Tuesday, July 23, 2013

So, I bought a bike

Something I've wanted to do for a long time (that was solidified when I first got my mini bike) was to have a full sized two wheeled motorcycle. Lots of consideration went into the thought process of what I wanted to purchase: New vs Old, Foreign vs Domestic, Form vs Function.

(NOTE: In my ramblings, I include my opinion, which may not be yours. Neither of us are right, or wrong. Some folks like Vanilla and others like Chocolate ice cream, I'm just giving my opinions here)

New vs Old: I love older things at heart! My father once said that anything made after 1945 was crap and in someways, I tend to agree. Things (nearly all things) made before WW2 were really designed to be build and rebuild; serviceable for years to come. It's the reason many old vehicles are still on the road outside of their cool design, it's because they can be! We can't say that about much build after the WW2 as America became a disposable society, but I'll leave that alone at this point as I could go on and ON for some time about that! So, the fact that I love old and I think that vintage bikes have a lot of appeal, I also have this other side of me that knows really how much "free time" I actually have, which is basically none! Since my son came along in my life nearly 4 years ago, I needed to change some of my behavior on where time is spent and whom I spend it with. I certainly didn't want to be the hermit in the garage who his son never got to know or understand. The proof is really in the pudding; if you follow my other blog you will see a lack of posts from a few years back about the Gow Cart project. It's not that I've abandoned the whole thing, it's just on extended hiatus while I concentrate on my career and my family. At this point in my life, I'd like to spend more time enjoying things than laboring on things. Don't get me wrong, I love to tinker and make things my own, but for the sake of a bike, I just wanna ride it.
Bikes that qualified as attractive to me would be in the H-D family are the late forties early fifties WR, EL and FL; even the military WLA or WLD.

So knowing that I have little time for projects, I pretty much ruled out an old bike and settled on the concept of push the button and head down the road. Let's not forget why we build things: it's to enjoy the fruits of the labor! For the New vs Old battle, New wins.

Foreign vs Domestic: This was a bit of a no-brainer for me, but I will admit several years back that I found myself at a new motorcycle trade show and spent a lot of time sitting on the seat of a Triumph Thruxton. For being a 6'2" 200 lb dude, I think I rule out a lot of vehicles based on my size. The nice thing about the Thruxton outside of the looks of the bike was I felt it fit me physically where I was comfortable with my feet on the ground for stop signs/lights. I took a lot of literature away about that bike and headed to the Harley-Davidson display to check out the cruisers. Overall the same price point was going to put me into a Sportster platform which I felt I was a little too big for (lanky here).
A little while later I was asked to do some work for Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Milwaukee and developed a relationship with them. It was at this point it became a no-brainer. As I did with Ford Motor Company (purchasing my 2005 F-150), I strongly believe in supporting the home team when they are the ones commissioning you and paying you. I'll admit there are definitely some very nice bike out there from other foreign manufacturers, from design to engineering, but I have to support local in my case. Case closed, Domestic wins.

Form vs Function: This is something as a designer I battle with all the time. The true marriage between the two is the highlight of any designer or restyler. When someone looks at any designed object you will often see something that doesn't seem to fit or looks out of place. This usually falls into one of these two categories: Form or Function. Some items are added purely for esthetics where others are purely function. When you look at any man made object and identify something as 'wrong' its because it's overly executed in decorative form or tacked on by an engineer for function. Either can be bad if they don't work the two together! I think a lot of motorcycles have this issue, especially when the owner busts open a catalog of chrome doohickies to add to their ride. When looking at custom bikes one of the most attractive features to me is a hard tail (lack of rear shocks present for those unfamiliar with the term) Many bikes have chromed rear shocks right from the factory which call more attention to them which I feel is that bad marriage of form and function together. Yes, shocks make for a more comfortable ride (function), but chroming them to a mirror finish (form) I feel is drawing attention in the wrong direction. So knowing I like the hard tail look, but still didn't want to beat up my back and kidneys, I directed my attention to the softail, thus narrowing my scope.

From the get-go on current model years I was very drawn to the Softail Slim. I couldn't quite put my finger directly on it, but it's minimal styling and 'bobberesque' qualities are what drove me towards it.  I felt it would have been the modern interpretation of what I'd want to do to a bike if I needed to make it my own.  Many of the old cues of the bikes I looked at when first deciding on if I was going Old vs New were there. Even some of the things I enjoy in four-wheel hot rods were there. Later, I learned why. I loved the stubby fenders, the "brawler" front end (sometimes referred to as 'punchy' overseas because the reduced rake on the front forks is reminiscent of a boxers closed, defensive stance in his arms) the mix of polished vs wrinkle finish in the whole bike. I love the laced wheels to the tail lights that reminded me of Ford's 1937 bullet lights on a smaller scale.

A little while later, while at Born-Free 5 I got a chance to meet Casey Ketterhagan who I associated as a Hot Rodder from the Cheaters Car Club in Milwaukee. Casey has since moved on, but the spirit of how he looks at bikes is the same way that Hot Rodders and Custom builders look at restyling cars. What I came to learn was Casey was the lead designer in the Softail Slim bike.

What Casey told me was when he was approached H-D told him to build a bike he'd want to ride. So being in the same vein as Casey, I can now see why I was immediately attracted to this particular bike! It's got true Hot Rod spirit in it.

Making it your own;
Everyone wants something unique, something of their very own. Still trying to stay true to what I was attracted to on this particular bike, I still try and marry form and function. The hard part comes in with making a bike more functional for carrying things you may need along the way without again destroying the look of the bike. Some people are really into bags on bike, I for one, especially in the world of softails don't like the looks of bags on them. Based on the nature of the swing arm rear, bags need to sit higher than on other frames in the H-D family. This is something I'm dealing with now and part of that is identifying how I intend on using the bike itself. A motorcycle will never be a pick-up truck, nor should they be. That's the reason I own a pick-up! 

Part of the restyling I want to do is to add a sissy bar that I will have something to strap things to also while relocating the license plate from the side to the center and also adding a third tail light more at a four wheeled view point. Overall, it's about proportion in anything that deals with design and overall I feel the Softail Slim was done right!  The insert is a 20" sissy I'd been restyling to make it more functional for myself and also subtracting the folding stock license plate from the original design. I had originally thought I'd add an actual 1937 Ford taillight to the bar, but after further review and some mock up, I wanted something smaller to fit the scope of the bar and bike. In the photo I have a Biltwell Model B taillight which fits the look on the scale and also contains the license plate light required here in Michigan.
For now, after I get the sissy bar back from the powder coater, I'll be just doing the simple mods of hooking this up and then ride it. I've got plenty of time to make this my own and change things over the years if I choose.

So that's my story. I know to some folks who maybe reading this by comparing a Softail Slim to the late forties early fifties WR, EL and FL's would be like comparing a PT Cruiser to a Chrysler Airflow. Make no mistake, I know it's apples and oranges. I just made what I believe was the right choice for me, right now. 

Hope you enjoyed the read.