Taking the Harley leap

The big decision is upon me. Should I buy a Harley and abandon a lifelong allegiance to bikes that go fast, handle and run well? Or do I plunk down my dough on more of the same?

It’s a choice I never thought I’d consider until recently. But it’s one I’m facing nonetheless.

For most of my riding life I’ve felt secure in the knowledge that sport bikes of Japanese or European manufacture were superior to the classic American cruiser. They represented a style that suited my quest for speed and dependability while setting me apart from the leather vest-and-black-T-shirt crowd.

My future?

But after more than three decades of riding the “right” bikes, my thinking changed. It’s hard to pinpoint when it happened. Maybe it was last fall when I was hunched over the tank of my BMW on a lonesome back road in the Arizona desert. Or it could have been more recently when a birthday sent me squarely into middle age.

I don’t know, but suddenly a Harley sounds pretty good to me.

Sure, it’ll be slow and unreliable and scrape its running boards around every turn. I won’t be able to keep up with the crotch-rocket set. Hell, they won’t even ride with me. They’re dis-owning me as we speak.

But I don’t care. I’ll be riding in comfort. I’ll be in Hog heaven.

Still, I have doubts. The prospect of owning a rolling boat anchor with about half the horsepower of my usual bikes gives me pause. Then there are the neighbors. Will they complain about all he noise?

Perhaps the biggest concern is that I’ll become like all the other Harley people. That I’ll start wearing Harley logo clothing and doff my full-coverage helmet for something out of Hogan’s Heros. Maybe I’ll sport a leather-billed cap and develop a fondness for chaps.

Well, I hope not. Then again, stranger things have happened.

Does Harley ownership mean shaving your head (or other body parts)?

As stated earlier, I might soon buy a Harley, ending a more than 30-year tradition of owning only bikes that go, stop and handle well.

I’ll admit I’m now attracted to the imperfect machines. I love the thought of all that torque coupled with Lazy Boy ergonomics that should make my next 1,000-mile ride to the desert and back more enjoyable. Beside, I’m getting too old for my sports bike.

Biker man

There’s only one thing holding me up besides the hefty price tag. The bad-boy image associated with the Harley crowd is giving me pause.

To see if I could fit in with the men and women in black T-shirts and cut-off vests, I attended the 21st annual Tattoos & Blues festival in Santa Rosa.

As I pulled up I could see I’d come to the right place. Hogs lined the parking lot of the Flamingo Hotel and people with necks tats and ear gauges mingled among the chrome and flame paint.

I walked up as a leather-clad couple exited. I eavesdropped just long enough to catch a conversation about shaved body parts.

“It itches,” he said.

“How low did you take it?” she asked.

“It’s Telly Savales down there,” he replied.

I headed in, trying not to notice the two dudes in Hells Angels vests standing at the door. Apparently, the event was sponsored by the Sonoma County chapter.

Inside I inquired about the offering. Tattoos in one room and blues in another. There’s also a full bar, I was told.

Hmmm. I figured I could skip the body engraving but a little music and booze sounded good, so I started to walk in when the man extended a tattoo covered arm and stopped me.

“That’ll be $20,” he said.

“Oh, OK. Maybe I’ll come back later,” I stammered and did an about-face.

I walked outside in time to hear an Angel hawk a lugey in a planter. Two weathered women smoking cigarettes stopped talking as I walked by.

In the parking space beside my car were three bikers, unstrapping and getting ready to go in. I asked them how they liked their Road Kings. They liked them a lot.

One guy, perhaps sensing I was not yet of the “brotherhood,” pointed to a message on his tank painted in red cursive. It said “Just effing ride.”

“It doesn’t matter what you ride,” he said. “As long as you ride.”

Agreed.

Why I blame my parents for my covetous ways

When I think back on the day many decades ago I got my first motorcycle, I can hardly believe it. It seems so story-book, so unreal. And certainly, my parents were never nicer.

My bike looked just like this

I was 9 years old and woke up Christmas morning to find a brand-new Honda SL-70 under the tree. It was yellow with a black stripe across the tank and sported lights, which would soon be removed and lost forever in some forgotten storage box.

It was the beginning of a life-long interest — bordering on obsession — and the first of more than 15 motorcycles that I’ve owned. I’ve had dirt bikes, street bikes, cafe racers. Some were nice; others, junk. I bought them new and used, at flea markets and on the Internet.

Today, I scour Craigslist almost daily for good deals. The winter season is the best time for that. It’s become habit, one that takes priority over actual work. The routine: get to the office, logon, search Craigslist, then eBay. Reluctantly begin working.

I covet all things fast and exotic. And lately, as I advance into middle-age, I’m thinking for the first time about a Harley. Imagine that!

My wife, non-rider that she is, groans. I tell her it’s my parents’ fault for getting me started.
Anyway, here are the bikes on my short list of future acquisitions (I’ll be lucky to get one of them). Let’s see yours.

Ducati ST4s
BMW R1200GS
Triumph Daytona 955i
Harley Road King Classic

Dream machine? The Ducati ST4s.

Swiss Army knife of bikes -- BMW R1200GS

Triumph Daytona 955i. British royalty.

The King. Name speaks for itself.