Don’t Try This At Home
SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter, Publisher
I’ve long been fascinated by the mechanical workings of old machinery. As a kid, I remember taking apart a broken watch to try to fix it. It never did run again, but I was drawn to all the fine gears, springs, and tiny moving parts. That attraction has never left me as I continue to spend time working on and riding old motorcycles.
While I enjoy riding my hot rod Sportster, I’m more likely to hop on something significantly older than me for a local ride. And although I love a well-prepped Panhead, Scout, or Knucklehead, my tastes have been shifting to earlier machines. I blame it on my close friends: museum founders John Parham and Dale Walksler, Motorcycle Cannonball founder Lonnie Isam Jr., and my pal and antique bike restorer Dave Fusiak. I’m fortunate to own several wonderful classic motorcycles, but I don’t see myself as a collector as much as an owner/rider.
I often remind myself how fortunate I am to own some great bikes for a few years before they pass on to the next owners — preferably in better shape than when I got them. I enjoy working on, riding, and sharing these wonderful old bikes with others when I can. I think back to all the people who generously shared their passion, skills, and machines with me. I try to do the same — in this magazine, at events, on YouTube and Facebook, and on various motorcycle forums. But it’s not always fun and games.
Not long ago, I brought a recently acquired 1909 Shaw to a local motorcycle event. The promoter asked me to start and ride it around the parking lot to win the Oldest Running Motorcycle award. I had only ridden the Shaw once before and not very far. I was willing to try, but I wasn’t too confident in the machine or my skills to operate it. The basic starting procedure is to open the gas and oil valves, connect the total loss battery, set the carb, and start pedaling. Once you get up to a decent pace, you need to tighten the pressure on the belt drive and hope the rear wheel spins the engine hard enough to start the engine. No kickstart, no clutch, no transmission. And only marginal coaster brakes. Pretty primitive today, but effective by 1909 standards.
As requested, I pedaled the Shaw (made in Galesburg, Kansas) up and down the parking lot, breathing heavily, with little more than an occasional pop from the engine. Looking back, I know I was lucky the engine didn’t fire and run, as the front wheel started violently flopping left and right. When the 105-year-old steering head stem snapped, the handlebars fell off, leaving no way to steer. It happened so fast, and I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I managed to stop the bike and get my feet on the ground, saving me and the bike from a hard fall. If the engine had caught, it would have shot the bike and me forward with no way to steer or even stabilize the bike. I guess this is a good reason many people with machines this old seldom, if ever, start or ride them.
Maybe I’m nuts, but my goal is to fix the steering head assembly, carefully check for other issues, and see if I can get this Shaw into dependable running shape to try it again. If you like classic motorcycles, we created the Kickstart Classic ride, which is less than a month away. This fun, two-day event for riders of all make and model motorcycles is getting ever more popular. I’d like to thank Spectro Oils for sponsoring it again this year, the Wheels Through Time Museum, Coker Tires, and Cyclemos Museum for feeding us and hosting welcome parties. We can handle only 100 riders, and the last time I checked, there weren’t many slots still available. If you want to join us, act now (AIMag.com or call Rosemary at 203/425-8777 ext. 114) or settle for reading about it in American Iron Magazine later this year.
Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.
This article originally appeared in issue #312 of American Iron Magazine.
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