Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ironheads in my head...

I never thought I'd own a Harley. I've had a few Japanese bikes, several British bikes but never saw an American one in my future. Growing up, I had a lot of uncles into all sorts of different bikes. My uncle's Steve, Walt & Frank always had Jap bikes - all through the 80s I saw XSs, CBs, KZs & Frank even had a couple Goldwings. My uncle Mike had some shitty beat up Jap bikes of his own but eventually got himself a used sporty & became a member of the POWMIA. They would have some parties I would never forget. I remember Mike taking me out on the sporty when I was probably 8 years old & thinking how different it sounded & felt than the other bikes my uncles had. I didnt give a shit though - I was 8 & wanted a dirt bike. I was almost 10 years from having a license so what the fuck would I do with a street bike anyhow?

Mikes club had a party at my uncle Franks who had a good bit of land & I remember there being a shitload of scary dudes, loud ass bikes & insanity in general. Frank got out an old CB750 from behind the shed for everyone to thrash on. Within a minute there was a dirt oval in his field where everyone was thrashing on the Honda & eventually their own bikes. Crashes on almost every lap. Everyone was having a blast. As a kid - there was not one thing cooler than this day sometime in the mid/late 80s. Who knew Id be doing the same shit in Mexico almost 20 years later?

Of course after quite a few teen years in the dirt, I finally got my license & went down to uncle Frank to see if he had any spare bikes laying around. He had this old barn with a pile of bikes in there. He said 'Sure, go in there & see if there's any that look complete'. I remember flipping through the pile of bikes like old records at a thrift store. I flipped about 4 or 5 bikes & came to a sweet little honda. A '72 CL450 - Scrambler - high pipes & all. I pulled it out & he said 'That thing hasnt been run in years but I'll bet we getting running tonight'. Sure enough - air in the tires, clean out the bowls & jets, fresh gas & a little zap to the battery & she was purring like new.

I rode the balls off that bike. The brakes barely worked & it vibrated like no other but it was plenty quick, looked cool & I was finally on my own bike - on the street. It wasnt until then that I realized how fucking douchey Harley guys were. All I had known in the past was my uncle Mikes sporty & his insane club. I knew those dudes were the real deal & rad as fuck but what the hell was with these other assholes thinking their shit doesnt stink because they took a huge loan out for a harley? One guy said 'Honda eh? So when are ya gettin a REAL bike?'. I said 'This bike is pretty real man - it just hauled my ass about 300 miles today alone'

So of course, I figured harley = fucking total douchebag. I got myself another free Honda - a shadow & rode the ,balls off that thing as well. Everyday - everywhere. Then eventually got myself a speed triple, my first british bike. I always wanted a classic bonneville because they looked so much more refined than the japanese copies of the 70s but I couldnt deny that the speed triple blew my mind on a daily basis. Power, handling, brakes, cornering, fuel injection, adjustable suspension. I rode that thing everywhere as far south as Georgia & north as Toronto. Track days, drag raced it, rode it off road, rode in the snow & put about 36k miles on it before I sold it. Unfortunately, the one thing it never had was soul.

I built my 70 Trophy from a basketcase shitheap I got from a friend. Finally, I got to experience a bike with soul again. It wasnt since my 72 Honda that I felt that. I missed that feeling. Sure, it cant do all the things a modern sport bike can but goddamn if it didnt have something special going on. After building my Trophy, I ended up meeting a few other guys who were in the same boat as me. Had all sorts of bikes, built themselves an old custom one & was really digging it.

It wasnt until then did I realize that the 'real deal' guys on harleys were around the whole time even though the douchebag version was obviously more abundant. I met guys with old harleys, ironheads, panheads, knuckles & even a guy with wierd little flathead. These guys didnt think their shit didnt stink. Hell, half of them stunk like shit just like me. These guys owned a few harleys as well as hondas & triumphs & BMWS & any other goddamn thing that had two wheels & they loved them all just the same. No shit?! So harley owners who arent elitist pricks? Who knew? These guys were just straight up motorcycle fiends like me, no matter what the name on the tank said.

I had a 63 BSA A50 lined up as my next project but realized that I would either build it almost exactly like my Trophy or build it as a scrambler. I started thinking, if I put a shitload of time & money into this bike, I sure as hell wont want to beat on it in the woods. Thats when I decided to buy a new scrambler & sell my triple. The new scram takes a regular beating & I dont feel too bad about it. So now, not knowing what to do with the BSA, I sold the project & eyed up some ironheads. I had fell in love with the early, tin primary XLCH. Thats what sparked me finally caving in & getting my first american bike. Sure, now the dudes at work busted my balls & said Id be wearing a leather flamed bandanna & fringed chaps next but I knew exactly what this Ironhead was going to be like when its done & it didnt matter what they said.

Long story short - ride what you want, ignore douchebags & have fun with every sickle - no matter what country the factory that made it is in, its the builder/rider/owner & the bike's history that gives it soul, not the badge on the tank.


  1. Sounds A LOT like my story... Been riding Jap and Brit stuff all my life, and I just picked up my first piece of American iron. A '73 Ironhead. Yeah!!!

  2. nice writeup Joe. I still don't see you on a Frisco chopper though. Maybe if I can scrape together some loot while unemployed I can get something old to wrench on.