Monday, November 7, 2011

Merry Milwaukee Musings

What with Christmas right around the corner (or "the holidays" if ones PC sensibilities dictate) thoughts naturally lean toward the joy of giving and receiving of gifts. OK, more likely the receiving part, be honest now. And we here at the Asylum are not immune to such impulses, we'd love nothing more than to stick a brand new shiny scoot up every fellow Chromies chimney, but alas what with the stagnate economy and continued cuts to our formerly unlimited advertising budget new bikes for all the good little boys and girls just ain't gonna happen.

So that's it then, a lump of coal and an IRS audit!? Please.....this is the Asylum, and we're nothing if not resourceful, you know lemons, lemoncelli, that sort of thing. We've got you covered. This year we're gonna stuff your stocking with the always in style, must have gift of rumor and speculation straight from Harleyville. See, we told you not to worry.

Good news, bad news. The bad gets next....looks like my beloved XR-1200X is on the chopping block. Guess my infatuation with this nifty little machine is a lonely love affair, sales simply haven't lived up to management expectations. Truth is, the XR wasn't exactly flying out of European showrooms during it's launch year either, it's simply never got the love it deserved from the market. Damn shame, it's one of the most grin inducing Harley's you'll ever throw a leg over. If you dig the whole American V-Twin propulsion thing lovingly cradled in the most flickable package ever to emerge from the hallowed halls of the Motor Company get your butt down to your local HD man and snap one up. Because much like land and natural breasts, pretty soon they just won't make them any more.

Dude, where's my FLH? Seems that the rumors of product shortages in the touring line are more than just a little bit true. The factory flat blew it and underestimated demand for the big cross country machines. Think about that for a moment, baggers have been the meat of the market now for nearly a decade, so how do you screw that up!? Then again, when it comes to management by the "best and the brightest" recent history has shown that the titans of industry and government don't exactly have a monopoly on street smarts. How long it'll take Harley to get it right is an open question, and one their dealer network would like resolved sooner rather than later.

Loyal Chromies will remember our reporting on a forth coming Buell Blast replacement to be imported from India. Plans are still moving forward, although we learned that there have been discussions that the mini-HD could be assembled in Kansas City (deft move to avoid that whole "....tell me again, where the f**k is that thing made!? Indiana? India!?!?). That said, at the moment, it still looks like the as yet named machine is coming from the land of the sacred cow. Stay tuned.

Here's a tasty tidbit from a very trustworthy deep cover source. Seems there's a very trick, "skunk works" 750cc radical, performance oriented v-twin snuggled in the R&D vault at Juneau Ave. The hi-perf lump has been around for a while, long enough to have been bolted to what my sources tell me is an XR (as in flat tracker) inspired frame. Very cool stuff. That is until one considers the soon to be administered death blow to the current XR. There's just seems to be no appetite in the market for a really sporty Harley, or is there? What if the Motor Company went "all in" with a Duc killer sport bike, something that could fight blow for blow with the best from Bologna?? Yeah, that's just silly.

Better late than never, but better never late. It's no secret that Harley is usually tardy to the soiree when it comes to devining trends on the street and turning them into production reality. Remember the Rocker? Only about two years after that whole "OCC style" chopper cratered in the market, Harley comes out with their very own new and improved version. Thankfully, the Rocker was put out of its and our misery, my condolences to the three self-esteem challenged tools that actually bought one.

The good news is HD is actually getting out front on a couple of trends. Sound systems being one of them, the Motor Company is currently offering some truly trick upgraded stereo/speaker systems. Sure they're way over priced, and still a bit dated from a tech perspective, but they're light years ahead of where they were just a year ago. Big hoops on FLH's your thing? Nothing firm yet, but don't be surprised to see some 21 inchers (with proper load ratings and suspension geometry to match) on the big touring beasts in the not too distant future, maybe on a CVO model to start. There's simply too much profit margin being given up to the aftermarket for the factory not to jump in and get their slice of the pie, and in this case, we all score. We'll get bikes that look cool, but actually handle, with rubber designed to handle the extra heft of the FLH family of bikes. Oh, and it'll suck for the bottom feeding product liability lawyers who are happily suing the tire manufacturers and the Motor Company every time some idiot with an oversized hoop ends up on his noodle. The current crop of 21's aren't designed for FLH's........jeez.

Lastly, here's something that lands squarely on the good list, by all measures it looks like the new Dyna based Swtichback is an unqualified success. The bikes have been streaming out of the showrooms, and everyone that I know that's ridden one raves about the machine. Makes sense, the Dyna family have always been a favorite of real riders of Milwaukee iron, the guys that put on daily miles and aren't afraid to attack the random curve. As soon as we develop a relationship with a local Harley dealer (are you listening Ft Worth HD?) we'll do a complete road test.

So there it is fellow Chromies; news, clues and a rumor or two. And if you're really good, maybe the fat guy in the funny red leisure suit will drop a few more tasty tidbits down the flu.....dare to dream. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't Be Hatin' Brother! We're Back!

You know what I hate? Bloggers that can't manage to post new content on a regular basis. Given the fact that the relative quality of the vast majority of blogs are mostly always in serious question, really the only redeeming value most of these hack's deliver is in the mass production and distribution of their meager prose. All we ask for is a constant stream of new "content"; perfect for consuming while waiting for a bus, being held captive in a budget meeting, or while pretending to be engaged in meaningful dialog with our significant "other". I mean really, other wise, what's the point, are these wannabe Drudge's so self-absorbed as to think folks will just keep coming back to their blogs, eagerly sniffing for even a whiff of fresh offerings? Come on, do they think there's no expiration date on "forever loyal", no matter how indifferently they treat their lowly subjects, ah, great unwashed, er, readers?! Failing to locate anything fresh, these hapless consumers of said basement dwelling tripe are left to dine on months old posts that weren't worth the effort to move a mouse in the first place. Know what I mean, don't ya just hate those guys!?

Well, there's a lot of self-loathing here at the Asylum my fellow Chromies, because yours truly has become "that guy", it's been weeks since my last post, mia culpa, I suck. And for that I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Alas my lapse while inexcusable has not been without reason. I scored a gig!! And not just any gig mind you, drum roll please.

You're now reading the lowly prose of the newly minted VP of Marketing for Tucker Rocky Inc. Yup, that Tucker Rocky, the premier distributor of all manner of powersports goodies. From jackets to helmets, tires to chains, TR's got the goods for us loony motorbikers. Great brands too; Dunlop, Arai, River Road, QuadBoss, Firstgear, Bikemaster, Answer, MSR, ProTaper, Kuryakyn, Twin Power, Yoshimura, Speed and Strength, Metal Mulisha etc., etc., etc., the list is nearly endless. The opportunity to work with a world class team,develop new and exciting brands, move to the free republic of Texas, and ride motorbikes on a regular basis was an offer that I wasn't about to refuse!

So that's why I've been AWOL, not for lack of love for you gentle Chromie, but for jumping into the deep end on a whole new adventure. So stay tuned, Chrome Asylum is back, with straight from the hip, no BS, no corporate spin, (being at TR's not gonna turn this cowboy into a spineless lackey for the man, trust me on that brother), no holds barred truth for your dining pleasure. As a matter of fact we'll be posting some tasty bits on the new Harley Switchback (didn't you read about that model here first, months ago, oh yes you did!), and our latest Sturgis adventure. You didn't think we'd pass up a chance to ride the Black Hills do ya!?

We're back baby, we are back!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

2012 Switchback, Harley's New "Sport Touring" Machine To Hit The Road

Move over Drudge Report, Chrome Asylum done scooped the Powersport Media. Not a particularly difficult task, I'll grant, but nonetheless, way back on May 20th we posted an article in which we speculated that based on rumblings coming out of Harley's KC plant, as well as, off the record tips from some well placed sources that Harley was fixing to introduce a new "sport touring" machine based on Dyna rolling stock.

Well sir, some snooping on the CARB website last week (thanks Ryan) revealed that the "Swtichback", a "new model" for 2012,  had been approved for sale in California. At the moment that's all we have to go on, as photos of the actual machine are about as scarce as green jobs. We'll surely keep our eyes peeled. But rest assured the Switchback is our white whale, the one truly new machine in the line-up.

In other Motor Company related news, industry insiders are telling Chrome Asylum that Harley is once again applying the screws to dealers across the country to update their stores. Can you say "great timing" Milwaukee!? It's not like unit sales haven't been slammed for the last couple of years, with many dealers only now seeing modest increases in year over year sales. And trust me, when HD "suggests" that a dealer remodel/upgrade, it's a lot like the IRS "suggesting" you pay your taxes. Best get with the program bub, or you'll find your franchise pulled faster than you can say "you're fired!"

So what's the deal here? Speculation is that Harley wants to further cull the herd and this is one way of dropping the weak. It's no secret that the Motor Company still feels the dealer network is a little too "fat", and word on the street is So Cal is a prime target for some big time thinning. Stay tuned fellow Chromies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Flirting With Disaster, The Dangers of 21in Front Tire Conversions

I think I've just learned something that probably everyone that's passed journalism 101 already knows (pretty obvious who's had no formal journalistic training huh? Damn.), and it's this; when no one will talk to you about a story, it's probably a damn good story. And trust me, I couldn't get a peep from any of the players I sought out for an interview, I'd probably have better luck getting Anthony Weiner to guest lecture a photography class at the local junior college. OK, not true, that pathetic bastard would no doubt jump at the chance. But you gotta hand it to the powersports crowd, they can play it close to the vest and stay mum, good qualities in a friend and a bookie, but really frustrating when you're trying to get to the bottom of an issue.

Gotta admit, looks pretty cool
And that issue is? Nothing major, or so I thought, I just wanted to know what the tire folks thought about all those 21 inch conversions that are so smokin' in custom circles these days. Specifically the conversion of FLH model Harley's (which depending on year are typically shod with a 16" or 17" front hoop) from their stock configuration to 21" tires and rims. You see them everywhere, it has to be one of the top five trends in bagger customization, maybe top three. And in many cases, from a design aesthetic point of view, the conversions work well, giving the entire machine a more menacing and aggressive profile. I kinda like the look. Hell, there might have been a brief instant, fueled by more Jack and Coke than common sense, that I may have toyed with the notion for my beloved Paint Shaker. There was just one thing wrong, I knew better, see it's not about "the look", it's about the numbers. And the numbers don't add up.

For the sake of familiarity, we'll use Paint Shaker (my 2006 Harley FLHRCI) as a reference point (from '09 FLH's have 17" fronts). The '06 Road King slid off the factory line sporting Dunlop 402's; specifically an MT90B16 up front, and an MU85B16 bringing up the rear. As for maximum load, the rear is rated at 908lbs at 40lbs of pressure, while the front is rated at 783lbs at 40lbs of pressure. So far, so good. Until you begin to look for your 21" replacement for that MT90B16 that is. Now is when things really get dicey, staying with Dunlop (and why not, they make the best tires on the planet, and are OE fitment on most Harley's, so they know what's up) we'll search for our 21" inch front.

Can you imagine cleaning that wheel?
Uh oh. This isn't good. Try as I might, I couldn't find a 21 incher with a maximum load rating above 467lbs at 40lbs of pressure. That's a whopping 40% drop in max capacity. No matter how you slice it, that's significant, and in the wrong direction. Didn't matter what brand, the 21's just weren't up to the job. So I started reaching out to my friends in the tire business to get their take on the relative safety of converting an FLH to a 21" front end, just what did they think? Crickets was all I got. As you can imagine, after 20 plus years in the industry working at a retailer that at one point sold more motorcycle tires nationally than anyone, I knew just who to talk to, the folks with the answers. Trouble was, none of them was willing, or more to the point, able to talk "on the record" about the issue of 21" conversions. Not Dunlop, not Metzeler, not Michelin. Nobody. Nada. Nicht. Zilch. The fact is, liability and scum sucking accident attorney's have made cowards of us all. These guys couldn't talk, and I don't blame them, in their positions I wouldn't either.

Here's the deal, all of the manufacturers are paranoid beyond belief; we already know the 21's aren't load rated for the baggers they're getting thrown on, but that's not all. Check out any Harley forum, say or and search around and you'll find horror stories of ill-handling bikes, owners one step away from a 5150 holding order, all because they fitted up a 21" tire, and they can't get their bikes to smooth out at anything above a walking pace. Think we might have screwed up the steering geometry Ace!? The cold hard facts are, Harley-Davidson and the tire companies (mostly Dunlop) spend countless hours and boat loads of dough ensuring that your bagger handles like Valentino was at the helm no matter what. Huge downpour? No big deal. Massive crosswind? Hardly even notice it. Rain grooves? Who cares. Board scraping cornering antics? Bring it on! In all but the most extreme situations, your badass bagger will be as well behaved as church deacon. That is if you leave it as God and the Motor Company intended. And yeah, the Motor Company wouldn't talk to me either.

Not gonna stop like a stock rig, no way
Start monkeying with steering geometry, things like rake and trail (I know you've seen those terms in the magazines, don't have a clue huh? Don't lie, most of us don't either) and unless you're some sort of suspension guru, and we know we're not, chances are trouble is just around the corner. Nine times out of ten, you're just gonna f##k it up. And until you get it sorted, the chances that you're gonna end up on your noodle are pretty good.......or not good, you get the idea. Oh, did I mention braking? Yeah, it just keeps getting better. No doubt in those very same magazines that bored you to tears with rants about the aforementioned "rake" and "trail", you might have run across the term "contact patch", it's where the rubber literally meets the road. Well sir, the contact patch on a 21" inch hoop is significantly smaller than its 16" and 17" cousins. Less patch, less grip, all things equal. This means when you need to get the beast whoa'd up in a hurry, you'll have reduced braking capacity because you've got fewer square inches of rubber "interfacing" with the blacktop. See how that might not be great? Hello Subaru.

So what's the deal, should we bag the idea of 21's on our baggers? And if so, what about customizing in general? It's our position at Chrome Asylum that you should be free to do whatever the hell you want to when it comes to modifying/customizing your ride. Period. My bucket list ride is a Sucker Punch Sally's bobber with no front brake, suicide shifter, and an open primary belt, hardly a model of NHTSA restraint and propriety. And I don't want some nanny fascist to tell me I can't have it. Just do your homework and keep your eyes open. But remember, with that freedom comes the responsibility to live with whatever consequences rear their homely heads because of the idiocy you inspired. In short, live with it. Own it, and don't sue! Don't sue anyone, they didn't hold a gun to your puppy's head and demand you fit up that 21. It was your call, if you get screwed up because of it, oh well, better luck after rehab. But sadly, that ain't the world we live in.

The fact is; the tire guys, HD (if I may be so bold), wheel manufacturers, OE dealers, independent shops and everyone else that could be bundled into a lawsuit are probably dealing with the fallout from 21" conversions as you read this. Do you really think they're aren't pending suits, please. Something tells me that ongoing litigation is the primary reason for the lack of conversation coming from the industry on this issue.

So if you still wanna slap that 21 incher under your bagger, it's totally up to you. Just know that you've surely compromised the handling, maximum load capacity and the braking performance of your motorcycle. A machine, it might be worth noting that's more likely to be overloaded and ridden two-up than its smaller, less touring oriented cousins. Your call, your risk. And if things turn to doo-doo, just remember who's idea it was. As for me? I think I'll chill and see what the Motor Company comes up with, at least I know it'll work.

Monday, June 13, 2011 that Chinese for "poor quality"?

My old dogeared Webster paperback (yes an actual dictionary) defines "Panacea" as follows, "...n. a supposed cure for all problems". Uh ha. I'm thinking the good folks at Kuryakyn might want to go back to the drawing board when it comes to applying that moniker to their "trick" LED taillight/turn signal combo unit. I'm not sure what exactly it's curing, if anything; as mine's pretty much crapped out, after a lengthy seven whole months of service on Paint Shaker, my trusty '06 FLHRCI. I know, I know, what did I expect, that it would last forever!?

Panacea system has multiple modes, great when they work
Maybe I was asking too much, especially in light of my past experiences with "Big K's" offerings (more on that later), but the thought of bolting on a state of the art LED lighting unit, one that included a "blue dot"  (you hot rodders know what I'm talking about) and a retina searing taillight/turn signal brake light combo system that would up the odds that I would avoid the joy of an Escalade enema at the hands of Molly Multitasker, super soccer mom, was simply too much to resist. There's only one small problem. The build quality of the Panacea is so poor, that you really can't trust that its actually working. It's one thing if you can't depend on your brother-in-law, it's quite another if your brake light system takes an occasional, and altogether arbitrary powder. It could ruin your whole day.

And really, there's no excuse for it, electronics these days, at least quality stuff, is essentially bullet proof. If it works out of the box, you're good to go for years. There's simply no reason that I'm stuck taking my bike back to my dealer to deduce the failure. I'm lucky, I can roll my ride to McGuire's, and I know they'll sort it out right the first time, but many folks aren't as fortunate to have trusted mechanical help so close at hand, And regardless, it's still a needless expense and hassle. I've already paid for the light once, thank you very much. 

So what you say, stuff fails all the time (Con-gress comes to mind) cut Kuryakyn some slack! Really? See, you might be right if this was an isolated incident, but it unfortunately this isn't my first rodeo with the metallic robot chick (you'll just have to trust me on that one). The Panacea lights are strike three.

Strike one on the Kuryakyn trail of tears (tortured metaphor, or brilliant turn of phrase, hmmmm!?) was a set of mirrors I bought for the CVO Springer. The design was clean and trick, which is just how they suck you in, and I thought they'd make a nifty upgrade from the rather vanilla stock units. Installation was pretty straight forward, no real issues. After a quick adjustment, off for a quick test ride. Everything was groovy, or so I thought. Sadly, it seemed that whenever the mph's exceeded 65, said mirrors would fold inward about 90 degrees, making it just a touch difficult to employ the rearviews as they were intended. Damn. Rode back to the garage, removed the mirrors, took them apart and tightened the "set" screw, as per the instructions. Back out on the road, and... Same result, folded like a busted john in Vegas. Working in the industry meant that returning defective product was no big deal, I didn't have to actually do the "dirty work" and the offending manufacturer always took the stuff back. I tried one more time with a fresh set of mirrors. You know what happened, so I won't even bore you. I will say the new HD units look great and work just dandy.

Strike two also involved the CVO Springer, this time in the form of a trick Kuryakyn axle mounted, curved license plate frame. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right!? Flaking chrome for starters, right around the mounting screw holes. And if that weren't enough, the exposed areas quickly rusted!! This on a bike that's never seen rain, I mean it doesn't get wet when I clean the damn thing! It's my hot rod, my deuce coupe, it's pretty pampered. Well except for its crappy, rusted out license plate frame. Honestly.

So there it is, three Kuryakyn products, three pieces of crap. Baseball, life, California criminal code....whatever, no more chances. At least not from this jaded burn victim. It's sad enough that virtually nothing in the Kuryakyn catalog is made domestically, that's just a fact of life (one that we best be changing over the long haul), and many of their designs are truly well done, it's that their willingness to source quality factories in the workers paradise of the Peoples Republic is practically non-existent. The fact is, there are well made goods coming out of China, quality stuff, that performs exactly as advertised. The fact that Kuryakyn is unable, or unwilling to employ these factories is obvious and unforgivable. Too bad, I really wanna like their stuff.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wonder Wizards Wows!

 Let's face it, it's a rare moment these days when one is fortunate enough to stumble across a product that actually lives up to its self-imposed hype, and rarer still when said widget, gadget, or elixir exceeds our decidedly low-bar expectations. Your humble scribe is delighted to report that we've found such a wonderware; Wizards "Mist-n-Shine" for motorcycles.

This stuff is the bomb-diddy, and trust me, I've tried 'em all, or nearly all. Prior to my polishing epiphany, I'd been pretty set on Griot's Garage's Speed Shine. It worked reasonably well, cleaned up the light stuff, was easy on the finish, left a shine, and if you worked at it didn't streak too badly. Sadly, similar offerings form Mother's and Mequiar's were utterly useless. I swear the Mequiar's swill actually had "swirl inducers" added to the formula. No matter what I used, microfiber, diaper, 100% cotton towel, the stuff just fogged up and left a trail of streaks. The Mother's spray shine was equally disappointing. Don't bother.

Truth be told, I would have remained blissfully unaware of Wizards "Mist-n-Shine" were it not for me complaining about not having any spray polish handy (remember, Griot's Garage is mailorder/on-line only) and Dave (parts expert at McGuire HD, suggesting that I give Wizards a test ride. Why not, if it sucked, I'd just add it to the growing pile of cast off cleaners.

For about fifteen bucks you get 22fl oz of polishing power
But it didn't suck, nope, not at all. The first thing you'll notice is that the stuff goes on easy (OK, not exactly true, you'll be struck by the the odor from the very first squirt; very sweet, kinda nice actually), and comes off even easier. No streaking whatsoever!! No cloudy swirls, no white residue in the corners or on the rubber strips. It's really pretty amazing. And so is the shine, a deep, high gloss luster that you'd only expect to get with a hell of a lot more effort and a can of paste wax. It shouldn't be this easy.

I've cleaned both bikes with the stuff (Road King Classic and the CVO Springer) and the results are nothing short of astounding. Wizards even work on chrome, which as we all know, can be pretty unforgiving in terms of streaking. No worries, just spray and rub. A microfiber cloth works best when it comes to the rubbing part.

What Wizards won't do. If you've just rolled in from your annual Sturgis run caked in miles of road grime, oil, and bugs, better opt for the stronger stuff first (powerwasher, liquid soap, the neighbors kid); "Mist-n-Shine" isn't designed to be a heavy-duty cleaner, but rather as the label says, to give offer up a "quick dust, safely removing light bugs (whatever those are?!), mild road grime, and light water spotting (I'm detecting a theme here), giving your bike that just-waxed slippery feel and wet look." That it does in spades. Same goes for your chrome bits, if it's basically good, just a little dirty, Wizards is perfect. But if your shiny stuff's got a little pitting or serious dulling going on, best to break out the chrome polish and elbow grease. Save the Wizards for a quick touch up.

OK, we've waxed on about this spray on wax long enough. Next time you're in need of a quick wax job that'll leave you with that slippery feel and wet look, gaze no further than Wizards "Mist-n-Shine", it really does work like magic.....would we have employed such an utterly shameless cliche' if it didn't!?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pardon Me, Is That A F**ker Fender Sticker On Your Fender?!

I'll admit it, I swear. Nothing to make a lumberjack plush, and no where near to the level and intensity of the average high school cheerleader, but unfortunately on an almost a daily basis there's at least a few instances where expletives have crossed these lips that perhaps should have been "deleted". And I know better. I don't swear because I'm not sufficiently armed with at least a passable functioning vocabulary, nor do I feel compelled to weave a blue mosaic of profanity at every available opportunity the day presents me to engage in speech; like say for instance, ordering a Double Double at the In-N-Out drive through. No sir, I'm fairly selective as to the when, where and why of my verbal assaults. Mom raised me right. Context is key, and there are simply some moments that no matter how compelled to "let it fly" one might be, that restraint is the order of the and the bosses office come to mind. There are of course others.

That said, there are some moments when nothing but a good four letter filled primal blast will do. Think hammer and thumb interface, "reply all", or perhaps after receiving an IRS notification of audit. A mere "golly gosh" or "darn it" just won't deliver the necessary emotionally satisfying after-glow of the rat-a-tat-tat of a staccato string of profanity. Nope, swearing satisfies the soul. At least for the moment, and apparently, for a lot of us, that's just long enough. Given my aforementioned "context rule" I also refrain from wearing stuff that contains really vile verbiage...unless of course it's super funny. Sometimes wit just has to trump propriety, sometimes. But for the most part, I don't sport profane utterances on my person.
See what I mean, scratch was dead center

So why is there a f**ker sticker on the rear fender of my Harley Road King (aka "Paint Shaker") in plain sight for all to ogle no less? Fair question fellow Chromie, fair question. It all started with a painful moment, as do most of life's truly memorable lessons. Remember when that grizzled old biker told you never to polish your machine (stop smirking, damn you!) while wearing any sort of metal on your wrists or hands? You know, watches, rings, bracelets and the like? Well, it's not for nothing that the old bastard felt compelled to part with that little nugget. It was advice I should have heeded.

Fast forward to a balmy summer evening in B-Hood about a year ago; me in my garage, lovingly applying another coat of wax to the vivid black of the Road King's metal work. With each successive pass Paint Shaker was even more resplendent under the neon of the garage lights. Like a true Zen master, I was losing myself in the process, when in the blink of a gnat's eye, SCRRRRAAAAATTTCH!!! One momentary lapse in hand/eye coordination and the ring I shouldn't have been wearing in the first place cut a "to the metal" gash right in the middle of the Harley's rear fender. Yes, it was one of "those" moments....Motherf**ker!!!! Sorry kids, that's how it went down.

After another ten minutes of even more creative venting, I set about trying to craft a workable solution. I mean this divot was right on top of the fender, there wasn't a more visible place on the bike. Great. Touch up paint was out of the question, it would only end up looking like some black wort on the surface of the steel, and removing the entire fender to be repainted, while the most elegant of fixes, seemed a bit excessive, not to mention expensive. Plus, I didn't want to have to recount my obvious stupidity to total strangers. Nah, there had to be a better way.

Enter the sticker drawer. Every motorcyclist worth his weight in Red Line has a massive stickie collection stashed somewhere in the garage, it's like a commandment or something. I would see what I had, maybe there was an appropriate "cover up" lurking in my tool box. Maybe not. First off, I'm not real keen on putting stickers on my bikes, of any kind. And if I do, they have to have some deeper meaning to me beyond the mere pimping of my allegiance to some nifty product that may or may not actually be on the bike, or me. For instance I do have a Richmond HA support stickie on my oil cooler, they're good guys and I've worked with them on a number of events, that makes sense to me. On the inside top lid of one of my saddle bags are some stickers we collected on the '08 ride to Sturgis, massive sentimental value, also not visible to the general public. No this fender stickie would have to be special; right size, right design, right meaning.
Not too big, not too small, just right

And then it hit me, the Fender sticker!! Well not an actual "Fender" sticker, but the "F**ker" sticker that looked like a "Fender" sticker, it was perfect! You're not following are you? Let me explain. See there's this guy that goes to a lot of the big rally's on the west coast, he sells mostly Motor Cult clothes, but he also deals in assorted trinkets including stickers. One stickie in particular caught my eye a few years back at an Easy Rider show in Sacramento. It was only a couple of inches long and looked just like the Fender guitar logo, except for one tiny difference, it actual read "F**ker". Too damn cool.

But don't the Fender people frown on you selling these gems I asked (I know a thing or two about trademark law, and these little bad boys were clearly violating multiple statutes)? "Not at all", said the booth's owner, as a matter of fact, he'd sold a number of the F'rs to actual Fender employees (obviously none from the legal department). Crazy. I asked him what was the inspiration for the stickie in the first place. This is good.

Seems our hero was an amateur musician of sorts, a guitar player to be exact that had a preference for Fender's best. At some point in his career he was lucky enough (so he claimed) to have a photograph of him playing said brand of guitar published in a Fender print ad. As you can imagine he was stoked, as would any aspiring unknown. Months passed, a new guitar was needed, and said artist decided he'd contact Fender to see if he could get a discount on a new instrument. Not free mind you, just a discount greater than he could score at say, Guitar Center. Seemed reasonable, after all they used his image with zero compensation. Sadly the answer came back, "have you tried Guitar Center?" Our man was pissed. Not enough to stop using the guitars, but enough to send a message. Hence the "F**ker" stickers in the likeness of the actual Fender logo. Proving yet again that hell has no fury like someone who feel jobbed by the man. He replaced every actual Fender sticker on his guitars with the new and improved version, and viola! a legend was born. Or something like that.

Needless to say, I had no choice, once I spied the stickie in my drawer, done deal. It was the right size, conveyed just the right emotion, and was stylized enough that the casual observer could assume I was just another music lover expressing my affinity for a storied brand. Or they could look closer...hey, that sticker says.......I'll be damned. And best of all, I don't think mom would wash my mouth out with soap. Then again, she hasn't actually seen the sticker. We better keep this to ourselves.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Harley's XR1200, Yeah It's A Real Sportbike

Regular visitors of the Asylum will already know that we're pretty smitten with Harley's XR, and what's not to love; the pile has the aggressive styling cues of a badass flat tracker coupled with enough motor, brakes and handling to be an utter blast (opps, unfortunate unintentional Buell reference, RIP) to ride. And when you get right down to it, as far as motorbikes are concerned, if it ain't puttin' a grin on your melon, it probably isn't worth the monthly payment.

Ryan thought Bear Creek road would be perfect, he was right
Gotta confess though, this is a bit of a "good news", "bad news" story. Sort of. We weren't able to wrap our oily mitts around the new 2011 XR-1200X, but rather we had to "settle" for it's predecessor, a 2010 XR (once again Ryan and the crew at McGuire Harley Davidson ( were kind enough to entrust me with one of their bikes, they may not employ sound judgement as far as who they let ride their bikes, but they run the best HD dealership on the planet). Trust me, this isn't a huge issue, we have zero doubt that "the '10" is every bit as capable and fun to point and shoot as its younger upstart sibling. Let's start with the differences shall we?

The main dif between the '10 and the '11 comes down to suspension components, with the newer machine bolting on fully adjustable lightweight Showa forks up front with a pair of adjustable nitrogen charged "piggyback" Showa's out back, the later being a visual shout-out to the '80's, hey it was good enough back then...Other than that, you've got a sexy wrinkle (there's a visual that'll scar you) black finish on the motor, orange pin stripe on the rims, and two color options for the bike (white hot denim or black denim) rounding out the XR1200X's enhancements. As you can see, not a ton of difference.

Don't get me wrong, the idea of being able to completely destroy a bikes inherent handling capabilities all by myself has a really strong appeal, after all, why leave so personal a thing to mere strangers in some far away factory, or local dealership? Come on, you know it's true, you can't tune a sportbike's suspension either. Other than maybe setting ride height, or "sag", and maybe, just maybe rebound, you're as lost as the rest of us as you click away in hopes of divining the perfect "race" set up. Not gonna happen Sunshine. The truth is, we'll fiddle with the settings once before the first ride, and providing we survive, we're done, moving on, fascination with suspension adjustability gone. Some things are better left to the pros. Follow the manual, leave the damn thing alone and just ride the thing.

The XR's signature oil cooled motor
And riding the damn thing is what the XR is all about. Ponder; its got a 1200cc mill with Buell performance cams (one of the things they did right), super beefy crank pins, it revs to seven grand, and the whole package is tougher than a two dollar steak. Now that's a recipe for some serious fun. The first thing you'll notice when you throw a leg over the beast is it's kinda tall. Not crazy BMW GS tall, but significantly more vertically inclined than say, your average Heritage Softail. You'll notice, trust me. The second thing you'll discover is that you can't find the footpegs. They're there alright, just not where you'd expect them. These babies are up high and back, I think the one-piece leather crowd calls 'em "rearsets", at least that's what I'm told. Not to worry, twenty minutes in and most of those episodes of stabbing at thin air desperately trying to find the pegs after taking off from a light will be but a distant embarrassment. Did I mention the pegs are high? I really picked a bad time to quit my low impact yoga class. Cramps!!

The stock exhaust looks good, and sounds pretty decent too
The XR is narrow at the waist, with wide, flat bars, not unlike that dirt bike gathering dust in your garage. And just like any good off-road machine the XR is nimble and willing accomplice when it comes to hustling its way through the twisty bits. Sure the sporty Sporty tips the Toledos at over 580 pounds, but it hides its heft well. Even under braking, the four piston calipers haul the Harley down from scary to sane with no drama and a constant, progressive feel. This is the first Harley I've ever ridden that I didn't feel compelled to upgrade the binders, they're that good. No doubt part of that confidence comes from the fact that the bike is shod with very trick Dunlop D209's (18" front, 17" rear). It's no secret that Dunlop works very closely with the Motor Company developing OE hoops for most of the line-up, and they knocked it out of the park with the tire combo on the XR. Perfect.

I have to confess that my 2010 model was a tad "divey" under hard braking, but I'm sure that's much less an issue with the fully adjustable forks on the '11 version, assuming, as we know, we don't botch our settings. The five speed transmission is fully up to the task with smooth and positive shifts every time. You've got to try to blow a shift, it's that good. Given the gearing we're thinking that not having a sixth gear is really no big deal, five is fine. My bike was equipped with a 13" quick release supersport windscreen, very handy for deflecting wind blast over your helmet (I'm 6'2") with a minimum of buffeting. The shorter 11" screen looks better, but if you're a practical sort, opt for the taller of the two. In an effort to enhance the XR's appeal as a sport tourer HD offers a complete line of luggage (we were pimping the optional sport saddlebags), that includes a tailpack and tank bag. OK, if the 3.5 gallon tank and kinda cramped ergonomics haven't sufficiently dissuaded you from doing the Hoka Hey on this beast, the combined capacity of all the aforementioned luggage isn't up to the average third graders book bag. Not a touring machine, OK?

OK Jim, I want one just like this
Is the XR fast? Uh, well, that depends. It ain't squash your orbs in the back of your noddle Diavel fast if that's what you mean. Simply put, the XR's objective numbers just aren't gonna impress your average local track day hero. The oil cooled 1200 is pumping out, at best, 75 to 80 horsepower at the rear wheel. Yawn. And with a top speed somewhere in the range of 125 (I think most 600's will see that number in third gear) the dyno chart crowd will merely sniff dismissively and move on. Big mistake.

While the spec sheet tells one story, actually riding the XR conveys quite another. This bike "feels" quick for lack of more poetic prose. The available torque (always an HD strong suit) and decent horsepower allow the Sporty to "punch above its weight". All the sensations are there, lean angle, throttle response, sheer grunt off the corners and more than competent brakes when you demand them. Add it all up, and you've got one hell of a sport bike, numbers be damned. You're gonna think you're Rayborn or Rapp when you put the jiffy stand down at the end of the day. And isn't that what it's really all about? Any bike that can delude me through its overall performance into thinking I'm a better rider than I truly am has got to be one incredible machine, and the XR delivers on that score.

Now that's a sexy rearend!
Verdict? I wanted one after the first ride, I want one way more after the second. It's what I crave in a sport bike; good power, handling and braking that makes me want to push it, within my limits, knowing that the bikes limits aren't gonna bite me. It's got enough of everything I need to have fun, a lot of fun. And for me, that old school, bad ass flat track inspired design is one of a kind cool, no one else has it. No cookie cutter, computer conspired design here, the XR's got soul, in spades.

And if I wanted to go just a little bit faster, well I've got a little plan for that. See, if I'm lucky enough to score one of these hot rods, I'm gonna send it off to my good buddy Jim Leonard at Vance & Hines for a little "workout". Since Jim and crew are the guys behind those wicked XR's tearing it up in the AMA XR1200 series, I figure they know just what to do to make a good thing even better, I'm just saying....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Milwaukee Shocker, HD To Produce A Sport Touring Model!

An exclusive Chrome Asylum source that's very close to the Motor Company has indicated to us that there's a very high probability that a wholly new HD model will be announced at this years summer dealer show. Details are sketchy, but all indications are that this new machine will be a full on "sport-tourer". My guy says imagine something more or less "between" an FLH and a Dyna and we should be on the right track.

The as yet unveiled Harley will most likely be lovingly crafted at the KC plant which makes the repeated spying of a V-Rod powered Road Glide test mules in the area all the more interesting. Could this new mystery machine indeed be the Motor Company's long awaited foray into liquid cooling (knock it off, we all know the V-Rod doesn't count, stow it)? Or will this new tasty tourer be a test bed for a trick oil pumper to be employed on future generations of the venerable big twins? Doesn't look like we'll have to wait long for an answer.

While none of this can be independently confirmed, because let's face it, the Motor Company is pretty good at dummying up about future model releases, it still makes total sense. Short of the Blackline Softail, a smattering of "BLG" updates (bold new graphics), and my beloved XR1200X (which apparently none of you cretins is actually buying) there hasn't been a ton of knock your jock in the dirt innovation and excitement coming out of the gates of York or KC for a more than a few years now. Understandable, there's been this whole recession thing pissing on every ones party; no doubt any appetite for investment in new models has been fairly well squashed. Nothing says hunker in the bunker like plummeting sales and stock values (not to mention executive bonuses!). HD was wisely sticking it out with what they had on hand. Smart.

But not any more. It's time to sack up and get back into the game, and the gang in Milwaukee knows it. With the other OE's barely climbing out of their stupefyingly comprehensive self induced market "coma" (hey guys, we're still here, give us a reason to trudge on down to your showroom will ya!), and Victory digests its recent purchase of Indian, the moment is perfect for the Motor Company to suck all the oxygen from their competitors in 2012 and make the leap. Question is, will they do it?

Guess we're all gonna have to stay tuned for the answer to that last one...........I all the inmates at the Asylum are riveted. As they said in the days when the mass in media really mattered, "...stay tuned for further developments, film at eleven". 

Monday, May 9, 2011

2012 Motor Company Musings

Hard to believe it's already that time of year, hell the new season of the Real Housewives of the OC as hardly even gotten underway (don't even tell me that Tamra isn't the hottest mommy in all the land...yeah, you know it's true), and here we are breathlessly awaiting tawdry details of Harley's 2012 line-up. Like you, we want to know what's happening behind the scenes; the drama, the dumbass blunders, the stuff we're not supposed to know. In short, the good stuff. That said, we're gonna leave the "bold new graphics" story lines for what passes for investigative journalism in the powersports media and dive straight into rumor and speculation, kinda like the New York Times would handle, oh say, stories about Iraq or the deficit. Time to dig Chromies.

And just what  has the Asylum unearthed in its relentless pursuit of tasty tidbits of truth?  Please. Like I've got a bug in Willy G's office, although did I mention that I applied for work in the CIA as a lad? (true story, check the archives, stay sharp!).... If you were expecting some TMZ worthy rumors, perhaps a spy pic, or some inside dope obtained by nefarious means; a lifted thumb drive handed over in a seedy strip bar at 2am, the sweat of a disgruntled HD engineer still clinging to the casing, keep smokin'. Basically what I got you could find on the web, if you rooted around long enough, and knew where to look. Hardly "off the record", Deep Throat (Watergate you perv's), background kind of intel. No Pulitzer here fellow Chromies, not that we'd except the damn thing anyway. But news we have found nonetheless.

First, what we think we know that we know (bonus "Rumsfled", ain't gonna get that at American Iron!). Looks like there's a strong possibility that radio equipped FLH models maybe delivered sans the actual receivers. Seems the recent unpleasantness in Japan has put a hitch in the get-along when it comes to HD's boom boxes, lack of internal circuitry components. Even units assembled right here in the good old US of A contain a fair amount of "foreign content", shocker. Seems there's no domestic source for tunes. Really!? There's no Radio Shack's in York and KC!? Hell, when I was in ninth grade I built a crystal radio, you'd think the Motor Company brain trust could come up with a better solution than a gift card and a face plate. Does this seem like leveraging HD's core competencies in order to develop an acceptable interim solution to ensure customer's uninterrupted audio connectivity to Kenny G's greatest hits to you? Biz bonus bingo speak aside, come on guys, kinda lame.

Continuing with how events in Japan are putting the hurt on Milwaukee, it looks like a shortage of paint pigments is threatening to derail some of HD's hottest color choices. One of my favorites, "Sedona Orange" is most likely gonna be off the color charts this year, with other hues sure to be replaced. Again, is PPG or Dupont not able to offer up some acceptable substitutes here? Even if we have to bust out of our long term pigment sourcing budget, it would seem worth eating some margin points to ensure we've got just the right paint/graphic combinations...we've heard that color is kind of a critical branch on the old decision tree when folks are choosing their future rides. As much as "true believers" dig black (there really is no other option for the pure of heart) there are those unenlightened souls that demand some options when it comes to colors, let's not give them an excuse not to buy. I'm just saying, it's not 2003 for gripes sake.

The big news for 2012 would have to be water cooling, if the Motor Company were actually going to introduce it this year. Not gonna happen. April Fools rumors, and the odd sighting of a V-Rod powered Road Glide in Kansas City aside, we just don't see it for '12. If the entire touring line were to make the transition to H2O we're thinking there'd be a lot more "chatter" about the switch by this late date. Nah, there's still more development to be done, this is one HD cannot afford to get wrong. It's not that the great unwashed won't accept a wet powerplant from Milwaukee, it's that the Motor Company has to get the aesthetic just right. As a matter of fact, reading the forums as we do there's not the rabid pitchfork and torches response to the mere mention of a water cooled Harley, certainly not like there might have been five to ten years ago. But getting it right means no lame ass, ugly, "barn door" radiators, ala the V-Rod. Nope, they've got to be integrated between the frame downtubes and for all intents and purposes, invisible. If they end up looking like Will Smiths ears, it's a no sale. And just for old times sake, maybe we leave a couple of air cooled offerings in the line-up for us oldsters, at least as long as the Fascists at the EPA will allow.

With the entire FLH line going to 103cu in motors for 2012 (great idea by the way, the 103 is responsive and gives the touring rigs much needed grunt, not enough so the Motor Company would be tempted to actually divulge horsepower figures, we're not there yet, but a major step in the right direction, good on 'em) we're thinking there's gonna be pressure to up the displacement of the top of the line CVO Screamin' Eagle bikes. The 110 motor is simply to close to the now "standard" 103, look for a 120cu in lump in the near future. I know, I know, but we have faith that HD's engineering elves will overcome the inherent reliability issues and develop a perfectly acceptable powerplant, they're a crafty lot. And speaking of CVO machines, time for a really sinister, blacked out, no chrome, club inspired Dyna to make the lineup. The time and vibe is right, and throw in the tallest set of apes the lawyers will allow. Oh yeah!

And who says we gotta jump into water pumpers anyway? Remember the original GSX-R's, oil cooled my friends, and they were the bomb (bomb meaning good, not bomb as in grenade, which for those of you new to the industry, and you know who you are, would be bad when referring to a motor, got that?). Given oil coolings success in a high performance, racing application, adapting the technology for Harley's seems a no brainer. And while I'm no tech head (knock it off NG!), this seems like a potentially perfect interim solution when it comes to complying with ever tightening emissions restrictions. Just so ya know this theory isn't just the wishful ramblings of a guy that got a "B" in auto shop, folks I know at a company that does a ton of development work for Harley related products (it's a real drag that I can't tell you who they are) say it's a perfectly plausible answer. So there. And the real bonus of oil cooling, it gives the Motor Company some additional time to dope out the absolute best water cooling solution, because in the end, we're all gonna get wet. Has to be. Sucks, but that's progress, guess we can console ourselves with the massive gains in horsepower our new motors will be pumping out. See, mom was right, there's always a bright side.

Lastly, while we really love the new XR-1200, it seems that most of you do not, they're not exactly flying out of the showrooms of late. Too bad, they are stupid fun to ride, look great, and until HD comes up with a "fill" for the void left for the sporting few with the demise of Buell, it's the only "high performance" stud in the stable. Alas, we fear that when the AMA XR series fades (and we hope that it won't) the XR will be no more. That would be a shame. And while no one really noticed, 2012 will be a year in which HD will not offer a single springer model. OK, no one noticed, and no one cares, I get it. But folks would care, indeed they would buy a $9,500 Dyna! Come on HD, we've asked you before, and we're pleading again, you need to offer a big displacement machine for under ten grand. Want younger demo riders? You don't need yet another Sporty variant, you need a grown up bike, with a price tag that works on a younger guy's wallet. You can do it, and you should.

We're pretty sure we've got some loyal Chromies that are in the employ of the Motor Company, and we'd like to let those folks know, the tip lines are open and manned 24/7, so if you're feelin' the need to set the record straight, or offer up some tasty insights, we're here. And no one needs to be the wiser, federal witness protection can't keep a secret better than the crew at the Asylum, we're a tomb. Got that? OK, holding our breath, starting now........

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Does Powersports Love Affair With Pakistan Fuel Terrorism?

Over the top title, yeah, maybe just a bit.  But in light of current events this topic has never been more relevant. Fact is, if you toil in the powersports industry, especially in the clothing segment, I'll bet that right this second you're feeling just a twinge of guilt and unease, kinda like right after leaving a strip club at 3am...again, alone. Why? Because you know the truth, that's why. I know it too. All too well. It's our dirty little "not so secret". And you're not gonna find any enthusiast website or magazine, at least any that survive by selling advertising, tackling this issue either. Not gonna happen. You'd have better luck finding Charlie Sheen at an AA meeting.

The issue is simply this, the vast majority of inexpensive (and in many cases now, not so inexpensive) leather products sold to motorcyclists are manufactured in Pakistan. From gloves to boots, vests to jackets, leather goods from Pakistan dominate the market. Attend any rally in America and start checking labels, I dare you to find a bovine skinned goody that doesn't trace its origins to that little piece of Islamic heaven. Hot Leathers, Renegade Classics, and countless other brands of motorcycle apparel you've known and bought for years, and many more you've never heard of, are nearly one hundred percent; "Made in Pakistan". Nothing says all American biker better than Paki leather. Or so it would seem.

Bet you've seen these guys at a rally or two
And it's not just rally vendors, oh no, if only it were. Many of the most successful low to mid priced leather brands sold by top powersports retailers are produced by Pakistani manufacturers. I speak from some level of first hand knowledge here. As the former CMO and VP of own brand development of one of the largest retailers in the industry, I was at the forefront of developing "authentic brands" that would find their "origin" in a Pakistani factory. You can trust me on this, I've been personally responsible for selling millions of dollars of Paki made leather to the American riding community for years. Sadly, there was almost never any question as to if a given leather good was going to be produced in Pakistan, the cost advantage was simply too great. we needed the margin, and the customer needed a bargain price point. You have to hand it to them, when it comes to leather, they know how to process and build the stuff cheap. I mean, they kicked the Chinese out of the low end market for gripes sake!

In that regard, hats off to them. That's how the free market system is supposed to work, the most efficient producers are the ones that should get the business. No exceptions. And Pakistan "wins" the low end market battle a majority of the time, regardless of how many corners they have to cut to do it. Oh sure, you might not want to be working in the warehouse when the boxes are unloaded, there's a very distinctive "odor" to Paki leather that takes a bit of time to dissipate (I've always surmised that the source of the nasty smell was perhaps their little "gift" to the infidels, just a thought), and yeah; fit, finish and build quality can vary greatly, but overall, if you don't look too closely they do a passable job. But that's not the point here, not really, it's the blind eye we are willing turn to certain countries; no matter how corrupt, despotic, or antithetical to American interests, just to get a cheaper "build cost".

Come on, Pakistan!? Oh I know, they're an "ally" in the war on terror, much like your local mobbed up loan shark is just a friendly neighborhood "financial advisor". Without a ninth grade civics flashback, we'll fact you up. Pakistan installed and supported the Taliban in Afghanistan (you remember those enlightened souls; honor killings, suicide bombings, no education for woman, and oh yeah, aid and comfort for some guys in a club called al Qaeda???). Ever heard the term "madrasah"? Think "hate factory" for up and coming martyrs, there's tons of them throughout Pakistan spewing venom on a daily basis, and oddly enough, the Paki government sees no cause to shut them down (most likely because they agree with the curriculum I would suspect). Oh, and the fact that the Pakistani government, and especially the ISI and army were no doubt complicit in harboring UBL (the mastermind behind the deadliest attack on US soil ever, and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide) tells your humble scribe that Pakistan is no real ally to the US, at least not in the sense that you and I understand it. Sure they've lost thousands of their own citizens and soldiers to terrorists...home grown Pakistani terrorist, folks inside and outside the government that so hate the west that they're willing to blow up their own people for not towing the militant line! Incredible.

Terrorists in training, maybe with your dollars
And that's the fly in the guacamole for me. I don't have anything against the people of Pakistan, well at least ones that don't fervently pray for the death of Satan America and all us western infidels on a daily basis. Over the years I've met some really fine folks from the middle east, honest business people that did exactly what they said they would, every time. So no, this isn't a "racist thing", it's an American interest thing. The Pakistani regime and unfortunately a majority of its people are not friends of the west. Facts are facts, look it up.

So what does that have to do with the powersports industry, and more to the point the supposition that the industry maybe fueling terrorism? It's pretty simple really, we support Pakistani businesses by buying their goods, those businesses then pay taxes, which in turn supports a government that actively and covertly works against the interests of the United States; A plus B equals C. Not to mention the fact that some of the very factory owners and employees of the companies we do business are actively contributing our dollars directly to terrorist organizations. And don't think that some aren't, they are and we know it. It's all just a bit ugly.

Do I think that the powersports industry is in any way actually supporting enemies of the United States? Of course not, I can't imagine a single company that would engage in such activity, no way. As a matter of fact, as a group, I'd say the people turning the knobs and pulling the levers in powersports are some of the finest business people on the planet. Period. If they're guilty of anything, it's their relentless drive to give the market what it demands. And yes, sometimes that pursuit leads to holding ones nose and engaging in strategies and tactics that mom might not ultimately be too proud of.

OK then, just who's responsible for our propensity for making a pact with the devil just to save a buck? Look in the mirror pal, just look in the mirror. It's us. It's not the powersports industry, they're just busting their collective asses trying to give us what we've told them we stuff. They're merely our enablers. We love our $29 vests, $49 chaps, and $99 jackets, we really do. And we don't care what the industry has to do to get us our fix. Faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper. Built in a country that hates the west, so what. Profits funneled to terrorist organizations that kill innocent people around the world, not my problem. How much are those boots again?

If we're gonna straighten this mess out, and frankly, I don't think enough of us really care at the moment, it's pretty easy. Don't buy products made in Pakistan, or other countries that are not friends of the US. Done, what could be simpler? Except most likely we'd have to be OK with spending more dough on our favorite goodies. What!? Blasphemy! So far we haven't actually been able to get over that hump, have we? Looks like for now we'll go on beating or chests about how nothing's made in America any more, we'll go on shipping our hard earned dollars off to shit-hole countries that abuse their own people while hating us and what we stand for. And we'll wring our hands in frustration when more innocents are blown to bits at a bus stop or a market somewhere in the world. But at least we'll still be able to continue to mainline cheap stuff, and in the end, that seems to be what it's really all about. Shame on us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

29th Annual Laughlin River Run...Blown In The Desert

Just got back from the Laughlin River Run, you remember lovely Laughlin Nevada, the penultimate stop on the Reno bound White Trash Express (easy now, for those of you that might take umbrage, know that I have "WT" stickies on all my lids, these are my people, and I'm proud), where playing the nickle slots can earn you high roller status and a VIP seat at the all you can eat buffet? Seriously, I really like Laughlin, OK, I really like the River Run. And they do put on one hell of a fun event in the apparently newly crowned "windy city". More on that later.

Pints Brewery and Sports Bar in the Colorado Belle offers up some yummy grub
Got into town on Thursday afternoon, came in on "the forty" (doesn't have the same ring as saying "the five" or "the one-ten" does it?). As rides go, at least if you're coming from nor Cal, it ain't that great, too much freeway, not enough twisty stuff. Total "dronercycle" action, that is until you get whacked with a 40 mph crosswind. That'll keep you from dozing off. Having said that, we're thinking 395 might be a better, more interesting, if not quicker route, and we're gonna give it a go next year. Folks coming in from Arizona and LA have some pretty nifty options though.

At first I was a bit bummed cruising down Casino Drive, as it seemed like the "bike count" was lookin' just a bit low, same story with the vendors. And I knew the numbers couldn't have been up from last year given the fact that I was able to add Friday night to my stay only the day prior, not good. But as the afternoon wore on, a steady stream of machines poured into town. It was starting to look up. After checking in at Harrah's, full props to the staff, they kept a very long line moving lively, Walt Disney would have been proud. I have to say the "No Colors" policy adopted by Harrah's and a number of the other hotels in town has me kinda curious (trust me, I "get it", liability is a cruel master). But does that include HOG members too? Couldn't get a straight answer, and I did see a few, ducking the security cameras in the halls, OK maybe not actually sneaking around, but you get the point. And what about clubs like Bikers for Christ? Doesn't seem like you'd wanna turn those folks away, does it? And many hotels don't, but it's still smart to confirm your hotels colors policy before ya book if you're in a club.

Nothing says "welcome" like this banner over the lobby entrance
One thing that's very cool about Laughlin is just about everything is corralled in about a one mile stretch of Casino Drive, and only on one side of the damn street, talk about convenient! Parking is cake, there's plenty, so no need to stress, and it's always free for bikes (pretty much true for cars too). Once the kickstand is down it's an easy, short walk to everything; vendors, food, bars, whatever. I don't know of another major rally in the states that is more "walk about" friendly. Nifty feature if you take your bar hopping seriously.

While it's tough to devine whether or not the vendor count was down from last year (which was down from the prior one), and I did notice a couple of my fav's were AWOL, I'd say it was most likely close to even, or slightly down. No matter, there were more than enough on hand to entice the coin from your pocket. And if you looked really hard, you could even find goodies lovingly crafted by that rarest of all artisans, the American. Yup, more US made leather, machined parts, and electronics seemed to find their way into the show this year. Still a too small number, but at least it's heading in the right direction.

Props to Victory and their demo ride program, now where exactly was HD?
Tons of "official" t-shirts were available on just about every street corner, so many versions in fact, it would take a Google Earth survey team to catalog them all. And just for the record, you guys that make all those rally shirts. News Flash! We notice when you use the same damn art for every freakin' rally; Street Vibe, Bike Week, Sturgis, Laughlin, etc.! Here's a plan, only use a specific (your call, don't care) piece of art for a specific event. It's not like you don't have enough to chose from. We travel, we have friends, they travel, and we all hate you when we're standing at some bar with shirts from four different events, all with the exact same "official" artwork. Stupid, stupid, stupid. There, feeling better.

For those of you that want to get a little more hands on, say wrapped around the throttle of a "new to you" machine, there were plenty of demo rides to be had. Victory, Kawasaki, and Yamaha (opps, Star, my bad) were there in force. And you gotta give them full props for setting up camp in the belly of the beast, I mean let's face it, we're talkin' about 95% Harley if we're doin' the segmentation dance at this little soiree. But ya know what? The demo lines were full up, everyday. No surprise there really, all us Chromies know that most HD folk are just riders, they flat love bikes, all kinds of bikes. Which brings me to a name that you might have noticed missing from the demo list...Harley Davidson.

This look was everywhere, and it looked good
OK, I just don't get it. How could the Motor Company not be "officially" in Laughlin? Tens of thousands of the faithful, and they take a powder. If Victory has the sand to spend the dough and show up, it's just shameful that Milwaukee figures it makes more sense to park the rig than to rub shoulders with its customers, aren't we worth just a little love? Do the math. Which is easier, converting a rider of another brand (who's most likely happy with his choice) to yours, that's Victory's tough task, or entice an existing customer with a newer offering from a brand they already love? I'm thinking the "Pepsi Challenge" of conversion rates is won by the Motor Company nearly every time in Laughlin. And maybe that's the problem, the bean counters just don't see the "ROI". Unit sales aside, what happened to flying the flag, touching the customer, getting valuable "one on one" feedback? Oh wait, The Southern California Harley Davidson Dealers Association was sponsoring the "Mother Road Harley Party", but you might have missed it, it was only 45 minutes out of town. If there was some other official HD event in town let me know. I really want to believe my beloved Harley wouldn't take all of us for granted, I really do. Kawasaki was there for God's sake! Arghh.

Speaking of motorcycles, had a long look at the new Victory High Ball, disappointing, and I'm bummed to be honest. I really wanted to like it, the photos were very promising. But up close the bike had an almost "too perfect" plastic like appearance, kinda like a full scale kids toy. And hanging around listening to others, your humble scribe isn't the only one with the same take on that bike. On the other hand, I don't think there's another "power cruiser" on the street with the style, muscle, and American hot rod vibe of the Hammer. That machine is flat bitchin', I'll take mine in black please. And credit where it's due, Kawi and Yamaha are really improving every year, bikes like the Stryker show what they can do when they keep it all simple. Nice job guys.

One very stealthy Street Glide...nice
Walking the various hotel parking lots (and really, how else are you gonna see what's cool and happening, if you're not looking?) there were truly a countless array of amazing machines. If you were looking for "trends" I'd say that blacked out, while not really new is still gaining followers. It ain't just rat bikes any more; dressers and full customs are going stealth, right down to their spokes. And it looks pretty damned good. More please. And here's something that just kind of jumped out at me, the combination of monster high apes and mile long fishtail pipes (on the same bike), it seemed like they were everywhere this year. Seriously, everywhere. What wasn't everywhere, thankfully, were those dopey, trailer queen, mile ten foot choppers that were on every dentists Christmas list five years ago. See, the recession hasn't been all bad. I wonder where those bikes go to die, hopefully China.

If people (Ok and bikes too) watching is your game, and you know it is, be honest now. There's no better spot on Casino Drive than in front of the Tropicana, just grab a drink at the outdoor bar, pull up a chair and watch the show. It's the best damn seat in town, trust me on this. But get there early on Friday and Saturday nights, space, as they say, is limited. One thing I really like about the Laughlin River Run is the vibe. All the folks (at least most of them) workin' at the hotels and casinos seem genuinely happy to be serving you, and it shows. Lots of smiles and thank you's, makes parting with the hard earned cash just a little easier. Clearly the staffers get it, I mean who would you rather be busting butt for, a bunch of big tipping, thirsty bikers, or a bus load of "high rollers" just in from Riverside?

When it comes to mellow vibes, live and let live, the "local" cops do a fairly good job. I say "local" because for the duration of the River Run, the vast majority of law enforcement is shipped in from Vegas Metro. And word to the not so wise, they are everywhere. This is not the weekend, or the place to do stupid. Not unless you're on a first name basis with your bail bondsman that is. Most of the cops are OK, not hard-asses like the Reno 911 cretins that seem intent on crushing Street Vibe, but definitely not as laid back as the Virgina City crew. They are what they are. I do know from talking to a few John Laws at last year's River Run that they do try to make life difficult on club members. That just doesn't sound right. If you haven't actually done anything, isn't that kind of harassment??? Seems like. Maybe that's why one doesn't see a ton of club folk around, although this year there were quite a few Mongol's setting up camp at the Aquarius Casino, along with a club I'd never seen before, Kraxenberg MC, Austria. Looked like a pretty fun group, but my high school German was more than rusty, and I wasn't hearing any English, so I let them enjoy their bier in peace. Last year there were quite a few Vago's in town, this year, zip. Go figure.

One thing that I missed, but will make a point to attend next year, is the Thunder on the River Amateur Motorcycle Drags out at the Avi Resort Casino (only about ten minutes out of town), it sounds like a great event, what's not to love about a bunch of Harley's tearing up a quarter mile!? Oh, and just a tip, there are skunks, yes skunks; you know, white stripes, distinctive uh, "odor", that wander about from casino to casino along the river walk. Don't say I didn't warn ya. And try out Pints Brewery and Sports Bar at the Colorado Belle, damn good grub, at wallet friendly prices. For that matter, it seems that food is fairly reasonable most everywhere in Laughlin, unfortunately booze, as always, is a completely different matter. How much for a Jack and Coke!?!?

Best behave, John Law is on the prowl, big time
Last up, guess if you had to pick a theme for this year's River Run, it would have to be getting blown. Easy now, don't go all Charlie Sheen on me, I'm talking about the relentless wind that literally blew into town on Saturday. We're talkin' flying rocks, it was less than fun if you had a long ride in your plans. Nothing that couldn't be handled, just a pain in the butt. Seems like the vendors were already prepped for the gusts, didn't see any easy-ups doing a Mary Poppins across Casino Drive, although walking and talking could prove to be a challenge.

All in all, the Laughlin River Run is good time, and worth the effort and expense. Sure it's much more tame than say ten years ago, but what rally isn't? It's still got enough flavor and spice for old school bikers, and I'm pretty sure the first timers will find more than enough going on to keep their heads on a swivel. So make your plans now, someday this economy is actually gonna improve, and rooms won't be had a day before the start of the long exactly is it until 2012???


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How To Survive A Felony Traffic Stop

Think it won't ever happen to you? Think again my friend. Chances are (in most cases thankfully slim), if you ride long enough, ride Harley's, and sport a maybe too authentic "bad ass biker persona", you will one day find yourself center stage, starring in your very own reality show; "The Felony Traffic Stop". Talk about victim of circumstance! But fear not fellow Chromies, just in time for the Laughlin River Run, we're gonna give you all the tools you need to come out the other side of your brush with the boys in blue with nothing more than a really cool tall tale.

So just what is a "felony traffic stop" anyway? Good question, and if you've ever watched an episode of Cops, you've most likely already seen one play out. Basically a felony or high risk traffic stop is executed when police (typically multiple units) stop a vehicle which they believe has a strong probability of containing a driver or passenger suspected of having committed a serious (read violent) crime, and that the suspects in question are most likely armed. Obviously not bueno.

In a typical felony stop, guns are drawn, use your head
If you remember our piece on the Sons of Anarchy replica Dyna, that bikes former owner got the "felony treatment" for merely wearing a hunting knife. Worse yet, it's fairly easy to imagine a scenario where you and your bike match the description of a rider/motorcycle combo that just committed some unspeakably vile crime. And there you are, riding along, merrily contemplating your next burger and brew stop when, BAM! Lights, siren, and a posse of adrenaline hyped cops are judge, jury, and well, you know, for the next 30 minutes of your life. We're gonna make sure your life span exceeds that 30 minutes, because you're armed (OK, poor choice of words, you got me) with the Asylum's very own, exclusive, never been tested, "Three C's" of felony traffic stop survival; "calm, comply, and communicate".

First off, let's get one thing straight, the only person even more terrified than you, is the cop. He or she may be well trained, but they are also keenly aware of the dangers involved when confronting a potentially armed criminal (many officers killed in the line of duty die in felony traffic stop situations) and that's gonna have them at DEFCON 1. While it won't be easy, you need to stay calm. Really, be chill. Part of the drill is that the officer is going to be yelling at you in an aggressive manner, it's how they control the situation and keep the suspect off balance. It's normal, don't freak. More importantly, do EXACTLY what they tell you to do, and no more. Now's not the time witty retorts and smart ass comments.

This is where "comply" comes into play. Whatever you do, don't "anticipate" what the officer is gonna ask you to do. In other words, don't get off the motorcycle unless they tell you to. Don't speak unless in response to a specific command or question (if you have to, ask permission to speak). And whatever you do, don't make any sudden or threatening moves, what may seem innocent to you, may get a barrage of 9mm lead grouped in your direction. That means no reaching for your wallet, even though you think you're just being helpful, after all, you know John Law's gonna want to inspect your license at some point. Yeah, he's likely to ask for it, but wait until he does. Same thing goes for cell phones, keys or saddle bags. Always await instructions and only do what's commanded. Move slowly and deliberately. Think, "...I will obey your every command",  keep repeating it in your noodle, it could very well save your sorry hide. And look at the bright side, face down in the dirt will nicely "age" that new leather vest. Talk about street cred.

Felony stops always involve significant "backup"
Lastly, there's "communicate", but as you might have guessed already, less is really more with this "C". What we're attempting to do here is avoid any surprises for the officer(s), which will more often than not result in a rather nasty corresponding surprise for you, like a rap on the noggin, or worse. If you know something that would be of interest to the officer, let them know. What "communicate" does not mean is argue. This is not the time to cop your best jailhouse lawyer 'tude and lambaste the lads with the PR-24's, they're really not interested in what you think of them, the law, or your "rights" at this particular moment in time. They might be interested, however, in the fact that you might be packing a gun (yes, yes, as uncivilized as it may seem, there are still states beyond the iron grip of the Peoples Republik of Kalifornia where the great unwashed are permitted to carry firearms, legally no less, oh the horror!) and where it is. Same goes for knives. Once the officers know you're armed, they'll instruct you as to how you will be disarmed. Again, don't take the initiative here, don't reach for said weapon, even after you've told them it's location. Common sense, they don't know you're not a bad guy, so they're not gonna let you play with knives and guns. Duh.

If you've followed the "Three C's", done exactly as you were told, chances are (assuming you truly are innocent, you are, right!?) you'll be on your way with nothing more than a great bar story and soiled undies. The key is to get safely beyond the "officers weapons drawn" portion of the show, there's no point in being "right" if it only gets you dead. There's plenty of time down the road to address such issues as unprofessional behavior on the part of the cops, physical violence, and damage to property, if any of that was part of your little pow-wow. That's what lawyers and courts are for, not the shoulder of the road. Got it? So let's be careful out there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Where Stuff Is Made And When It Matters

OK, I think I've actually figured something out, something big. We're talking, you know, moment of clarity, mind numbing, trumpets blaring, life altering revelation, genuine epiphany kind of stuff. That huge. Maybe right up there with self awareness, independent free will, and the internalization of ones own mortality. It's that big a deal. Really. Or not. You decide.

American icon forever?
It's a simple question really; when does it matter where things are made, and when does it not? Let's be honest, we're all pretty selective about when the specific origins of a given widget rise to the level of even modest concern. Most of the time we're more than willing opt for the seductive combination of availability and low price and call it a day. Moving on, what's for dinner?

But there are those times, and you know exactly what I'm talking about, when it's pitchforks and torches at the castle gate when some cretin threatens to "off-shore" the production of a beloved brand, to violate its very heritage. OK. Why? Why did it matter to us in that particular instance where the damn thing was gonna be built?

Well here's a shocker, maybe because the manufacturer of that very same product told us that it mattered!! Yeah fellow Chromies, it's just that simple, when a company, through it's marketing and advertising strategies specifically tells us, the great unwashed, that where their product is made (and in some cases even how it's made) is an integral part of what makes that very product unique and special, then it matters. Case closed, moving on. We're merely following their lead as it were.

Would you buy a Duc built in Thailand?
Look, when Rolex tells us that their Swiss made watch is a superior timepiece, in large measure because of the fact that it was indeed built in Switzerland by genuine Swiss artisans, we buy the argument, and the watch. A Rolex built in, oh I dunno, Taiwan, is not only most certainly a fake, but it would be an affront to everything Rolex told us they stood for. Unless of course we're one of those cheesy bastards that buy fake crap and tries to pass it off as the real deal. Pathetic.

But it's more than just wistful notions of national pride or feel good sepia toned ads in some enthusiast magazine, we're paying a real premium, as in built into the retail price, for the privilege of purchasing  these finely crafted products. When "where it's made" becomes an integral part of "what it costs", then it bloody well matters, and the manufacturer had better stay true to the "narrative" that they themselves created. To do otherwise is a slight of hand bordering on fraud.

Take Ducati for an example, their former CEO was once quoted as saying that "...the reason Ducati is such a special motorcycle is because of the fact that it was built in Bologna, by Italian craftsman that were passionate about the bikes". Fair enough, I want to believe that, so I do. And I know that the "specialness" of where Ducs are made is a component of the sky high MSRP (OK, that and unionized Italian workers), but I'm good with it. Ducati makes a fine motorcycle, and I can identify with the narrative. Every one's happy. But a Ducati built in Thailand? Is it the same bike, the same brand? I would argue no. Why? Because Ducati told me so.

Triumph, as Brit as a pint?
Globalization of manufacturing is a powerful and compelling force, much like gravity, and we are all subject to its command. Fellow Chromies know that mostly all the major motorcycle manufacturers are public companies, and as such exist for one, and one purpose only, to increase shareholder value (if you answered "build motorcycles" you're new to the Asylum, but stick around you just might learn something). This means they are all trapped on a relentless treadmill of increasing quarterly results, by any means necessary. And sometimes those "means" entail "taking costs out of the system" by reducing manufacturing overhead. And just how do we accomplish that nifty trick? Why we move it to where folks make a whopping five bucks a day and call it good. The math works, sort of.

I say "sort of" because, while product margins are generally increased by utilizing less expensive labor, there's seldom a corresponding reduction in the retail price to the consumer. And shouldn't there be? Take the case of Ducati. Given the words of their own former CEO, one would naturally expect that retails for a Thai built Duc would naturally be less than it's Italian born counterpart...yeah, right. Never happen. When Ducs begin to roll of the line in Thailand, and they're shipped to the US and Europe, which over time they most surely will, look for the retails to stay the same, even though the value proposition of "heritage" has been completely violated in the process. Shameful.

Victory's flirting with Mexican motors causes uproar
The sad fact is most companies will whore out their heritage for as long as they can, because they know that continuing the charade ensures sales and margin. Without it, the value proposition takes a big hit. They'd have to sell 'em cheap. Unfortunately for these companies, the heritage of a brand, its very essence, is a finite resource, and can actually be reduced to zero in the eyes of the consumer. It may take time, but it will happen. You see, we know something that they don't. We know that it really does matter where our motorcycles are made, and who makes them. We know that notions of craftsmanship, pride, passion and connection to a place and brand are very real concepts, and not just themes for a slick ad campaign. They are as real as the metal in the frame of the bike rolling down the assembly line. They make our machines what they are, it's as basic as that.

The fact is Harley Davidson, Victory, Triumph and Ducati have all made "where they're made" a fundamental part of the value of the machines they sell. It's up to them to stay true to the message they themselves crafted and communicated. It's up to us to hold them to it. Or not. We have the ultimate power, we can chose to continue to buy their products, even after a company continually violates its own heritage by reducing itself to nothing more than a licensing and marketing firm. Or we can hold them responsible, we can tell them that they can only go so far, before they go too far. There's a fine line, and it's up to us to let the companies know just where it is.

So can Harley for instance, remain a great American motorcycle company even if at some point those motorcycles are no longer made in America? The answer is an obvious no, at least to us. To us it very much matters that Harley's are US built, and will continue to be so. We willingly pay a premium for that aspect of the HD brand, and would be stupid to do so in the future if it were no longer a part of the value proposition. Harley for it's part continues to remind us that it's product's American heritage and history are what sets it apart from all the others, what makes HD "worth it". And even with Chinese made Harley jackets hanging in my closet, I wanna believe it's true.

I have a message for those iconic motorcycle brands, don't you dare let us down, or better yet, just be honest, when the "where it's made" card ceases to be of value to you, don't continue to tell us it should be of value to us. Deal? Deal.