Now, that’s a stupid question!

What’s the point of all this?

On a Q&A forum I found the following question: What is the point of riding on a motorcycle other than looking “cool.” Are there any physical advantages as compared to a car? I know the old adage says ‘the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask,’ but the question that poster posed is dangerously close to a stupid question. I borrowed one reader’s answer as a starting point for my own rant.

The ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and my ’74 shovel (aka ‘The Bitch’) in West Texas enroute to Alpine. Man, I just love West Texas!

Again: the ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle.

It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and The Bitch riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in the Colorado Rockies.

Seriously, how do you describe the challenge of leaning into a hard curve on a twisty mountain road in the Colorado Rockies, just a hair’s breadth from the high side that’s gonna hurt like hell if you don’t maintain your line?  What words can match balling through the New Mexican desert alone on a star-studded night, with ghost shadows marching across the sands as the chill night air seeps through the seams in your leather jacket?  Can language even begin to capture the feeling of blasting through the heart of Dallas on a Saturday evening, twenty or thirty of you in a pack, so there in that moment – so large and loud and alive – that the straights in their cars instinctively move aside to let you pass?  How do you tell someone who’s never been there about rocking through a mountain pass on a chilly autumn morning, sun at your back and your best road dog at your side as you crest the Continental Divide and rumble down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?  Can you make any sense at all of the delight you feel waking up in a rain-soaked tent in Rapid City, South Dakota, on your way to the annual rally at Sturgis, and laughing about it because Who fuckin’ cares? We’re at Sturgis, baby!  

Into every life a little rain must fall…

And if that’s hard, try explaining how even the ‘bad stuff’ gets good, later. Things like riding through the wake of a hurricane in downtown Houston, water so high on the road that it’s burbling and bubbling at the ends of your exhaust pipes and dousing your ignition system. Things like spending a sleepless night camped on the banks of the Rio Grande, kept awake by the bitter cold and the new traveling companion who neglected to mention that he snores like a fuckin’ buzzsaw.

This is me riding through the Black Hills of South Dakota, doing a little sightseeing during the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally, a gathering of the tribe that’s been going on since 1938.

Things like kneeling in the mud in a pouring rainstorm to help a stranger get his motorcycle started, because the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like facing off with a shotgun-wielding deputy sheriff who is screaming at you and your buddies to get those goddam bikes out of there before he arrests the lot of you, because one of your buddies can’t get his bike started and the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like your buddy suddenly remembering, after twenty minutes of trying to kickstart his shovelhead, that he installed a hidden kill switch as a security device just last week, and Oh, yeah! That’s why my bike won’t start….

One of my favorite works by Dave Mann: a loving couple two-up on a nice Spring day. Dave Mann’s monthly centerfold paintings for Easyriders captured every aspect, from the quiet pleasure of a run up the Pacific Coast Highway….
….to the drag of getting beefed by some biker-hating cop. and everything in between.

….because every biker knows the best stories are the ones that really sucked in the moment.

Are there physical advantages? Well, let’s see…

Me and The Bitch and the Marlboro Man’s Softail on Skyline Drive, above Cañon City, CO.

There’s the fact that you’re out in nature, breathing fresh air, instead of being cooped up in a cage with the air conditioner on, guzzling fossil fuel and contributing to global warming. And let’s remember that motorcycling is not a sedentary activity the way driving a car is, either. The constant shifting of weight and the tensing and relaxing of different muscle groups actually burn calories, really, and help you maintain a healthier body. Add a kick-starter to your machine and you can just about sell your Nautilus!

Look at the grin on my face. I am on a motorcycle I just rebuilt from the ground up: new paint, polished aluminum, a few chrome touches like new exhaust pipes and handlebars…. There are few finer feelings in this world than what I was feeling in that moment. I wasn’t posing or profiling or showing off. I was just grooving on the feeling: my Harley, the wind, a bunch of good friends all riding together, heading for a party. I didn’t know someone was taking pictures, and didn’t even know the photographer, but sometime later he came into the motorcycle shop where I worked and gave me several excellent photos made that day. Wish I could remember his name (and if you see this, Mr. Photographer, shoot me a kite, eh?) but wherever he is, I bless him!

And for most riders there is also an emotional benefit to being in the wind. You see it in the slogans on biker t-shirts: Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul; Sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before I can think straight; and You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office. I know that, for myself, nothing can clear the cobwebs and help me forget about a crappy day like some time in the saddle. It’s two-cylinder meditation. My mind is focused on the ride – the shifting of gears, the changes in pavement texture and potential hazards, traffic patterns, the weather, et cetera – and tending to all that frees your mind from the weight you carry.

To quote Jackson Browne: ‘It’s a peaceful, easy feeling…’

There are also the benefits of being a smaller vehicle in traffic, in those enlightened states that permit motorcycle ‘filtering’. This is the low-speed lane splitting which allows motorcyclists to work their way through stopped traffic. It gets them where they’re going faster and reduces carbon emissions. It also eases overall traffic congestion, which helps get everyone moving faster, further reducing emissions, et cetera. A real win-win. I just wish the Texas legislature would get on that bandwagon, rather than all the horrid, hateful ones they have seen fit to climb on lately.

I was in a pack of thirty or so motorcycles when we stopped for lunch at a roadhouse. Before we could get back on the road, we were surrounded by heavily-armed law enforcement officers, who drew down on us with AR-15s. They proceeded to run every one of us through the mill – driver’s license, tag number, VIN – just because they could; just to inconvenience us, just because that many bikers in one place absolutely must mean something criminal was going on. They did get one guy, who had an outstanding warrant, but had to let the rest of us go.

Finally, in cities where land is at a premium, and motorists are desperate for parking spaces, motorcyclists require much less space than cars and trucks. If office buildings, colleges and malls would provide secure parking for motorcyclists, they could reduce the demand for parking by the drivers of full-sized vehicles, and again, contribute to lessening carbon emissions, fuel consumption, global warming, and so on.

So, it’s all that and more, and you notice that none of that has sweet fuck-all to do with being ‘cool.’  We ride because we’re riders.  We don’t know any other way to be.

Your mother did warn you about me, right?

SIDECAR, ANYONE ?

Darcie spotted the sidecar the moment I brought it home in the back
of the pickup truck, and proudly informed us that it was her car!

A reader asked about the sidecar I attached to my Shovelhead back in the mid-’80s, which sent me off on a daylong squirrel hunt. As I didn’t have access to the interwebs way back then, I had a hard time learning anything about the sidecar. I knew it was a ‘Zephyr’ brand unit, but after that my search for info hit a brick wall.

I nicknamed it ‘Moon Unit’ because it looked kind of like a space capsule, but it was actually pretty well-built, with the rollbar-style cage around the body, a weatherproof roof and windshield, comfortable bucket seat with seatbelt and legroom enough for most adults, storage space behind the seat, and room for a dashboard-mounted stereo if one was desired. I personally consider a sound system on a motorcycle an abomination – I mean, who needs a stereo when they have the sweetest music in the world echoing out their exhaust pipes? – but I might have made an exception for the sidecar, if it would make Darcie happy..

However, in the course of researching the sidecar’s provenance and history I did come upon the United Sidecar Association, and founding member Hal Kendall. I joined USCA and purchased a couple of sidecar manuals Dr. Kendall had published. Looking back, I know I could not have gotten the sidecar safely and properly mounted on my Shovelhead’s OEM Harley-Davidson wishbone frame had it not been for the good doctor’s manuals, which are still available, as downloads, at the USCA’s Sidecar Tech page.

Another essential to my task was the assistance of a motorcycle-savvy welder named Bill Mading, who owned BG&T Welding in Austin, just down the street from the cop shop. Bill was a dirtbike racer, which meant he understood the stresses and strains motorcycle frames must endure, and how to compensate for them. However, he was also a skilled enough artisan that he could weld aluminum and aluminum-alloy engine and transmission cases – not an easy trick, as those metals tend to warp from the heat of the welding process. Warped cases means uneven gasket surfaces, less-than-perfect seals between case halves, et cetera. Bud (Bud’s Motorcycle Shop) used Bill for all his delicate welding needs, and we never had a problem with a part Bill repaired.

Bastard applications call for bastard engineering. Between us, Bill Mading and I designed the lower mounts for the sidecar. At the rear we installed a vertical plate near the frame’s dovetail, which included a pin-style electrical connector for the sidecar’s lighting. Up front we replaced the OEM mechanical brake foot-pedal mount with a larger plate that could accommodate the mounting tabs we’d devised.
NOT PICTURED: The top front mount was the OEM Harley-Davidson clamp assembly. I also replaced the standard front-fork triple trees, shown here, with Harley’s OEM adjustable rake trees. For added stability and handling I added an OEM steering damper, as well.

Between the manuals I’d received from Hal Kendall, and Bill Mading’s dedicated assistance, we were able to devise a bastard set of mounts for the sidecar. They weren’t pretty, but they by god worked! See the photo below for more information.

Everything one needs to mount an off-brand sidecar to an OEM wishbone frame.

I didn’t have the interwebs back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, so finding out what I needed to know involved scouring magazines for any mention of sidecars, writing letters that were often ignored, calling long-distance (remember those days?) and running up my telephone bill, et cetera. Today? Ten minutes with a mouse and I had already gleaned scads of information! In fact, the first site I visited told me where the Zephyr was manufactured, and by whom, and even had a photo of a pretty snazzy brilliant yellow Zephyr sidecar!

ONE FINAL NOTE: If you are at all interested in sidecars, please consider a membership in the United Sidecar Association. It’s money well spent, IMO, and support for a great organization.

Buddy Merle Reveile (1950-2015)

Four years ago today we lost one of the best men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

ABOVE:  Bud Reveile on 7 January 2015, a couple of months before he passed away.

Bud Reveile was a Vietnam veteran; a U.S.M.C. tanker whose story was included in Oscar E. Gilbert’s Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam.  He was a devout Christian and family man, and a lifelong and benevolent member of the East Austin community.

Bud was also a dyed-in-the-wool Harley man, a walking encyclopedia of all things Harley-Davidson, and a natural-born good guy.  He could talk to anyone – Bud maintained friendships with outlaw bikers and cops, Christians and atheists, bankers and b-girls and bums – and he did his level best to treat everyone with respect.  He had very few enemies, and the only ones I ever met were only enemies because Bud wouldn’t give them something for nothing.  He was a businessman – a true old-school horse-trader who worked hard to make a buck – but Bud was honest, and in all my years of knowing him I never saw him take advantage of anyone.

Bud built his business the old-fashioned way, beginning (just like Harley and the Davidsons themselves) in a backyard shed behind his North Austin home with some tools, a small collection of used motorcycle parts, and his experience working at Harley dealerships in California and Austin.

In April of 1979 Bud moved his operations to the grounds of a defunct lumberyard in East Austin.  There a Spartan tin shack – unheated in winter, un-air-conditioned in summer, noisy and dusty all year ‘round – served as mechanic’s bay, showroom and office, while erstwhile lumber bins held his burgeoning parts inventory.

Over the following 36 years, Bud created a sprawling compound that eventually covered more than a quarter of a city block.  In a ramshackle series of structures – some built, others acquired or repurposed and all interconnected – Bud kept aisles and aisles (and piles and piles) of old and odd motorcycle parts jumbled up in glorious disarray.  There were tons of new old stock; OEM and aftermarket pieces painstakingly gathered from shops that were going out of business or dealerships purging their parts departments, stacked right alongside all the bent, broken, rusted, oil-soaked parts salvaged from a thousand different spent and clapped-out motorcycles.  There was everything a rider might need to repair an old machine, customize a new one or, for that matter, build herself one from the ground up.  Visiting Bud’s shop was like stepping back in time to those halcyon days when Harley shops were unique, one from another, instead of the prefabricated corporate clones they have become.  For those of us who care about such things, Bud’s was Disneyland!  🙂

I first met Bud in the summer of 1979, when another biker gave me one of Bud’s cards.  I had just gotten my first Harley, and wanted to learn everything I could about them.  When I saw that Bud was the real deal I quickly asked if I could become a shop hang-around.  I would come in after work and on weekends, exchanging free labor for the occasional discount motorcycle part and a far more valuable education in Harley-Davidsons.  By the fall of that year I was working there full time, and in one way or another I kept working there for the next 36 years.

ABOVE:  My shovelhead outside Bud’s perimeter fence, fall of 1980. Over the fence are the lumber stalls, now enclosed to create mechanics’ bays downstairs and parts storage upstairs.

Jack-of-all-trades what I was, I helped build various add-ons to the shop, including closing in the old lumber stalls to create additional mechanics’ bays, and reinforcing the second story so parts could be stored there.  I ran electrical systems throughout as the business sprawled across first one, then two, and finally three separate lots known to all and sundry as 2612 East First Street.  I worked as a shop grunt, with my elbows deep in the muck of the parts washer, became a parts man and mechanic, and even lived on-site for a while during one of my periods of homelessness, doubling as night watchman while hiding my as-yet-unpaid-for shovel from the repo man. I served as publicist, writing articles about Bud and the shop for national magazines, and provided backup on the rare occasion when a situation so demanded.

ABOVE:  Bud’s logo, created and reproduced here by the artist, MAG.  The same design also graced Bud’s t-shirts, business cards, bumper stickers…

I also traveled with Bud to swap meets all over hell and gone, driving his rattletrap old school bus gutted of seats and packed full of the infamously “new, used and abused” parts that were Bud’s specialty:  everything from trendy chrome gewgaws and one-off chopper parts to hard-to-find transmissions, carburetors, flywheels and cylinder heads.  Sometimes it seemed as if we were carrying half of Bud’s inventory with us when we set out and, because Bud shopped even as he sold, frequently carried even more inventory back to Austin!

Bud's 1980 (12-80) facing ENE w. original tin shop, school bus used for swap meets at left (courtesy Bill James)

ABOVE:  My shovelhead right after I switched to a rigid frame, late 1980 or early ’81, in front of the tin shed that held Bud’s original “showroom” and mechanic’s bay.  The notorious school bus is visible at top left.

All those parts, BTW, were haphazardly stacked in rectangular metal trays, and part of my job as grunt was to hump the damn things in and out of the bus at every stop.  Bud was a “recycler” before recycling was trendy – those metal trays were actually old medicine chests salvaged from a downtown hotel slated for demolition – and when filled with panhead four-speed gears, ironhead cylinders, shovelhead connecting rods and the like they were heavy and sharp-edged enough to take off fingers!  I hated them with a passion, but even those trays couldn’t diminish the joy of traveling in Bud’s circle, meeting bikers and shop owners from around the world, learning the ins and outs of doing business the East Austin Way.

ABOVE:  A profile I wrote about Bud, back in the summer of 1991.

Of course, Bud also became one of my best, most reliable friends. He always seemed glad to see me, to step out and share a meal or just hole up in his cramped little office and visit for a while. There wasn’t much we couldn’t discuss, either, from faith and fear to family and friends, flatheads to Twin Cams, the war, the rallies at Sturgis and Daytona, the swap meet circuit, the biker books we both enjoyed and exchanged, and, naturally, the latest gossip from the motorcycling scene. Toward the end, we talked about what was happening to him, and steps he needed to take to be at peace as he crossed that final bridge. Like everyone who loved him, I did what I could to help, but it wasn’t enough.  If it could have done any good I’d have cheerfully given up blood, sweat and body parts to help him recover, or at least not suffer quite so much.

The day Bud died I exchanged texts with another longtime friend who had known Bud in the days when he worked at the old Harley-Davidson dealership in town. I wrote that our world just became a much smaller place. He agreed, writing “Smaller, sadder, and much more lonely.”

I miss my friend every day, but I remain grateful that he was my friend.  Through Bud I got to be part of a grand tradition in American motorcycling – the small independent shop that is the backbone of the bikers’ world.  Bud’s was a near-mystical place packed full of history disguised as scrap metal – a funky, messy mélange of mechanic and machinist’s shop, motorcycle museum and meeting hall – and it was a BLAST!  Man, I’m glad I got to be there!

ABOVE:  Bud’s Motorcycle Shop circa early 2000s, photographer unknown.

Bob Dylan and motorcycles

I’ve been doing a little research on songwriter Bob Dylan.  Like most riders, I already knew about his mysterious wreck near Woodstock, New York, in 1966, where he dumped his Triumph, injured himself to an unknown degree, and went into seclusion for a while.

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However, in reading through books about Dylan, interviews with people who knew him prior to his arrival in Greenwich Village, and his own Chronicles: Volume One (2004) I turned up a few references to Harleys, time spent running with the biker boys in his hometown, even being a bit of a “rough, tough” character.  I don’t know how true any of that is, but he apparently did spend some time around riders, as seen in the photos below.

1956:

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1966, on the Triumph he later wrecked:

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I always cringe at this one, because for some reason he’s dangling his feet – not a smart thing to do and goofy-lookin’ to boot!

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The passenger below is identified as “Sebastian,” but I don’t who Sebastian is:

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I’m not sure of the year – probably mid-’60s – but he appears to be riding a Japanese bike; maybe a Honda:

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and in 2004, back on a Harley-Davidson!

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One more, of the man on an entirely different kind of bike…

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…but wearing a motorcycle club jacket.  Go figure!

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