Rider’s Bike

September 1 2008

Getting older is certainly one of the most unexpected of things that can happen to a man, to paraphrase Leon Trotsky. There are a lot of things that prompt us to realize our age; for example, realizing that the 20-year-old waitress is in fact not flirting when she calls you ‘hun.’ I prefer to view this realization as representing a certain level of wisdom being attained, and I should state that I’m not hung up on getting older in the least. Not that I’m that old anyway.

Looking back over the variety of street bikes I’ve owned over the years, the common thread has been a preference for “all rounders.” General purpose bikes that serve well for around town, commuting, or for weekend touring. Of course, there’s no reason that one can’t do all those things on a Gold Wing or a GSXR1000, though it’s been my experience that a “standard” model that does several things well, rather than one thing really well, has been better suited to the kind of riding that I do. Additionally, the ability to tailor a bike to my exact requirements becomes part of the enjoyment of ownership. This has been the case as I’ve been slowly turning my plain-Jane Super Glide into what I need in a motorcycle these days. Or at least what I think I need.

My long range plan had been to ease from the more sporting side of standard (or naked sport if you prefer) to the more relaxed standard posture, via the lightest and best handling chassis in HD’s Big Twin lineup. Always a fan of both the old FXR and FXRT models, sadly unavailable now, the newer FX Dynas offer a degree of both (relatively) nimble handling and longer range comfort. Let’s not forget that back in the day–I just don’t hear that phrase enough–people regularly rode unfaired standard motorcycles like Norton Commandos and Triumph Bonnevilles for touring. Distinctions however were not really made between touring, sport touring, cruiser, touring-oriented cruiser, and of course the latest to be compiled with this compendium of categories, adventure touring. This, at least as far as I can tell after closely examining models that are defined as such, usually equates to riding street bikes with long travel suspension…on the street.

Try as I may, I haven’t been able to arrive at a classification for whatever I’m trying to arrive at with my unpretentious, garden-variety FXD. However, for better or worse, what I’m finding is that while my eye may veer toward a stripped, lean aesthetic, much of the rest of me wants what I have been referring to myself lately as “dresser light.” As evidenced in last issue’s commentary regarding windshields, function is trumping form at every turn. Over the past several years, minor aches and pains have become a little more magnified, whether moving a few yards of topsoil into the back garden, or after riding a few hundred kilometres. Not that I’m suddenly falling apart barely into my forties, indeed I’m still decades from resigning myself to a full on touring bike. To those in their late 50’s who ride Ninjas all day long, I know you’re out there, and well, good for you.

However, as the years pass, finding ideal ergonomics has now won out over visual considerations, not unlike the way clothes become increasingly worn for comfort over style. Those of you who have had that sudden realization that you’ve become your father, have already tumbled down this slippery slope. First it’s a windshield, then saddlebags, after which it’s all downhill.

Until recently I haven’t had saddlebags on a bike for the past eight years, though the sheer practicality of this addition needs no justification really. If you use your bike for anything other than an hour-long Sunday ride to Dairy Queen, they are just too practical to not have, sportbikers with those really cool backpacks notwithstanding. This spring I was able to find a decent quality set of leather bags that fit snugly between the rear shocks and turn signals. They look ok, though more importantly they hold rain gear, lunch, or even more important still, eight 500 ml cans per side of my favourite German malt beverage. And yes, that is a comfort issue.

Not long ago I would have balked at the idea of an engine guard, sneering at the very notion of bolting a cumbersome piece of tubular steel to such a lithe, trim bike. But after finding one in black powder coat with integrated foot rests, I found myself at the parts counter before I fully realized it. To be clear though, the primary purpose was not preventative maintenance in the event of a slow speed tip-over, nor was it to enable me to assume a near “gyno exam” stance while cruising downtown in second gear. I’ve always preferred the feet under posture, perhaps a holdover from dirt riding, though certainly practical for optimum control regardless of surface. For a second opinion on this, key “Hells Angels-History of the Chopper-Jesse James” into YouTube for a definition of Frisco style bikes. No, the reason for this addition was simply to enable an alleviation from the occasional leg cramps that occur after a few hundred kilometres of riding. Pure functionality and nothing more. And well, apparently black is the new chrome.

For years I had no issues with stock seats, and an aching posterior was something I rarely felt even after a full day’s ride. Though after losing my ass sometime during 1998, this has become more of an issue on longer weekend jaunts. The most recent addition in this pursuit of longer-range comfort is an Airhawk seat pad. There’s nothing stylish about this thing whatsoever, though for the price it also doesn’t rest there on the stock saddle unattended either. I’m pretty certain that I could lay this thing across the bare frame rails and ride clear across the country. No product plug here, just a satisfied customer.

Of course, the third point of contact in the ergonomic equation after feet and keester is hand placement, and this so far has proven to be the most difficult to get correct. In less than three full seasons I’ve had no less than four different handlebars on this bike. The latest option, black 12-inch rise “mini-apes” (monkey bars?), were chosen in order to match a custom made sissy bar. These are both in keeping with the vaguely mid-1970s look I seem to be drawn to, likely resulting from the first HDs I remember seeing as a child. Though they look great, here again form may succumb to function if I can’t get the reach fine-tuned. The only true discomfort I ever feel when riding any distance is something akin to having a red-hot knife blade penetrate my upper right (Trapezius?) shoulder after a few hundred kilometres. This has persisted for years regardless of bike, bars, helmet, etc., and no, I don’t grip the bars too tightly thank you. The solution here may ultimately be Motrin and A535. When I begin thinking about this issue too much I usually consider our forefathers, those who built this great nation, and realize how soft subsequent generations have become. Then I feel a little guilty. Then I pop another muscle relaxant.

Editor Roberts recently asked veteran builder Jesse James about his prediction for future trends in bike styles. Damned if I can find the issue to quote directly, but to paraphrase, it had to do with regular bikes that get ridden regularly. I also came across the term “a rider’s bike” on a web forum not long ago, and began considering what the term really meant, as it doesn’t seem to belong to the myriad of current typical motorcycle classifications. It’s not a chopper, it’s not a bobber, pro street, tourer, or bar hopper. It’s just my bike and I ride it. I am getting a little older but maybe I’m a little ahead of my time here.

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