After years of lusting after a motorcycle (but drinking and drugging away any motorcycle money I might have saved) I finally got sober, got my finances together, and toddled down to the Harley shop to pick out my bike. The sales manager must have decided I wasn’t a serious prospect, because when I announced I was there to buy a bike he flapped a hand at the door to the parking lot, said ‘The used bikes are outside,’ turned on his heel and walked away.
I left, naturally – damn if I was going to spend my money with an asshole like that! – but as I was driving away I noticed a Harley parked at a used car lot two doors up the street from the dealership. I called a friend of mine named Wayne Agee – an experienced chopper builder, attorney and motorcyclists’ rights activist – and he very kindly went with me to scope it out.
What we found was a 1974 Harley-Davidson FX (kickstart-only) Superglide shovelhead with 8,000 miles on the clock, box stock except for 6″ overstock fork tubes. The salesman swore it was his personal bike – a story I dismissed as sales-speak at the time, but later learned was the absolutely truth. No matter. It was a Harley-Davidson Big Twin, and the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.
I didn’t have my motorcycle license yet, so Wayne test-rode the bike for me. The price was right and he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and I was sold! I went straight to my credit union to arrange financing, and the next day, April 11th, 1979, I went to take possession of my very first motorcycle. A five-minute tutorial on the machine – clutch up there, brakes here and here, shifter over there, one up and three down – and I was on my way.
I passed a motorcycle safety course when I was in the service – a requirement if I was going to ride a motorcycle on base – and took rides on other people’s machines whenever they were dumb enough to hand me the keys, but I was basically ignorant of riding technique. Of needs, I taught myself to ride by spending every possible moment on that bike, cruising the Farm-to-Market roads that snake across the Texas Hill Country west and south of Austin. I quickly realized I was born to this life; to be in the saddle, in the wind. Nothing before or since has brought me such pleasure and peace of mind, or felt so right.
I began calling my shovel ‘The Bitch’ long before The Grateful Dead released the In The Dark album in 1987, but a couplet from the song ‘Tons of Steel’ describes her well:
“It’s one hell of an understatement to say she can get mean She’s temperamental; more of a bitch than a machine!”
However, the name was given tongue-in-cheek because, even though any machine will act up one way or another, if you own it long enough, The Bitch has been a stout, faithful steed with plenty of heart and class.
The Bitch has been through a lot of changes over the years. I began by turning her into stripped-down cruiser, above. Then I converted her into a fat bob, below.
Next, I built her into a version of the FL Sport – a dresser sans saddlebags and windshield – using the wide-glide forks Wayne sold me, and pieces sourced through his ‘chopper shop’ (which, as it happened, bore a striking resemblance to his law office). The photo below shows the project about halfway to completion.
Just about the time I finished that project, with a full aluminum headlight nacelle off an old Electra-Glide, a friend let me throw a leg over his rigid panhead, and I was in love. The rigid was so much lighter (and cleaner looking) than the stock swingarm frame, and I just had to have one.
By then I was working at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, and Bud helped me find a 1954 wishbone frame. I swapped the engine and transmission into the wishbone and slapped on some get-by fenders and fuel tank, above. Meanwhile, I sourced fresh tins for the bodyman, so I could keep riding while I got everything painted and ready to go. After some dithering around I settled on a bright blue the same color the Austin Police Department used on their cars – a close match to an original 1954 factory color Harley-Davidson named ‘Glacier Blue’.
I took the shovel apart, rebuilt the engine, polished every bit of smooth aluminum I could get a buffing wheel or elbow grease to, and put it all back together.
I caught a lot of flak for that paint color the whole while the tins were hanging on the wall in my shop area, but once I put it all together I received nothing but compliments. As an added plus, I never had a car pull out in front of me the entire time I ran that color. Not once. They might not have been aware of motorcycles in traffic, but they by God noticed that cop-car blue!
I made other changes as the years passed. I went back to black, changed fenders and tanks, ran a pogo-stick saddle and windshield for a while, added a sidecar so my stepdaughter could ride in safety and comfort, and put on mile after mile after mile…
Below: I stopped at the visitor’s center in Estes Park, to get directions to my brother’s school. As I dismounted I heard two Harleys, and looked up just in time to see a familiar motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant across the street. I finished my visit to to the center, crossed the road and stumbled into the Mickey D.’s (so stupefied from being on the road that I stepped on some poor man’s toe in the process) and sure enough…! In town no more than five minutes, and who should I run into but the man I rode to Sturgis with – a man I hadn’t seen in almost a decade – in Colorado for a vacation with his wife! 😳 How’s thatfor a small world!?!
In July, 2004, at the age of 48, I fell 35′ from a billboard structure, when a piece of the board came loose. I rode the ladder I was standing on all the way to the hard rocky Hill Country earth, and ended up with an open compound fracture of my right leg, numerous fractures in my left mid-foot, and a burst fracture of my L-4 vertebra, which caused catastrophic nerve damage to the cauda equina that controls everything south of the waist, and I mean everything!
After fourteen days in hospital, numerous surgeries and a near-fatal hospital-borne infection, I went home to a wheelchair and a rented hospital bed, with lots more to come. Still, at the end of October I limped out to the driveway, kickstarted The Bitch and took it for a ride around the neighborhood.
I’ve probably made smarter choices in life, but it seemed important at the time, and sure felt good!
A lot has happened since then, including another makeover of The Bitch and a return to A) another blue paint job, B) another set of fatbob tanks, C) another pogo-stick and D) another windshield, all to accommodate my back and leg injuries.
The pogo-stick and windshield arrangement was good for a while, but remember the nerve damage I mentioned? Yeah, that nasty nerve damage has come back to haunt me.
One of the nastier tricks it plays on me (and the nasty tricks are legion, believe me!) is that my right knee gives out with no warning. It’s been doing it since I first got out of the hospital, but that particular trick has become more frequent as the years since my accident go by, to the point where I can no longer feel safe riding a two-wheeler, so…
Watch this space for updates!
UPDATE, April 16, 2023:
Paughco no longer makes the frame I’d been saving my pennies for 🤬 and I searched all over for another manufacturer, to no avail. Plenty of swingarm frames, and a few neo-chop rigids, but nothing that mimicked the traditional Harley frame the way Paughco’s did. Since I’d lost touch with (or lost) the people I would trust to adapt my existing frame the old-school way, using a Servi-Car rear end, I caved and bought a 2016 Freewheeler. Less than a month later I reconnected with an old friend who – ain’t that the luck? – runs a custom frame shop in Dallas. 😤 Maybe after I recover from buying the Freewheeler he and I can talk about triking my shovel. Hope springs eternal!
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