Sunday, March 25, 2012

Progressive Suspension Road King Make-Over

It's been a while since Paint Shaker (aka my trusty '06 FLHRCI) got the attention in the Asylum that it deserves, in other words had some costly bits and pieces lovingly attached in some hopefully meaningful attempt to make my beloved sled all the more tasty. Well fellow Chromies, fate has smiled on the old black beauty at last.

The Mighty Paint Shaker
With over 18,000 miles on the clock, it was time to give the Road King's suspension a serious rehab. It wasn't necessarily that the stock units were bad, , more like "degraded", you know, just not quite what they once were. Much like your old mattress, or job, you never know what an improvement a replacement is until you strap on a new one and take it for a spin. Shocks and forks are no different.

After talking with some of the lads at work I decided to give Progressive Suspension ( a try. I'd had had good luck with the brand in the past with some of my sport bikes, and figured it would be a low risk choice. What wasn't so low risk was my decision to go with the "lowered" shocks and forks. Contradictory as it sounds, I like to flog the big pig rather aggressively, and the thoughts of grinding its tender underbelly on the unforgiving Texas tarmac seemed, well, just a bit cruel. Not to mention that unweighting the rear suspension at an inopportune moment could ruin ones whole day.

Not to worry says Richard, a colleague, and a more than capable FLH pilot with just the same Progressive bits affixed to his rig that I was contemplating acquiring. We had ridden together (along with a gaggle of TR folks) on a three day trek to the hills of Arkansas and he seemed to have absolutely no issues hustling his Harley with velocity and gusto through fast sweepers and tight first gear 180's. "Don't worry", he said, "the suspension works so much better, you really won't notice the reduced ground clearance". Hmmm, I dunno.

Progressive's Monotube Fork Cartridge Kit
It's not like I needed the reduced seat height, even in my post AARP eligible demographic, I still manage to maintain a not-so-stumpy  6'2" frame. No, any reduction in chassis height would only satisfy the pursuit of cool, which Paint Shaker has in spades. Oh what the hell, let's do the bomb bay doors!

We started off by chucking the stock rear units (OK, full disclosure, the crew from A Biker's Garage,  in Roanoke Texas did all the heavy lifting in the technical department. Thanks Bob, Dave, and Trent) and installing a pair of Progressive 940 Ultra Touring Series shocks (MSRP $699.95). These bad boys drop the ride height one full inch, while retaining all the stock travel for a smooth ride. They're adjustable as well, coming from the factory in the "full soft" mode (who's gonna stick with that setting....I mean, really!?). We set them at the half way mark just to have a starting point.

The 940's are a snap to install
While still at the ass-end of the beast, a Touring Link Chassis Stabilizer (MSRP $199.99) was bolted up. The theory here is that this handy little device, which tucks up all snug-like, won't effect ground clearance, but will tame that nasty "flexi-flyer:" effect that most pre-2009 FLH Harley's tend to exhibit during spirited cornering. Imagine having a hinge somewhere right below your seat with an annoying ten year old tugging with all of his demonic might just as you apex a high speed sweeper........yeah, it sucks. Short of buying a new generation H-D long haul rig, the Progressive Touring Link is your best option.

Touring Link tames that unhinged feeling
Up front, we dropped in an ultra trick Monotube Fork Cartridge Kit (MSRP $399.95) which also lowers the front suspension the aforementioned inch. It's all about consistency don't ya know? In addition to slamming the front, the gas charged dampers and custom tuned fork springs are supposed to help prevent excessive fork compression under braking. We'll put that to the test later. In addition the sealed cartridge design is supposed to be an improvement over the Harley OE "open bath" unit. I'm not an engineer, so I'm gonna have to take Progressive's word on that. A few hours later, OK, most of the day actually, we were ready to hit the road and see just what the hell we accomplished (figure on spending between $250 to $450 on the install labor if you're not doing the work in your own garage).

The first thing I noticed was how much more "planted" the bike felt. It was stiffer, front and rear, but not harsh. To be honest, it kinda reminded me of the ride characteristics of some of my sport bikes. There was a feeling of enhanced control, lots of feedback coming back through the bars, very nice. After logging a few miles it was time for the first serious "test"; fork dive under braking. Here goes, a swift exit from the freeway, storm hell bent down to a four-way stop. Wait for it. wait for it. Now. A stout squeeze on the lever and the Performance Machine six piston calipers and full floating disks do their job, and so do the new Monotube forks. Amazing, dive was reduced significantly, maybe 30% to 40%. Not to mention the increased "feel" at the front wheel, OK, that was cool.

Touring Link installed on the Road King
But what about cornering performance? Well, given that the best twisty bits in north Texas happen to be in Arkansas that eval will just have to wait. Until then I had to make do with the local stuff, not exactly challenging, but enough to get a sense of how the shocks and forks work as a unit. Verdict? Way better fellow Chromies, way better. While I wasn't able to achieve velocities great enough to test the Touring Link, the bike tracked a true arc through even the tightest second gear corners. Bumps and pavement irregularities were handled with ease, the bike didn't deflect so much as it absorbed the undulations with confidence inspiring control. That's a very good thing considering the Texas has some of the worst roads I've ever seen (not to mention drivers so aggressive and utterly lacking in skill they could put a Bangkok cabbie to shame) with chuck holes so sharp and deep they could "taco" a rim faster than you can say "Red State". Anything that helps one avoid the aforementioned "issues" should be embraced with gusto.

As for the ground clearance issue. the jury is still out. On a couple of corners I ground a bit, nothing major, but we touched down nonetheless. To be fair, these roads are all fairly new to me, and chances are I may have sent sparks flying with the Road King in its former stock configuration. Only more miles and twists will tell. The bike obviously sits lower, you'll notice the first time you put the jiffy stand down after installing the suspension, it's the little things.

Paint Shaker's new stance...bueno
Overall I'm totally stoked, The bike handles better than it ever has, it's solid and dare I say "nimble". Front end dive under braking has all but been neutralized (if you haven't upgraded the stock binders for Performance Machine brakes, you'll only get half the effect) and the ride has firmed up significantly without becoming a hardtailed torture session. Is it worth the dough? That's hard to say, but if you put on serious miles, and want your rig to handle as well as it can, then the Progressive Suspension mods are money well spent.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Daytona Dreamin' 2012

Another spring, another Daytona Bikeweek, or was it? Yes, and well, no. To be fair your humble scribe was only able to take part in the first weekend's festivities, having to return to Texas to toil at the gig that keeps the Asylum Spawn in clothes and tuition. That's not to say this year's adventure wasn't chock full of memorable wouldn't be Bikeweek if there weren't at least a couple of mind altering images seared into our frontal lobes.....right?

Take for instance the fact that for only the third time in history (a fact confirmed by a number of terminally annoyed bartenders and hotel staffers) Bikeweek and Spring Break converged in an unholy commingling of respective revelers. Bikers and co-eds all vying for cheap beer in the same place and the same time, oh the horror! Speaking of horror, can you imagine the following exchanges taking place on Main St?

Co-eds and Biker's?! Too much for our little friend

Two middle aged bikers (are there really any other kind?) spy a couple of cuties ambling along the avenue just up ahead, when one nudges the other and offers up, "....pretty hot, huh?" To which the other grizzled biker replies, "hey that looks like my......oh, crap....Buffy, is that you!?"

"Oh, hi daddy, hey Uncle Jim" Awkward. And you just know that happened, you know it! A lot.

On the other side of the demographic coin we have the leather clad, hard ass biker couple staggering out of Froggy's, obviously about three Jack and Cokes over their limit, when they stumble through a throng of kids just hanging out. Channeling the freewheeling vibe of their Woodstock youth, they decide to bum a couple of smokes off of the collegiate partiers. Tapping one of tomorrows taxpayers on the shoulder, the bright eyed kid whirls around and, uh oh............."mom!, dad!, oh my gawd, are you kidding me right now!?!?"
Worth every dollar!

Deeply disturbing moments aside...........a pretty routine Bikeweek. The weather was iffy (got much better after our exit, figures), rained some each day, putting a bit of a damper on the crowds at some venues. At times Main St. was actually walkable, kinda nice really. The good news? The iconic beer girls didn't dawn any rain gear......there is a God!

Can you say "project bike"?!

There was the usual mix of machines, as is a staple of Daytona. Lots of metric cruisers, low slung drag bikes, Harley's, sport bikes, and scooters. An eclectic mix to be sure, one you won't find at Sturgis, Laughlin, Street Vibrations, and Laconia. Oh, and there's those Boss Hoss V-8 freak machines. I think I've finally figured it out, those pathetic excuses for a motorcycle are the biking worlds equivalent to the lifted monster truck. Feel free to draw your own "Dr. Phil" inspired conclusions.

We spent some time with John Hamer and the good folks at Seminole Harley-Davidson. Attended a silent auction benefiting the Sam Swoope Charity Ride for Shriners Children's Hospital. Hat's off to the hundreds of riders that braved the rain, and bought some of the cool donated goodies. Great cause, even better people!

You know what else is cool about the Seminole crew? I'll tell ya, and this is totally on the down low, but it looks like Chrome Asylum is gonna get its very own XR-1200X to test, modify, and otherwise ride the hell out of. Think very long term test. More details as we decide to give 'em up........this is gonna be bitchin' fellow Chromies.

Splish, splash, James romps to a big win!

Mudfest, all in a days work for K-Dub

Went to the Supercross on Saturday night, chilled in the Dunlop suite, which was pretty handy considering it was pissing rain right up until the main. The track was pure soup, nasty and rutted, but that couldn't stop Answer's James Stewart (shameless plug, Answer is one of our exclusive brands) from engineering a flawless race and snagging the top spot on the podium, with MSR's (yup, another TR exclusive brand) K-Dub taking a well earned third.......damn good night!

But enough with the words, let's vidi some pics................

Street scene in front of world famous Froggy's

Sometimes the coolest cat is a dog

First real live Motor Maid I'd ever seen, trust me, she has more miles and is a better rider than you and me....don't doubt it
The hard working Progressive Suspension folks upgrade a very clean 95 Dyna

The reason we all make the Daytona trek, Main St.

Perfect ending to Bikeweek

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Harley's Mid-Year Offering, Where's The Baggers?

Not too long ago Harley announced it's mid-year new model intros; the Softail Slim and the Sportster Seventy-Two. While both machines will no doubt find their respective niche's, their introductions raise more than a few questions. Questions that we, the inmates at the Asylum just can't resist. But before we get all "60 Minutes" (remember back when we actually believed in "investigative journalism"? I don't either.) on the Motor Company, let's take a peek under the formed metal skirts of these sexy sleds and see if they're worth a dinner and a movie.

Get your motor runnin', head out on the......
With the Sportster Seventy-Two (XL-1200V for the Harleyistas out there) we've got a nifty little time machine that catapults us back to the era of .50 gas, mini skirts, and counter-culture idiocy. From it's 2.1 gallon peanut tank, to its "ape-hanger" bars the "72" is straight out of Easy Rider central casting. It has all the looks, with none of the wretched mechanicals of a 60's chopper. And we've got to say the Milwaukee crew has really nailed it. Especially tasty are the paint options; metal flake so bold and rich it could be frosting on a kids birthday cake, or a sick rat rod inspired murdered out flat black (uh, make that "Denim Black" if you please). Flip a coin, you can't lose.

Damn Sexy
A kicked out radical (for a factory born rig) chopper stance courtesy of extended forks coupled with a skinny laced front wheel help round out the flashback styling of this pint sized bar hopper. The old school white walls are just a bonus, as is the relatively low $11,199 MSRP. Oh sure, the 72 has its limitations, not the least of which is the 2.1 gallon peanut tank, perfect for those with an inflamed prostate, but useless for long haul runs. Forget the fact that its ergonomics are more suited to staging photo shoots with hot, temperamental, inked up strippers (not that's there's anything remotely wrong with that) than actual riding........this bike flat looks sick. And you know what? Sometimes that's just enough.....and this is one of those times.

Rounding out our dynamic duo is the FLS Softail Slim. Think of it as a Fat Boy that's done some hard time with Jillian Michaels (holy crap, talk about conflicted!) coming out on the other side lean and just slightly beaten down. The newest member of the Softail family sports a relatively narrow profile front and rear, gone are the beefy rear meats, made oh so "fashionable" by the likes of the hacks at OCC (three cheers for natural selection). Instead we find a fold away license plate frame and a "bobbed" rear fender.

A low carb version of a Fat Boy

One of the most unique features of the FLS is its gloss black "Hollywood" bar, think unholy alliance of a set of motocross and roto-tiller bars and you get the jist. Honestly, they pretty cool. According to the marketing flaks at HD the styling of the bars, the slim silhouette of the bike, and a healthy dose of "dechromification" (yeah, it's a word, just don't look it up) are all supposed to conjure up memories of "home built" customs from the 40's and 50's. Maybe so, but coming off the line with it's proven Twin Cam 103B motor, available optional anti-lock brakes, lustrous paint, and $15,499 MSRP, we're thinking the Softail Slim is just a tad more, ah, shall we say refined??

So we've got two new machines, cool. What's the big deal, what's the big drama? Simple Sally, no reason to build either one. Harsh? Maybe. But here's the dope, Softails, any Softail, just aren't selling. Doesn't matter what model, they're pretty much gathering dust on the showroom floor. Check out your local dealer, do a little cub reporting and get back to me on that sport. They ain't thrilled. Same with the Sporty chopper....aren't there already about six hundred Sportster models available now? Really needed six hundred and one! No doubt HD's crack (smoking) market research team has proven through judicious applications of geometric logic that these two models are just the ticket to sales success and bonuses for all.......and management bit. Sucka! The fact is, talk to any dealer and he'll tell you what's moving..........baggers, baggers, and baggers. Simple, end of story, thank you please drive through.

Hey Milwaukee, let's build some sick hot rodded baggers sporting some serious motors, stripped down sex appeal, and slammed to the deck. While we're at it, a CVO Road Glide completely murdered out......oh baby, dare to dream........

Monday, March 12, 2012

Milwaukee Mini's To Be Born In The USA

Sharp eyed fellow Chromies will remember waaaay back in 2011 (April 11 to be exact) that we reported on a plan by the Motor Company to build the Buell Blast's replacement in the land of curry and outsourced call-centers and import them to the US badged as "real" Harley's. Ah, sorry Sally, not so fast. What a difference nearly a year makes.

While enjoying beers and brats on Main St. in Daytona I had an opportunity to chat up some folks well connected at the highest levels of Harley-Davidson (these people know what they're talking about my brothers, so much so, that I'm not free to quote them by name) and they told me that the plan to import fully assembled motorcycles from India is dead, at least in the near term. Not gonna happen, not now, maybe not ever.

So why the 180? To recap, Harley needs to develop a bike that can take over the late and unlamented Blast's role as small displacement training machine for the Rider's Edge program. The specs state that the bike needs to be no more than 500cc, which puts HD in a rather tough spot given the fact that Milwaukee's most diminutive machine crashes the party at well over 800cc's.....uh oh. Couple that with the fact that while most of the Harley Faithful are willing to accept, however grudgingly, some level of foreign content in their beloved Hogs, the notion of a machine branded with the bar and shield being built entirely overseas like some, God forbid, Honda was simply too much to swallow.

The simple truth is, the "Made in America" component of the narrative that is Harley Davidson is still sacrosanct. It's the third rail of HD brand folklore, tamper with it at your extreme peril. No matter how tempting the additional margin dollars that a foreign built would undoubtedly fetch, the suits in Milwaukee aren't willing to risk sending their loyal customer base running for the exits, a sure way to tank profits. No bonus, no bueno.

So for now, it looks like we're likely to see a petite pig coming out of the Kansas City plant sometime next year. What it'll look like is still a mystery, but we're pretty sure it will be offered in two displacements; 650cc and 500cc (the latter so it conforms to Riders Edge requirements). The key here is that it will be US built, as real a Harley as any rolling off the lines today. That's the Motor Company's story, and they're gonna stick to it, until they don't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daytona Bound......But In A Good Way

It's that time of year fellow Chromies, the snow's still ass deep (where it still actually snows), rain is dumping in buckets, and the wind is blowing ice there a better excuse to flee south with about a half-million like minded crazy ass bikers for some brew, grub, and fun!? We'd say hell no too.
All we need is a V&H Widow system and a Fuel Pak!

And this year looks to be even better. And why you query? Well John Hamer and the good folks at Seminole Harley Davidson have offered to loan me a machine to test. Not just any bike mind you, HD's very trick, but under appreciated XR-1200X. I've dug this flat track inspired hot rod since it was introduced in the states a couple of years ago. It goes, stops, and handles like a proper sport bike (OK, I'll admit any decent 600 will walk away from it. So. Who cares?), but has the heartbeat of a Milwaukee V-Twin. It just doesn't get any better my friends. You think John is trying to woo me into buying one?? Stay tuned..........
Does that look like proper riding attire to you?

We won't forget Main Street Daytona, or the Speedway either.........we'll be taking plenty of pics; the good, the bad, and the "what the f*ck, weren't there any mirrors in your hotel room" kind of candid shots. So stay tuned, stay upright, and stay frosty my fellow Chromies...........

These Kicks Are No Bull!

In the interest of full disclosure Speed and Strength is a brand owned by Tucker Rocky with whom I toil as the new VP of Marketing, but so freaking what, these new “Run With The Bulls” kicks are the best motorbiking “sneakers” I’ve ever slid on my feet. And that’s saying something given that I’m not prone to sporting anything but boots when I take old Paint Shaker out for a spin, and for good reason. Let’s just say in my youth that “I had a bad experience”, or at least damn near. Maybe you can relate, you roll up to a light, go to put your foot down, and uh oh, the laces of your Air Jordan’s just caught a grip on your shift lever……..panic!! If you’re lucky, at the last possible moment you wrestle your foot free, stab it to the ground and safe both your machine and your ego. If not? At least you’ll find out how fast you can pick up your bike in a busy intersection.

The good news? You’ll never have to worry about any “oh crap” moments with the Run With The Bull kicks, their laces are recessed and covered at the top with a handy hook and loop closure which ensure those pesky laces never ruin your day. Actually once laced, you don’t have to bother again, just use the strap closure. Another cool thing about these shoes is that the padding on the instep is just enough that the shifter won’t jab the top of your foot (a real pain if you’re out riding for the day), yet flexible enough that you can walk for miles without a worry. Of course the soles are of the “non-slip” variety. And that’s the thing, Speed and Strength has managed to cobble a shoe that works as a shoe; comfort, looks, durability, while at the same time incorporating the features that a real rider’s gonna demand. Well done.
Take that Nike, Speed and Strength's got it going on for us riders

If you’re wondering what color choices you have, you don’t. Like any proper motorcycle should, especially those of the Harley-Davidson family, these kicks come in black only, with a bit of white trim. Personally I’m hoping they throw a murdered out version in 100% mat black, ah dare to dream!