In Praise of Used Motorcycles

Shifting Gears with Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS, by Buzz Kanter, Publisher

This project is for everyone who enjoys riding but can’t buy a new bike

Starting with our last issue, I have been sharing my experience of buying a well-used Harley bagger on the internet some 1,500 miles away from me. I called the experience The Beer Budget Bagger Tour, as the low “beer budget” price for these Harley Electra Glide Classics is a fraction of the champagne prices of a similar new Harley. Ready to ride and priced under $5,000 each, they are within reach for most of us.

My riding partner, Paul Ousey (he bought one too), and I have been sharing some of the experiences online and they seem to be quite popular. My guess is that, for many of us, the dream of buying a brand-new motorcycle is just that: A dream. Especially for expensive touring models. Who wouldn’t want to throw a leg over a shiny new bike and ride away from the dealer’s showroom? This project is for everyone who enjoys riding but can’t buy a new bike right now.

As someone fortunate enough to do regular tests and reviews for the magazine, I get to ride a lot of the latest and greatest new motorcycles. And they really are great. On the other end of the motorcycle spectrum, I have a deep passion for antique and classic bikes. Both are pretty pricey—new bikes and classics. But if you take your time and do your homework, you can find some great deals out there in used motorcycles. Paul and I did. The sweet spot now for used Harleys seems to be the 88 cubic inch (1450cc) Harley TC88 baggers (1999–2006). They are a great value and can be a solid performer, but be aware of the problematic Cam Chain Tensioner issue typical of this motor. If it has not been fixed on the bike you are considering (it was on mine), then assume you will need to fix it soon and value the bike accordingly.

I bought the used 2002 Harley because I thought it was a good deal and it would be a popular and fun project/tour for our readers. In the first couple of days riding this bagger, I fell under its spell—something I had not anticipated. My E-Glide Classic had covered 53,000 miles before I got it, which is nothing for a well-maintained bike like this. Based on how it looks and runs, I’d bet previous owners had loved and given it the care it deserved, and I figure it’s good for another 50,000 or more miles!

Granted, this bike was also inspected and improved both mechanically and cosmetically by the crew at Road Track & Trail where I bought it. For me, part of the fun of buying a used bike is sorting it out and personalizing it the way I want it. I also enjoy the discoveries—big and small—along the way. Hopefully all good!

My involvement other than riding it—a lot—has been really minor. I reset and tightened the mirrors and crash bar mounted foot pegs. I dropped the idle from about 1300 to 1000 rpm on the stock CV carb, and I ran some Lucas Fuel System Cleaner through the gas tank (made a noticeable improvement). I also improved the handling by pumping up the rear shocks to 15 psi. All simple things any of us can do with basic hand tools.

I also suspect putting down 1,600 miles the first week gave the power train a good, healthy workout with lots of heat cycles and plenty of fresh gas and oil through the systems. Doing so, I rediscovered how great these old Twin Cam Harley baggers are. Since getting back home, I have been riding this 17-year-old Harley every chance I get.

I plan to hold on to it for a while and extend the series to share affordable upgrades. These will be sensible and functional improvements the average rider can do him or herself with basic hand tools. Like a better seat and windshield. Possibly better lighting and speakers (only one works now, and it sounds terrible) and basic maintenance. What do you think?

If you have a “beer budget” bike you bought cheap with high miles, please email us a couple of photos with your name and a brief write up. We love sharing our readers’ bikes in print. You can reach us at [email protected]. And don’t forget to subscribe and possibly win the new Indian Bobber we are giving away to a lucky subscriber at the end of the year.

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.

Buzz

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