So, I recently acquired a new-to-me Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and the story behind it is rather interesting. But first, a little history about my motorcycle experience.
I started, many years back, on a black 1982 Yamaha 400 Special. Or was it a 1980? '81? Whatever. I loved that bike. And I bought it for $125. A friend (the lead singer of a band I was in at the time) said to me one day, when we were both quite hungover, that if I could get it running I could have it for the above price. He went to the shower. By the time he got out of the shower, it was purring like a kitten and I had a huge grin on my face. Astonished, he asked how I'd done it.
"Oh, one of the fuses was bad. I replaced it with a paperclip and now I have a new motorcycle."
That bike was slow as shit. I'm talking just above scooter kind of slow. But it was safe, it was very steady and stable, and it was really tough to screw up too badly on it. Truth be told, it was the perfect bike for me, who'd never ridden before. If there's one piece of advice I'd give new riders, it would be to get a smaller bike -- something under 750cc.
Anyhow, I rode that sucker for years, everywhere -- the beach, the mountains to camp, to work, to parties -- and it just went and went and went. Friends I'd let ride it would tell me it was the most comfy bike they'd ever been on, and it probably was. After all, we were all in our early to mid-20s and didn't have great big pocketbooks. If we had something on two wheels (or any wheels), it was ghetto and held together with zip ties and hope.
Eventually, I started losing the chain in second gear if I didn't hammer it hard, and it got annoying. We tried fixing it a few times (which led to one of the most epic wheelies I have seen to this day), but it just wouldn't cooperate. So it sat. And it sat, and sat. Eventually, I sold it to a friend for 200 bucks because he was going to make a bobber out of it, if I remember correctly. Well, he never bobbed it, I can tell you that, but I'm not sure what the heck happened to that sucker. Sad. It was an awesome bike.
(This isn't mine, but it looked just like it. Motorbike Search Engine)
Next up was a 1978 Honda CB750. It was on airbags, it was wicked low, it rode like a steel roller skate, and it was very fast. The lead singer I'd gotten the Yamaha from rode it one night, just up the street and back. When he returned his hands were shaking so badly he showed me and he said, "That thing ain't right. Never let me ride it again."
It was loud, too; sounded mean as hell. I was convinced it had at least a cam in it because it revved up unnaturally quickly. I had adventures on that bike, as well, of course, but I don't think I had it for as long. Nobody really liked it (except me) and it constantly had some issue or other. The head spit hot oil onto my shin at speed, it constantly ran out of fuel (yes, this was driver error but still, never happened on the 400), the starter never worked right (which was cool with me because I thought kicking it over was way more fun, anyhow), the blinkers fell off, the headlight bounced, on and on. Today, I'd just have fixed those things but back then, I owned three tools and they were all pliers.
Anyhow, that sat in said lead singer's backyard for years. He finally moved out of state and the fate of the bike is completely unknown to me. I'd like to think someone has it, somewhere, but it's likely in an old bike graveyard being picked at for parts and rotting away.
(Again, not mine. My tank was red and this one is far nicer. Simon Lieu/YouTube)
I didn't have another bike again for many years. I don't know why. However, I began to dig on bobber bikes. A lot. I told a buddy, who happened to have a failed/unfinished bobber project. I'm not even sure the year, but I think a 1982 Yamaha Maxim XJ 650. It was rough, it was primered, it wasn't all there, and it had a massive and nasty steel homemade seat. My boss was thrilled when it was delivered to me at work one day. Hey, it was AutoZone; what did he expect?
I never bobbered it. The thing was a real bugger to start and, kind of like the Magna I'd have a while later, it was necessary to hold the throttle pretty much wide open in order for it to stay lit. I received a video of my friend starting it, but I never started it myself. It just sat. I think I was really more interested in something that started, ran well, and at least friggin' went down the street as a starting point.
Then, suddenly, I became highly interested in muscle bikes -- big cruisers that could comfortably carry two and were ergonomically nice. That CB750 of mine was quick but it was not at all comfy to ride the way it was set up. It was as if the previous owner wanted a 1978 crotch rocket and did his best to accomplish that goal. This thing was… scary.
So I stuck to Craigslist like a magnet and, eventually, found an early '80s Honda Magna 750 a guy was letting go for $700 because it needed a little carb work. Was it muscly? Was it fast? Was it comfortable with two people on it? I don't know, I never did get to ride it a single foot. Long story short, it didn't like to idle. I let some "expert" take it and, $300 and two weeks later, literally not a single thing had changed. Money was tight, so I shelved it until I could tend to the thing a little closer. It's still shelved.
A couple years later, I saw on Facebook that an old high school buddy of mine had a bobber he was working on, and it looked just like the Yamaha I currently had only it was 90% done! It was painted, it was low, it had struts on it (not a true hardtail), a cool solo springer seat, neat tires, and a lot of custom touches. I expressed interest and, eventually, the bike, which was a 1982 Yamaha Maxim 750, became mine. I traded him a 1977 Glastron open bow family boat, sparkle blue on white, straight across.
Chris said it needed a starter and provided a reman that went with the bike. Man, I worked like a dog on this thing, night after stinking night. Nothing worked, it wouldn't turn over without sounding like rocks in a coffee can. So I swapped in the starter from the 650. Direct fit, still rocks in a coffee can. An in-depth net search told me that I had a bad starter clutch. Starter clutch? What the hell is this, I thought. At that point, I didn't know and didn't care. The engine would have to come out and I had no time or money. Or, at that point, drive to work on the thing.
I got the bike to fire a couple times, and it actually sounded really good, but each start took an hour and a half of hassle and jumper cables and frustration. And I was still working at the parts store, which meant I had really zero time to dedicate to it. So it sat. At least this one looked good while it sat. Friends who'd come over for beers thought it was bad ass. And it was! But you know, secretly, I always wished it was a Harley. Hell, I wished they were all Harleys. But Harleys are expensive, so that cured any hope of procuring one. Jap bikes were fine, I told myself; no, they aren't the real deal, but they are what I can get and what I can work with.
That is, until recently.
Another lead singer from another band I was with is in to Hogs, big time, always has been. He stands like nine feet tall and weighs about what an SUV does, and it's all muscle. Anyhow, I played a gig with him as a fill-in recently and we got to talking bikes on the internet one day. I'd happened on an old Sportster 883 with a smoked clutch some guy was letting go reasonably cheap, and linked him to the ad. My buddy says man, I have a roller that we could do for that price and it's got way better parts. Go on, I said.
"Well," he begins, "it's a 1982 Harley Ironhead with a 1975 1,000cc engine." I told him I'm all ears.
This thing is in a billion parts, but it's all there -- and what isn't there, we've either sourced already or will source. The night I went over to purchase the Ironhead from him we ordered drag pipes (I just know I'm going to hate these and either baffle them or swap them out entirely, but they were super cheap), a tank, a drive chain, and a complete engine gasket set.
The more I looked at the parts pile and the roller, the more thrilled I was. He hadn't been lying -- this sucker was all there. We went through the engine parts, one by one: here's a cam, and another, and two more; here's brand new chrome shocks; here's .030 over pistons new in the box; here's an oil pump; there's a bag full of transmission parts, and so on.
He says he'll sell it to me cheap, but I have to help him with the build. I'd have it no other way. But how cheap, I asked.
"A grand now, $500 when it fires up."
Dude. I had really bought a Harley-Davidson. And an old one, to boot, not a showroom queen with a radio and a windshield (not that there's anything wrong with that, those just aren't my idea of a Hog at this point). An honest-to-goodness, 1,000cc Ironhead nasty Harley-Davidson bike that was ugly as sin and as broken down as a Democrat after Trump sealed the win in 2016.
And I love every nut and bolt, every rusted piece of chrome, every dented part, and even the clapped out, faded, and rock hard seat. I truly do. I mean, dude… I own a Harley-Davidson.
Some pictures below of my first view and how it sits as of this writing. In fact, I took the blamed thing out of my truck today after picking it up just last night. It's mine.
This is it sitting in Tom's garage.
I took this photo the night I bought the bike.
Yup. It's in a few pieces.
What a bitchin' looking front end.
Mr. Frame (which I'm convinced is a 1981; more on that in a later post)
Mr. Frame standing tall. Super clean!
How cool is this rear fender? Oh, yeah!
I unloaded these parts today and got them into the garage. My job now is to clean them up and/or paint them, and then assemble them.
Gentlemen, start your engines.