Baggage Handling

June 1 2009

It is with the gravest concern that I’ve decided to break my silence and speak about an alarming trend that I’ve witnessed over the past few years. I first began to notice this on the roads generally, but recently the unfortunate condition has virtually taken over within the regular group of bikes I ride with. The evening news is rife with reports of the dramatic increase in obesity rates and now, wherever I turn I can’t escape them–wide tires, big fairings, big saddlebags, floorboards and “beer” boxes–in other words, fat bikes.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that these sorts of things were unceremoniously removed in an effort to keep a trim, lean, healthy appearance. It is with much dismay that I watch so many of these chrome-laden, cup holder-holding, lumbering rigs chuffing and puffing by. Sadly, many even seem to be in denial as they attempt to draw attention to themselves with additional chrome jewelry and loud exhausts. One can only hang their head in resignation at this ironic perversion of vanity.

There are those I ride with that, although admittedly suffering from this unfortunate circumstance, do make efforts to improve, however futile. I look with a sympathetic smile as the beer boxes are shed for a short time then reappear, bits of chrome are removed, only to be replaced with slightly differently shaped bits of chrome. It’s painful to witness, the little cut-down windshields sitting atop 850 lb bikes in an effort to look “sleeker”, or replacing the stock seats with little thin slim ones; I’ll let you draw your own analogy for that one…

It is then with grim determination that I’ve decided to do my best in setting an example this year, lest these overweight behemoths begin to morph into trikes, then camper vans, then who knows what? One can easily imagine the tragic end of this road–the eventuality of a motor home, with one or perhaps two fold-up scooters hanging quaintly from an aft rack. It is a slippery slope indeed.

So in the spirit of “no pain no gain”, I’ve adopted a weight loss and slimming down programme that began with new paint over this past winter. After a brief foray last season into adding a few creature comforts (and adding a few pounds in the process) I came to my senses, inspired by new kandy orange glow metal flake and black flames. First to go were the saddlebags, initially removed to allow disassembly of the rear fender. Functional or not, the idea of covering up the new retrolicious ‘70s looking iridescence just had no chance compared to the slender look of that bare rear end. Following this decision, the notion of the rather large pillion seat that had covered the top of said fender seemed nothing short of distasteful as well. It’s been removed in favour of a smaller rectangular passenger pad; not as comfortable, but then I don’t have to sit on it either. The narrower high bars I flirted with last year are also back, and my windshield is collecting dust in the garage as well, keeping the front-end lean, trim, and shy a few pounds. Additionally, I’ve even removed the chrome shields from the exhaust in favour of some tidy lightweight heat wrap. It’s these little things that make a difference, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

In truth, the reason for this year’s look has more to do with realizing–at least partially–a personal vision than anything else. As an impressionable youngster riding the ditches, fields, and occasional soft shoulder on various dirt bikes, the street bikes that I recall from that time were (apart from Asian inline fours) primarily Sportsters or somewhat ragged shovelheads; either stripped FLH’s or early FX models. As my current bike bears the more modern designation of that latter model line, I decided to attempt a look that mirrors that image, an image usually accompanied by a soundtrack of Jeff Beck’s Freeway Jam or some Allman Brothers.

I do realize that I will pay dearly for hurting all my bagger buddies feelings here, and fully expect that on any long weekend rides this summer requests to stow a 6 pack or two will be met with jeers and reference to this column. But in years to come, perhaps they will thank me for at least trying to pull them from their rolling sofas. In the meantime, I’ll be grinning through the unshielded windblast looking like 1974. At least until the bugs become too painful and my back starts to ache. And damn, sure would be nice to have someplace to keep a cold drink within reach…

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