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.
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.
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!
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.
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….
….because every biker knows the best stories are the ones that really sucked in the moment.
Are there physical advantages? Well, let’s see…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 their In The Dark album in 1987, but a couplet from the song ‘Tons of Steel’ describes her to a T:
“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. They might not have been aware of motorcycles in traffic, but they by God noticedthat 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…
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…
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!
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.