Rants & Raves Index
Remember all the great stuff that happened in 2007? Nah, me neither.
The Year in Review
Just like everything else these days, this is a little late...
2007 – I’m gonna have to call this the “Year of the Blur”, because it all went by so fast it seems to blur when I try to think back on it. It could be too much info, or it could be the chronic pain medication is rotting my brain from the inside out. Anyway – rot or blur – it’s a bunch of interesting stuff and I’ll try to put it all together in something that masquerades as meaningful journalism. “Meaningful Journalism” from a biker, what the hell, it really HAS been a tough year.
More bikes hit the road than ever before, and as a result – more bikers hit the asphalt than ever before. This made politicians and general do-gooders perk up at the thought of a new cause they could champion – once again saving us from ourselves. If even one of those self righteous jerks who ever wanted to save me from myself had actually succeeded – I’d have twenty or thirty extra lives to live. But it just doesn’t work out that way. The papers were flooded with articles about increased death rates – and they all had one thing in common: they failed to mention the age or type of bike the rider was riding. It’s a fact, fatalities are up – but the largest rise in those fatalities is in teenagers on imitation race bikes. Yup, hate to say it, but the guy passing me going 120 mph riding the “Yamaheyabusa” on the curvy road is the most likely candidate to be removed from the scene through the use of a spatula, rather than the duffer on the wide glide.
I think the general public is completely blind (or turns a blind eye) to the fact that if you buy a bike that goes from 0-160 in eight seconds, you’re probably going to want to find out if your new toy meets the stated promised of it’s advertising. And what advertising it is! Endless images of guys in full race leathers careening into corners with one pinky on the throttle and their entire body weight (plus that of the bike) resting on an iron-covered kneecap at an angle that could previously only be attained by NASA pilots. These are not middle-aged coots heading out for a putt down to Palmer Lake for a burger – these are wannabe rock-star racers in full leather-bound glory. And no vision of the Hollywood speedway would be complete without a very skinny mini-skirted teenaged girl clinging for dear life to the back of our aforementioned rocket-jockey. Hey, I never knew 6-inch spiked heels were DOT approved safety apparel, but I’m personally all for it.
I don’t ride like that. In fact, I’m the exact polar opposite of that. I prefer 50 mph on some country two-lane where the largest threat to life and limb is a tractor making it’s way down the shoulder at 15 mph. I like to see where I’m headed in a slow, rolling fashion as opposed to something that looks like the forward deck windows of the Enterprise when they say “Warp 10!” Not to infringe on anybody’s rights, but at what point do we say “OK, that’s really fast enough” – and more importantly, who says it? Is it an intelligent industry that opts for self-regulation or is it something that gets signed into law by some self-righteous pencil-pusher who wouldn’t know a race motorcycle from a cruise motorcycle is one flew out of his fax machine? I think we can answer this one.
And speaking of the year from a legal sense, it was Bikers 0, Bureaucrats 100 in Denver, Colorado where the city passed a law with a catch-22 that would make Joseph Heller wince. Here’s the long and the short: your bike must be below 84 db, but even if it is – it must have EPA / DOT approved pipes if it was made after 1984. So much for my late night cruises through Denver. Even if I wanted to comply to the letter of the law, those thoughts are blown out of my mind by the cannon-like gaze of the parts counter guy who says “Nope, we don’t have them for THAT year anymore”. In one swift sentence he has permanently rendered my 1986 Softail into a paragon of public criminality – just me, Jesse James and the loving couple from Natural Born Killers. As Bob Seger would say “Get outta Denver baby, GO!”
I didn’t go to Sturgis this year. I know, it’s hard to even admit that to myself – I’ve gone for ten years in a row, but not this year. Why? It got boring – that simple. The prices went to the point where they were just silly, the crowds got to the point where they were just an annoying traffic jam and the “events” all looked like they were cut from the same cookie-cutter pages of a corporate Motorcycle Magazine. There was no insane danger (thanks to an unbelievable police presence), there were no on-the-spot-deals (not with vendor booths at those prices) and there were no new radical trends (unless your idea of radical is a bike with a rear tire so stupidly wide that it just won’t turn).
I was standing outside the tent for the Rat’s Hole Chopper Show, which has changed venues so many times time now that it’s like some kind of game trying to figure out where the inflatable giant rat has plopped his giant green butt this year, when I saw three guys trying to start a bike. They had to get it to run to get it into the show – apparently actual rideability is part of the entry requirements – although you’d never know that from half of the “creations” you see in there. This bike was so low to the ground and had such a wide tire that the weight distribution was all funky – every time they pushed it up to speed and popped the clutch the back tire would grab for one second, then begin to slide around towards the front of the bike – the mere meeting of rubber and pavement proved to be not enough force to turn over the big-inch motor they had stuffed into this small frame.
Why didn’t they just hit the starter button? Why didn’t they just have the fat guy jump on the kick-starter? Because the builder didn’t include either. That’s right, no starter motor or kicker – I guess they violated his esthetic sense of innate sculpture or visual poetry or some other such nonsense, but the fact is – he built a bike that you had to push-start to ride. What does this have to do with Sturgis? Just everything – it shows that the event has now transcended any form of practical application and is merely a “happening”. Things don’t have to work; they just have to look good. Let me tell you something – 20 years ago they would’ve laughed this bike out of the competition, beat up the builder for good measure and ridden off to party and screw by firelight in some field. And that, my friends is the Sturgis I was yearning for. Oh yeah, I had back surgery and was hobbling around with a drainage tube hanging out of my spine while the rally was going on – but that doesn’t sound half as good as the firelight and screwing thing.
Back to the year at hand – we lost a real nut job this year: Evil Knievel shuffled off his mortal coil to buy a ticket for that great Bike Jump in the sky. He didn’t go out in a blaze of glory, or even a blaze of self-inflicted glory like Hunter Thompson, he just stopped breathing. As I did research for the radio show about Evil it became more apparent that he was clearly one of the last of the outlaw breed of the 60’s and 70’s who will always be lumped in with Burt Reynolds as “The Bandit”, Bronson as “The Stranger” and David Jansen as “The Fugitive”. It was Evil Knievel as “The Biker” – dressed in red, white and blue flowing cape and using an AMERICAN made bike to jump lines of buses when any Japanese dirt bike would’ve done a much better job – but it simply wouldn’t have been as cool. I don’t know about you, but when I’m facing a wall of Greyhounds at 120 mph in mid-air my patriotism goes right out the window in favor of some really boingy Showa shocks and a body made of plastic and fiberglass. But that’s what made Evil so damn Evil – he did this stuff, took his lumps and staggered off the field with the help of his diamond crusted swagger stick – a symbol of the outlaw who made it big. Every now and then he’d beat up some dude while his arms were in casts or get arrested for some petty felony just to remind us all that he really was a dangerous man. But he was clearly the last outlaw to get rich on action figures that jumped across coffee cans on the kitchen floor of every tract house in suburban USA circa 1970. Rest In Pieces, brother.
I’m not sure if this was the exact year – if not, it was pretty close. We saw the death of the carburetor on the Harley Davidson bone-stocker from the motor company. And nobody, I mean NOBODY said “boo” about its passing. This wonderful piece of primitive technology has been pouring gas into v-twins since the beginning of time and when it goes away it doesn’t even rate a yawn on the cumulative face of the American Biker? What’s wrong with this picture? Bikes are now fool-injected – meaning they consist of small computers and microchips that do millions of calculations from data sent to them by fragile “sensors” to compute the correct amount of gas to be “injected” into the cylinders. This is a huge slap in the face of “Suck, Bang, Blow” or whatever those model biker chicks wear on those tight tee-tops that supposedly represents that basic functions of the four strike motor – I just certain one of them is “suck” as in “suck gas through the carburetor” not “read the output variables from the O2 sensor and compute the correct mixture to minimize ping”. One of the true measures of manhood in America (other than packing a bearing) has always been ones ability to set the idle speed on an S&S carburetor on a sputtering shovelhead. Now that experience is lost to future generations of shade tree Harley mechanics in favor of taking it down to the dealer (after making an appointment on your cell phone, of course) and having some spotless dude hook a computer interface up to some PC-powered mystery machine (and I’m not talking Scooby Doo here) that monitors fifty billion data points per second to tell you that your rear plug is fouled. And that just ain’t right now, is it? Rest In Peace, sucker.
Transition of the year – the shovel is the new pan. That’s right, for you true gearheads out there, you’ll know this is true. For the longest time, the panhead has slowly crept up in both price and prestige to the point where none of the folks who really appreciate the panhead for its throwback technology can actually afford a panhead. So we all look to the next best thing, the shovelhead on the kidney block. This was a true piece of monster garage engineering by the folks at Harley – from 1965 to 1969 a brand new Harley had a “shovel” top end, and a “pan” lower end. This is not to be confused with the homebuilt pan/shovel, where guys took true panheads (built before 1965) and put shovel top ends, this is a true halfway step in engineering – it was called the “shovel” by the motor company, but we all knew better, it was their own version of the “pan/shovel” – in other words, Harley once again set style by producing a technologically inferior product. But it doesn’t matter – the pages of The Horse and Street Chopper are now filled with pictures of bikes that no longer wear the proud panhead heritage – instead they glorify the halfwit, the halfbreed, the halfway point that was the Shovelhead from 1966-1969. Better buy one now, they’re going up in price on eBay.
And speaking of price – the Harley one-off custom chopper is now experiencing a price decline only surpassed by the stock market right before the Great Depression. We’ve come full circle: guys who bought big-money choppers because they looked cool on the Discovery channel suddenly woke up and realized that those things weren’t all that comfortable to ride and you really did have to have some mechanical know-how even if the bike was put together by some big brand name chopper builder and you got sniffed out of 80 grand for something that doesn’t even have a rear suspension. Yup, the once-proud custom chopper is now going for cheap. Ladies and gentlemen. You can find them in three and four car garages all across America with a whopping 246 miles on them under a tarp in the corner. “Bob just wanted to get what he paid for it, but it looks like Jim down the block decided to buy a boat instead. I really don’t know why he needed this so bad. It leaks oil and it smells funny. It’s so loud I’m just embarrassed when he takes it around the block. Once he almost got caught in the rain. I used to think the pictures of dragons eating clown heads was kind of cool…but now I’m not so sure…” Which is nothing but good news for the hardcore rider, because now those billet rocket ships are going to cost next to nothing as Bob moves on to the next chapter of his middle age crisis – I mean a 130 cubic inch hardtail is fun to look at after a couple of beers, but have you ever tried to ride one of those things? I rode a custom Ness chopper that a guy had for sale and about killed myself, gimme back my Road King, man!
And last but not least, we’re just sure that the helmet issue is going to rear it’s ugly head again after an unfortunate incident in Colorado. It seems that a large Children’s Toy Run was about to be called off at the last minute because the hospital officials said they would only welcome the helmeted into their facility. After many tense hours, the officials relented saying they would stick to their guns the next year. Well, seems like whoever planned this mess had never ridden with a large pack of bikes because they planned the route right down 1-25, a well-known death trap that runs right through Denver. We who ride all know the “accordion effect” that happens when hundreds of bikes try to enter a major freeway – the resulting tragedy has one well-known local experienced rider in the hospital and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna walk out. So who was at fault? The guy for not wearing a helmet or the dim bulb who planned to route – or was it anybody’s “fault” , maybe it was just fate’s way of saying that you’re all spending far too much time analyzing this crap and far to little time riding around having a good time.
I don’t want to get off on a rant here – but my wife recently discovered an old diary which chronicled her activities when she was a teenager. Whoa! She was having a good time and I mean the kind that Ian Dury of the Blockheads extolled in his minorly-melodic song “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll”. It seems now our days are filled up with tax payments and IRA rollover issues and health insurance claims that don’t match the hospital bill and house payments and car insurance and insurance for the insurance.
It’s a goddamn mess, I tell you.
What happened to the sun screaming into the window on a hot Saturday across a bed with two very sore bodies (and sore in all the right places), brushing beer cans off the night stand by mistake as you spill over a baggy that seems to contain nothing but seeds and twigs – and the most important decision of the morning (after you get some COFFEE and I mean NOW!) is are you going to head North, South, East or West after you find your pants and the same t-shirt you wore last night? What happened to the band taking a break while you hung outside the club with three or four guys wearing the same vest as you while you tried to fix a buddies bike using nothing but a flashlight, some duct tape and some parts “borrowed” off another guys bike who was so drunk he clearly wouldn’t remember where he was when he woke up – and you put him in the band van anyway so you knew he wasn’t going to be anywhere near YOU when he woke up? What happened to that first ride on the new builder as you listened for every squeak, ping and twang because you were REALLY out of money and the bike had to make it to Red River New Mexico in the morning (which was only a few hours away) and you saw a couple having an argument outside the all-night diner and after the sorry dude slapped the girl holding the waitress uniform she walked over to the road and stuck her thumb out and you realized right then and there that you were not going to New Mexico alone?
What happened to those moments frozen in time and written in our gray matter like a chisel on stone? Have the winds of time and change worn them off forever? Is it really nothing but downhill into a chasm of doom, gloom and forms filled out in triplicate?
Not when I splash cold water in my face, pull on a clean t-shirt that says “Sturgis 1996”, and head out to the garage to blink at the bright reflection coming off the mix of neon and chrome. Not when I twist that throttle a couple of times and hit the button that starts my ass vibrating and my heart beating just a little faster. Not when I throttle up the onramp to the deserted highway with the sun beating down causing waves of heat to roll off the road like some demented cartoon. Not when I look out at that far front wheel with just a hint of fender and I see the reflection in all the chrome bits of a gray-haired guy wearing mirrored sunglasses and I realize that after all this time, after all this crap and red-tape and senseless rules and regulations that above it all shining like a banner of perpetual hope I hear the words in my ear as if spoken by a giant, twisted, two-lunged highway demon – “Choppers Rule!”.
Then I know it’s just another year rolling by and I should just chill out.
- Warren Fuller
"20 years ago they would’ve
laughed this bike out of the competition, beat up the builder for good
measure and ridden off to party and screw by firelight in some field."