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Bob and Keith's Excellent Harley Adventure
(or, To Pomona and Bust)

Question:  How many Harley Davidsons does it take for two guys to travel 36 miles?

Answer:   Three. One to dump off at the rental dealer because it cannot maintain highway speeds,   the second to leave at the side of the road because the engine seized up, and the third to get the two guys back to the rental place after the tow truck comes to pick up the dead bike.  (Oh, you are spared the image of two guys riding tandem on a Harley.  A view that would be appropriate in West Hollywood.) Read on to discover the gruesome details ...

As you know my friend Keith

is getting married in a few weeks.  One of the things that he wanted to do for a bachelor party is to have a bunch of friends rent Harleys and drive up the coast towards San Francisco some weekend.  He figured that would be more fun than mud wrestling at the Tropicana. (What do the young know.)

Well I was included in this motorcycle run.  But there was a little problem. It has been over 25 years since I rode motorcycles, and I did not have a California License for one. So I figured I had better get a license to participate.  (Also, I am approaching the "Mid Life Crisis Age" , and as so many others before me when faced with this change of life have sought the console of Heavy Milwaukee Iron, I guess that I may pass into that realm also, and should start preparing for it...before my vision gets worse.)  The first problem was to get a license.  I took the test for the permit, no problem, but decided to take a California Highway Patrol approved Motorcycle Riders Course instead of a DMV Driving Test.    (Money well spent I might add.)  With the class completed, and an "M1" rating on my license, I was ready to start riding motorcycles.

As the plan was to rent Harley Davidsons for a long ride, we decided to rent a bike for a day as a trial run. The biggest bike I owned, though brief of time it was, was a Norton 750 Commander. That was a long, long time ago.

Thinking that I may own one of these Hogs, I do want to rent all the bikes in the line. So for this rental, I chose a Sportster, and Keith got a Road King.  Paperwork filled out, we picked up our bikes 5 PM on Friday.

The Bikes were beautiful, and each had about 700 miles on them.  (Just broken in by the dealership I am told.)  With great exhilaration we made the first run about  four blocks to Napoli's Italian Restaurant for a nice celebration dinner.  We have our Rides!

After dinner the bikers went to Keith's to show his brother Chuck the bikes and get some stuff. Jane went home.
We decided to drive up to Crestline and spend the night at my place.  An early morning getaway to the beach was planned, and maybe a cruise along PCH through Malibu, etc.  And of course a little dip in the Ocean is always mandatory.  Bathing suits and towels were packed.

Well some things just did not appear right.  On the highway I couldn't keep up with Keith.  My Sportster would not go over 72 mph.  Never having ridden one of these before, I really didn't know what to make of it.  (Did I have the choke on?  No!)  The Sportster vibrates like mad.  Looking in the rear view mirrors did provide an interesting laser light show effect of the headlights behind.  And yes,  my hands got tingling after about 15 minutes of riding.  (OK, I am out of shape for riding,  I know that.)  But the bike should have gone faster on the highway.   One other thing different about this bike is that the foot controls are mounted more forward, not a very secure riding position, and I did not ride the bike long enough to get comfortable with it.

Going up the mountain was another thing.  I had to down shift in order to go up the hill. I had remembered asking my friend Ron if I would notice the difference in power between the Sportster 883 and the 1200.  His answer was something to the effect, "not really, maybe going up the hill you might have do downshift a little sooner with the 883".  Well I was riding a brand new 1200 and downshifting into third gear to get up the hill.  Still couldn't keep up with Keith's Road King.

Which brings up the Road King.  I was behind Keith all the way.  Going up the hill I noticed a plume of smoke coming out from his bike at least three times.  When I say a plume of smoke I mean a Plume of smoke.  Couldn't tell what color it was because it was night.  But the smell was reminiscent of gunpowder.  What I had thought at the time was that there was crankcase oil blowing by the pistons when he was downshifting, but what do I know.  Anyway we make it home fine, got to bed, and woke up early the next morning eager for the ride to the beach.

Actually I did call Ron and ask him about the performance of the Sportster, as he has one,  and he assured me that the bike should go over 100 mph as is.  We also asked about oil for the Road King, and were told what to put in it if necessary.  (Thanks Ron.)

The next morning we got up, talked about the bikes a little and checked the oil on the Road King.  Not only was it reading  on the low end of the dipstick,  but there were oil drops covering the right side of the bike.  Oil was on the right side of the seat, the rear engine cylinder, the crankcase, push rod cover, and exhaust manifold. Though we could not figure where it was leaking from, and the oil looked like is was sprayed on these parts in distinct droplets, not poured on.  (And oh, the oil warning light never came on when Keith was riding it.  Though it does come on during the normal ignition on sequence.)  I mentioned that we checked the oil and it was low.  We decided to call the Dealer from whom we rented it and ask them about it.  When we called and told them that the oil was low, they said that the bike has to be warmed up before you can get an accurate check.  They assured us that a little leak is not a problem.  We told them that we would ride down the hill and check it again and call them back.  They said fine.

Well all seems OK still, and with bags packed and after kissing my Sweetie good-bye, we started up our thunderous machines and woke up the neighborhood.

The ride down the hill to McDonalds appeared fine, though my Sportster did not want to go faster than 60 mph Down Hill !  At McDonalds we again checked the oil, and it was not even reading on the dip stick.  With second cup of coffee in hand we decided regardless what the dealer said, that we would bring the bikes back to them to look at.  The dealer said it was ok to ride it back to them.

On the way to the Dealer, again my bike would not go over 60 now, and it was surging at that speed. The engine, she was not happy.  And do I add that the left hand mirror broke off.  Well it actually did not break off completely, two screws which hold it to a mounting arm separated, and the mirror was 'Hanging Loose', no more accurately it was spinning in the wind like a propeller.   She 'er, were broke!

Again following Keith, another plume of smoke, bluish white in color I can add was seen coming from the Road King. (He was not downshifting at the time.)

Making it to the Dealer they looked at the Road King first.  Checked the oil, and confirmed that it was low and they added some.  Looking at the oil on the bike they thought that it might have been coming from the Air Filter.  (It leaks oil sometimes as they said.  They also figured that the bike might have had too much oil in it originally and the excess oil was discharged somehow, and in the process "sucked out the rest of it" that's why it was low not.  (I am still thinking about that one.)

Then they hooked up some electronic device to the bike, pretty cool: electronic diagnostics.  Except for one small problem, this was a 2001 bike, they didn't yet get the 2001 diagnostic chip for the tester.  Their 2000 diagnostic chip just didn't hack it for them.  They cleaned off the oil with a rag, started the bike, listened to it and 'pronounced it OK to ride.

As this was happening someone replaced the left mirror on my bike.  Started it, Listened to it run, and it sounded OK to them.  I did manage to convince one of the mechanics to take it for a ride on the highway.  Grudgingly, a big-bad-Harley-looking mechanic, tattoo's and all finally put on a 'small' sized helmet and took it for a ride.  (It is amazing how modern technology is able to squeeze DOT and Snell approved protection  into a  helmet that covers an area smaller then his baseball cap.)   Upon his return, he did not even look at me, just drove the bike to the back of the service department right onto a bike lift. He didn't even take off his helmet before parts of that bike were flying off.  My rental salesman asked for the paperwork back and said that he will find another bike for me.  (Seems that there was some problem with the intake or something-or-other.)

There were no more Sportsters, and very nicely they asked if I would accept a bigger bike.  Sure I said, I just wanted to ride, and I do want to ride all the models.  (Though I do not want to ride another Sportster again.)  The salesman found another bike and I signed the paperwork for a Heritage Softail.   I'll say right now:  What a Bike!

With all paperwork in order, and another check out, we were on our way.

What a great 15 miles of riding we had.  That Heritage Softail is WONDERFUL.  (I WANT ONE)
I guess going from a Sportster to a Softail does not do the Sportster justice, but now I know what Jim and Renee mean when they said that I will like the big bikes much better than the Sportster.  (You are right Jim, this is one nice machine.)

Well what happened, after about 15 miles, more smoke started to exit from Keith's bike.  First a few small puffs.  I was about a ten car lengths from him.  All of a sudden a large white smoke screen enveloped all three lanes of traffic.  This smoke screen obscured vision; all I saw was the red of brake lights from the cars ahead of me disappearing into it.  I really wasn't sure what to do: slow down, maintain speed, pretend I didn't know Keith.  I really thought there was going to be a pile up on the freeway. I couldn't see a dam thing. I did slow a little, and move to the right side of lane #3, close to the shoulder for possible evasion.   In a few moments I was through the smoke.  Keith continued to ride.  Following back there I observed  a few more small puffs of white smoke again over the next few miles. Then later another large white smokescreen came from his bike,  this time I thought I saw some flames also coming out of the exhausts.  The smoke again covered all three lanes of traffic.  At this point I had been making sure I had plenty of distance from the car in front of me.  I did slow down markedly before I entered the smoke this time.  Again the red of break lights were seen going into the white plume.  But this time Keith pulled off to the side.  I joined with him and we decided that we cancel the rest of the ride, we decided to pull off to the McDonalds just off the highway and call the Dealer.

We pulled off the highway at the next exit, and drove into Mr. Mac's.  For some reason Keith stopped his bike right on the driveway of the restaurant.  Front wheel on the ramp, rear wheel on the street.  I pulled beside him and asked why he stopped there.  His answer involved an expletive and the statement " the bike wants to stop here; it must not like McDonald's".  I drove into a parking space, and Keith pushed the bike.  (They are heavy in case you want to know.)

With diet coke in hand, the dealer got a phone call.  A truck was dispatched within an hour, and the driver asked if we really know how to start the bike.  He proceeded to crank the engine enough for an explosion to finally discharge from the tail pipe, with some oil and gas and smoke.  He then got it on the lift and hauled it away.

The final question was does Keith ride with the tow truck or "on the back".    Since I was planning to take Jane for a little ride, we went tandem so I could get a little practice driving with someone on the bike.

Back at the dealership, only 36 miles from where we started the ride ended.  The dealer of course was embarrassed, informing us that these were the first bikes they ever had mechanical problems with.  That they just had two bikes out for 29 days, and another two out for 14 days with no problems.  They offered us another day of rental with no charge, (Thank You).

It was an adventure to say the least.

I learned a couple of things.  I like the Big Bike. I will rent bikes again. I will not rent a Sportster again.

I wonder how the dealer would approach the (warranty) repair of these machines if they were personally owned.  I don't believe that if a new bike seized up due to lack of oil, they would gladly repair it under warranty.  I bet you would have a legal fight on your hands proving that the owner did not neglect the maintenance, and let the oil get too low!

Oh, and the Big Ride Bachelor Party is modified slightly.  As of now there will be No Bikes, but the boys will get together at the River with Boats.

The End.
Smile, Bob (Who spits out Sportsters for dinner.)

    Be careful out there, and don't forget to floss.

p.s. If your Harley's a'smokin' it isn't a'jokin.