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!?