The Harley Experience

Why not a Harley ? The M 50;story followup.

A friend read my previous post about the M50 Harley-Davidson, actually an Italian Aermacchi, a company Harley bought in the 60’s in an attempt to broaden its appeal in the era of the Honda takeover of America. He seemed surprised that I had owned a Harley, even if one in badge name only, because he had only known me to like European, and the occasional Japanese, motorcycles.

Harleys seem to be a point of division in motorcycling with some riders feeling that they are the only “real” bikes worthy of consideration and others just as adamant that they are overweight, underpowered, anachronistic garage art, not suitable for riding other than down to the bar.

Neither of those attitudes has much traction with me.

(There have been lots of jokes about HD’s leaking oil, but as a past owner of several British bikes and an MG car, I cannot take a position against owning a leaker.)

In my early youth, I hung out at Jim Stewart’s Harley shop in Ashland, one of several teenagers who roamed tentatively around the edges like feral dogs at a Neolithic campfire, hoping for a scrap of motorcycling knowledge to be thrown our way. If I could have afforded anything Harley offered in its American built line back then, I’m sure I would have bought one. Even then, though, it would have been a Sportster, the lighter, more nimble bike with a spare, lean profile. I am drawn to that sort of thing, lightness and handling over huge displacement and weight, and that is what drew me into the European orbit from my childhood until now.

In my 50’s, Brenda and I made a trip to Las Vegas for a meeting I had to attend and while there, we rented a Harley Electra Glide for a few days of exploring around the western deserts. At the time, it was the only thing offered for rent in town and anyway, I wanted the experience.

We picked it up early in the morning at the lot outside of the Strip. It was an imposing thing, enormous and dark blue, with color matched saddlebags and a huge top box on the back. (Once years ago while I was riding through Tallahassee Florida, I encountered a man motoring through town on a similar bike with a full-size German Shepard, wearing goggles, sitting in bottom half of just such a top box). It had a wide “bat-wing” style fairing across the handlebars with speakers for the stereo system (an option that remained unused on our trip).

After clearing the city traffic, we headed for Red Rock Canyon as our first tourist spot. As we neared the park, I noticed that a large number of Harleys were converging on the road leading up to the visitors center, pulling off and parking in a line. We proceeded on to the Scenic Loop Road through the spectacular rock formations, with the winding low-speed park road providing me a good opportunity to get used to the weighty motorcycle. We left the park and headed back down to the highway, now seeing what appeared to be an endless line of Harleys of many styles, from cruiser to chopper, etc. parked along the shoulder, front wheels all turned the same way, obviously waiting for something. We reached the stop sign at the T-intersection and turned west….and I watched in my rear view mirror as the entire line of bikes began filing out behind us.

We proceeded on for a few miles, the long queue of motorcycles stretching out of sight in my mirrors, until I pulled off into a gas station. Several of the bikes came in with me and as I got off to pump our gas, one guy ran up to me asking where was the next stopping point. He seemed puzzled, then a bit miffed when I told him I had no idea, I wasn’t part of this group.

Freed of our tour-leading duties, we proceeded on for a few days, experiencing the Harley in the deserts (an excellent mount for cruising across the open flat country, the big V-Twin just loping along, completely unstressed), over the twisting mountain passes on old Route 66 through Oatman, AZ (heavy bike squirming on the the slippery tar snakes, wrestling around the tight switchbacks, rider somewhat stressed) and through Death Valley (iconic views and, in keeping with my superpower of bringing rain to any ride, a brief thunderstorm in one of the driest places on the continent ). The bike never faltered, didn’t leak oil, or at least not very much, and served as an extremely comfortable passenger accommodation for Brenda.

I enjoyed the experience. I can see the attractions, but they are not for me. Like golf, gin, and wearing ball caps backwards, it is one of those things that I understand other people like very much, but I just don’t feel the pull.

That does not mean that I think others shouldn’t enjoy them (well, maybe golf might be an exception), just please don’t make it a personal failing if I don’t share your particular form of the passion and I’ll do the same for you. I love motorcycling, it has been a constant, defining part of my life for nearly 60 years and I hope to keep doing it, in some form or another, as long as I am able. I like smaller, more nimble, purpose-focused motorcycles and the travel on and off road they allow me to do. And if you like something else, more power to you.

We motorcyclists have enough approbation from the non-riding public to sow such division within our own ranks.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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