That “Harley Thing”

What's Your Thing?

“What can I say? It’s a Harley thing. If I have to explain it, you probably wouldn’t understand.”©Motorcyclist

“There’s no accounting for taste,” Smokey said, leaning on a railing outside Slim’s Last Chance Saloon after last month’s Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts meeting.

Sipping suds, we sneered benignly at a candy-green and flake-gold mayhem of Harley-look sheets and billets, bloused together around an S&S mill and surmounted by a jockey saddle the approximate size and appearance of a used sanitary pad. Some people dream in color, and those colors can be pretty surreal.

Or, as Smoke put it, shrugging, “I guess that’s his thing.”

Shinier even than the Harlesque barhopper was an Indian-built Enfield single parked a few slots down. From the hand-hammered al-yoo-minium fuel cell to the big Smiths clock to the reverse megaphone pipe to the sparkling alloy rearsets, the entire bike was polished like an officer’s buttons. On its side panel, picked out in green pinstripes, the numerals “672” politely announced a UK-sourced engine kit replacing piston, rod, crank, head, cylinder liner, and gearset. There were aftermarket shocks, a cartridge fork, and a big carb hung on there too.

“I’ve got about $6,000 in parts,” its young (and most likely unmarried) owner explained, “on a $3,000 bike.”

Then he smiled slightly, just enough to let a Simichromed twinkle of future plans slip through his glasses. It doesn’t matter to anyone else whether his big single is a perfect haiku of motorcycling refinement or the road-bumbling equivalent of a highly polished turd. It’s his thing.

For the past couple of days, courtesy of MotoDuvall, I’ve been careening cheerfully about on a sidehack rig built on a ’98 BMW R1200C. This mash-up of Teutonic cruiser with Iowan Motorvation Spyder car around a PoinThree subframe from the Side Effects shop in Kamloops is two things: as eccentric as racquetball spats and as improbably delightful as ultralight renditions of WWI fighter aircraft. It’s Jim’s thing and not entirely my cuppa tea, but I haven’t minded the sip at all.

Down in Oregon, Illuminati MC past prez Steve renewed his subscription for pallets of starter motors to bolt into his stroker Dyna, which makes torque like a Rolls-Royce Phantom and goes through starter gears like an orca through harp seals. His mechanic is still afraid to ride the thing, and the minute he ain’t, Steve will level up to bigger and better danger.

They’re not products, these customs. They’re train sets. You lay new sidings, build a tunnel, add a cross-arm gate, and steam your little choo-choo on down the track until that loses its novelty. Then you fix something else—not because it’s broken but because it’s not perfected yet, burnishing your dream into the colors of the Platonic surreal.

Back in my own garage, a waspy orange bike awaits a new front wheel, carrier, rotor, caliper, and master cylinder. With her cartoonish 19-inch wheels, tight little track tank, and butt-floss tailsection, Homewrecker gratifies me as the most purified flat-track minimalism that could ever wear a license plate, but slashing through traffic along Seattle’s rain-grooved routes gets sketchy with nothing but a Grimeca steering puck out back.

She’s a 50-hp street single that looks classic, sounds thunderous, and underweighs her rider. Other riders regularly stop to gaze, lingeringly enough to make me jealous if she weren’t titled in my name and locked up every night.

Pretty Wife doesn’t see it. Caring bupkis for tradition, she’s flummoxed by the very existence of a registered street motorcycle with a range measured in minutes rather than counties.

“I just don’t get it,” she told me, having materialized in the garage to summon me out of my reveries and into supper. “It’s…sort of useless. You ride all kinds of stuff. What makes this bike special?”

“I dunno,” I said, taking a long pull off America’s last non-hipster beer. “I guess it’s just my thing.”