Monday, January 31, 2011

Sturgis Or Die, Day One

In 2008 my best friend and I, along with his brother-in-law, son, and son's pal set out for a once in a lifetime (not really, that's just what we told work to get the time off........shhhhh) adventure to "biker Mecca"..........Sturgis. It was a helluva trip, one which I'd like to share with the entire "Chromesphere", so for the next couple of weeks, sit back and chill as we recount the harrowing tales of three old guys and two young dudes as we criss-cross this great land of ours in search of burgers and t-shirts............and yes, there will be photos

Day 1

Finally on the road.........but not without a bit of drama and comedy, unfortunately provided by yours truly. First off, I violated a long standing truism.......the longer the trip, the more unknown the territory, the more familiar the, "no new stuff", you'll regret it! Sure I had the spiffy new Street & Steel Highway jacket for weeks, but had I rode in it, oh hell no, but what could go wrong. Plenty.

As I pulled out of my driveway, it became painfully apparent that this particular jacket (and it is an awesome piece) just didn't fit my funky bod. I had to make the call, three thousand miles of "not quite right", or that well worn jacket that I've used for years. Easy call, u-turn, I'll just be a bit late for the meet up...........except for the cell phone I left in the pocket in the first jacket. Another u-turn, much further away from home than the first.............more than a bit late.
Hank, Vince, Nate, Paul "JP", and Mark

Finally we're all together in Rio Vista. Mark had ridden down from Winters, his wife in tow for the fairwell photo op. The rest of us had met up in Antioch for the ride up the delta. The machines, all black except for Nate's brilliant orange Road Glide.........the more I see that bike the more I like it. Paul aka "JP" is coming to grips with pop's FXRS, quite a departure from his usual sportbike mounts. As we pull away, I can't believe we're actually on the road........the ride of a lifetime with my best friend, and a great group of guys that I've known forever...........this is gonna be great.
Fixin' to hit the road on day one

We head out on Highway 12, through Lodi, hooking up with Highway 88 to 49. It's gonna be an easy day, nice easy twisties up to Auburn, then it's 80 to Reno. As we head from Jackson to Auburn the sun is really starting to cook, off come the jackets, we're switching to vests. Traffic is fairly light as we pull out of Mel's parking lot ("The Bev" aka Jeff had met us there for breakfast and would ride with the crew to Auburn. Jeff is a great guy and a multi-time Sturgis vet, but had to pass on this trip) and we begin to find our rythem as we snake through the gold country.
The mighty Paint Shaker loaded up and lookin' good

"JP" and Mark set a mellow pace at the back of the pack as "JP" gets more and more comfortable. Mark is the lads uncle, and is acting as wingman, letting the pace come to the Harley rookie. Up front Vince and I are giving the Chatterboxes a workout. After the first hour I couldn't imagine riding without 'em, if you haven't tried a communicator system you need to. You won't take a long trip without me. Vince and I have spent years riding these roads on all sorts of machines, and it never gets old...........I just love it.

Pulling out of Auburn, it's a straight shot to Reno, our destination for the night. Too many trucks, but the traffic's manageable and the weather couldn't be better. Nate is smooth and riding as if this is our 100th ride together, very impressive. A quick stop at Cabela's to look at all the cool firearms we can't get in the People's Republic of California and we're pulling up to our hotel. Time to relax and grab some grub....................tomorrow, it's on to Elko.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Doing The Wave

Whether you're new to this whole zany world of two wheeled wackiness, or have been around long enough to bore everyone in your "social network" (Rant alert! At least in the old days you had to make a real effort to be dull, face to face, one at a time......until their eyes with the click of a mouse you can inflict the most tedious and mundane aspect of your life on hundreds, if not thousands of unsuspecting victims.......status update........"toast or bagel today?" Really!? Thank you Facebook.) with your only slightly exaggerated tales of incredible asphalt antics,"......there I was, doing a 180, around a blind 90 degree corner, on a '79 Shovelhead, in the rain"; you've no doubt noticed that when you're out on your scoot that a lot of folks are doing "the wave".

Seems that just about every motorcycle you pass offers up some sort of seemingly benign gesture, most likely an ever so subtle flick of the left hand. If you're a rookie, do not be alarmed, these salutes are not some sort of sinister gang initiation right........they are just what they appear to be, a friendly recognition of a fellow brother or sister. It's perfectly acceptable behavior to shoot them a wave right back, or beat them to the punch and offer one up first yourself. Simple as that, we're good, right? Well, not quite.

"You're not worthy". You see my friend, long ago in the unenlightened times (think early 80's) there was an unwritten motorcycling hierarchy if you will......... in those days one didn't just wave, or return a wave willy nilly, oh hell no. Recognition had to be given, deference paid, and deciding which course of action to take had to be determined within a beat of a piston. It went something like this..........

Harley guys only waved to other Harley guys, unless the Harley rider was a club member, they didn't wave to anyone, and really weren't too keen on being waved at. When in doubt, best to keep your hand on the bars, trust me on this. Sport bike guys never waved at Harley guys, or Goldwing guys, or anyone else for that matter if the other guy was piloting a machine that didn't appear to be capable of topping out at 150mph or above. Riders of Japanese sport bikes, would wave to the Euro sport guys and vice versa; although I have heard tales of "Guzzi people" that wouldn't ever wave, no doubt the additional wind resistance would cause undo deceleration. Urban legend? Dunno. For the most part Brit guys were pretty culture has its benefits! Touring guys always waved to other touring guys, unless they were on a Harley, then nada. Wingers were at the pointy end of the spear, and they knew it. Lastly we had the adventure touring guys........they pretty much stuck to themselves, all twelve of them. Of course it should be noted that the BMW GL folks never seemed to wave to their fellow "adventurists" either, no doubt too busy trying to get that pesky leg zipper properly done up on the old Aerostitch suit.....who has time for cretins anyway. And no one, ever, ever waved at anyone on a scooter...........ever!

But that was then, what about now? Fair question sunshine. I'm happy to report that over the decades we motorcyclists have evolved, become enlightened.........the old wave rules are dead, long live the old rules.

So we can just do whatever the hell we want then, right? Well, sort of, within reason, I mean we can't  have social anarchy and chaos out on America's highways, can we? Hardly my fellow Chromies, hardly. And while it's perfectly permitable these days to wave to any guy or gal on any make or model machine you want (for the record, I'd still leave the club guys be, and scooters, well, that's up to you) there are still some basic laws of protocol and etiquette which should be followed, lest you throw an ill advised wave and be forever branded a clueless RUB, and by a total stranger you'll never see again no less......shutter! So here goes.

Keep it on the down low.......your wave that is. The farther above the bar, the dumber the wave, you're not on a damn Thanksgiving Day float for crissake. Hand off the bar, slightly aft, drop it about six inches and your good. And keep it still, any deductible motion on the part of the "waver" screams "you like me, you really, really like me......right!?",which is just plain creepy, thus putting any potential return wave in dire jeopardy. Keep it short, low and cool. But where to wave? Waves are usually reserved for two lane roads, away from congested city streets.........If you're separated by a wide median or jersey wall, it's OK to keep your hands on the bars. Same goes in corners, don't wave if you're not comfortable with me, you'll know. In general, if it feels it! Or don't.

To give or receive? Your choice my brother, it's a free country (except for the Peoples Republic of California, New York and New Jersey of course) it as you see it. Just remember, don't start your wave prematurely, by that I mean you should be able to make a positive ID on the approaching motorcycles make and model before throwing your salute.........this also ensures you'll never mistakenly wave at a scooter. Mostly. If there's a long line of on-coming bikes, just keep your motionless mit out there until the entire group passes.....don't try and execute dozens of individual waves, you'd look like a mime on crack. A word of caution about big events. Once you get within a fifty mile radius of some large rally, Sturgis or Daytona come to mind here, it's perfectly permissible not to wave, actually it's gonna be impossible anyway, too many bikes. Don't worry, by this time you're probably noticing no one is waving at you either. Just ride the damn motorcycle and enjoy all the can wave on the way home.

If you're lucky enough to have a passenger, they're more than welcome to throw down a wave of their own, as a matter of fact, I've noticed quite a few couples have delegated the greeting task completely to one in the back. I dunno, kinda like to get my hello straight from the captain, but that's just me.

Lastly, don't worry if you toss it out there and, ziltch, nothin'. It's OK, maybe the other guy didn't notice, had a fight with his boss.......whatever. You made the effort, good on you. Surely the next guy will return the favor. And wave at everyone no matter what they ride, there really aren't many of us out there on the mean streets and we need all the friends we can get (which means if a cage driver shows you some kindness, throw 'em a "thank you brother" wave)......I like to think of the whole deal as making penny deposits in my roadside karma account, ain't much at first, but it adds up. Which is another reason I always give my fellow brothers a heads up when John Law is about.......oh, that's a pat on the noggin with your left hand.........universal signal. And you thought you wouldn't learn anything..........

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Putting The "Ultra" In Harley's New Road Glide

There's no mistaking the Road Glide for any other bike on the road
For Chrome Asylum's inaugural (notice we didn't say "first annual", funny story on that, another time) road test we chose Harley's new for 2011 FLTRU Road Glide Ultra ( . As the name implies, it's a Road Glide, you know, the one with that goofy fairing, two headlights cozied up right next to each other; and it's an Ultra, which is Motor Company speak for "everything including the culinary plumbing".........mash it all together, and viola! One bad ass touring rig. And in this case that ain't a contradiction of terms.

Look, I'm just gonna save all the feigned journalistic "objectivity" for CNN, and get right to it.........this bike is flippin' amazing!! And this from a guy that's not a big fan of the trunk and teddy bear set. Never been into the full dress style, no cool. Until now.

With the 103ci  motor the Road Glide Ultra has plenty of grunt
 How is it that a bike that tips the Toledo's at decidedly un-sevlte 888lbs wet, feels so, dare I say it, nimble?? Trust me brother, this beast handles, whether negotiating your way around clueless cage pilots at a gas station, or bombing through your favorite twisties (Marsh Creek Road, there I told you, now don't ever let me catch you on it) the Road Glide is taught, responsive and not the least bit sluggish in transition......yeah, it handles sorta like a sportbike; a real big, beefy gym rat of a sportbike. There's not a hint of the old FLH "mystery hinge in the frame" antics that plague pre-'09 Touring models. And there's a reason for that.

Back in 2009 the Motor Company completely redesigned the FLH chassis, it's a stronger single spar rigid backbone design built with a new robotic welding process, throw in a wider "box" swing arm and you've got some serious chassis stiffening going absolute must if you're gonna build a rig that handles. Next up they mated up a 16" wider rear tire with a 17" front, apparently after much testing of  various wheel and tire combos (think it's just an excuse for more saddle time for the engineers.....if it is, it's a good one!) it was determined that this was the optimum set up. Can't argue with the results. Other improvements from the '09 redo include a four point engine mounting system, better "thermal management" (apparently some customers were shocked to find that engines produce's not a Lexus dammit!) and a six gallon tank, which looks surprisingly like the five gallon one it replaced, which is a very good thing, given the fact that the profile of the "Fatbob" tank is a signature element of HD design.........and no, none of the cloners have gotten it right yet.

The Road Glide's "Shark Nose" up close
 Speaking of style, now is as good a time as any to address the "unique" fairing design found only on the Road Glide. First off, it's frame mounted, unlike the more common "bat wing" bar mounted variety found on all the other Touring rigs in the Harley family. It's kind of a "love it, or hate it" me, I used to be in the "hate it" camp. But 12 days and 3,500 miles riding along side a friend on our 2008 Sturgis trip and the damn thing grew on me. Fact is I dig it now, go figure. And I especially like the fact that the fairing is firmly secured to the frame rather than the bars, as it makes for much better handling in general, and in any kind of cross or head wind, the Road Glide design is clearly king. If you've ever owned any modern sportbike or an import touring rig you know exactly what I mean. Having said that, I know that the FLRTU's style is an acquired taste, and apparently we Californians groove on it in far greater numbers than anywhere else in the nation. Fact is, you might be hard pressed to find many Glides east of the Sierra's........their loss.

Back to the ride. In the just under 100 miles I got to spend on the Glide, I really came to appreciate the seamless power delivery of the 103ci motor (standard issue on the Ultra, as is cruise control, ABS, and remote activated security). Even though I was hobbled a bit by the fact that we were in full break-in mode (the bike only had four miles on it when I started out), it had more than sufficient grunt. It flat moved.......and with no discernible effort, aided in no small part by the silky smooth six speed transmission. And yes, I said smooth. Sure there's that barely evident "clunk" while changing gears, just enough to let you know you're on a Harley, not enough to be a distraction. Best power plant, tranny combo yet.......and that includes my '07 Screamin' Eagle with a 110ci motor and a six speed.......let's hear it for the engineering crew!

The handling of the Road Glide Ultra is nothing short of amazing
Speaking of which, mad props on the exhaust note. Hard to believe it was stock, very throaty rumble, even sounded stout at idle.........and I'm no fan of stock systems, never had one on any street bike I've ever owned. But this one just might be good enough "as is".........OK, just some Vance and Hines mufflers (, but that's it. Really. Thankfully I never had the opportunity to fully test the ABS brakes, but I can say this machine had the best progressive braking performance of any HD I have ever ridden. No need to do the Performance Machine upgrade on this rig. Nah, if you're gonna throw down some serious miles, the stock set up will do you right........with some optional braided lines of course.

As is the case with any machine with the "Ultra" moniker, this one has all the bling you'd expect; Tour Pak luggage carrier, super comfy backrest (the Lazy Boy folks could take notes), four speaker 80 watt Harman/Kardon audio system, vented fairing lowers (to be honest, these would be the first thing I'd trash, kept hitting my foot on both of them, you don't need 'em anyway), upgraded seat, and dual storage compartments.......and as they say, the list goes on. A word about the stereo........awesome! It has surprisingly rich sound and self adjusts the volume as you ride........nothing like some back country roads and Toby Keith's Bullets in the Gun to put a big ol grin on your mug.

The massive trunk can swallow two full-face lids
Any nits to pick? Aside from the aforementioned lowers (ugly and distracting.....did I mention they should be immediately removed?), the only thing I would change is the windscreen, and that has more to do with my height (6'2") than anything, I'd need one a bit lower, the top of the stock unit was right in my field of the shorter ones look really trick.......dark smoke. But that's about it, this thing is ready to throw down some major miles right out of the crate. If you're looking for a touring machine with power, real style, and can't do better than the new Road Glide Ultra. Seriously, get down to your dealer today and ride, right f'n now!!

Special thanks as always to the crew at McGuire Harley-Davidson ( for supplying the bike and putting up with my never ending questions. Ryan McGuire was especially helpful with all the details and fun facts.........that kid is too damn young to know that much about bikes, it's sick. Thanks a bunch guys............can't wait to do it again............

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Victory's New High Ball, Blue Collar Bobber.

You've got to hand it to the crew at Victory, I mean really, "High Ball"!? It takes a fair amount of sack in these sad PC obsessed times to christen your motorcycle after a family of mixed drinks........and fairly potent ones at that! I can just see the thirty second spot now; hot twenty-something couple shooting pool in a dimly lit bar, bikes parked out front under a street lamp, hard thumping rock-a-billy music in the background, and then the voice over, ".....Victory High Ball, one for the road!" Sweet. Really, are there any lawyers in Minnesota? Thankfully, if there are, the folks at Victory ignored them.......mad props.

The bike was officially introduced this weekend at the New York IMS show, although there had been a fair amount of speculation about the machine rumbling around the blogosphere for some time. As a lifelong fan of bobber style, I have to say, well done. In it's press release Victory waxes; "It's new. It's bad-ass. It's the bike you want to be seen on - plus it's a Victory, so you know it's got arm-stretching American performance". Ah, touting that American hot rod theme.........very nice. Longtime Chrome Asylum readers (OK, two and a half months........a lifetime I can assure you in the rough and tumble of motorcycle blogs!) will remember that we had kinda hinted that playing up a performance rich hot rod heritage would be a productive strategy for Victory.........really, look it up. However, since I'm doubting that any of the OE cheeses are even aware that the Asylum exists, and given the lead times involved in developing product, we'll just call it a happy coincidence.

High rise bars and wide white wall
Any color you want, as long as it's black, and flat black at that.........yes!! Staying true to bobber style, for many of us at least, means leaving in the "rough edges", keeping it raw, basic, honest. And Victory scores here........and you know there had to be folks in marketing just begging for a metal flake vente green and cocoa cream two-toned paint scheme, thankfully old school won that playground tussle. Along with the predominately black palette (including the exhaust) comes a refreshing lack of chrome. Other traditional bobber features include; highrise bars (adjustable), 16 inch lace wheels fore and aft, wide white wall tires, solo seat and single gauge instrumentation. The High Ball comes equipped with Victory's 106ci/6 speed, fuel injected, counter balanced V-Twin, which puts out a more than respectable 97hp and 113 ft-lb of torque. As with all Victory's, this one should is fitting a hot rod.

Oh, almost forgot the best part, a $13,499 MSRP! How's that for an affordable drinking buddy.......I mean bar hopper, ah, I mean........well you know. At that price Victory might have to put in some over-time to keep up.......let's hope.

So in the end does the High Ball "work" as a Victory? Too soon to tell, but by all appearances they got it right, and that's saying a lot. Because frankly, I never saw this kind of bike as being something that would make the line-up. It's just not them, not really part of the Victory DNA. This is the company that prides itself on innovative, forward looking design, they had the vision to do the Vision for cryingoutloud. None of their machines, while all V-Twins to be sure, could be considered from a stylistic perspective at least, to be retro inspired. They went their own way, Milwaukee be damned, and I've always thought that was by far the best original, stake your own claim, don't be what you're not. With the High Ball, it will be interesting to see how the traditional Victory customer base responds, as well as, folks that are current or former Harley riders. Will a Victory with ape hangers and wide white wall tires, and styling cues that could have it mistaken for, gasp, a Harley Davidson resonate with the Victory faithful?? Think I'll need a couple more drinks to ponder that question.

And lastly, if anything, the High Ball ought to be a wake-up call for the Motor Company, a flat black shot across the old front fender if you will. I mean come on, a relatively cheap, rat bike inspired bobber, and it's not being built by HD......blasphemy!! This is a bike Harley should be building, but isn't, not really. I'm only gonna say this once, well OK, twice, I've actually already droned on about it in a prior article (you factory guys really ought to pay attention.....this stuff is free!), but HD needs to build a bobber inspired bike on a Dyna frame, with a 96ci motor, for an MSRP of $9,999. Impossible? Find a way..........there absolutely has to be another "gateway" to Motor Company crack that doesn't have "Sportster" in its name.......You want youth? They want style and horsepower.......give it to them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Harley Davidson, If I Have To Explain it.........

So there I was; cold one in hand, snacks, and Bit Bulls and Parolees on the big screen (and they say cable is a vast wasteland!) when I spy one of the "guest stars" with some Bar & Shield ink on his right arm. Couldn't miss it, even among the mass of bighouse tats, there it was, big and loud as '73 Shovelhead with straight pipes. As the cops muscled our new found friend into the confines of a black and white Crown Vic, wifebeater now in shreds (is it mandatory to sport one if you have a record........or plan on starting one? I'm just saying), I got to thinking.........yeah, nothing good is gonna come of this exercise.

Just what is it about Harley-Davidson anyway? Why all the HD tattoos, and not just on scary guys, but soccer moms, teachers, and your accountant? And it's not just ink, think about it, how many times a day do you see a Harley logo on the back of a mini-van, or on some kids t-shirt at the mall? Say you're a big time company and wanna give your pedestrian product a dash of cool? Easy, just strategically pose a Harley nearly anywhere in the frame, and presto! Your jeans, shoes, car, financial services, or ED cure now possess a magical dose of genuine American culture cred. We know it's true............but are we sure why?

Let's face it, there's no shortage of "cool" brands, many of them born right here in the U.S. of A.; Levi's, Ford, Apple, McDonald's, GAP, Jack Daniels, Coca Cola, Budweiser, Smith & Wesson, Marylin Monroe, the list is nearly endless. And yet, with few exceptions Harley-Davidson stands nearly alone, but not because of the Motor Companies magic with metal. That's right, what's going on here transcends the motorcycle, it's way deeper than that fellow Chromies, which is why the imitators, cloners, haters and cheaters will never achieve anything close to Harley's stature, its relationship with riders in particular, and the culture in general.

OK, so what's the big deal? To start, Harley's an American company, an old American company. It's simple, if you're gonna be an American icon, you need to be American, basic stuff really. Which means you design here, you build here, your DNA is here. You're not a transplant of economic/marketing convenience....... see, I don't care if you "assemble" your bikes in Marysville Ohio, or wherever, have a corporate headquarters in sunny California......your heart, your soul isn't American, and we know it. Harley is genuine homegrown, with all the good and bad that that entails  (and yes haters, I know there are foreign parts on every HD, and it kills me, I'm workin' on it).

Harley's are original, you will NEVER hear the word "clone" in reference to anything coming out of York or Kansas City. Did Harley invent the motorcycle? Not even close. Are they the best motorcycles you can buy? Maybe. Their quality has certainly improved over the years to the point now that jokes about oil leaks, and roadside breakdowns are just amusing cliche's, or possibly the real-life fading memories of some old school riders.......but by and large Harley's are as reliable as any motorcycle on the road.

But what they are the best at is being a Harley Davidson. Think about it, is there a cruiser style bike manufactured today that doesn't "borrow" most of it's design cues straight from the HD playbook (BWW and Moto Guzzi don't count, I don't know what those guys were smokin'......ugly!)? From the fenders, tanks, motors, wheels, and even their badging.........all illegitimate pretenders. Not original, not genuine, not of their own history. Sad.

Remember when I said that Harley's brand magic really wasn't just about the bikes, that it was much more than that? Here's where the rubber meets the road. The H-D brand is all about shared experience, that's right, shared experience. For over a hundred years now Harley-Davidson has been riveted into the collective framework of the American story. Day in, day out, year after year, the bikes from Milwaukee moved us. Mundane or magical, there they were, part of our lives; whether delivering the mail, or putting our hearts in our throats at the track, H-D played its role. We know this from the old sepia toned photos in history books, or scenes in long forgotten B&W movies........from motor cops to movie stars, soldiers to our own history unfolded, so did Harley-Davidson's.

Time and again, there was Harley; the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas, a hillclimb in Richmond CA, selling ice cream in a neighborhood in Ohio, it wasn't planned, it wasn't contrived by some second rate Madison Avenue marketing might have been at times frustrating, ugly or even comical, but it was real. Each one of these moments, the relationship between man and machine, of machine and culture, was stamped into our subconscious. Harley was evolving into a cultural icon, . Elvis didn't buy a Sportster because his publicist thought it would score him more press..........he bought it because, like him, it was an "got" him, he "got" it. Simple as that.

The beauty of the H-D brand and the collective history ingrained into every motorcycle it manufactures is that regardless whether a man is an entertainment icon known worldwide or the local plumber, they can both share the same collective experience, enjoy the same sense of belonging to something bigger and maybe just a little more profound then themselves, through the ownership of their Harley-Davidsons. The very act of buying a Harley is in part saying, yes, I want to play my part in the on-going story that is America (when's the last time you were in Wal Mart and had that same thought?). I'm gonna add my story, my adventures, my take on this whole "Harley thing" and pass it down to the next guy. Because in the end you can't really own "it", any more than you could own the old west, or jazz. But you can put your stamp on it, let those guys coming after you know that you were there.

I guess the bottom line for me is Harley-Davidson is real, the genuine article, it might be imitated (poorly) but it can never be duplicated.........its hundred plus year history and place on our collective consciousness ensures that. You can't "manufacture" iconic status as part of some lame MBA inspired five year business plan, you have to earn it, day by day, year after year. And earn it H-D much so that I really didn't have to explain it, did I? You already knew.............


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Bike Reviews......Coming Soon!

That's right fellow Chromies, thanks to the good folks at McGuire Harley-Davidson (, we here at Chrome Asylum are going to have nearly unlimited access to the current crop of 2011 machines from the Motor Company. We'll ride 'em, and then we'll write about them.........just for you. OK, and for the opportunity to ride the damn things.........come on, admit it, you'd do it too. So stay tuned, keep your eyes peeled and don't forget to call before midnight tonight........

07 Screamin' Eagle Hot Rod Softail Springer

It started, as most addictions and annoying habits do, when I was a kid. But my demon wasn't drugs, or alcohol, or even girls (mostly because all the girls I knew for some reason steadfastly refused to become my enablers....go figure). My "crack" were hot rods.........deuce coupes, bucket t's, fuelies, lowriders, dragsters, funny name it, and I lusted for it. Seems like every waking hour I wasn't held hostage in some beige box with an asbestos lid posing as a "classroom", was spent pouring over the tattered pages of any hot rod magazine I could get my slimy mitts on........Car Craft, Custom Cars, and Hot Rod just to name a few. I was hooked.............for life.

Even my first car, while not a "real" hot rod, wasn't exactly a plain Jane grocery getter either, not for this Big Daddy wannabe, no sir. A medium green 1969 Ford Mustang Mach One was to be my high school chariot........60 series tires, American Racing wheels, Hooker headers, oh yeah. But still the hot rod lust burned deep.......I wanted the real deal, maybe a '32 High Boy, or a dropped and chopped '51 Merc. Alas, not to be......if for no other reason than college, career, family, and the unavoidable fact that I possess no discernible mechanical skills. If I was ever gonna have a hot rod, someone was going to have to build it for me.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years and thank God for Harley-Davidson. You see they have this little in-house custom thing going on, it's called CVO, or "Custom Vehicle Operations", and they hand build the Screamin' Eagle model bikes one at a time. No really, the whole CVO "department" consists of a couple of craftsmen and a rolling cart thingy.........those two guys actually build your bike, no assembly line here. I've seen it for myself at both the York PA plant and Kansas City. Very cool stuff. I had found the guys to build my hot rod.

Well, they didn't know they were building one for me, that just sorta happened, as they say, by accident. I few years back as I trolled the showroom at McGuire Harley-Davidson ( during an open house event, I spied what I still think to this day was the meanest, baddest, lowdown, kickass factory build rig I've ever come across......a '07 CVO Screamin' Eagle Softail Springer. It was sick, fat 200mm rear tire out back, and totally trick old school springer forks up front. It was 30 days in county and a suspended license with the motor cold. I had to have it.

Only two problems. One, I already had a Softail Custom on order, with a factory paint set no less. Two, they only make about 2,300 or so of each model (in mass production terms, that's really limited edition), even less when you consider the three color schemes to choose from. And the one on the floor? It was spoken for. Damn. Or maybe not. A hurried pow-wow with Mike and Steve, and problem one, and two were history. They'd simply take the Softail Custom when it came in and put it on the floor, no worries. And a quick check of the computer showed that another CVO Springer was due in December......and that bad boy was gonna be mine. A hot rod at last.

My '07 CVO Springer (FXSTSSE for you purists) was the first in a series that lasted for three model years, and is by far the best of the bunch, and not just because I have '08 HD killed the the 21 inch narrow front tire; in favor of a wider, smaller diameter setup to improve handling. Really!? It's an f'n Springer, it will never "handle", it has the performance characteristics of a Conestoga wagon. As it should be. The team knew what they were doing when they penned it with a 21.......shame on you Motor Company. But it gets worse, in '09 they mucked with the profile of the rear more "flip", looked truly awful. It had all the charm of an OCC chopper.......

So what's so special about these CVO machines, other than limited edition bragging rights, and a fat price tag? Lots actually. Aside from being literally hand assembled, which when you think about it, is about as cool as it gets, you get the largest displacement motor that Harley offers.......110 cubic inches of fun and felonies. Let me tell you, there's some serious grunt in these lumps. In addition to the big motor, there's chrome upon chrome, upon chrome........over the top? Maybe. But to be honest, each models accessories "theme" is so well thought out, and integrated so seamlessly that they manage to pull it off. From the mirrors to the footpegs, wheels to handlebars, every bit and piece of a CVO bike is designed for, and assembled with, premium parts straight out of the Harley catalog........which is why it all just "works". That's not to say that yours truly wouldn't mind seeing an understated, maybe flat black, minimal chrome, "rat bike" inspired CVO roll out of York someday........dare to dream.

Speaking of paint, every CVO bike's paint set is a flippin' masterpiece, I'm not kidding. We all know that the Motor Company lays down the best stock paint work on the planet (did you know that folks that work in the paint room have to sign a document that restricts what kind of food they're able to consume, lest it be too greasy, in which case it could escape from their pores and contaminate the atmosphere of the paint room? How's that for attention to detail!), but the work put in on the CVO bikes is simply amazing. My particular rig is Abyss Blue and Blue Pearl........looks so good in the sun, it's almost better than black........almost.

If it's trick, it's going on a CVO machine.........braided lines, tachs, trick graphics, outrageous wheels, LED's, it's all there........and more. So it's perfect just the way it is right? Not quite sunshine, not quite. Remember back when we were talking about that uber cool Springer front end with the 21 inch wheel? Yeah, well the single disc, two piston brake is as weak as a Charlie Sheen alibi. Nope, this bad boy called for some work. Enter Performance Machine (, we switched out the two piston rig up front with a four piston unit, and for the sake of aesthetic consistency hung a four piston set out back as well. Stopping performance, while maybe not up to current MotoGP standards, just might keep me out of intensive care. What more can I ask?

Next we attacked the exhaust system........a little better tone, and a dash more horsepower and torque if you please. A quick call to Vance and Hines ( and my good friend/guru Jim Leonard and a solution was on it's way in the form of a set of Big Shot Staggered pipes with the "quiet" baffles (even though they rob just a touch of horsepower, Jim was right, if you want to stay on speaking terms with the Smith's next door, get the quiet baffles.......please) and a Fuel Pak. While I'm gonna keep the dyno numbers between Jim and I, let's just say the improvement was more than noticeable......and the exhaust note......exactly as the gods of speed intended.

Rounding out my short list of mods (this is a CVO bike after all, ain't all that much "needed") were a new set of HD mirrors, just liked the shape better than the "stock" ones. an oil cooler, trick axle mounted license plate frame from Kuryakyn ( and last, but far from least, a Le Pera custom seat ( I have to say, and I'd hope you'd agree, she came together nicely.

Every time I take this bike out I get smiles and thumbs up from cage drivers and riders alike. Just looking at it parked never fails to put a loopy grin on my mug. I love this bike. It may have taken a few years and a lot of miles, but I finally have my hot rod...........  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Le Pera Seats, A Family Tradition To Be Proud Of


From time to time here at Chrome Asylum we run across a company or product that's just so damn good that we have no choice but to break out the old soapbox, climb up and give a shout. Le Pera is just that sort of company; great people, quality products, and best of all, made right here in the U. S. of A. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Le Pera Seats ( has been around since 1972, but sadly, yours truly didn't get around to experiencing their unsurpassed customer service until late last year...........hey, I was busy. Obviously being in the motorcycle accessories business for over 20 years, I was well aware of the company, but seeing as we didn't carry their products (way too specialized for our business model), and I didn't own a Harley Davidson for most of that time, there was really no reason for us to cross paths.

Thankfully over time, I came around, plunked down my slavishly earned coin of the realm on a couple of  HD's, and thereby became a potential Le Pera customer. Potential turned into actual after chatting up Christine Le Pera at Arlen Ness' ( 40th anniversary bash. She was "manning" the booth, answering questions, and charming the devil out of anyone that came within twenty feet. Christine Le Pera and her brother Bob Jr. run the company now, sadly their father and founder passed away in 2008. Bob sorts out design and production, and Christine handles sales.
A typical Le Pera masterpiece
After asking a few questions, and scoring their very nicely done catalog (their website's not bad either), it was off to plot and plan. I had decided on a seat for my 2007 CVO Softail if for no other reason than it was as close to a genuine hot rod that I had ever come, and as such needed a proper custom leather seat.......diamond stitching, buttons, the works.........oh yeah, this was gonna be great.

Couple words to the wise, if you're scooting around town, terrorizing the local haunts on anything other than a Harley Davidson or custom V-Twin, well brother, you're just gonna have to make do with that crappy vinyl parked under your rump. You see, Le Pera specializes in seats for Harley's, and that's pretty much back away VTX wannabe, it's not happening. Although, while I have zero inside knowledge on this score, I wouldn't be surprised to see Le Pera's on some Victory motorcycles down the road.........I'm just saying.

Secondly, if you're going for genuine leather (and why wouldn't you!?) it ain't cheap.......plan on north of six hundred bones and you should be safe. They do work in vinyl, so if your budget's stressed, you can still score Le Pera quality........on the flip side, there are some really trick designs that incorporate exotic materials with outrageous stitching, that's gonna cost you more. It's all up to you.

Having decided on the seat model, and the stitching pattern, I gave 'em a call. And who do you think answered the order line? Christine Le Pera, that's who. How cool is that? More than cool, it saved me from making a really stupid, and expensive boo boo. Seems the stitching pattern I chose would not have worked at all with the design of the seat itself. Thankfully Christine set me straight, and order was placed........all I had to do was wait.

Custom orders usually take about two to three weeks, and sure enough my box 'o joy landed on my front porch exactly when promised. After gently opening said container.......very careful with the knives my friends.....yeah, how bad would that suck, I examined the seat. I dunno, "amazing" doesn't really do the thing justice. Stitching is perfect, I mean perfect. The leather is flawless and tight around the seat frame. Even the backing plate is a flippin' work of art, complete with the "made in USA" sticker proudly attached.......that alone is worth the dough.

Lastly, the fit........and I have to say, I was pretty paranoid given that Murphy of Murphy's Law fame, tends to spend an inordinate time in my garage. I prefect mating of seat to machine was no guarantee, not for me anyway. But this was a Le Pera, and to be honest, it fit better than the OE unit, and that's saying something, as the Motor Company knows a thing or two about building quality motorcycle seats. And yes, you'll see some pics in an upcoming profile of my Softail.

So in the end could anything have been improved? Actually yes. I was kinda surprised that for the money, no leather conditioner/protector was provided, for that matter, there's none even offered for sale.........this seems like a huge missed opportunity for additional accessories sales (hey, I was in the business!). Also a follow-up email or call would have been nifty........again, when folks spend big money, they like to feel special........really special.

Now as soon as the weather clears a bit, we'll get some miles on that seat and report back. I have a feeling though.........there's a Le Pera in my Road Kings future. Damn you Christine!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Keep It Covered Brother

Don't feel like getting too up close and personal with the right quarter panel of that Prius which just rocked a 180 directly in your path without so much as a text warning? Like to keep the medivac frequent flyer miles to a minimum, while avoiding the always hilarious "donorcycle" jokes from the ER staff? Bonus!..........Chrome Asylum is here to lend you a hand, more like a couple of fingers actually. But just as two fingers can be a pretty handing bartending tool, those nifty digits can keep your butt alive out there on the mean streets.

See, it's all about coverage, brake coverage that is. You've got to keep that front brake covered......all the time, every time. I know, I know, ".....but my MSF ( said not to cover the brake unless I was using it to slow the motorcycle down." I know that's what he said, it's just not quite what he meant..........I'll explain later. Carry on.

The average Harley Davidson weighs what, at least 750 pounds, without you or your lady? Add you two, throw in a weekend getaways worth of chaps and sleeveless t's and we're talkin' some serious heft. The more beef, the more distance it's gonna take to's just plain old physics, and Mr. James thought I was sleeping in class.......hah! What we have to do is get you squeezing the lever sooner, so you have more time (more feet.......more distance) to apply the brakes and come to a safe stop with real estate to spare. So how does covering the front brake give me more time you eagerly ask? And I thought I was the only one here that failed eighth grade science!

Think about it. Better yet, go out to your garage and get on your bike. Now grab the bars and let's play pretend..........You're putting down the blacktop, you come to an imaginary stop sign, with an imaginary cop sitting in the weeds off to the side, so you're not blowing through this one.......time to come to a halt. You loosen your grip, move your fingers off the throttle, stretch them forward to the brake lever, grip said lever, and begin to pull back towards the bar...............jeez, when did we start this whole process, about a week ago!?!? And that's the point, all that effort took time, time you don't wanna waste when you're trying to avoid first hand knowledge of what your femur looks like without the benefit of x-ray technology.

Probably took you a good second or two complete the "squeeze", and if you were moving at oh, say about sixty miles an hour, you'd have traveled a good, um.....well, a long damn way. OK, I may have slept a couple of times in class.......but what if you could save those couple of seconds, huh, what about that? You'd stop sooner of course. Like if you'd had a couple of fingers already on the brake lever, just waiting to jump into lifesaving action? Bingo........we have a winner!

Simple as that, and honestly, if you've ever raced a motorcycle, or just checked out some race action on the tube this technique is used news. Watch some MotoGP or MX action on Speed and you've probably seen your favorite "go fast" hero with a couple of fingers (or maybe just one, but honestly, you think you're gonna haul your Harley down to a crawl with only one finger!? Please.) lurking on the front brake lever, even when he wasn't applying it. And these guys know a thing or two about bike wrangling.......not more than you, or me of course, but they've got some knowledge.

All it takes is developing the habit, start with your index and middle finger draped over the front brake lever and go out for a putt. It'll feel kinda weird at first, but you'll soon see that you can still twist the throttle, maintain a good "feel", and move the bars..........all while keeping yourself covered. In time, it'll seem awkward not to have a couple of fingers on the brake lever. Better yet, when it comes time for that "oh sh*t, not another insurance claim" panic stop, and your time is coming, trust me on'll be ready, coming to rest, rubber side down with inches to spare. Sweet.

So we're done, right!? Not quite yet, no "how to" guide worth its weight (hey, just what does a blog weigh anyway!?) is gonna leave you without some warnings and disclaimers......and we here at Chrome Asylum are slaves to convention. First, remember our MSF instructor's demand to keep our paws off the front lever unless we were actually braking? He didn't say it because covering the front brake is a bad thing, he did it because when you're learning to ride, you've the grey matter boiling just trying to make the damn machine go in a straight line without slamming into the sign-up table (yeah, its happened), you don't need to be worrying about learning an "advanced" control's a first things first kinda it?

Also make sure your brake lever is adjusted so that when it's pulled all the way back to the grip it doesn't smash the digits that are still wrapped around the throttle, best to get this handled before we advance beyond the "pretend ride". I mean it, check the adjustment. Lastly, be careful in parking lots, if you've got the bars turned in sharply and you stab that front brake, chances are you're gonna find out just how effective those crash bars really are. Let's use our heads. Remember Chromies, smooth application of the controls.............