time, on a different trip, I could see myself spending a couple of days here enjoying living music and people-watching, but the clouds rolled in and I’m not a big fan of treacherous mountain roads while they’re wet.
Was this someone’s sense of humor, irony, or just going their own way? It made me laugh, anyway.
We did catch a bad lightning storm: it has to be pretty bad for me to wait one out at a gas station but this one did it. We got back to the Powder House Lodge cold and hungry and some Elk steak put me back into the right frame of mind.
Day 4: Boring and Amazing
Day 4 was going to put us within striking distance of what I was most excited about: Beartooth Pass. I’m sorry to say that Wyoming is … mostly terribly boring to drive through. The last time I had come out West, there was a point where I could no longer get 91 octane gas, yet somehow had good luck until I was nearly home. Getting closer to the end of the day we finally had some nice scenery at Big Horn Pass. I’ve only ridden in the Smokey Mountains before, which I now feel like “aren’t real mountains” compared to the Rockies. I was not ready for the 30 degree temperature swings as we went up and down in elevation. The views were spectacular though. At the top of BigHorn pass, we met some folks who had flown in from Australia and rented bikes to do the Black Hills area.
I guess getting through Wyoming was worth it.
We ended the day at the Bear Tooth Hideaway in Red Lodge, MT. In all my travels, by bike and otherwise, this was the first hotel hot tub that was actually hot. Nothing like heat & jets to soothe a biker’s ass after a thousand miles of travel on a new seat. At the recommendation of hotel staff, we ate at Foster and Logans pub and it was fantastic. In one of the awesome coincidences that happen on the road, two folks sat down next to us and we started talking. They were both from Wisconsin.
This was such a cool place, I can see coming back for the Beartooth Rally some day.
Finally saw a buffalo!
Sinclair dinosaurs remembered from the roadtrips of my youth.
I got up the following morning and followed the sound of running water, literally 15ft across the street from the motel. This is what I saw:
This place will spoil you for views. Every little bit you see a scene worthy of a calendar or postcard. Why does anyone choose to live anyplace less beautiful? It’s complicated.
Day 5: The Big Event
I had been dreaming of going over Beartooth Pass on US 212.
It did not disappoint.
This is the best road in the mainland USA.
Beartooth pass is technically a good road: meaning there are technically difficult switchbacks, great sweeping turns, and tons of elevation changes. What really makes this the best road in the US are the views: majestic Rocky Mountain views around every corner. One second you’re focusing on leaning the bike and looking as far through the corner as you can to avoid a stray elk or errant cager, the next moment you’re confronted with a godlike vision of the landscape … and then you need to focus on negotiating that next turn. What good are guardrails if your bike stops and you keep going over the handlebars just in time for a 7,000 ft hill roll?
This repeating rote of joy –> life-or-death moment –> beauty –> life-or-death moment –> gratitude –> life-or-death moment is why we love motorcycling. What better way to appreciate the value of every heartbeat and every conscious thought of life than to risk it in a dangerous yet controlled experiment? What better assertion of your skill and confidence than to challenge the mountain to kill you and walk away with your life the victor?
In “The Life of David Gale”, Kevin Spacey’s character tells us we’re never happier than when we’re thinking about future happiness, and the Art of Manliness tells us that Anticipation is a powerful source of dopamine, but after months of anticipation I feel like I was perfectly happy in each moment climbing Beartooth Pass, and then I was happy in each moment descending since I got to experience the same level of scenery but also be warming up foot by foot.
The top is around 10,900 ft in elevation which was enough for me to have a little trouble breathing. I’ve been as high as Pike’s Peak (14k ft) and this isn’t that bad, but you notice.
As we went through Yellowstone, I was thrilled to see tons of buffalo, one of them 5ft away on the side of the road. Wingnut Dave got yet another earful of my incredible vocabulary through the intercom: “Holy fuck, fuck fuck fuck, a buffalo, right fucking there!”
Yellowstone might be the hardest part of the trip for me to describe. I have been here before, but it’s been a good 30 years. I felt a lot of gratitude rolling through Yellowstone, this time for my parents. My folks took us kids on a ton of epic road trips when we were younger, and I’m sure that’s a part of my wanderlust and my appreciation for these landscapes today. Yellowstone is just … so big. It’s not just mountains, it’s tremendous plains, far away are tremendous mountains. There are rivers, waterfalls, sulphur springs. The air is so clean you can see forever, it’s impossible to know if you could reach the mountains across the plains in a day, or two weeks.
Maybe you can get a little taste of Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone with these videos:
After we were a ways into Yellowstone it was time to separate from Wingnut Dave for a day and a half. I was going to see family in Idaho, and he was riding the Sawtooths and other awesome roads in Northern Idaho.
Day 6: Family and Rest
After Yellowstone, I road down into Central Idaho and spent some time with family in Pocatello. I did not get the adventure that Wingnut Dave got, but I can tell you for sure that Idaho is a well-kept secret. It has a little bit of the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, and the alien landscape of its Southern neighbor Utah. It has more river frontage than any other state except Alaska. Idaho requires a lot more exploration.
I was mauled by nieces and nephews I seldom see, and I ran out exploring Pocatello for a while. The small city hosts at least two micro breweries and a lot of one way streets. I got lunch and a lot of samples at the Port Neuf Brewery in old Downtown. Arriving, I parked next to an ancient Kawasaki touring bike that turned out to belong to the owner or manager. He mentioned that some other bikers had been through recently: nice folks from Australia who went a long way towards drinking the place dry. Based on my description, and the unlikelihood of multiple Australian parties in the area, it had to be the same folks I met at the top of BigHorn.
We drank beers, and grilled stakes, and watched Aliens and did the things that families do. I stayed up too late, but still met Wingnut Dave on time the next morning.
Day 7: Back Roads into Steamboat Springs
The goal today was to make tracks for the small Skiing town of Steamboat Springs, CO. We could get there by avoiding the freeway which meant some more time in Wyoming, and to my pleasant surprise, Utah.
Wyoming is so sparsely populated, this was the only place I was legitimately worried about running out of gas. Up until this point we had remarked that we had pulled into whatever local joints looked good and not had a single bad meal. I won’t say we had a “bad” meal, but the food and service at the Badlands Lanes Saloon wasn’t great either.
I had recently done a family reunion in Southwestern Utah, and immediately realized I had to come back on the bike. The landscapes are amazing: red rock mountains, black volcanic rock, bizarre sunsets. Being in Utah makes you think you’re on Mars. We hadn’t planned it, but our 2-lane roads took us into Utah for a while, and I was not disappointed.
Despite having ridden thousands of miles with Wingnut Dave, I do not recall him having an obsessive bike-cleaning habit before now. My bike had collected so many insects, he was begging me to clean it, or even let him clean it. I let the bugs stay until the next time we hit rain.
Steamboat Springs is a typical Colorado Ski town: food, stores, and hotels that a town this size couldn’t support without the powdery slopes. Despite not being ski season, it was fairly busy. We stayed on the East end of town closest to the Rockies, and had some great barbeque and local microbrews at the Steamboat Smokehouse.
In yet another example of the great people you meet on the road, we met some folks in the hotel hot tub who do off-road riding in Utah.
If you’re in an area without too much light pollution, the night sky in Colorado is worth the trip. Another great day.
Day 8: Rocky Mountain National Park
The idea for day 8 was to conquer Rocky Mountain National Park, have lunch in Estes Park, CO, and part ways until next time.
Do you want to know the definition of being spoiled? Seeing this kind of scenery and thinking “Yea but Beartooth was better…” Rocky mountain national park is epic.
Of course there’s some video as well.
As we descended, I had to remind myself that the rest of the way home would be solo. I thought about the last time I had to say goodbye to Wingnut Dave, and it seems unreal that it’s really a year in between these big trips. We both had long, boring, high-miles trips across the plains to get home, but first one more local restaurant. This one just said “Restaurant” on the side, which is usually a sign you’re entering a greasy spoon that might make you wish you’d found a George Webbs instead. Once again, we got lucky, and the “Restaurant” was an excellent spot called Bird & Jim. It’s a reminder of how the Internet has spread things like “Food culture” to every corner of the world. Here we are in Estes Park, CO, and the first place we find has an eclectic menu including some gourmet hipster chili-cheese dogs with house made chili and 4 cheeses.
Yes, I ate them both.
After we parted ways, I had about 30 minutes of gorgeous mountain roads, then a couple of hours of getting through smaller cities north of Denver: 99 degrees and “it’s 2pm on a Thursday whythefuckisitsobusy?” traffic.
Helmets: I had been wearing a modular/full helmet up to this point to use the Cardo Packtalk. When we parted ways I switched back to my half helmet. I hate to admit how much I like having my ears & face uncovered: it’s far less fatiguing from a noise perspective, and your connection to everything around you is so much more real. I have to admit that wearing a half helmet is pretty damn close to not wearing a helmet.
As I rolled through Nebraska, I had the 2nd close call with gas this trip. I stopped in a true shithole gas station that only had 87 octane, and used my Octane Booster for the first and only time this trip. Obviously modern engines have anti-knock technology, but the last time I was in SD I put a few takes of 87 in my Victory and I felt like it “wasn’t quite right” until the next tune up, so I carry octane boost with me.
My target was to make it to Grand Island, NE this day. I had found a hotel that looked pretty close to the river, and had a local BBQ joint in the same parking lot. I barely beat a wicked looking lightning storm in, only to find a mixed bag of luck: the local BBQ joint had closed, the Arby’s in the gas station was still open, and the hot tub was open until 11pm. I swallowed my “no chain restaurants” pride and got a snack at Arby’s. I sat in the hotel hot tub with a can of The Banquet Beer and reflected on my trip so far. This hotel was the only one that would let me park under the front pavilion, so I finally got a picture to match my favorite shot of Red Sonya under the pavilion in Kentucky.
… and a good thing too! I had barely beat the storm, and it did pour that night. Not a big deal, but it does take some work to dry out my sheepskin butt pad.
Day 9: Freeways home
Every time I take a trip, it seems I leave myself with a 600-700mi last day and a grind getting through Chicago to get home. This Friday morning, the Indian Ride Command gps said 645mi to home and the weather showed a couple hours riding through rain right away in the morning. I hate wearing rain gear (I probably just have uncomfortable, shitty gear) so when I’m not in danger of getting too cold, I prefer to just roll through it and dry out on the road.
It was 10am in Nebraska, I had my half helmet on, my music on, and I was doing 80mph through the rain. Yes rain hurts your face at 80 but it wasn’t raining super hard. I was sad that my trip was nearly over, but excited to see my wife and kids. All of a sudden, I realized that this rain on the freeway was going to massively clean up all the bugs I’d accumulated on this trip, and how happy that would make Wingnut Dave. I started laughing uncontrollably, and my mood went through the roof. I was singing along with my music at the top of my lungs, passing cars, and loving life. I can only hope there were dinner table conversations that night “So this biker was getting rained on and absolutely plastered with road water by the big rigs but was smiling and singing, I’ll bet he was taking the drugs!” Every day above ground is a good day, something bikers understand better than most.
I stopped for dinner and didn’t get home until about 10pm. My great trip of 2019 over, it was good to be home safe.
3,400 miles, though I had planned just over 4,000. What a great road trip.
So how did all the new gear perform?
Kuryakyn Highway Pegs – I should have just taken these off my previous bike before I traded it in. These pegs are great and adjustable enough to try different things. One wrench and some allen wrenches I’d be carrying anyway and they’re easy to adjust on the road.
Alaska Leather Sheepskin Buttpad – This was a big help, since the stock seat sucks for touring (see below). I do feel like it lives up to the promise of helping keep you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool as the 30 degree mountain temperature swings proved. It does get wet and collect overnight dew easily, so be prepared with a cover or to have dry hotel towels to dry it off in the morning.
Indian Aftermarket ThunderTrunk – I feel like it “bounces” a little bit during travel, but this was a great $1k spent, especially when you consider that an Indian brand sissy bar is $900, and this is a much nicer backrest + storage + luggage rack.
Kuryakyn Tank Bag – I like this, it’s super convenient, and the exotic magnets stick this so firmly to the tank I have no worries of it ever falling off, yet also no worries of it scratching the tank. It’s about the right size to hold extra sunglasses, flashlight, iPass, sunscreen, etc. In addition it has a see-through top section that I could use for hand-written directions if I wanted. My only complaint is that it’s too tall with the stock handlebars: meaning if I’m backing the bike around a parking lot sharp turns will hit the hand controls: radio volume on the left side and electric windshield on the right side.
Cardo PackTalk Bold – This took some getting used to. Installation is key: make sure when you install this that the speakers are RIGHT under where your ears are, even if your ears do not quite line up to the “ear holes” in your helmet – otherwise volume will be intolerably low. On balance, being able to call to each other to block a lane, “watch out for that pothole”, “Hey dude there’s no left arrow don’t go yet!”, was a net positive over the increased noise fatigue and loss of peripheral vision that came with wearing the full helmet. Road noise would indeed have made the system useless, so you do need a helmet that can shield the mic or a tall enough windshield that there’s not any actual wind in your face. We even discussed on a larger ride that it’d be useful just having 2 people with this system riding lead & sweep to block lanes, etc.
Sedici Modular Helmet – Good helmet, versatile, but it made me really appreciate my half helmet after 2500 miles. I guess I should admit that my half helmet is very close to not wearing a helmet.
GoPro – I was worried about not having enough storage, so recorded video in 1080p instead of 4k. This was a mistake, it could be the GoPro, or it could be YouTube, but even though I don’t have a 4k TV, the 4k video looks outrageously better. I need to keep working on a better GoPro mount, and always do 4k in the future.
What About the Bike?
What about the Indian Chieftain?
All in all, I’m still super happy with this bike. The infotainment is fantastic and the GPS is extremely helpful on a trip like this. The bike is torque-y, good-looking, and has awesome storage. It proved it’s handling chops a thousand times over on the mountain switchbacks. My complaints are few and all fixable:
Indian has to fix the Ride Command app. It crashes 100% of the time when I load my 4,000mi route. Since I started planning my next ride I notice it also breaks terribly when planning routes that involve Canada. You can only adjust your route on a full desktop/laptop computer, not a phone, and no one is carrying a laptop on a roadtrip like this. Indian needs to keep investing in this app.
The “gunfighter” seat standard on the 2019 Chieftain models seems woefully inadequate for touring. I dare say I have a narrower-than-average ass, and the seat is still too narrow to provide long-haul support. I can tell from my multiple-IronButt experience that I could ride basically forever on this bike with a better seat.
The bike is a torque monster, but when trying to pass at highway speeds… the claimed 79HP stock is just not enough. I don’t want to ride a GoldWing, but I also don’t want to be embarrassed by a GoldWing in passing maneuvers. I’m going to spend some money (hopefully not as much $$$$ as the 116 kit) to see if I can get some more HP without sacrificing that delicious torque.
I got so many compliments on this bike. The adjustable windshield, the audio, the storage, the ground clearance – it was all so excellent on this 3500mi trip. I just need to do a little more to make it perfect.
I had the joy of traveling for work recently: Milwaukee, WI to San Jose, CA. It had been a while, and I forgot how much I hated air travel.
It’s not that flying bothers me: it’s amazing to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. It’s not that packing bothers me: indeed I rather like planning and compressing my needs for a week down into what I can carry. Rather, I hate the ceremony and the complete loss of control that comes with modern air travel.
“The Ceremony” is simple: if you fly in America today you have a taste of what it’s like to live in a police state. You need various identifiers and identification; if your name does not appear exactly on your driver’s license as you booked your flight, you may not get to fly. The US Government can put you on a “no fly list” without telling you, and without giving you any due process of law that would allow you to see why you are on the do-not-fly list, and without a clear legal path to getting off of it. Furthermore, in the United States you will soon need a “Real ID”, much closer to- or equivalent-to a Passport in order to fly.
All this to fly domestically. In the “land of the free”.
So you need “your papers” in order to fly: something the average middle-class traveler in Soviet Russia would certainly understand. But wait, that’s not where your privacy violations end. You are going to get SCANNED.
Consider first the “millimeter wave” scanners deployed at almost every US airport now. Depending on which article you read, this may or may not present TSA officers with a high resolution contour of exactly what you look like naked. The thing that people forget about TSA officers is that they are just like all other officers: they are just people. That means they are no better or worse than the average American. Some of them will be ethical and honest, with their mission in the forefront of their minds as they do their jobs. Others will behave as though they were a 14 year old boy who suddenly had X-ray vision into the girls’ locker room.
The TSA can also simply embarrass you. Suppose you, like my father, have various iron and titanium pins in your legs due to severe injuries from motorcycle accidents. The metal detectors are going to alarm as you walk through. You’re going to have to explain yourself at the very least. Maybe you’ll get “extra screening”.
Finally, the TSA can search your luggage at any time and for any reason. If you have a diver’s computer, a special piece of hardware for work, or maybe a particularly flashy pack of condoms in your luggage: someone with close to zero training is going to be flagged that they should look through your luggage. Did you bring a pair of fuzzy handcuffs on your vacation with your wife, or did you bring something to clean your CPAP, or are you traveling with a few things to spice of the bedroom while you vacation in the Caribbean? The TSA can poke, prod, and confiscate any of that.
Here’s the thing: once you reach a certain age, a doctor is going to poke around your most private parts and ask you uncomfortable questions. This is a part of getting older: we get pap smears, testicular cancer checks, breast cancer scans, prostate checks, and so on. But being a doctor is not easy: when you drop your pants for a doctor you are doing so for someone who has gone through 8-12+ years of school and has seen it all before and has everything to lose from being accused of sticking their finger in the wrong place. A TSA agent is different from a doctor in all the wrong ways.
Once you are physically on your flight, you lose even more freedom. You must obey a US Air Marshal or any random Southwest employee or face felony charges. Sure, nearly every flight goes well, but how do you feel about the idea of being beholden to someone who didn’t like the political message on your jacket? Remember, people are just people…
If, by Odin’s grace, you don’t make your flight, you are likely fucked. Did you get trip insurance, or did you get the kind of tickets that will not be refunded? You see, Americans have decided over the past 25+ years that all they care about is the cost of a flight. It doesn’t matter if they are sitting literally on top of someone who is hand-pumping their colostomy bag out into their neighbor’s coffee, if they can get to Vegas for $50 less they’ll deal with it. They will not remember this experience and vote with their dollars to have a more dignified flight next time. So, you are likely missing a day or more of your vacation if you miss that flight. Does it matter that it’s Spring Break and Airline X didn’t staff their counters enough? Nope, go back home loser.
Maybe you get bumped from an overbooked flight. Maybe you have to hand over a prized pocketknife you had in your jeans out of pure habit. Maybe the counter was too busy and they leave without you…
But the Road Won’t Leave Without You
Now, suppose you are instead packing for a motorcycle trip. Assuming that everything you’re packing is legal, you have nearly zero concern for anyone looking at it. The chances of you getting pulled over and searched are, anyway, incredibly small.
Suppose it’s spring break for some local schools and you start out a little late?
Oh well, you sit in traffic a little bit. You don’t miss your flight, you don’t lose a whole day of your vacation.
Suppose a tornado tears across the road a few miles in front of you? OK, you wait, and you move on when it’s safe.
Suppose the thunderstorm of the century tears across the state you’re riding through and you find yourself stuck in a rest area in Knoxville?
Fine, that’s great. Survive. There is no large insurance company who will not let your bike take off without considering a billion variables: you can leave whenever you feel like you can ride. If you take off and discover that the roads are really terrible, you can pull off on the side of the road and sleep anywhere you’re equipped to sleep. Sure you shouldn’t build campfires on someone’s private property but you can judge for yourself. You are in control. Maybe you do pull off the highway and park your bike in a ditch and throw your bivy over yourself. Rain pours, lightning strikes. Thunder follows. A man who is shurely Clint Eastwood reincarnated rides a horse near the tree you’re camped under and politely but firmly asks what the hell you’re doing on his property. Flustered, you explain how you’re on a motorcycle trip and you pulled over to escape the storm and you meant no disrespect to his property rights…
There was a time when he might have said at best “Why don’t y’all come up to our cabin” and at worst “Y’all take care, feel free to camp on my land, but ride up and tell me if you’re staying past tomorrow.” The way we treat each other today, that’s a topic for another day…
You see, the Road won’t leave without you, and the Earth won’t refuse to let you sleep there. When you are traveling on your own steed, you have so much more freedom. An airplane cannot decide to camp underneath an overpass. An airplane cannot ask the bar owner if you can pitch a tent out back. Your saddlebags know that anything packed in there is not for anyone else to know about. You can pull over to the side of the road and wait out traffic if that’s what makes sense. If not, you roll on by in your rain gear.
If you make a mistake, you leave a little late. If the road is unsafe, you choose another road. You decide how much risk to take, you decide how long the “layover” is. You travel with your rights and dignity intact. You can even carry a bottle of water if that suits you.
The airlines will leave without you, they’ve already got your money and quite frankly you dropping dead in the check in line or not is all the same to them. Out on the road, though, you’re in control. There may be challenges and decisions to make, but the road won’t leave without you.
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.
Wow, it’s been a very crazy month for The RoadRunner, and although I’ve been riding I’ve needed that riding for mental health and have not been writing about it. Don’t worry, I have a lot of words coming as weather cools off in Wisconsin.
As I wrote previously when riding to the Tomahawk Fall Rally, I’ve been appreciating the natural beauty of Wisconsin. Since Mrs. RoadRunner got me a GoPro Hero6 Black for my birthday last month, I’ve been experimenting with mounts and video modes, and I thought the fall leaves in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin would be a great place to take some footage. Make sure you pick the highest video resolution, and watch this:
For a mount, I got the official GoPro suction mount. I hate the way the helmet mounts look (I reserve the right to still use one later) and with a fairing on a bagger handlebar mounts aren’t going to work easily. Once you put this mount on, you realize it’s not going anywhere. I may have… broken the speed limit a bit taking this video and the camera was super secure: rated for up to 155mph.
This was a short video but I hope to do more like this in the future. Enjoy and keep the shiny side up.
In 1995, I bought a pair of Doc Martens boots. Made in England, highest quality, and also a symbol of punk/goth/industrial music fans. This was a tremendous event in my circle of friends: $125 at that time is about a billion dollars today adjusted for inflation. Docs were known to be bulletproof footwear, and built to last forever, a true product of craftsmanship in a world that was already leaning towards cheap alternatives and short-term thinking.
By the end of the 2015 riding season, I had to admit that my Docs were dead. 20 years is not a bad run for your favorite footwear. It would be three years before I could bring myself to replace them. You see, they had succumbed to the pressures of globalization and started assembling their iconic boots overseas. Quality suffered. Their worldwide reputation suffered. Eventually they introduced the “Made in England” series which made it clear to the buyer that the craftsmanship and materials were the same ole same ole.
Interesting thing about breaking in boots: You break in boots by stressing and stretching the leather using your feet. The process works because the boots are made of dead leather, and your feet are made of living tissue. Your feet heal and come back to re-stress the leather. The leather does not heal, so eventually your feet win. It’s good to be alive.
On the morning of Saturday, September 15th, 2018 my buddy Corvus and I headed to the Tomahawk Fall Veterans Ride & Rally in Northern Wisconsin.
This event is well known in Wisconsin, but I had avoided this event for years. Firstly: big rallys are not precisely my thing. I ride to be mindful, to think, to smell the world anew with no metal cage in between. To be quiet, to see stars. 4,000 bikers descending on a town that’s home to 3,000 permanent residents is not my usual thing. I had also avoided the event because my Wisconsinites consider the event to mark the end of the riding season. This seems pretty lazy to me: warm weather is brief and precious in Wisconsin, but I also have leather chaps, heated gear, and a touring bike with a fairing. I don’t put the bike away until there’s salt and ice on the roads.
I needed to get away, and to see if there was any chance I’d enjoy the bigger rallies like Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week. So I gave Tomahawk a try and the most popular way to do it seemed to be camping at Bubba’s Big Party.
We Rode Up
Many states suffer from being identified primarily based on a small number of well known areas. New York state is known for New York City, yet get out into the country away from Manhattan and you are in a different universe. So it is with Wisconsin: I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and I think of this state as Milwaukee and Madison and maybe Port Washington. Riding through the North Woods in September, though, I am reminded that less than 200 miles from home lies a world of pine forests, hundreds of lakes, and close-knit tiny towns. Were you to parachute blindfolded into the woods surrounding Tomahawk you’d be forgiven if you guessed you were in Northern Canada, Iowa, or really any remote area.
As we ride North away from Lake Michigan where it’s just slightly cooler during the day (and much cooler at night) the trees have just started turning. Every shoreline is a postcard, or at least a Leinenkugel’s commercial. When I think about buying land to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse (which is totally going to happen), I always think about something a little warmer like Kentucky or North Carolina. Maybe I need to give WI a chance.
Bubba’s Big Party
We arrived at Bubba’s campground and it was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees. Once we found out where to buy wristbands for the party and camping it only took us a few minutes to set up camp. Bubba’s campground is 180 acres and we went to the very outskirts of what was already populated. It may look like we’re camping in the middle of nowhere, but over my shoulder is at least 80 acres of tents and campers of all sizes.
I have slightly augmented my camping gear since I last went motorcycle camping. I have added a Thermacell setup and a heavy tarp. The 20mil 6’x8′ tarp is meant to both cover my tent & sleeping back on the bike but also serve as extra protection above or below in a real rain storm. The thermacell setup is a butane + neurotoxin setup that keeps mosquitoes away from you in a 15′ sphere but is not food safe since it’s blasting chemicals into the air. A 20mil tarp is pretty thick and does not fold easily but after a couple of tries I got my tent and sleeping bag neatly wrapped up in it. Add some Rock Straps to that and my bagger became a camper no problem.
Anyone who’s ever ridden with me knows I’m likely to get us lost. I ride to lose myself which is both a good and a bad thing. Good: sometimes we accidentally find cool shit. Bad: I space out, I miss turns, and with no visual GPS I generally make a mess of things. I had a chance to consider the performance of Corvus’ new 2019 Ultra Limited with the new 114ci Milwaukee Eight in it. Damn, I need to ride one. We sat down at a bar half an hour away in some random direction (West?) and after hanging out a while decided it was time for food.
We sat down at The Thirsty Giraffe because we’d passed it before and “Ribs, broasted chicken, and prime rib” sounded really good. You can also tell from the road that it’s on a little lake and there was seating out back. Northern Wisconsin in September can really be amazing.
We had a great meal here, especially the broasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. After a meal we checked out the vendors on site at Bubba’s, but I wanted a patch and they were out, so we headed downtown…
Having mostly done research online and word of mouth, I thought Bubbas party was the Tomahawk rally. Uhm, no. There are plenty of private parties during this event, and by all accounts the private parties are the way to stay, but the rally proper is downtown. If you’ve seen one Midwest Rally I suppose you’ve seen them all, but I never get tired of rows of bikes and live music. You can’t beat Northern Wisconsin prices either. Where else can you get get two cans of beer for $5 ?
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know I try to collect a patch from every trip away from home. It took looking at quite a few vendors to find a Tomahawk 2018 patch and luckily they were also sewing them on there, so I didn’t need to do a drunken sewing job. Corvis decided he was going to start sewing memories on his vest that night. Despite being a life-long biker, he threaded his first mementos on that night.
Back to Bubba’s
We parked the bikes at the campground and headed to Bubba’s big tent. My music tastes are all over the place but I love live music so I had pre-determined I was going to have a good time at this party despite not being familiar with the bands (or so I thought).
The highlight of the night was a group called Little Texas. They were tearing it up, putting on a great old school country/rock show. When the lead singer said “Ok, now we’re going to play this song that was one of our first hits…” they rolled into something I somehow recognized. Sure enough, “What Might Have Been” is a song I grew up with. Wow! Just like you sometimes stumble onto a great watering hole when you get lost on the bike, I went to Tomahawk and stumbled onto a childhood memory from growing up in the South and absorbing my parents’ country music radio station. There was actually another band after Little Texas, and not that they weren’t good performers, but man it had to suck following this act.
I don’t put my bike away after the Tomahawk Fall Ride as many Wisconsinites do, but I’ll make this weekend every year I can swing it.
Since there were bikes coming and going at all hours of the night and I had a dozen cheap/watery beers I naturally didn’t sleep for shit since I was either woken up by baffles or pissing in the woods all night. We packed up fairly early and rode the 200-odd miles home. I came away with a new appreciation for the state I live in, and I got very nostalgic looking at the back of my vest at the Tomahawk 2018 patch I’d had sewed on the night before. I started riding in the late 90’s but I’ve only been collecting patches for a few years; I look at this vest and realize “Holy shit, that’s a lot of fun.” Each patch is a memory that helps me through the cold Wisconsin winters. I’ve got it good, and if things keep going on as they have been I’ll be able to look back and not be ashamed that my life lacked adventure. Get out there and get after it.