Peter Egan

With a Howlin' Wolf CD tucked under one arm, I trudged through the snow to my workshop last night, carrying my Les Paul (all 9.4 pounds of it) in its case, so I could go out and practice guitar in our lavishly carpeted (indoor/outdoor) band corner. I was determined to learn the Hubert Sumlin riff from "Smokestack Lightnin'," even if I have no talent. In my world, persistence is everything.

I set my guitar case down, switched on the lights and turned up the heat. While the place warmed up, I did what I always do to kill time: sit on a motorcycle.

Bike-sitting—as any motorcycle salesman will tell you—is a time-honored tradition during which we not only dream of past and future rides but reflect quietly upon our relative levels of doubt and desire.

And last night, as often happens, 1 found myself sitting on my '09 Road King, a two-tone version in Red Hot Sunglo, as they say, and Smokey Gold.

I've been sitting on this bike quite a bit lately, partly because I like to think about the great road trip I took to Colorado last summer, and partly because I need to re-check the wisdom of a recent handlebar swap. The stock Road King bars are a little wide and far forward for me, so I tried a set of Electra Glide Standard bars, which feel better on my lower back. The old ones made me feel like someone straining to catch a grip on his own handlebars before they sped off into the distance.

I bought this bike last summer, and it was an unusual deal, as traditional Harley purchases go. I've owned several FLHs over the years—a couple of Electra Glides and a pair of Road Kings of successive generations—and I always had to get on a waiting list. The wait was usually short, but I still had to order the bike and stand by.

This time, thanks to our booming economy, most Midwestern Harley dealers had a few leftover 2009 models. With 2010s arriving, I was able to buy the bike right off the showroom floor—at an end-of-season discount, no less.

Beyond that price reduction, I fig

ured 2009 was a pretty good time to buy because a) I still had a job for the moment, and b) the Road King was nicely upgraded last year. It got a stronger and stiffer frame (with commensurately better handling), more cornering clearance and dual-compound tires for longer cruising life. It also carried over the slick six-speed transmission and 96-inch engine, which has spot-on fuel injection and finally makes enough power and torque to be genuinely fun—and to pass trucks in the mountains, two-up. Hallelujah.

Another nice change is the mufflers, which sound full and mellow but don't give you a headache—or invite an RPG attack from bystanders. This is the first time in decades I haven't felt compelled to ditch a stock set of mufflers and find something more charismatic. Big savings there.

Nevertheless, I still managed to blow some accessory money on the bike. Before it ever left the dealership, I added a luggage rack and passenger backrest, as well as heated grips. Still, the bike has been cheap to maintain— thanks largely to the magic of hydraulic lifters—and dead reliable. And I rode it a lot last summer.

That big, flat, traditional FLH windshield is the secret weapon—you can sit behind it with an open-face helmet and your jacket unzipped on summer days and warm nights, deflecting bugs like crazy and listening to the dulcet song of the roadside lark. Which you can actually hear, because you don't need earplugs.

There is much to like here, but is the Road King perfect?

Well, it's very good indeed for its intended purpose but certainly not a do-everything bike for a sporting rogue such as I. Though relatively trim among today's gargantuan baggers, it's still a large object, and I wouldn't mind at all if it dropped 100 pounds. But then I suppose it would lose some of the historically festive gee-gaws that make it a Road King. Also—for my tastes—they could move the floorboards back a few inches and raise the seat height so you could get your feet under you, where Nature put them. Other than that I have few complaints.

The only drawback to Road King ownership, really, is you have to put up with droll comments from some of your riding buddies who wouldn't own a Harley at gunpoint, put off as they are by all the lifestyle nonsense that goes on around the marque.

I get to hear a constant litany of, "Don't you need more conchos?" Or, "Where's your do-rag with skulls on it?"

I often play along with the joke and attack these people with my brass knuckles.

Just kidding. All this harmless flak never fazes a person of my low sensitivity and awareness, nor does it affect the quality of the bike. I ride for my own pleasure, so the motivations of others are moot. They have their fun; I have mine.

In any case, this reaction to Harley ownership is interesting for its reflection on technical progress, if nothing else.

In the bad old days (a.k.a. the Seventies), in order to cough up the money for a Big Twin, you had to really want one, ignoring the slow acceleration, bad brakes, clunky transmissions, destructive vibration, vague handling, etc.

Well, they fixed all that. Of the FLHs I've ridden or owned since my distant youth, this one is dynamically and mechanically the best by a large margin. And it's no longer just "good for a Harley." It sets standards of engineering precision, finish and simplicity of maintenance that a few other manufactures might do well to emulate.

This is quite a change.

When I first came to Cycle World in 1980, Harleys weren't always very well-engineered or well-built, so you had to conjure up highly imaginative reasons—mostly based on personal taste and style—for wanting to own one at all. Now they're finally good enough that you need similar reasons not to.

Regardless of age or quality, Harleys seem destined to operate well outside the world of cold logic—as do virtually all the bikes we like to sit on while waiting for the heat to kick in. K3

0 0

Post a comment