Friday, December 8, 2017

I bought a Harley-Davidson

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.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Things I like: Ramcharger vs. Cherokee


Well, thus far I am extremely happy with my decision to acquire an old Ramcharger after driving a Jeep Cherokee for many yeras. There are a lot of plusses to owning such a rig. There are minuses, too, which will come in a future edition. But for now, let’s look at what I like more about the Ramcharger over my Jeep Cherokee.

It’s big.
Yes, this is a plus for me. I’m not a large-framed man, but I like a lot of space. There is simply nowhere to put things in the Jeep Cherokee. Heck, there’s about as much room in my Ramcharger’s engine compartment with the engine in it as there is in the entire cargo area of the Cherokee. That leaves me room for compressors, relays, wiring, dual batteries——heck, whatever I want! I think I could probably wedge a VW engine in there alongside the 440, and I’m not kidding. But the point is, there is space in the vehicle. Everything is bigger, from the engine bay to the passenger compartment to the cargo area in back. More space means more options.

It’s powerful.
Yes, the Jeep 4.0 is a great engine and it has pretty good power in H.O. form, but the earlier Renix engines leave a lot to be desired. Even the H.O. engines can’t touch my stock 440 for torque, though, and that’s just dandy with me. In my last entry, I told the story of hauling a full-size GMC with a bed full of bricks uphill on loose gravel. Try that in a Jeep. There’s just something irreplaceable about driving a big V8.

It’s simple.
Just about any problems the Ramcharger encounters I’ll be able to diagnose at a glance. Sure, sensors and EFI and catalytic converters and computers are all very nice, but there is something to be said about stripped down simplicity, too. Three-quarters of the truck can be taken down using a small socket set. No Torx bolts or specialty stuff here, just good old fashioned, SAE sweetness. Makes the tool bag a heck of a lot lighter.

It looks cooler.
Don’t get me wrong, I do so love the styling of the Cherokee. That being said, it’s hard to argue when a lifted ‘70s Dodge is rolling down the street. They just ooze testosterone. I also love, love the dash setups on old Dodge trucks, right down to the not-so-bright factory gauge lighting. Uber cool.

It turns heads.
My Jeep can get a few looks, too, but mostly by other Jeep enthusiasts. Cherokees are way more common than the old Ramchargers are, too, so it doesn’t tend to get the attention my Dodge does. Almost every day at work, someone comes in and asks about the big black Ramcharger in the parking lot. Around town, I get thumbs up signs from random folks. My friends, even the Ford and Chevy ones, tell me honestly that they think it’s cool.

Full-time 4x4.
I do realize this is purely a taste thing but then again, so’s everything else on this list. I love the NP203 full-time case. Yeah, it’s fun to do donuts or let the tires loose around a corner now and again, but I’d rather have the cool factor of always being in four-wheel drive. I only lock the case into positive 4x4 when I really need it and to me, that’s awesome.

It’s highly customizable.
Jeep Cherokees are, as well, to an extent, but I have soooo many more options with the Ramcharger. Most of those options stem back to the space issue, but some don’t. I can put things where I want them in the Ramcharger, whereas my Jeep Cherokee was a lot fussier about location. Heck, there’s a full roll cage in my Ramcharger and most of the time, I don’t even realize it’s there.

Tire size.
This one is weak, I know, but I’m adding it anyhow. My Jeep is up 6.5” and 35s are the limit without major modifications and even then, they required some hefty fender trimming if I don’t want them to rub on the trails. The Ramcharger is up 4” and makes 35s look like 32s. I could squeeze 37s in without too much issue, and probably 38s with a bit of trim, and that makes me happy. Do I need 37s for what I do with the Ramcharger? No. Does that matter? Not a bit. 

Last but most definitely not least, I have a tailgate now. I’ve never, ever liked the ‘hatch’ setup on Cherokees and later model Ramchargers. In my mind, it’s far cooler to drop a tailgate and lift the shell glass when yer at the campsite. Tailgates are on trucks men own; hatches are for the wiminz. Am I right?

Stay tuned for things I liked better about my Cherokee. The list is likely smaller, but there’s still a list.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chrysler 440s are Amazing Engines

Let me start this blog entry by saying that my respect for the Chrysler 440——yes, even the ‘detuned’ seventies ones——tripled today. Those engines are no joke. Grab some coffee and listen to a tale of power.

The Taurus blew some sensor or other (says the ASE guy) and had to go back in for scans and repairs and whatnot. I had to make a run to work for a discounted part (oh yea, baby!) and when I got back to the garage where the Taurus was, an early seventies GMC long bed pickup was stuck in the middle of a tiny road with its bed hanging out onto the main boulevard, around a bend——not good.

So I walked over and offered to pull him at least out of danger with my Ramcharger. He laughed and thumbed toward his bed. “It’s full of brick, son, and I mean full,” he says.

I look back there and yep, red brick is stacked literally right to the cab window, and even higher in the middle. We are talking two thousand pounds, easy. Three hundred bricks weighs one ton (thanks, Google!), and there was at least that many in his bed. His truck was a one-ton and it was sagging like a Compton gang member.

I look at him and say, “I have a big block Dodge and a strong strap. Let’s do this.” 

And we did. The hill was probably a quarter-mile long, maybe a bit more. It started relatively mundanely, then got a little steeper, and then got very steep toward the top, complete with loose gravel to make things interesting.

The guy’s truck was so heavy that each time I’d stop to give the Ramcharger a little break from smoking the tires, both trucks would slide back down the hill three or four feet, even with me standing on the brakes. This was some serious weight.

After the hill went from mildly steep to holy hell, man, that’s steep, I was smoking all four tires pretty badly and starting to hop. I stopped, put the transfer case in 4-low and hit it again. Hard. The ease at which my rig pulled his truck the rest of the way up was almost scary. As a rule, I try to avoid low lock on asphalt, but these were special circumstances.

I got him to the top, unhooked him and he rolled the big pickup right into his driveway. Oh, and it started, immediately. It was just the angle he was on not allowing the thing to fire.

To say the Dodge impressed me would be grossly understated. I felt like a proud father. Yes, I knew the 440 was strong, but had I known it had grunt like that, I’d have tried pulling something earlier, just for the kicks of it. Back in the day, I was really impressed with the 318 in my Fury, but the 440 in my Ramcharger just dwarfs it in the torque department.

So, I figure this is a fair estimate:

My Ramcharger is somewhere in the 4k pound range, empty (nothing at all in the truck).

His one-ton truck is probably about 5k pounds or so.

Add in 2k lbs worth of brick, and you have a very conservative total of eleven thousand pounds, all pulled uphill on loose terrain by a single engine (that’s likely very tired) in what amounts to an early SUV.

Unreal. Just unreal.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keep the Jeep for Trailing?

So the other evening, I wheeled the piss out of my Ramcharger. No, it wasn’t on a black diamond trail, but it was gnarly enough to bust stuff. I broke my driver mirror clean off, I broke my radio antenna in two, I had to shove a plug into a rear tire while in a hairy ravine, and the winch even came out. Oh, and on extreme angles it was hard to keep the carbed 440 lit.

While it was fun, it made me seriously reconsider selling my Jeep Cherokee. Over the years it has spoiled me, I’ll admit. The Ramcharger rides like a steel roller skate and it’s nowhere near ready to trail. Then again, it wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted it for a tow/camp/mild 4x4 rig. If I lock it and take off the sways and put on bigger meats and all that jazz, it’s no longer a viable tow pig and instead, it’s a trail rig. But I already have one of those.

The Ramcharger beat the hell out of us that night. I’m surprised our kidneys are still intact. No, I didn’t air down and of course the sway bars are on, but still... this thing has a concrete suspension. But I knew that going in. I didn’t care because I wasn’t going to trail it. Stiff suspensions are great for tow pigs. 

The Ramcharger was uncomfortable and struggled on things the Cherokee would idle over like a Cadillac. Again, I know I’m spoiled, but as far as trailing, it’s hard to beat the Jeep. It’s smaller, it’s lighter, it has fuel injection, it’s locked and geared and... well, it’s a trail rig. The Ramcharger is not.

So I’m considering hanging on to the Cherokee and maybe picking up a trailer for it. That way, I can tow the Jeep to the trail in my Ramcharger, beat the hell out of the Cherokee, and then drive home without worry. That would also allow me to green-sticker the Jeep, which would save a whole lot in DMV fees and insurance.

It’s just a thought, for now, but it sure makes sense. I love my Cherokee and it has never, ever done me wrong. The thought of sending it on down the road with lawzy knows who doesn’t sit well with me. Besides, I’ll never, ever get the money out of it that I have into it, so why not enjoy it while longer?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I gotta get to camping!

Yesterday I actually worked on tackling a garage re-do and clean. I don’t deal with clutter very well, especially not in the office or garage, two of the places I love the most in this world. So I put on the work gloves, fired up some old Tesla, and began dismantling the mess.

I was re-arranging the camping gear when I realized how long it has been since I’ve actually camped. Each item made me wish I was in Big Bear, feet propped up, soda in the drink holder, good book in my lap. For me, there’s nothing like a couple/few days in the wilderness to reset the system.

I’m also considering the purchase of a small camp trailer so that the sweetie and I don’t have to set up a tent and pack the vehicle every single time we go. We’d just leave the camp stuff in the trailer, and worry about food/water/beer and extras. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout.

Of course, the thought of yanking a camp trailer to a remote spot and spending the weekend filled my stomach with butterflies. I’m so glad the camp season is upon us, because a get-out-of-town is definitely on the docket.

I missed SoCalFest this year, and it is the first one since ’06, I believe, that I couldn’t make. I’ve just started a new job and the first paycheck hasn’t come in yet, so I really didn’t have much choice this year. Also, SoCalFest was moved to Calico, and I’m not much of a rock crawler type; I’d much rather be surrounded by trees and green than, well, rock. I like Calico, though, and will probably camp there someday.

Anyhow, that’s the story at this point. Who else is itching to get into the outdoors for a weekend but hasn’t done so in a while? We’ll have to set something up this summer. If we go to Big Bear, we can also shoot guns. Who’s in?  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My New Old Colt 1911

My dad’s Colt 1911 was the first pistol I ever saw, and I was instantly in love. Thirty years later, I purchased my first handgun, a Kimber TLE 1911, black-on-black, just like Dad’s. It wasn’t Dad’s, though, and that was always in the back of my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great piece, but there’s something cool about a Colt.

Recently, he gave the Colt to me. Just like that. It was mine. I did some research on the gun and I found out that should a person want one today, he or she had better have about $1,500 to shell out, because it’s now a collector item.

The 1911 in question is a Colt MK IV Series ’70 Government Model .45. I looked up the serial number and found out that this particular gun was manufactured in ’76, making it an original specimen. It’s in wonderful shape, too.

Colt re-introduced the Series ’70 in the early 2000s, but the purists weren’t big fans because the gun was really an 80 Series with Series ’70 internals. Just about any Colt 1911 lover covets the original ‘70s, and they have become highly desirable.

The only thing I didn’t like about the gun were the wrap-around rubber grips. They looked out-of-place on such a beautiful pistol. Besides, age had gotten the best of the ones on my dad’s gun, and they weren’t in the best of shapes.

When I bought my Kimber, I also bought beautiful wooden grips to put on it. When I received the Kimber, however, I found that I really liked the feel of their synthetic grips, and so I opted not to change them out. Good thing I kept hold of them, though, because they look spectacular on the Colt.

I have yet to shoot the thing, but I did take it apart, clean and lube it. The gun is amazingly tight; I don’t think Dad sent many rounds downrange. It does feature an annoying “finger-collet” barrel bushing that makes the gun extremely hard to get back together, but is supposed to vastly improve the inherent accuracy. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

So, I finally broke down and bought a metal detector. I had been doing loads of research on them, and I even joined a forum. They aren’t exactly cheap, so I wanted to be sure it was something I wanted to do before I chucked $200 or more out the window.

After reading tons and tons of information about the various types, I ended up with a Fisher F2.

I liked some of the other detectors such as the Garrett Ace 250 but honestly, I’m real picky about how things look, and not in a normal way. The Garretts are awesome, but they are yellow; I have nothing against the color itself, but the thing reminded me of those waterproof radios from the late ‘80s that folks in the commercials were taking into the shower. Yellow electronics were lame then, and they are lame now.

The only yellow electronic thing I can think of that is not lame is the DeWalt construction site stereo-boom box with the roll cage around it – that thing rocks all day.

Even when I was a kid, I would buy shoes based on how the soles looked. Yes, the soles; I didn’t really care what was up top, but the tread and the colors of the rubber had to be bitchin’, or no-go. It may actually explain a lot, but I’m no psychologist and so I just pretend it doesn’t.

So anyhow, I have only had the chance to use my detector once, but the thing actually works. In the span of a single hour, it netted me a rusty screw, a rusty nail, two old bottle caps, and what could be half a coffee can or some aluminum siding. Exciting stuff! And, what’s even cooler, is that all those items were in my very own backyard.

My house was built in 1934, and I’m hoping that someone in the ‘40s or ‘50s buried a fortune back there, all preserved in mason jars. Then I can retire and have a lot more time for blogging and writing novels. How sweet is that?

I’ll keep you all updated on my groovy, life-changing metal-detecting finds.