Trading my Bro Card for Clear Mirrors | Megaphone

By Howard Kelly, Photography by Shasta Willson

Long-time Motorcyclist readers might recognize my name. As the shop foreman in the early ‘90s, I was always weaseling my way onto the pages of the magazine. As appealing as washing motorcycles and schlepping them around in an abductor van was, what I really wanted to be doing was writing about bikes. So when an opportunity to work as Feature Editor at then-sister publication Hot Rod Harleys opened up in mid-’94, I jumped on it. Even if MC staffers Burns, Boehm, Black, and Carrithers ragged on me mercilessly with every Harley-Davidson joke you could imagine.

My Aerostich suit, full-face helmet, and penchant for wheelies might have seemed out of place in the V-twin world, but I was having too much fun on motorcycles to care. I embraced the H-D culture completely, replacing my GSX-R750 with a Buell S2 and then adding a Harley-Davidson Dyna Glide to my garage, too—but not before I did everything possible to make it steer, stop, and go better than before. No ape hangers here.

All things change given enough time, of course, and I recently purchased my first non-V-Twin motorcycle since 1996. A used 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14, picked out the same day the eBay deposit for my Dyna hit my bank account. I’ve since covered 24,000 miles on the C14, and it still feels like the honeymoon. That’s not to say there haven’t been some surprises, though…

The first thing I do with any new/used bike is give it a once-over to tighten up every nut and bolt. I did the same the first night I owned the Concours, and that’s when I hit my first speed bump—metric fasteners. Of course, every tool in my box was SAE, for wrenching on Harleys. I used to have a huge array of metric tools, until these were forcibly removed from my old Santa Monica apartment, so it was off to Sears to restock the toolbox.

My next adjustment was wind noise—it had been years since I heard it! I’m not sure how fast you need to be going for the sound of the windblast to drown out the song of a 116 cubic-inch S&S V-twin exhaling through a Vance & Hines Pro Pipe, but it must be faster than even a 120-horsepower Dyna can go. That monster muffler on the Concours 14 so effectively strangles any auditory evidence of internal combustion that I’m now on the hunt for a more aerodynamic helmet.

The hardest adjustment of all, however, has to do with how I’m seen by other riders. In 17 years of almost exclusively riding American V-twins, tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—of fellow bikers have given me the “Bro Wave.” You know, left hand, wrapped in a fingerless glove, pointed at the ground like God pointing to Adam in Michelangelo’s artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Same roads, same rider, same jacket and helmet, but hardly a single wave from the Harley faithful when I’m riding my Connie. My Bro card disappeared with my Dyna, and I didn’t even know it.

How could this happen? I know the differences between a Pan and a Shovelhead, in great detail. I can pick out a fake S&S teardrop air cleaner from 25 yards. Dammit, I’ve written two entire books about custom Harley-Davidsons, but the minute I swing a leg over that so-quiet, so-smooth, so-imported Kawasaki, I forfeit my Bro status.

But all is not lost, now that I own a Japanese super-tourer. Every time I ride the Concours—farther, mind you, since it’s so smooth, fast, and comfortable—I see something I didn’t see during almost two decades aboard American V-twins—a clear, sharp image in my rearview mirrors. The mirrors on my Dyna vibrated so badly that everything behind me looked like something drawn by a first-year impressionist art student. Sure, I lost my street cred and my Bro status, but at least now I can see where I’m going and where I’ve been. Maybe that’s not such a bad trade.

By Howard Kelly
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