For All You Gearheads, We’ve Put Together American Iron Garage

Whenever I meet our readers at events or out on the open road, a comment I often hear is how much they like the way we do our tech articles. Of course, what they want in tech varies, but that’s to be expected. Some readers want more Twin Cam stuff, such as air cleaner, exhaust, and cam installs with dyno numbers. Others want Shovel and Ironhead tech. These engines are classic but inexpensive (at least for the moment) motors that are great for building hot rod bobbers. And let’s not forget the ever-present Evo crowd, both Big Twin and Sportster.

As for chassis styles, it should be no surprise that bagger tech is also in big demand, but Softail, Dyna, and Sportster stuff is not far behind. Whatever it is they want, readers all agree that they love the way we do our tech because we take you through the entire installation process with easy-to-follow, step-by-step photos and captions.

Our goal in this is twofold. The first is to show you how to do the installation in your own garage. In these tight times, many readers can afford the parts but not the cost of labor to install them. The second is to show you how the shop we’re doing that project with  does the job. This way you know how they work and can feel confident that if you bring your bike there they will do the job right.

So, for all you gearheads, we’ve putting together an issue that’s stuffed with tech of all kinds! In fact, there are only 12 pages of bikes in the whole issue and those are machines someone has built in his garage. The rest of the articles are installs and how-tos, plus four How It Works and a short Widgets section featuring only tools and chemicals. American Iron Garage is a newsstand-only issue; it’ll be on sale September 4. Can’t find it? Contact Rosemary at 203/425-8777, ext. 114 or click up Greaserag.com.

Travel Tips
this month’s travel tip is compliments of reader Cliff Terry. Cliff writes, “I have a parking tip that could save someone’s bike. Never pull all the way into a parking space between two cars. Always keep the back wheel of your bike even with the back wheel of the adjacent cars. If you pull the bike all the way in, an inattentive driver may spot what appears to be an empty space in an otherwise full lot and pull into the space at speed only to find your bike in the way. This happened to me one day. A driver almost hit my bike right in front of me! Thankfully, no damage was done, but a lesson was learned — for both of us.”

See you on the road. Chris Maida Editor

Story as printed in the October issue of American Iron Magazine.

Indian, Victory & Big Dog Motorcycles

By now, you’ve probably heard that Minnesota’s Polaris Industries, the builder of Victory Motorcycles, has bought the newest incarnation (launched in 2006) of Indian Motorcycle from Stellican Limited and Novator Partners LLP, which are both UK private equity firms. Indian Motorcycle has been manufacturing in North Carolina, but, according to the conference call regarding the acquisition, production will be moved to Polaris’ Spirit Lake, Iowa, compound sometime this year. Of course, by the time you read this that could have changed, but that’s what we’ve been told at press time.
As we see it, this will give Indian the big lift it needs. One weakness for Indian has been its distribution network, and this purchase means Victory’s vast dealer network will be encouraged to put Indians on their showroom floors. Ironically, if my information is correct, when Polaris tried to buy Indian — back when it was owned by a different parent company and based in Gilroy, California — it wanted access to the Gilroy Indian dealer network. When the Gilroy venture went bust, many Indian dealers started selling Victory motorcycles.

Polaris stated in a press release issued just after the acquisition, that this “adds one of motorcycling’s legendary brands to its strong stable of Victory cruiser and touring bikes.” Very true. While Victory has made some inroads into Harley-Davidson’s traditional market, we think purchasing Indian will give Polaris another strong brand to further grow its share of the heavyweight motorcycle pie. The press release also stated that “Indian will [continue to] operate as an autonomous business unit.”

Unfortunately, a couple of days before we heard the good news about Indian, Big Dog Motorcycle was taken over by the banks holding its debts and closed. I’ve ridden thousands of miles on various Big Dog bikes, crisscrossing the country on my way to Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week. I’m bummed that the company, which I felt made excellent motorcycles, was not able to survive the current economic downturn. Though the fat-tire bike fad has passed, many riders still like the style, and Big Dog did a great job of building this type of bike; at one time, it was the biggest producer of this style of American V-twin. Personally, I think whether you like the brand or not, it’s a sad day for motorcycling whenever any manufacturer passes from producer to a page in history. Let’s hope this is the last one we’ll hear about for a very long time.

See you on the road, Chris Maida.

Story as published in the July 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

Harley Engine Experts, To Rebuild Or Upgrade A Vintage Engine

When I’m looking to rebuild and/or upgrade a vintage engine — namely a Shovel, Pan, Knuckle, Ironhead Sportster, or flathead — I go to a shop that’s expert at that type of motor. And though I’ve rebuilt many of these engines when I had my shop back in the day, I want someone with more experience than I have in spinning the wrenches. Truth is, these engines need an experienced hand, one that knows that type of engine’s problems and the correct fixes.

In my opinion, for decades the best all-around vintage engine builder in the New York tri-state area was “Big” Jim McCalley in Beacon Falls, Connecticut. Jim was also a master at repairing broken engine and tranny cases. And though Jim has retired from the business, I mention him because he deserves the recognition.

For a Shovelhead motor, I go to Andrew Rosa at Rosa’s Cycle in Huntington, New York. Andrew, who often does engine builds with us, is a master craftsman of everything Shovelhead, be it vintage restorations, performance work, or a dependable rebuild. And like his mentor “Big” Jim, Andrew is also great at repairing broken engine and tranny cases. Andrew rebuilt the Shovel engine in the boardtracker that Kip Watkins is finishing up for me.

As for Panheads, Knuckles, and flatheads, there are several shops around the country that I personally know do excellent work. For straight-up, restoration-correct rebuilds, it’s the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and Carl’s Cycle Supply in Aberdeen, South Dakota. When I needed to rebuild a 103″ motor consisting of a Panhead lower and Shovel top end, I went to Billy at Departure Bike Works in Richmond, Virginia. Billy was my choice here instead of Andrew because the stroker Panhead lower end would be more of an issue than the big-bore Shovel top end. Plus, Billy’s also a master at Shovels, Knuckles, Ironhead Sportsters, and flatheads. For the 45 flathead motor we will be building a bobber with in a future series of articles, I went to see Billy of B&B Racing in Metairie, Louisiana. Billy and his crew are also expert rebuilders of all the vintage motors I named. In fact, Billy rebuilds many of the classic engines in Dave Perewitz’s customs.

For Ironhead Sportster work, I go to Dan Umstead at D&S Performance in Lake City, Pennsylvania. Yup, this is the same Dan that writes our Sportster Corner column. Dan is a master in all things Sportster, which is why I have him writing that column! Dan will be building an Ironhead stroker motor for another bobber project to be shown in a series of future AIM articles.

Of course, there are many other quality shops throughout the country that are experienced with these vintage and special engines. My intent with this column is simply to introduce you to some of the ones we use for our various builds and projects.

See you on the road, Chris Maida.

Story as published in the August 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

More Harley Changes To American Iron Magazine

As I reported last month, in response to the almost 1,000 reader surveys, letters, and e-mails we’ve received, we’re making some changes to American Iron Magazine. This time around, I want to let you know about two new features that start with this issue, as well as bid farewell to a columnist who has been with the magazine longer than I have.

As promised, the new feature, called My Sweet Hog, is a shorter version of our three-page Reader’s Ride and another way for our readers to get their bike in American Iron. My Sweet Hog is a single-page color feature that uses a reader-supplied image and story. To be eligible, your letter must include the year and model of your American-made bike, what modifications you have made to it, why you chose those upgrades, and would you make the same mods again if you had to do it over. To be eligible for this feature, send a few high-resolution (300 dpi at 8″ x 8″ minimum) images or photos, plus your story, to Letters@AmericanIronMag.com or American Iron Magazine, 1010 Summer Street, Stamford, CT 06905. These images of your bike and, hopefully, you, must be in focus and well lit, with no bike or body parts cut off. You’ll find this issue’s offering on Page 92.

In case you’re wondering, we’re going to continue running our Reader’s Ride feature. However, for several months, I haven’t been getting in much that I can use. Though people are submitting, the photography is not anywhere near what I need for a three-page, full-color feature. To be eligible for Reader’s Ride, please shoot your bike the same way we shoot one of our five-page color bike features. I need a full right- and left-side shot of the bike without glare spots. Do the same for the cockpit, as well as any details you want to bring to our attention. Please also include a shot with you and the bike. As for the photography requirements, they’re the same as for Snaps and My Sweet Ride.

The second new feature is a bimonthly biker rights column written by Jeff Hennie. Jeff is the vice president of government relations for the Motorcycle Rider’s Foundation (MRF). The MRF is a grassroots organization that monitors and reacts to legislation, executive actions, or judicial decisions that affect motorcyclists on both the state and national levels. Long-time AIM readers should remember the series of articles we did with the MRF a few years ago concerning EPA regulations. In his column, Jeff will talk about specific instances where the federal government has targeted motorcyclists and tell us ways to defend ourselves politically. Jeff’s introductory column is on Page 111 and, being bimonthly, Jeff’s column will alternate with Fit To Ride, which will go back to bimonthly frequency.

As for who is leaving us, sadly Stephanie Feld has, after over 15 years, decided to retire her column. When I took over as editor in 1997, Stephanie was already a part of the AIM team. This month’s installment is her last. You’ll find it on Page 26.

See you on the road, Chris Maida

Story as published in the November issue of American Iron Magazine.

Harley News Motorcycle Road Trips

TAKING AIM by Chris Maida, Editor

TAKING AIM by Chris Maida, Editor

TAKING AIM, by Chris Maida, Editor

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but one of the best parts of this job is the road trips! As I type this it’s the last day in July and I’m jamming to get this issue finished. I’ve got to get it out to the printer and the next issue started before I leave since I’ll be gone for almost three weeks. When you’re on a four-week production schedule, that’s a lot of time to be on the road! But even though the pressure is on right now, it will definitely be worth it once I hit the highway.

My first stop is Park City, Utah, and the Harley-Davidson 2012 new model launch. H-D is set up at the St. Regis Hotel and is flying in lots of moto-journalists to test its newest offerings. I’ll be meeting Motorcycle Bagger Editor Dain Gingerelli there Tuesday night. I got to say, H-D always throws a great party whenever it does a launch. Of course, that’s also where we’ll be staying for the two nights and one day of the event. I’ll be testing a Nightster while there. Come Thursday, Dain and I will hit the road to Sturgis on different test bikes than what we rode in Utah. He’ll be on a new Dyna Switchback and I’ll be riding a Fat Boy. It’ll take us about three days to get to Sturgis, because we’ll also be shooting a tour story as we go.

Once we hit Sturgis, almost 1,000 miles later, we’ll wash and photograph these bikes for future reviews. The next day, we’ll swap them out for the same bikes we rode at the launch, so we can put a lot more review miles on them. We like to put at least 500 miles on a bike for our reviews. This way, we get to ride them the same way an owner is going to: in around town situations, on short highway trips, and on a long trip.

After covering Sturgis for seven days, it’s time to go home. We’ll swap these test bikes out for different ones, which are the machines we’ll be riding back home. After having them photographed, we’ll pack ’em up the night before, so we can leave early the next morning. Dain will be rolling west to his home in California on an Electra Glide Classic, while I’ll be heading east, back to Connecticut, on one of my favorite Harleys, a Road King. Look for these reviews in upcoming issues of American Iron Magazine and Motorcycle Bagger!

See you on the road,

Chris

 

Story as published in the November issue of American Iron Magazine

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New Bike Test 2011 Harley Softail Deluxe

By far, my annual ride from LA to Sturgis is my favorite trip of the year! Not only do I get to ride through some beautiful scenery, I get to do it on the new Harley of my choice. Last year’s vaca-, er, working road trip was on a 2011 Softail Deluxe FLSTN. This was the second time I’ve used a Deluxe for this journey, and though the route was different, the bike was just as much a pleasure to ride as it was in 2004 when I picked up a 2005 at the H-D fleet center in Carson, California.

Though I usually start with the powertrain, this time around it must be the chassis, since the Deluxe is all about styling. As you can see, the Deluxe is appointed with 1940s Harley-Davidson design features from its chrome front wheel hubcap to its tombstone taillight. Check out the chrome-laced wheels; wide, whitewall 16″ tires; chrome front fender trim; Wide Glide front end; chrome headlight nacelle; chrome, dual front spotlights; chrome, staggered-dual exhaust; classic Fat Bob gas tanks; pinstriping; and center mounted dash and speedo. Need I go on?

As for the modern tech part of the bike, the rolling chassis and powertrain is all 2011 Softail, complete with a solid-mounted, counterbalanced Twin Cam 96 motor, Cruise Drive six-speed transmission, wet chain-driven primary system, and rear drive belt setup. The engine fired up smooth and easy every time I hit the starter button. And no matter what the temperature or elevation, the throttle response was smooth and even. Not a burble, burp, or cough was heard or felt. The tranny shifted as all Cruise Drives do, a little clunking, but efficiently. I did have some trouble at times finding neutral when the tranny got hot, which is another common trait for this gearbox. The clutch pull is light and smooth, and should not be a problem for small hands or those without a strong grip. The bike’s handling and suspension is right on the money. Slow speed maneuvers in a parking lot are a cakewalk, and the suspension did its job well on every bump and dip I encountered.

Another factor of modern tech on all the 2011 Softails is the new hand control switches and speedo setup. Donny went into this new Harley-Davidson Local Area Network (HDLAN) and Controller Area Network (CAN) system in great detail in his December Techline feature, so I’ll just touch on the main points here. These new handlebar switches do not send 12-volt power to the various devices they control. Instead, the switches merely transfer a low-voltage signal to the bike’s ECM, which carries out the rider’s instructions. For example, flicking the headlight switch from high to low beam no longer sends 12 volts of power through the switch to the other half of the headlight bulb. The switch tells the ECM to do it. However, the changes don’t end there. Toggling the top portion of the horn button now activates the readout window on the lower half of the new speedometer. This window can now display what gear you are in, the engine’s rpm, and various trip and odometer info, as well as how many miles you can go before the gas tank is dry. Thanks to the new tach part of the selectable speedo readouts, I can tell you that the engine spins at 2600 rpm at 70 mph, 2750 rpm at 75 mph, 2950 at 80, and 3150 at 85 in sixth gear. The new switch on the right handlebar that does double duty is the starter button, which now also activates the hazard flashers.

Moving to the comfort department, thanks to its comfy seat design and low seat height of 24-1/2″ with all 170 pounds of me on the bike, I have no problem riding for long distances or being flat footed when stopped. Even with my 30″ inseam, I have no trouble reaching the foot controls or keeping my feet on the floorboards. Those classic pullback handlebars and risers put the hand grips right where I want them. However, I did remove the rear half of the shifter lever, since it prevented me from moving my left foot around on the floorboard on a long trip. For riders with a bigger foot (I wear a size 8 1/2 boot), you will definitely want to take the heel shifter section off.

The only drawback I found on the bike, if you can call it that, is that you’ll scrape the floorboards if you start jamming through some twisties. Personally, I don’t consider it a problem since this bike is made for cruising easy and enjoying the scenery. It’s not a canyon carver, as one look at the bike should tell you. It’s got floorboards, right? The Deluxe is a stylish eye- catcher that’s perfect for graceful cruising and, in my mind, touring. As comfortable as this 5’4″ rider was on the Deluxe, I’d take it across the country in a heartbeat, given the chance.

Are you reading this, Buzz? AIM

Words By Chris Maida, Photos by Bob Feather

Story as published in the July 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

Traveling For Tech

In my last column, I wrote about my hectic travel schedule for the V-Twin show, the shoots for our upcoming newsstand special American Iron Garage, and Daytona Bike Week. And though that 38-day period is not typical of my travel itinerary, I’m on the road often to shoot and write various technical articles at different shops. As much as I like traveling, I move from shop to shop, both local and all over the country, for a couple of reasons. One is available shop time, as in when a shop has the time to do the build for us. Yes, we have to wait just like you do for an opening! The second is to let you know about quality shops around the country. When we use a shop for a build or tech article, we try to go only to those with a good reputation. This way, you get to know about a quality one in your area, plus you get to watch how a shop’s mechanics do things, which should help you decide if you want to entrust them with your pride and joy.

As for our engine builds, we do one in every issue for the reasons I just stated, plus one more. We want to show you how different engine combinations perform. This way, you can ask the shop we used, or one near you, to use the same components when it’s time to do your engine, since you’ll already know what power outputs you can expect from that combo. And by our doing a complete build every two issues, you can compare several builds that were done on engines like yours to find the parts combination that puts the powerband where you want it.

Since we’re talking tech, I should also tell you a little about our American Iron Garage newsstand-only special, which comes out seven days after this issue hits the stands. Besides being loaded with $1,500 worth of discounts and coupons for motorcycle parts, it’s also chock-full of more than a dozen step-by-step tech articles for the do-it-yourselfer. Yup, these are the tech articles Joe K and I shot during our stay at J&P Cycles. There’s also an article by Buzz on things to keep in mind when buying a used bike, a seat selection guide from Mustang, and three short bike features showing the end result of J&P’s customization of three of the bikes we used for those tech articles.

Is there a tech article we haven’t done in American Iron Magazine that you would like us to cover? Write me a letter or send an e-mail to ChrisM@AmericanIronMag.com and let me know what’s on your mind. I can’t guarantee we’ll do it, but we’ve followed up on reader requests many times in the past.

See you on the road, Chris Maida.

Story as published in the June 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

On The Road Again

By the time I get back from Daytona Bike Week I will have been traveling for 25 out of 38 days with three days off! In fact, I’m writing this while sitting in yet another hotel room.

My latest series of road trips started on February 4 with a four-day jaunt to the V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati. This is the V-twin industry’s big kickoff for the new riding season, so Joe K and some other staffers were there, too. Then it was back to the office to get an issue of American Iron Magazine out to the printer, as well as work on an issue of our new Motorcycle Bagger magazine.

Six days later, Joe K and I were back on a plane, this time headed for J&P Cycles in Anamosa, Iowa. The plan was to arrive on Sunday, February 13, and, starting on Monday, shoot 17 tech articles before flying back home on the following Sunday. Thanks to the great staff at J&P, by the time it was 6 o’clock on the 19th, Joe and I had our laptops and cameras packed and were heading out to dinner with all 17 articles in the can. What we shot were the tech articles you’ll see in our newest American Iron Magazine newsstand-only special, American Iron Garage, which goes on sale April 17.

Thankfully, it was a holiday on Monday, the 21st! But the next day we were both hard at it back at the office to get our articles and other work done before our next trip, which for me was two days later. Yup, on the 24th I was tooling up the highway at 7:30 am in the American Iron Magazine pickup headed for Westerly, Rhode Island, and Johnson Engine Technologies. In Westerly, where I’m writing this, I need to shoot and write one more tech article for the Motorcycle Bagger issue I have to finish before leaving for Daytona. I’m also here to shoot and write most of the 106″ Twin Cam build article for the next two MB issues. And with a little luck, I’ll also shoot two other tech pieces before I head home to Connecticut on Saturday. I’ve got Sunday off!

Monday the 28th will find Joe K and I slamming to get Motorcycle Bagger done before we leave for Daytona on March 4. Normally, Joe and I would have left earlier in the week since we ride down, but I had rotator cuff surgery just before Christmas, so a 2,600-mile round-trip ride just wasn’t a smart thing to do this year. Anyway, we’ll work the event from weekend to weekend and get back home on Sunday, March 13.

Of course, Monday morning will find us back at the office to get the June issue of AIM done!

See you on the road — Chris Maida, editor

A LEGENDARY MOTORCYCLE JACKET

Back in the early 1970’s, I built my first chopper (a handshift 45 flathead) and bought my first real riding jacket, a black horsehide one. Both were simple and clean in design. I wore that jacket for 25 years, until I couldn’t zip it closed anymore. By then that jacket company was gone, so I had to get cowhide though horsehide is much more durable and tough. Rain mostly just rolls off horsehide unless it’s a heavy downpour. However, horsehide is stiff as hell until it breaks in, which seems to take forever.

You can speed things up by folding the jacket into a foot-by-foot square and sitting on it whenever you drive a car. Your body’s constant movement loosens up the leather much faster than wearing it; about 5,000 miles should do it!

Legendary’s Thoroughbred Horsehide Racer motorcycle jacket (#6045H/$619.95) is almost the exact same as my old jacket, but with improvements! It’s made of premium Italian, front-quarter, heavyweight horsehide. One main steel zipper in front ends at a banded racer collar with snap closure. Each sleeve also has a steel zipper to seal it.

There’s a chain-pull, steel zippered pocket and chest pocket on each side. There’s also a snap-close, vertical-entry chest pocket inside on the left and a smaller one on the right for a phone. The back is a clean, one-piece panel with  vented underarm gussets. The Thoroughbred also comes with a removable, zip-out, quilted lining. There are no decorative belts, chains, words, or trim of any sort. Like my old choppers, this union-made-in-US, lifetime-warranty jacket is stripped down and simple. When ordering, keep in mind the cut is “roomy.” I usually go with a 46, but a 40 fit me best. AIM

Sources: Legendary Products, 326 Tapestry, Dept. AIM, Exton, PA 19343, 610/363-7042, www.LegendaryUSA.com

PRODUCT REVIEW By Chris Maida

As seen in the April issue of American Iron Magazine

American Iron Magazine, Motorcycle Bagger Harley

We have been so busy over the last year or so putting together this magazine and our new American Iron Motorcycle Bagger that we forgot to ask you what it is you most look forward to seeing in our pages. Sorry about that. You’ll find a new reader survey on page 93 (or click here AIM Reader Survey). Frankly, it amazes me that more readers don’t take the time to influence what we put in this magazine. We want your suggestions and will give you $1 off a new subscription or subscription extension if you fill out and send in this survey.

If there’s something you feel we’re overlooking or not giving you enough of in AIM Harley magazine, we want to know. For example, a recent letter asked why we don’t include the miles per gallon we get with a bike during testing. As obvious as that sounds to many, it never occurred to us, since it’s not something we concern ourselves with even when traveling across the country. After the first stop, we know about what range we get per gallon at the speed we’re traveling and just plan future gas stops accordingly. To compute how fast we’re burning through the dinosaur juice after each gas stop was never a concern. But now that a reader has requested it, we will include that bit of info in our reviews. Of course, we can’t do it on bikes we’ve already ridden, but we will do it on future tests.

On the other hand, if you’re seeing too much of something, let us know that, too. This magazine is put out by a group of motorcycle enthusiasts with various experience levels and tastes in bikes. Everyone involved with the production of this magazine — the editors, art staff, and ad sales team — all ride bikes and include them as a major part of their lives. That is, with the exception of Art Director Chuck Queener, but we let it pass since he’s a die-hard car guy. We all have different opinions about what should be included, and we try to cover all the bases so everyone finds articles they want to read in AIM.

As for American Iron Motorcycle Bagger, we’re excited to resurrect Sam Whitehead’s popular Quick Hits feature from our discontinued business-to-business publication American Iron Retailer. This is a fun and provocative one-page interview with leading personalities in motorcycling. The questions were frank and funny, and they revealed the true personality of the people interviewed. It was popular with the readers, and many lamented its demise when we closed the books on AIR back in 2009. Of course, Sam has been reenlisted to do his usual outstanding job of questioning and annoying interviewees in Motorcycle Bagger. That said, be sure to send me your suggestions and requests for Motorcycle Bagger Harley magazine as well. How else will we know what you want?

See you on the road. — Chris Maida, Editor