Buddha on a Bike: Harley Resurrection


June 2, 2022, was my one-year anniversary of my “bicycling-it only” experiment. I had sold my truck on June 2, 2021, and had been getting around only on my bicycle. On Friday (5/26), I went and bought myself another Harley, a 2017 Heritage Softail Classic, my favorite model of Harleys. Enough was enough of this bicycling-it only shit!

I found trying to do only bicycling around here in rural South Carolina, very restrictive, limiting, inconvenient, and dangerous. The latter, I knew going into the experiment. Around SC very few of the roads have shoulders to ride on. Around town here in Liberty, the bicycle was just fine, and I plan to keep doing that. Most of what I need is within a one mile radius of where I live, that’s probably 90% of my going, at least over the last year. However, as soon as I wanted to go further, to one of the other cities around here say, that was a different story. Too many hills, too dangerous on narrow, two-lane roads with no shoulders and often, a good amount of traffic. All of these cities are ten or so miles away–or further, which took lot of energy, effort and time to go to any of these.

Throw into this mix the COVID pandemic with its social isolation and my being pretty much a hermit and single at this stage of my life, I found myself severely restricted on what and where I could go, often requiring finding a ride or borrowing one of my kids cars. Because of these restrictions and obstacles, I had found loneliness becoming more and more an issue.

Woven into this story was my Texas Desert Bike tour, returning back here May 1. The month of May has been largely spent getting my head back together after that tour: all the training, effort, and preparation, and finally the actual doing. On that trip I had decided I was tired of only bicycling it, the isolation, and growing loneliness. This is where the Harley comes into the story/equation.

My daughters had wanted me to be reasonable,and get a small car, maybe a small SUV, so that I could take my two large dogs to the vet and myself around. “Reasonable” is boring, pedestrian, but, yeah, they were right. Sigh. During May, I looked several times on the Internet and was not happy with the costs and my choices.  I had looked several times over the last year with the same conclusion. If I was going to lay down that much cash, I wanted it to be something I wanted to drive, something with some adventure, some excitement, some sex appeal! Increasingly over the last year of bicycling, I had found myself missing my Harleys. To me, Harleys have all of these. Of course the irony here is that the only thing more dangerous than a bicycle is a motorcycle.

This is my fifth Harley and seventh motorcycle. Well, one of these, the first, back in the eighth grade was just a little put-put motor scooter, not a real motorcycle: no gears, only a back break, no signals lights, no helmets back then, etc. You just turned the throttle and it went. Kind of like the gocart I had had in the seventh grade and nearly killed myself on running under a parked car. I was paying more attention to the kids playing in the street and not to where I was going. I was in a coma for three days from that little incident.

Then in graduate school at Texas, I had ridden a little Honda 350. Again, a basic bare-bones bike back in 1970. Put a lot of miles on that little bike: running to and from the University, riding kamikaze in the hill country around Lake Travis, especially at night, one time pretty stoned as I remember. I had come down from Fort Worth and ended up spending the night in one of the technicians that worked in the lab. We had started out with “magic” brownies she had just made, later going riding in the hill country around lake Lake Travis, here on her little 125cc bike, me on my 350cc Honda. Turned out to be quite a night. I remember falling asleep in her apartment, listening to the Rolling Stones new Let It Bleed album that had just come out, her pet rat crawling across the bed. It was certainly a night of “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you can get what you need.” Fond memories of that night.

I made numerous trips between Austin and Fort Worth that summer and can still remember how I would “vibrate” for hours afterwards from the bike’s vibrations. No anti-vibration options on those old bikes. And an aching neck: it had no windshield and fighting those Texas winds was tough, even in my early 20’s. Let’s skip ahead 20 years or so now.

I had started out for my fortieth birthday with the smallest Harley, a Sportster. It had a whole lot of “kick” (power) with very little weight, given the size of the engine (997 cc). This was a whole new ball game! This was real motorcycle! No rice-rocket here. It didn’t take me long to “outgrow” the Sporter though. I quickly realized I wanted something for the open road. Aside from a lot of vibration, the Sportster has only a small gas tank, very limited range, and there was not a good way to fit it with saddle bags, etc., for touring.

I sold it and bought a 1981 Superglide. Still not a touring model, but a step in that direction. These are full size Harley. Took it to Sturgis. It was the 50th Anniversary of the rally (1990)! What an experience! On the trip I found it was not a good touring bike–one that you can drive long distances and carry gear. I sold it and for my birthday in 1993, I bought me a brand new 1993 Heritage Softail Classic. Paid cash for it. Drove it right off the showroom floor.

Heritages fit me and they have a 1950’s touring bike look that I really like. When I say “fit,”I’m referring to my very short legs. The bigger touring bikes, like the Road King and Electra

Glides, are too tall for me, even though years later I bought a Road King.  My Heritage is the one featured on my WindWalker book cover. I drove it to Texas and Big Bend several times; New Mexico and all over. Put nearly 40,000 miles on it before selling it around 2001. You can read about the Big Bend trip in WindWalker, as well as the Sturgis rally.

Then I went from 2001- 2013 Harley-less. I wanted to try one of the bigger touring bikes, one with cruise control and a gas gauge, more luggage capacity, etc. In 2013 the Harley bug bit me again.  I bought a 2011 Road King, a bike designed for touring. It didn’t take me long to realize the Road King was too tall for my short legs. (Couldn’t find any images of it. I know I have some somewhere.) So, I sold it in 2015 to help pay for office renovations.

Here we are back in 2022 and on Friday, May 26, I went to look at Harleys. It was decided it was Harley resurrection time! I had been thinking about it a long time. Woke up Friday morning and decided to go look at them. When I told Tricia, my ex and still girlfriend, she quickly pointed out that she knew me and when I said “look,” I had already decided to buy. She was right. This time I definitely wanted one though that fit my short legs. There are several models, but again, the classic look of the Heritage Softail Classics called my name and it still fits my legs. The dealer, Timms Harley-Davidson in Anderson, SC, had just gotten in a used 2017 Heritage. It was in immaculate condition and only had 7000 miles on it! They had not even had time to go over it and check everything out.

As fate or luck would have it, they matched me up with their only females bike sales person, Kim Slice. Kim was my size, a rider herself, and my size. She knew exactly the kind of challenges I faced with the Harleys as she faced them herself. She also was closer to my age. Kim took me around to several models and had me try them out. Only the Heritage had all the features I was looking for though. Here we are after I definitely decided on the Heritage–

During the intervening years, since 1993 and my first Heritage, they have made a lot of improvements on the model. The 2017’s have cruise control and gas gage, rubber mounted engines, and more. Timm’s H-D delivered it to me the next day after having run it through their shop’s check-out routine.

Here’s my new Harley: a 2017 Heritage Softail Classic:

Been riding it now for a couple of weeks and it’s been quite an adjustment. As I’ve gotten 7 years older since the Road King model,  I can really tell it. It’s back to the gym time to work on building my upper body strength and the power muscles in my legs so that I can better maneuver it around–and, heaven forbid, pick it up in case I drop it on its side. For the bicycle touring and riding I’ve been doing the last 2+ years, I had been concentrating on endurance muscle in my legs and not much on my upper body.

After a year of being restricted by the bicycle on going places, I was caught off guard by the sense of freedom that came over me with the Harley. I could go just about anywhere I wanted now. Even back out to my beloved West Texas desert.

At first, getting back on the Harley, I was intimidated. Where had all my self-confidence gone in the ensuing years? Had I gotten that old? As I ride more, I am getting over the intimidation and my old riding skills are returning. The scariest part is getting the damn thing backed out of my shop. It’s dicey and I have to be careful. Got it too far over the second time I tried backing it out and dropped it.  Found I could no longer just get off, bend over, and set it back upright. Have to work on this. Again, back to the gym.

My daughters were not at all happy about my buying another Harley, although they had grown up with me riding one. I’d given them no heads-up. That’s because I knew what they would say. My son was great with it, as was my eldest granddaughter. He has a Harley Street Bob himself. I figure my daughters will get over it.