Thursday, April 01, 2010

'LEE ROY' AND ME



You'll note a few changes to my blog!  I haven't been posting this past week, as I've really struggled to 'come out' to all my readers and friends about a profound change in my life, one which has serious implications to my work, my audience, my nascent career as a motorcycle commentator and historian.

After 32 years in the saddle of a motorcycle, four years of writing this blog, ownership of something near 300 motorcycles, and road- or track-testing hundreds of the most exotic, rare, and unusual motorcycles in the world, I did something I've never done before.
 I rode a Harley Davidson 'Shovelhead'.  

The object of my derision for all these years (since this model was in still in production, actually), it took a chance set of circumstances, call it Fate, to plant me on the saddle of 'Lee Roy', a 1971 Harley Davidson Electra Glide, with 10,420 miles on the odometer, original metalflake green paint with white flashes, white saddlebags, white vinyl saddle and pillion, and a plexi fairing.  Owned by my pal Rick Najera (who sits on the Board of the A.M.C.A.), it was purchased locally a year ago with only 6200 miles showing on the clock, from Lee Roy Gaskin, the original owner, who had never left the city limits of San Francisco on the machine.  Lee Roy affixed a small plaque on the handlebar clamp cover; 'Owned and Driven by Lee Roy Gaskin', thus the man's name is forever linked with this motorcycle.

Our local branch of the AMCA, the Yerba Buena Chapter, had a 'day after' ride, post our All-American motorcycle show, which was a great success and had quite a few pre-1916 and racing bikes on display.  See details in another post.  As the organizer of the ride, I thought it prudent to attend, but my Norton didn't agree, and after two attempts to fix a flat rear tire, the clock won, and Rick (below) kindly loaned me a motorcycle.  Beggars can't be choosers, and he offered his gold '38 Knucklehead 'bob-job', which seemed an interesting prospect.  As luck would have it, the Knuck also had a flat, but Rick has a few bikes up his sleeve, and offered 'Lee Roy'.  


I admit that I laughed loud and long when presented with the opportunity to ride a Shovelhead.  Nemesis pointed her finger at the bike, and said, "For all the times you've mocked this motorcycle, today you'll have the ride of your life".   And so it was.
While the 1971 Electra Glide is a big machine at 750lbs wet, the wide 16" wheels (whitewall tires of course) and low center of gravity meant it was easy to man-handle out of the garage, although the rubber-mounted handlebars had me a little uncertain at first.  Starting her up was too easy; pull the plastic knob by the fuel tap for choke, turn the big chrome knob on the tank top for ignition, push the handlebar button, and Karoom!  Potato potato potato potato.
Riding the beast was certainly easy enough, with a heel-and-toe shifter (white rubbers!) on the left footboard, and a big brake pedal on the right... yes footboard.  'Lee Roy' has that throwback to Veteran practice of using planks of steel with a rubber mat for your feet.  Combined with a well-padded (white) saddle on a sprung telescopic pillar, and a pair of wide, swept-back handlebars, and the riding position wouldn't feel markedly different from a Harley of the 'Teens.

But the power and chassis certainly would.  Having ridden many H-Ds from the 'Teens and Twenties, the handling and power characteristic of the Electra Glide were sure-footed and predictable.  The bike felt like there was no chance of a slide on even the loosest of surfaces, with those wide tires and low c-of-g.  Prediction became important on some of the twisty mountain roads I sampled on my 250-mile initiation, as the mighty green beast preferred wide, sweeping lines around corners, instead of the cut and thrust of the tiny Vintage racers I've been piloting of late.  In this, the H-D reminded me of the several Brough Superiors I've owned, which shared a long frame and low-hanging metal to limit cornering angles.
 Truly, I felt like a 'yachtsman at the helm of the Queen Mary', as Phil Irving famously remarked of his first ride on an Indian Chief.  Rapid progress was certainly possible with 58hp and 102mph on tap from the 1200cc engine, and deliberate cornering yielded a fast clip indeed.  I blame California's horrifically maintained roads for any grounding of the footboards on corners - it was only an issue when large bumps or heaves were encountered mid-bend, where a sharp graunch reminded me to pay attention!  After a particularly narrow and bumpy set of bends, I felt it the honorable thing to offer Rick compensation, by weight, for any metal lost from the Electra Glide.
Other than on the twisty stuff, bumps and potholes were a non-issue.  Riding light and rigid-framed Vintage machines has taught me to fear deep ruts while traveling at speed, but the Harley didn't pay them any mind at all, simply, well, gliding over even vicious hillocks with total aplomb.  It was the most comfortable motorcycle in this regard that I have ever ridden; if the Norton has the 'feather bed' of frames, surely the Electra Glide has added the 'pillow top' to the mattress!  With a goose down quilt to boot.

As this machine is pre-'Evolution' and rubber-mounted engine, it's a fair question to ask about vibration.  Yes, the engine vibrated, but no more than my Norton Atlas; I never had trouble keeping my feet on the 'boards, and the handlebar was isolated completely from the shakes. 
 At the end of my day, I felt exhilarated and fresh as a daisy, having come to an understanding that the exotic road racing motorcycles which have been the focus of my attention for so long are simply ridiculous for any serious mileage.  The road is not my personal race track to carve up as I see fit. On a machine such as 'Lee Roy', riding in a pack at the posted speed limit makes perfect sense - what is the point of going any faster?  The allure of a big H-D combines comfort and practicality with a real sense of joining a Brotherhood of motorcyclists who value the Road for what it offers the Individual; the Freedom to enjoy and respect what our great Country has to offer.

Thanks for indulging in my annual April Fools column!  I did enjoy riding Lee Roy, but haven't crossed over to the Dark Side...

32 comments:

vincent said...

Hi Paul
In the "fat"" category, Next time you come in France , you 'll ride my Gt calif Moto Guzzi !-)

Adrian Manktelow said...

I walked into the office this morning on autopilot, booted my Mac, launched Firefox and clicked on the Vintagent bookmark while half asleep. After a double take and a rub of the eyes I soon woke up. Then I realised it's April's Fools Day ;-)

Chris said...

You had me for a minute there ... nice one, Paul!

YJH said...

AHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
tu es si drôle

Stephen said...

so happy you've seen the light and are now following the true path. moving LA next I assume?

Electra Glide In Blue said...

Paul,
You can't fool me!
I can truly see you have crossed over, to the right side of motorcycling.
Welcome to the wide world of the Electra Glide.
I'm a proud second owner of a 68 Electra Glide. It's nice when ya know the history of these old machines.

David Blasco said...

Horrors! But why should I be offended? I suppose the insane are always upset when one of their number shows some signs of sanity. Enjoy your ride! She's (he's, it's) beautiful.

david said...

Unlike last April 1, this year it's a little hard to separate out the April 1 hoax vs truth..
I would be quite surprised to see you show up at the
49 Mile Ride on a 60's-70's Electaglide in 60's-70's period-correct garb; bell bottoms, tie-dye,denim cut etc.. unless of course, AMCA has an April1 ride next year. That'd be their first annual "1 mile ride.."

david said...

I understand that next year you're gonna ride it on the first annual AMCA 1 mile April 1st ride?

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

I enjoyed your column on Lee Roy. You are a wonderful and brave man. Is there any truth to the rumor started by our international friends that it was an April Fools joke??!! I read that and it cut me like a hot knife. Please I am a brother in pain. Tell the truth now. I cannot live easily with this thought on my mind.

Respectfully , and I demand the same of you,

Paul

drsprocket said...

Paul, I laughed so hard I almost soiled myself. Great job. Hard to stretch one's groin around those humungous five gallon gas cans they call tanks. I ride my buddy's low mile '69 model when I'm back east it's like driving a late fifties Buick with a dynaflow. Rich

Anonymous said...

Is this related to the beard in any way?

Anonymous said...

good one, I bet all your readers are cringing at the thought that you would swing over to the dark side, next thing you know you'll be watching Sons of Anarchy!

daveinnola said...

THIS WILL COME BACK TO YOU , THE UPSIDE IS WE NOW WHAT TO BUY YOU FOR XMAS , ANYTHING WITH A LOGO, SHOULD YOU NEED TO REINVENT YOURSELF I GOT A IN WITH THE GUYS IN OZ AT THE BSA BANTAM SHED

max schaaf said...

ha!!! finally

Grandpa Jimbo said...

P. d'O: You are one wild and crazy guy. jaja (spanish for haha)

Jim A.

Don O'Reilly said...

This is a good one!
I'm reminded of a similar ride, 30+ years ago. I traded bikes for a weekend with an old pal; my '69 bonneville for his mid-sixties electraglide.

It was a warm summer night, and I had that sled on Chicago's Eisehhower expressway, flyin along at about 75. There were 18 wheelers on either side of me, and quickly approaching, a large pothole in the center of my lane. I couldn't slowdown or swerve, so I just held on, really tight.

Now on my bonneville, the best outcome would be a really hard bounce, with my 22 year old, 140lb self going a bit airborne. On the electraglide? maybe a very slight, almost unnoticeable bump, like running over a baked potato. No foolin'.

Aloha,
Don

Anonymous said...

We'll have to call you Paul d'Lee-Roy-Orleans from now on. Did you stop at the tatoo shop also?

Anonymous said...

I warned you! Awesome story Paul.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,
I hope you dawned the proper shoes for the occasion. White booties, with fringe come to mind. Funny thing today, I visited Rabers for the very first time, in search of an Amal carb to fit my '53 Chief. The guy who helped me, turns out to be a Raber, and is building a '46 Chief! Something he knows absolutely nothing about. I think we should turn you guys loose on each other!
Merry April, RF.

Rusty said...

Oh my. To each their own when it comes to women (blonde or red head), cars (Cadillacs or Porsches) and motorcycles (Harleys or Vincents).
Can't say for you, but I enjoy them all!

Anonymous said...

Duh,April 1st.

Nice one P d'O, hook line and sinker took me 24hrs of 'surely not, this can't be'

Brian

david said...

...So I see you're riding behind H.A. now ( last pic.)

Doc .Jekyll to Hyde; "Mr.Hyde I presume, I am
pleased & honored to meet you.'

The DarkSide truly looms for the HarleyVintagent.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.

david said...

Perhaps.

LeftTenant said...

You set the hook so far down my gullet, they'll have to gut me to get it out! Nice write, I join the Fools. Potato, Potato...

Team Benzina said...

I tried a Harley once, and noticed a few folk smiling at me - but most of them laughed out loud...

Benzina

R.Dress said...

Nauseating. Every Tom Dick and Larry has a Fucking Harley. Nothing worse than rolling up on a flock of dudes on Hard tails taking up the entire lane doing the speed limit or slower with a look of entitlement on their faces.

Lonnie C. said...

Rick is a true evangelist of antique American motorcyles and like any dyed-in-wool Harley-Davidson aficionado he is not trying to reel you over to the Dark Side, he is trying to bring you to the Light! Follow the Light, salvation awaits!

Lucky Monkey said...

hahah, I just realized April Fools. Last year I think it was auctioning off your whole collection. A good one

Anonymous said...

I'd say there's nothing worse than seeing some kid, in a tank top & cargo shorts, on a ricer, one hand on his knee, on a ricer that sounds like a bunch of mad honeybees. Going up & down your street, ten times a day, that is.

kens british classics said...

Hey Paul, don't sweat it! my girlfriend has a 74 electra glide. I love it! its a big kitten . I don't hate harleys . Just the herd. Kensbritishclassics.

david said...

Needless to say, there's a big difference imbetween
classic Harley guys and new Harley guys. It's night and
day as far as i can see.