Mar 31
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There is more than one way for a motorcycle to travel.

Riding boots or dress shoes

There are several events this summer that will require many of the participants to travel some distance to attend. The forums are buzzing as attendees anticipate the fun to come. As people begin to coordinate their plans, invariably the question arises of whether you’re going to ride or trailer your bike.
For some, there is no question. I’m surprised at the number of bikers who see trailering as a shameful option. “If I can’t ride it, I just won’t go,” some say. There is something to be said for riding your bike 500+ miles to an event, and the organizers will usually acknowledge the participant who rode the farthest. But holding another biker who elects to trailer their motorcycle in disdain is taking it a little far and often misinformed.
I know one rider who hoped on his GL1000 and took off for Colorado back in the late 70s. That’s a 2000 mile round trip in the days before windshields and saddle bags. He and his wife still routinely log 300 to 400 miles on a Saturday day run. He’s put well over 100,000 miles on various motorcycles in is time. He’s going to trailer his bike to an event this summer.
I’ve ridden with him and his wife. Like me and my wife, they prefer small winding roads. When I asked him about trailering his bike, he said, “It straight down the Interstate to the meet. Why do I want to ride my motorcycle on the Interstate, and through Dallas? I just want to ride the fun roads in the Hill Country. If I take the trailer we’ll have room for more gear and be comfortable while we’re there.”
This guy rides for the enjoyment of it. I don’t think he’s ever put a mile on his bike as part of an endurance test. If it’s not enjoyable, he doesn’t go. If he thinks conditions aren’t right, he doesn’t go. If he’d rather be doing something else, he doesn’t go. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who enjoys a motorcycle as much as he does.
I’ll ride to some events, but I’ll stick my bike on the trailer in a heart beat.

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 26
Riding boots or dress shoes

Riding boots or dress shoes

One of the guys on a forum asked about footwear. He wanted good ankle protection and a safe, firmly gripping sole for the motorcycle part of his day. But he also wanted something that didn’t look like a motorcycle boot once he got to work.
Those of us who ride to work routinely face that problem. We need safe and protective clothing while on the bike, but don’t want to look like a biker sitting at our desk. I once rode up to Hot Springs on a day trip for work in October. It was a beautiful fall day and the scenery was amazing, but the weather was unusually cool with temperatures in the upper 40s when I left that morning. I dressed for work in dress pants, shirt and tie. I then slipped a heavy pair of jeans over my pants and a flannel shirt over my dress shirt. I topped that off with my riding leathers. Once I got to the meeting, The leather jacket, vest, chaps, jeans, and flannel shirt got stuffed in a saddle bag. A friend from another location who was also at the meeting looked at me when I came in and said, “You didn’t ride your bike?”
My usual commute is just 9 blocks. I rarely need more than gloves and a good, heavy jacket. I’ll often wear my riding jacket. I don’t have to have a sport coat or blazer at the office, so I can just hang the riding jacket up and work in shirt and tie.
I used to keep a pair of dress shoes in the saddle bag and change when I got to work. Now I wear a pair of boots from Wolverine’s Garrison line called the Montgomery. These resemble WWII combat boots. They have leather uppers and can be kept well shined. Covered by pant legs, they look like dress shoes. They give good ankle protection and have a sole that gives adequate traction for riding. They are also surprisingly comfortable when it comes to standing for long periods.
With more people riding, I’m surprised that there aren’t more offerings that meet the need of working riders. I suppose most riding is still recreational and equipment manufacturers don’t see a demand for “formal riding wear.”

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 22
1930 Harley VL

A 1930 Harley-Davidson VL being restored by the original owner’s son.

I saw a 1930 Harley-Davidson VL at the Daffodil Festival in Camden. That started me thinking about how things have changed since the day it rolled out of the door new. That day was just 27 years after George Wyman made his trek across America in 1903. I talked about that epic journey in a previous blog. It is almost three times that number of years to the present day, and things have changed a lot since then.
Looking at this 80-year-old machine I would expect to be enamored by the primitive design. Instead, I was impressed with the marvelous engineering. This thing was perfectly adapted to the world it inhabited. I mentioned the chain oiler in my last blog. But that’s just the last step in the oil’s trip through this old engine. It starts out in an oil tank waiting to be injected to the engine by a pump knob mounted close to the gas tank. This old motor actually consumed the oil. Pressure from the piston blew it into the valve cover. A tube allowed excess oil to drain onto the chain, so a shot of fresh oil from the oil tank was occasionally necessary.
This may sound like a waste of oil, but it really wasn’t in 1930. The 1930 flathead V-twin engine used a dry clutch, but had a wet transmission. Motor oil bathed the transmission where it was ground between the gears in the heat of an air-cooled engine. Modern motorcycles can take advantage of modern synthetic and semi-synthetic oils, specially designed to take the punishment of such a harsh environment. That wasn’t the case in 1930. Oil in those days was refined from crude with a clay and solvent process, and would usually contain about 15 percent wax and paraffin. That primitive oil took a real beating in a motorcycle engine, and just didn’t last very long. So Harley decided to let the old stuff drip out and replace it with new. But the used oil was still good enough for a chain lube, so they used it for that.
So it turns out that the oil spot on the ground where that old bike is parked isn’t a sign of bad engineering after all. It’s the result of a good engineering solution to the oil and usage of its day.

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 19
1930 Harley VL
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1930 Harley-Davidson VL

The flathead, side-valve engine in a 1930 Harley-Davidson VL

Most of the spring and fall festivals that small towns put on now include a bike show. The Daffodil Festival the weekend of March 13 in Magnolia was no different. There were close to 100 bikes entered in the show. They ranged from tiny little scooters to massive touring bikes. Some were new, while other were either vintage or just plain old. There were bikes customized to the point at which you couldn’t easily tell the brand while others were offered as pristine examples of stock machines.
The bike that caught my eye was a partially restored 1930 Harley-Davidson VL. I talked with the proud owner and soon realized there was more of a story here than just a restored motorcycle. It was thrilling to discover that the old side-valve flat-head engine had roared to life just the week before, after 65 years of slumber. The bike had been given to the man’s father before he was married, some time in the 1930s. It and a 1929 Indian Scout were the payment he received for working at a carnival.
I was amused to see the classic oil spot under the bike. Harleys are famous for “marking their spot.” and this old war Hog was certainly true to form. But I gained a little more respect for it when the owner explained that this bike had an automatic chain oiler that kept the drive chain lubed with used engine oil. The oil was coming from the chain oiler, not from a bad seal in the case.
The most obvious difference in this bike and a modern one was the “suicide shifter.” This machine has a gear shift lever operated by the rider’s left hand. The clutch is a foot clutch, also located on the left side. I know that many, if not all, motorcycles of this era had hand shifters, including the Indian Scout. While the idea does seem truly suicidal to me, this old Harley fit right in with the rest of the pack in that time.
This venerable old cycle showed the origin for many of the features that are classically Harley. While I don’t particularly appreciate some of them on contemporary motorcycles, I see the necessity for them in the world this bike inhabited. I found myself honestly appreciating and admiring not only this old hog, but also the biker who rode it.
Look for more posts on this pioneer of biking.

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 16
Stopped at Burge's

Getting some coffee thawing out at Burge’s

The weather was indeterminate and I still remembered last weekend’s abbreviated ride. But we had been planning to hit the Daffodil Festival in Camden for some time, so we loaded up and hit the road anyway. Besides I was still craving a fried pie from Burge’s, so we were going to come back through Magnolia and Lewisville and take care of that piece of business.
Leaden clouds covered the sky, with the occasional patch of blue peeking through. The meteorologist promised there’d be no rain, and she was right. Temperatures were in the mid- to upper 40s as we pulled out, so we were in full leathers.
By the time we got to Hope, a mere 35 miles up the road, we had to find someplace to thaw out. We got some hot coffee, got rid of some we’d drunk that morning, thawed out a little and got back on the road. Heading east on Arkansas Highway 278 for the 50-mile run into Camden, we saw a little more of the sun. I could feel it warming up my black leather jacket and chaps, but it never stayed with us long enough to completely knock the chill.
We made it to Camden and discovered that many employee groups from Lockheed Martin were set up in tents and giving away free food. I never fully understood why, but that didn’t stop me from chowing down. Man! Those folks can cook! Stuffed like a tic, I figured Burge’s was going to miss out on my patronage this trip too.
We missed the Civil War re-enactments earlier that morning, but spent several hours checking out the food, vendors, and the bike show. I kept thinking that as the day wore on, the sun might come out more and it might warm up. It didn’t warm up much.
By 3 we were ready to head back. We gassed up in Camden, so I didn’t plan to stop until we got home. By the time we hit U.S. Highway 82 East out of Magnolia, I was starting to shiver. As we pulled into Lewisville, I started to think about how good a cup of coffee would be, so I flipped on the blinker, hooked a right into Lewisville, and headed for Burge’s. As full as I was, I found just enough room for a fried pie.
I’ve ridden in colder weather, but this time I hadn’t put on quite enough gear. Thank goodness for the pie and coffee.

Click here to see photo gallery

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 11
It was a long winter
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Stopped at Burge's

A frequent stop on our rides in southwest Arkansas is Burge’s

We took a short ride last weekend. It was shorter than we intended for it to be. This was the first really nice weekend this year and we were determined to get out on the road. I mapped out about a 170-mile circuitous route that I figured would take about 4-1/2 hours at the snail’s pace I intended to go. We’d head up to Ashdown, over to Hope, then south to Lewisville. We’d stop there for ice cream and fried pies at Burge’s then keep heading south until we ran into Louisiana Highway 2. A quick jaunt west on LA-2 would bring us back into Arkansas where we’d pick Highway 71 north for the final run back into Texarkana. That was the plan.
One advantage of running a circle around town is that if I need to get back home, I’m never more than about an hour away. We’ve got new people at work and I wanted to be close enough to get back if something came up that they didn’t have the experience to handle. Work wasn’t what cut the ride short, though.
About 58 miles into our ride the fact that we hadn’t been on the bike much since last fall began to assert itself. Muscles in my neck and shoulder started locking up and tried to pull my head to the middle of my back. My beautiful passenger wasn’t fairing much better. We were riding my ’94 Honda Magna. Despite my attempt to drive like an adult, Maggie has a tendency to be a little sporty pulling away from a stop. I could hear the missus grunt a little louder each time I rolled on the throttle. By the time we rolled into Hope, the ride had stopped being fun and was simply an endurance contest.
The other couple riding with us assured us they were also tired and ready to head for home. It’s possible, but I really think they were just trying to make us feel better. Whatever the reason, they followed us back to Texarkana.
I was surprised by how out of shape I was. The wife and I were both sore and stiff the next day. I’ve been riding the bike for most of what passes for winter here in East Texas. But looking back now I realize that these were short hops. From home to work is barely nine blocks. A run to the store or Bike Night is only a few miles. These little rides weren’t long enough to maintain my endurance. Hmmmm. That may help explain the extra 15 pounds I’m carrying around since last summer.
The weather is getting warmer and I’m hoping for some sunny weekends. By June I’ll be ready for 500 miles, weigh 15 pounds less and have some color on my cheeks.

Mar 9
Checking out mechanical drawings on the laptop.

Checking out mechanical drawings on the laptop.

I’m old enough to remember shade tree mechanics. We lived in a small rural town where there were no dealerships. But this was farming country where self-reliance and mechanical skills seem an innate part of the DNA. The three gas stations had garage bays and you could get work done there. If you didn’t want to use them for some reason, there was always some guy with grease in his veins looking to supplement his income. He’d just pull your car up under a shade tree and start wrenching.
As a young adult raising a family, I moved to a more urban setting. Lacking the mechanical DNA of my agrarian contemporaries, I would just haul my busted vehicle back to the dealership for any needed repairs. In those days I believed that I’d get the most qualified mechanics and best service from the dealer.
Now that I’m on older model motorcycles, I find that running to the dealership is not always an option. My favorite bike is a 1994 model. Not all dealers will support a bike that is 16 years old, and I’m reluctant to spend $1,500 on a repair to a bike worth $2,000. So I started looking for a shade tree mechanic and made an interesting discovery.
I found some local guys ready to help someone willing to learn. They’d invite a newbie over to their garage or workshop, hand you a wrench and start giving direction. They are also there to bail you out if you get in over your head. I was surprised at the depth of knowledge and experience they could draw from as well as their ability to find parts at reasonable prices. That’s when they introduced me to the secret behind their magic: the Internet.
One forum alone has almost 500 members with the same model of motorcycle I have. Many of these guys are good with their hands and tools. So far, every problem I’ve had with my bike, somebody else has already had. One the the good wrenchers on the board has documented the repair process with photos, tips, tricks and sometimes video. Often somebody knows where you can get a used part. At the very least, you’ve got people from all over the country doing cost comparisons for you. Another friend who works on cars instead of bikes always tells me, “The Internet is our friend.”
With the help and encouragement I’ve gotten, and the knowledge that help is just a mouse click away, I’ve started doing a lot of my own maintenance and repairs. It’s not likely I’ll ever work under a shade tree. But if I do, it will have an ethernet jack.

Mar 4
Riding two up
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Taking a break at a road-side park.

Taking a break at a road-side park.

The weather is warming up and the road is calling. It’s time to start planning weekend trips to some of the festivals in the area. Weekend rides are different from my daily commute in one important aspect. Most of my weekend riding is two up with my wife, and that changes the dynamic in more ways than just weight distribution on the bike.
Most of the time when I’m on my own, the bike is just the mode of transportation I’ve chosen. Even though I thoroughly intend to enjoy the commute, there will be an event or destination that was the impetus for the trip. The weekend, two-up trips are as much about the ride as they are about any particular place we’re going. We’re usually not on a schedule so we can hit the road whenever we get around to it. We’re also likely to take a more leisurely route.
Since we’re not in a hurry to get there, where ever “there” may be, we’ll take soft drinks and snacks along. If we get a little tired, or just see a pretty spot, we’ll pull over and take a break. This is not the riding that gets your heart pounding. This is riding that lowers you blood pressure.
With the saddle bags and T-bag, we’ve got a good amount of storage, but we can’t load the bike up too much. We might need some room once we get where we’re going. There are vendors at these little summer festivals, and we’ve got to leave room for some of their wares. One of the disadvantages of going on the bike is that you’re limited in how much you can haul back home. Or wait! Maybe that’s actually and advantage.
Other than spending time with the grandkids, I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing than riding with my wife on the seat behind me. It’s funny how adding a rider makes the bike lighter.

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 2
Turning blue
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reassembling the bike

Putting the painted pieces back on. – photo courtesy Magna Owners of Texas forum

I was surprised at how much effort it takes for a good paint job. Despite knowing better in an academic sense, I still half expected it to be a matter of picking up a paint gun, pointing it at the part and pulling the trigger.
Fortunately for me I was there to document not paint, so I got to watch the guys working rather than expend a lot of elbo grease myself. The time that went into this project is literally measured in days, not hours. The project started by removing everything to be painted from the bike. This includes all body panels, the gas tank, the fenders, faring and numerous other small pieces. Everything that gets paint comes off the bike.
Then each piece is sanded to remove any old decals, pin-striping and built up paint. Any dents or cracks are glassed or filled in with putty and then sanded again. The putty and sand process is repeated until each piece is smooth and has the correct shape.
Finally ready for primer, the pieces get a final sanding to provide a key, or rough surface, for the primer to grip. Once keyed, each piece is degreased before priming.
With the first coat of primer on, the painter can go over the pieces with fine grit sand paper on a block looking for minute imperfections. These can be filled out by applying more primer and sanding again. These are imperfections too small feel or see before the glossy finish is applied. We’re talking about raising or lowering the surface by less that the height of a coat of paint.
Most of this can be done in a fairly relaxed area. Once the paint starts going on, it gets more serious. We move the parts into the paint booth when we start applying primer, but we’re still fairly relaxed. Once the real paint goes on, we try to limit the number of trips in and out of the paint booth. We’re careful to not let the door slam, or to do anything that could introduce particles into the air. The air filter fans are roaring so loud we can barely hear each other, causing much of our communication to be with hand signals.
Now comes the clear coat. This is the glossy finish that will show any imperfections. The pressure is really on now because this is the final step. Right or wrong, what we get with this step will be what we live with.
Fortunately we got a good paint job. Even with all of the precautions we took, I did see a couple of places where it looks like a speck of dust may have gotten on or in the clear coat. Hopefully those tiny little specks can be buffed out, but I was amazed to see any imperfections with all of the precautions we had taken.
The finished parts are beautiful. “Illusion Blue,” is the color we were using. There were times when I was holding my breath. A good name for the color I was turning would be, “anxiety blue.” Looking at those beautiful parts though, just call me, “envious green.”

Click here to see photo gallery

— Guy Wheatley