Aug 11

Valkyrie tan k badge

With the Victory gone I’m truly a Valkyrie rider now. I still have my Magna and ride it to work most days, but the circle of folks I hang around with think of the Magna as the Valkyrie’s little sister. It is a high revving V-4 and, in spirit at least, still fits the Valkyrie family.
The long rides are on the Valkyrie now instead of the Victory. The model year of my Valkyrie is 4 years older than the Victory. Some may wonder that I’d get rid of a newer model bike for an older one. But I wanted a Valkyrie.
The Victory was a beautiful bike. The big 1500 V-twin followed the popular Harley-clone style most manufacturers produce today. A touring bike with more than two cylinders is becoming increasingly hard to find. If you do find one, it will be a Goldwing. The makers of touring bikes are almost exclusively producing push-rod V-twins. The last Valkyrie was made in 2003.
Valkyrie aficionados like myself find ourselves with an increasingly small reserve of bikes. And, ironically enough, a bike that was discontinued for lack of sales is now hot enough of an item that they usually sell for more than the “official’” value. A buyer can still find a used Valkyrie, but forget the blue-book price. And used Valkyries may soon be rare items. I’ve been watching them for about two years, and there are fewer available now than there were a year ago. The people who want Valkyries are starting to feel that it may be “now or never.”
The Valkyrie is an incredible machine, getting more bang per cc than any other cruiser I know. And it does it with a engine designed before 1997 that uses a carburetor. Honda is apparently sinking very little money or time in updating the flat-6 power plant. Its reading of the motorcycle-buying public is that everyone wants a V-twin. They’re just not spending any money on serious development of F-6s or V-4s. And that is sad. One can only wonder what technology would be in a modern Valkyrie. Probably an 1800 cc, flat-6, fuel-injected engine. Maybe even direct injection rather than port injection. I can see something like that producing 180 to 200 hp right out of the factory door.
Hopefully one day the tide will turn, and enough riders will appreciate substance over “style,” to see the end of the Harley-clone era. I can really see it happening. All those squids buzzing around town will eventually get older. At least the ones that don’t kill themselves. And when arthritis and softening bodies drive them to the cruiser market, they’ll go for a Valkyrie over an Ultra-classic every time.

— 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
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 03 19th, 2010| icon3No Comments »
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

Dec 16

And that’s not necessarily a good thing. I read a review comparing the Ducati Monster 1100 and the HD XR1200. (Motorcycle.com review). There was some empirical data in the review such as horsepower and torque rating at various rpms. But there was a lot of talk about “style” as well.
While the XR1200 nipped at the 1100’s heels, it never quite managed to catch the Italian bike in anything except price. It came in a bare $1,200 less than the Monster. The Harley is a heavier and longer bike with less ground clearance in a turn. It has a bigger engine, producing less horsepower. Given equal riders, it won’t keep up with the Ducati.
It seemed to me that the Motorcycle.com review tried hard to make excuses for Harley. It referred to the “American viewpoint,” and gave Harley credit for the “Cool Factor.” I’m not sure a rider stopped at a stoplight in the middle of the summer, sitting atop a Harley engine vibrating so bad it blurs his vision, would think of the word “cool.”
No doubt Harley produces very good classic American cruisers. But if you’re going to try something different, then don’t do things the same way. I’ve got the image in my head of an engineer at HD, trying to make a faster, lighter, cooler and less noisy engine, slapping his forehead in frustration when he realizes that he’s stuck with a 45-degree, air-cooled V-twin design.
If Harley is happy making “cool” bikes, then arguably it is there and no one can touch it. If HD wants to make fast bikes, then it’s time to acknowledge physics. Doing something different means it won’t be like it was.

Ducati Monster 1100 vs Harley-davidson Xr1200

Ducati Monster 1100 vs Harley-davidson Xr1200

— Guy Wheatley

Sep 24
True crotch rockets
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 09 24th, 2009| icon3No Comments »

I ran across a YOUTUBE video about a jet-powered motorcycle. It’s the Y2K super bike.

This thing has the Rolls Royce-Allison gas turbine engine out of a Bell Ranger helicopter, producing more than 320 horsepower. It’s a production bike made by the south Louisiana company MTT. One proud Y2K owner is Jay Leno of Tonight show fame. Anybody with $182,000 can join Jay for a jet-powered romp. The Y2K is fully street legal, and makers claim that at 250 miles-per-hour this is the worlds fastest production bike. Well, maybe.
While you’d get to the grocery store pretty quick at 250 mph, you’d still be second in line if your neighbor was going to the same store on a Dodge Tomahawk.


The Tomahawk doesn’t have a jet engine. It uses good old-fashioned pistons. Ten of them in a Dodge V-10 viper engine producing 500 horsepower. The Tomahawk was first built as a concept bike. The claim to be a production bike is because they were reportedly available for sale though Nieman Marcus at the bargin price of $555,000.
It’s true the Y2K would get off the line a little faster with it’s 0-60 time of 2.2 seconds, beating the Tomahawk’s 2.6 second specs. But the Tomahawk would quickly make up the ground, passing the 250 mph Y2K at a relative speed of 50 mph as it hit its 300 mph top speed.
The Y2K is street legal, while the Tomahawk is not. But that really shouldn’t be much of a problem. If you’re ripping up the road on a Tomahawk and notice blue light flashing behind you, just go to second gear.
Tomahawk or Y2k? Either way, I doubt the ice cream will melt before you get home.

— Guy Wheatley

Aug 7
Circular logic
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 08 7th, 2009| icon3No Comments »
Poking around on the Internet, I’ve run across some strange and unusual motorcycles. Some of these are one time only bikes, built as a hobby or for a specific show. Sometimes a project bike will inspire others to follow suite and build a bike along a similar line or theme.

Motorcycle with a radial engine similar to those used in avaition.

Motorcycle with a radial engine, similar to those
used in aviation.

One such bike had a radial engine. I kept thinking that there must be a plane flying around somewhere with a V-twin for a power plant. In this one the engine sat vertically at 90˚to the bike, about the same way it would sit in a plane. It looks like you could just ad a propeller and a pair of wings if you wanted to fly.
But it didn’t take long for other hobbyists to put their own spin on the radial engine concept. I soon found other bikes using radial engines, but with different mounting schemes.

Motorcycle with a radial engine similar to those used in avaition.

Motorcycle with a radial engine mounted with
the crank shaft transversely.

Another builder must have thought, as I did, that the radial engine looked a little wide. I can just imagine dragging a head in a hard lean. Or worse yet, misjudging a gap. On this bike, they rotated the engine 90˚on the vertical axis. It makes the bike much narrower.
One would suspect that those big radials produce a lot of torque. You’ve got to wonder if that first bike will try to make a left turn if you get on the throttle too hard. And maybe the second one can pop a wheelie with just engine torque.

Motorcycle with a radial engine similar to those used in avaition.

Radial engine encased in circular cage.

Another bike was built with the same engineering philosophy, but this engine is encased in a circular cage giving the whole thing a very clock-work look.
I’d like to watch somebody ride one of those. I don’t think I’d care to try it myself.


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— Guy Wheatley

May 7
Fury
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes, Wrenching | icon4 05 7th, 2009| icon31 Comment »

Sitting on a 2010 Honda Fury

Sitting on a 2010 Honda Fury


There’s a new ride in town. The Honda Fury has shown up at a local dealership. If you want to see it, you’d better get there fast. This thing has been all over the forums. I’ve even seen posts on the V-4 forums by guys who say they’ll trade in their bike for one. Trade in a V-4 for a V-twin? Surely this is blasphemy. There has been a lot of anticipation for this particular bike. I must confess to being a little bemused by it. The idea of a production chopper seems almost oxymoronic.
Choppers have classically been custom bikes, each one hand made and no two alike. They were as individual as each owner had the money or skill to make them. They were expressions of each owners tastes and personality. They didn’t compete with sport bikes for speed, or cruisers for comfort. Most don’t even have a pillion seat. They can carry a rider with what ever he has in his pockets. Their purpose was to be an individual statement.
So we now have choppers rolling off the assembly line in cookie cutter repetition. There will of course be a following, and clubs and forums will pop up dedicated to this particular machine. It’s riders will pass final judgement on the bike’s merits, and will eventually define the culture that surrounds it. It will be interesting to see what niche the Fury has carved out for itself in two years.

May 6
Where was the RE-5
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 05 6th, 2009| icon31 Comment »

I caught the episode of “Twist the Throttle” on Suzuki. As one might imagine, there was a lot of focus on the GSX and GSXRs. The show was interesting, but it was really more about the GSX series of bikes than it was about Suzuki. They did mention that Suzuki started out as a factory that made looms and was forced into the motorcycle business. From that point on the show focused on the development of the bikes that came to be know as “Gixxers.” Watching the show one would assume that every step was a complete success and that every attempt to reinvent the company or product lead to global acclaim, and financial rewards.
Where was the RE-5? These 497cc rotary engine machines were as bold a step as any taken by any motorcycle company. They just couldn’t give them away. They were manufactured from 1974 through 1976. There were still unsold bikes sitting around in inventory and some were sold as 1977 models. Eventually the company gave up on the bikes. One story goes that Suzuki was so angered by the failure that all of the leftover parts were rounded up and dumped in the sea of Japan. It’s not likely, but it sure makes a good story.
I’d like to have heard more about the RE-5 on the show. Companies are shaped and defined by their failures as well as their successes.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 21
dad

GB Wheatley. Jump school, Ft Bragg North Carolina

My son Brandon bought his first bike about a year ago. It was a used bike we got for a little of nothing from a friend who has helped us keep it running. The seller also offered to paint it for us. This turned into a custom job including adding fabricated saddle bags.
My father died three months before my son’s birth. Brandon has always been fascinated with his paternal grandfather, especially his military career. He decided to turn the bike into a tribute to Dad.

When our friend Charles saw the olive drab paint Brandon had picked out, he turned pea green himself.  He groused and complained about the color, but dutifully got to work. He helped us get decals and did the fabricating required to mount the ammo cans as saddle bags. He spent days sanding out imperfections I couldn’t see, feel, or imagine. I can still see him holding out the fender asking apologetically, “Do you think this is good enough?”
“I’d have had paint on that thing three days ago.” I told him.
The bike came together and Brandon finally got to take it on a ride. Everywhere we go people come up to us and ask about it. The pipe that was on it was just that. A straight pipe coming off the exhaust port on the cylinder head. Brandon replaced that with something like a glass pack. It’s still LOUD, and it is going to backfire every time you kill the engine. Wow, an army bike that sounds like a howitzer.
Bikes with one cylinder like this are often referred to as “Thumpers.” Brandon took that moniker and ran with it designing a logo he wants to put on as a decal.
Most bikers I’ve talked too have fond memories of their first bike. There’s little doubt that Brandon will never forget Thumper. He’s says he’ll never sell it. You know, I don’t think he ever will.

— Guy Wheatley

Thumper logo for Brandon's bike.

Thumper logo for Brandon's bike.

Brandon's Suzuki Savage

Brandon's Suzuki Savage

Apr 10
Two wheels
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 04 10th, 2009| icon31 Comment »

April 10
spyder1
A few years back, I bought a sail boat. It was a little 22ft Venture with a 10 horse kicker and retractable keel. This was a few years after Dennis Conner won the America’s Cup race with his boat “The Stars and Stripes.” The Stars and stripes was a catamaran, or a boat with two hulls. Many thought that Dennis’ win was unfair because he wasn’t in a single hulled boat. In fact, the rules were changed before the next race.
While I never subscribed to the idea that he cheated, I did approve of the rule change. To me, a sail boat is at it’s best with a single wineglass shaped hull. The very “problems” the cats are supposed to cure are the very things that attracted me to sailing. Roaring along on a beam reach, and healed over with your gunnel in the water, is sailing on a level cat drivers will never know.
Now that I’m riding motorcycles, strangely I find myself facing almost the same aesthetic assault. The motorcycle world is being invaded by a plethora of machines that have more than two wheels. Yes, trikes and quads have been around for some time, but previously trikes were custom machines converted from a two wheeled bike in somebody’s garage and quads were off road machines primarily used by hunters and farmers. More recently third party companies began offering trike kits for production bikes and the number of trikes began to increase. Now there are companies offering production machines with three wheels like the Can-Am Spyder Roadster.
These machines have their followings and there will be more and more of them on the roads. As for me, sail boats should have one hull and motorcycles should have two wheels.

– Guy Wheatley

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