FXDB rolling again

My FXDB Street Bob has been down for a couple of months; shortly before the holidays, the shifter arm broke loose.

This wasn’t your usual ‘harleys suck’ problem, this was all operator error; I fucked up the shifter spline when I was trying to adjust the shifter a few months back, and my kludge job finally failed.

The moral is, don’t force it, and don’t do the job if you don’t have the right tools. Yeah, yeah, I know.

Sunday night I looked at the weather report, and found that, unlike most of the country, here in northern CA we’re experiencing lovely spring weather; highs in the seventies this week. It occurred to me monday morning, just exactly how pissed I’d be if the weather tunred perfect and my ride was down; so I gave in, had the steed towed in, and a day later had it running again.

Warrantees are a good thing.


(Pic taken with iPhone 5, processed with instagram,

and then processed more with aperture.)


Street Bob

My new ride – 2008 FXDB ‘Street Bob’

See a couple more shots from the dealer’s web side here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karlelvis/5934551594/

When I was a kid, my Aunt Penny used to date a biker, a guy in some bike club vaguely connected to the Hell’s Angels. His truck as always full of harley parts, and his friends user to show up at all hours, dressed in leathers and riding outlandish chopped and bobbed machines.

I loved him, I loved his friends, and most of all, I loved their bikes.

Not long ago, when I was cleaning out Mom’s house, I ran across some saved xmas wish lists in one of mom’s journals. My brother wanted typical kid toys; tricycle, hoppity-hop, pogo-stick, games. Mine? Weapons (new pocket knife), toy guns, and on almost every list, the words “motorcycle” or “chopper”.

I’ve loved motorcycles almost since I could walk. My father rode – vespas when I was little, and then honda and suzuki 250/350 class bikes (bikes I’d love to own now, what great cafe racers they’d make!). My Aunt’s friends rode. my mom’s bosses road (they owned a bookstore, and rode BMW’s, and used to take me out on errands when I was hanging around the bookstore).

Honestly, it’s a suprise it took me so long to get my first bike – I just kind of got distracted in my early twenties. I don’t think I actually got my first motorcycle ’til I was close to 30, but I’ve been a dedicated, almost every-day rider ever since.

I’ve never stopped wanting a harley. But you know, it’s not just harleys.

My first bike was a clapped-out ’83 yamaha Virago 920, that I bought for $800; it was worth maybe half that, and had mechanical problems in almost every part of it. It sucked; it was heavy as hell, ran like shit. And I loved it to pieces. Since, I’ve been through a half dozen or more bikes, in all styles. Yamahas, kawasakis, triumphs; cruisers, standards, sport bikes, touring bikes, cafe racers. I just plain love motrcycles. And I’ve never had a motorcycle I loved as much as my Triumph Thuxton, best bike I’ve ever owned.

But you know, there’s something just plan beautiful/stupid about a harley.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t love Harley-Davidson�. I don’t love the brand, or the logo, or the image. Not as it is today, not with the gloss and the eliteism and the air of superiority. I don’t love the logos, and as much as I love harleys, I kind of hate when people ask me if i ride harleys (they assume shaved head and tattoos and beard and shades and boots and skull rings has to mean harley).

I almost universally dislike anything that says ‘Harley-Davidson�’ if it isn’t a motorcycle. But god dammit, I love the moyorcycles. I love the machines themselves.

I’ve had severa go-rounds with almost buying a harley. In the 90’s I was on a waiting list (back when you had to get on a waiting list for harleys) for an ‘low rider sport’ (a sapphire blue FXR with factory low drag bars), but bagged out at the last second because 1) I really could not afford it at the time, and 2) there were spousal approval issues. I’ve had a couple of near-missing with H-D’s since, the last being two years or so back when my doctor (who’s a huge motorcycle freak) had his bike, dripping with extras, up for sale for a steal of a price. But i forgot the whole thing during a minor work crisis, and he’d sold it before I got my head back on to it.

Like all great chance things though, a harley just walked back into my life the other day – though not this harley.

My doctor knew I was vaguely considering a harley; we talk bikes every time I see him. So when one of his riding buddies mentioned he was selling a harley, Doc thought of me and gave my contact info to said buddy.

You’ll laugh, and maybe weep, at this fucking monstrosity. It’s a labor of love (maybe bad love). The seller and his pal bought matching FXSTC Softail Customs in ’99, and set about chroming the living fuck out of everything. Both bikes had custom paint, custom matched seats, even helmets painted to match. They did a spectacular job, and loved the hell out of these bikes at one time. But recently, they’d both moved on to new hobbies, and just sort of quit riding much. One of the pair (that one in relatively understated purple/blue flames) sold last year, and this create just went up for sale in the last week.

Thing is though, my aesthetic, almost universally, isn’t garish. My favorite colors are gray, army green, and black. I like things one color, not shiny. I generally hate chrome. My aesthetic for cars runs to primer gray, and my clothing is mostly black, gray and green. If a t-shirt decoration has more than one color, I generally won’t wear it. So this? It’s just NOT ME.

Thing is, though, that I absolutely LOVED riding it. I didn’t want to give it back. Paint or no, if I’d had a checkbook in my hand, or if it’d been a grand cheaper, I might have bought it on the spot. But I wasn’t quite committed.

I left thinking, I am probably going to buy that.

Only, the more I looked at the picture, the more I realized the paint was going to make me crazy, and so was all that shiny-shiny chrome. And it just seems criminal to change it.

I waffled, with each waffle-cycle getting closer to ‘no’.

And then I though, well, fuck, I really want want a harley, and always have. Not that harley, but really. Why don’t i have one yet?

And I made the mistake of perusing current models.

What I did not want: fussy, complicated, full-dress, touring, or small small starter bikes. What I did want: stark, simple, as non-shiny as possible. This quickly got me to the Street Bob. And I started looking for used bikes.

Alas, I found the exact thing I wanted, at my nearest dealer. When I talked to him later, he said “your mail came in at 3am, what were you doing, midnight shopping?”

This bike has exactly what I wanted: bobber style, almost all black, no chrome to speak of, matte-finish paint (Harley’s low-gloss ‘Denim’ paint). It even has an amazing rinehart 2-into-1 pipe which is both unique looking, and sounds awesome (a bit louder than I’d ideally want, but wow, beautiful).

I didn’t intend to go buy a harley. But sometimes one just has to give in to lust.

Oh, and no, I did not get rid of the Triumph. Not on your fucking life. I’m keeping that bike, probably forever. Funny, though; when I was picking up the Street Bob, I left my Thruxton at the harley shop for a while. All the mechanics came over and looked at it, wanting to know if it was coming in as a trade, and when I said no, if I wanted to sell it. When the harley mechanics want your bike, well, that’s just cool..

Thruxton mods: FEK and flashers

You may think I’m obsessed.

It’s true, I’m obsessed.

It’s been a really, really long time since I had fun wrenching on a vehicle. I think the last time I actually had fun working on my car, I mean really working on it, was my first Toyota truck (a 1979 SR5 long bed). I used to do all kinds of crap to it, because it was so easy to work on. More recently, the only car I’ve really spent any time on was my red Jeep wrangler; mostly minor bolt-ons or removals.

I’ve never worked on my own motorcycles significantly; never really a been a big customizer. But when I set out to replace my Trophy (a big beast of a bike, all covered in full-body plastic), I had a couple of criteria: light, nimble, and most of all, no fucking plastic. I wanted to be able to work on it, whatever bike I chose.

When I settled, after considerable thought and research, on a Bonneville, I couldn’t have picked a much more customization-friendly platform. All the bikes in the bonneville family (The original Bonnie, the Scrambler, and the Thruxton) share a uniform frame, engine, and geometry; so parts are almost completely interchangeable. Being the product of a long history of chopping, bobbing, and café-ing, there’s also a huge market out there for parks, kits and gear.

There are literally dozens of vendors making and selling parts, and hundreds of easy bolt-on options. For a beginner, one could spend thousands before getting up into the range of work that’s actually difficult, and for experienced wrenchers, there’s really no limit to what you can do to these things. Like the original 60s Triumphs, they’re made to be re-made.

To say I’m having fun with this is an understatement; I’m having an absolute fucking ball.

My list of things to do is just getting longer and longer, from changes to the air intake (air box removal kit and air injection removal), to the exhaust (black pipes, predator cans), to the rear wheel (fatter tire), to a new tank to replace that tiny teacup of a tank the Thruxton comes with. There are about a hundred other things I could do, ranging from power increases to paint; time and money are my limits.

But here’s my next customization.

One of the common objections to the Bonneville family is the ugly-ass tail light and signal cluster, which looks like something off of a ’50s scooter or the back of an Edsel. There are many after-market tail-light and turn signal options that are more in line with the bike’s sixties/seventies styling.

Alternately, particularly among Café Racer enthusiasts, one of the most common mods is what’s called a Fender Removal Kit, or FEK, which removes the rear fender entirely, replacing it with a plate under the seat (to protect wiring), and a minimal tail-light and license bracket.

Every major Triumph parts dealer offers an option for this, each approaching it a bit differently. I wound up with the kit from British Customs, mainly because I liked the ‘cats-eye’ tail light (though also because the wiring harness they provide is particularly user-friendly).

To go with this, I chose a pair of turn signals from Harrison Specialties, which I just happened to stumble on via a Buell forum. They satisfied my taste for aggressive, bullet-shaped turn signals and super-bright LEDs. I admit it, I’m a whore for LEDs, I’ve replaced all the turns, all the idiot lights, the gauge illumination, and would replace all the lights on my car too, if I had the time.

Below are some pictures; compare the look of the rear fender here, to the new version, here and here. The difference in terms of a clean, classic, retro appearance is worlds apart, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Other smaller mods are a ignition relocation kit from Joker Machine (who make the coolest shit ever), moving the ignition from next to the headlight (a dumb-ass place for it; it’s ugly there, and it’s awkward to reach), and small fairing-mount front turn signals, and a billet choke knob, also from Joker.

Below is a slide show; let me know if you can’t get to the whole set.

(this seems to be broken at the moment, it’s not clear why, but I’ll fix it shortly)

(Click to go to full-size photos)

There are a whole lot of other parts I installed as part of this, though most of that’s only interesting if you own a Triumph you’re working on. Read on if you’re interested in the hard details

Read more “Thruxton mods: FEK and flashers”

Thruxton mods: Emgo Viper fairing

Here’s my first significant attempt at customization on my Thruxton.

(I’m trying a MobileMe embed here, it should be a slide show, let me know if it isn’t).

(Click to go to full-size photos)

After a ton of research and a ton of over-thinking, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a fairing for my Thruxton.

Sold by Bella Corse as the “Cafe Racer 1/4 “Bikini” Fairing”, it’s an Emgo “Viper”; your basic, old-school ABS plastic, universal mount fairing.

It’s more or less exactly what I had in mind when I first started thinking about fairings; reasonably cheap, really easy to install, and looks as retro as hell.

I’m pretty damned happy with it.

Next on the list to do is new turn signals; I had to remove the stockers to fit this, but I hate the stock signals, so it’s a win both ways. I have these beautiful billet LED lights from Joker Machine to install; that’s my next project (I need some additional wiring to convert things to LED).

I’m having far to much fun with this project; every little thing I do makes this motorcycle feel like mine.

More pix of the project as it progresses.

not for three weeks

I had these plans to post additional pictures for two of my last posts; better pix of the Thurxton, and of course, new pictures of my back once it was healed up.

Clearly we’re still waiting.

My back is, to the best of my ability to tell, completely healed. Which means it’s time for more ink, obviously. Only thing is, I have a conflict next week when I was scheduled to get the next session. So it’s going to be another month or so ’til we have progress.

The bike, though, is everything I’d hoped. It is, without question, the most fun ride I’ve ever had (at least the most fun ride that didn’t have a pulse). As I’ve gotten to know it, I’ve liked it more with each ride. The handling is fantastic, the exhaust note from the TOR pipes is gorgeous, and it’s got all the speed I need (no, it’s not the fastest bike I’ve ever owned, but I’m ok with that). I just need better weather to get on it and ride every day (I no longer own any rain gear for riding, so I’m still your basic fair weather rider).

However, both things need to get postponed for a while, since I’m going in next week for rotator cuff surgery; I’ll be off my bike for three weeks, and obviously the surgery conflicted with my tattoo schedule.

Honestly, that’s the main reason I’m bothered by the surgery. The repair in my shoulder will be minor, and the recovery should be reasonably quick. But for a boy with a brand new toy, hearing “not for three weeks” sounds like an eternity.

On the other hand, enforced time off work isn’t sounding that bad, even if it comes with pain. And there’s percocet. Mmm, percocet.


After spending the weekend working on clearing out mom’s house and my brother’s long-ignored storage space, I realize there’s no fucking way I can be down for three weeks right not. I’ve postponed the surgery (for a couple of months, I suspect).

Luckily, my tattoo appointment was still clear; which means I *can* get inked after all. Which is WAY better than getting cut open.


I’d intended to post something yesterday but somehow never had time. I was going to post photos, only somehow I never took any (ok, just one).

Words will have to do.

Saturday, I drove up to Concord (an hour and a half away from me) to pick up my Triumph Thruxton at Ace Motorsports (who have the best logo ever).

That the bike would be beautiful I already knew. I’d seen one just like it at a local dealer (though not for sale).

The folks at Ace (Bryan and Jim) were great, and every single person I talked to said that’s a beautiful bike.

My thruxton cane equipped with TOR (triumph factory ‘off road’) exhaust, which makes it rumble and growl. In effect, it makes it sound like a triumph, not like a sewing machine. The exhaust note couldn’t be prettier, and isn’t absurdly loud.

After doing paperwork and throwing down money, I rode off into the sunset, taking clayton road (a mildly hilly route with some nice twists and sweepers) to get used to the bike.

It’s an adjustment. My last two bikes were huge-displacement (1500cc and 1200cc), a cruiser and a sport tourer, respectively. The Thruxton is smaller (865cc), with a classic flat cafe-racer seating position. This bike is lighter, more nimble, more responsive. On the other hand, it lacks the enormous reserve of pure horsepower. It also lacks the full fairing of my old Trophy, so the sense of being one with the road – and exposed to the elements – is significant. Also my back and shoulders aren’t use to more aggressive riding position. I spend half the ride clenched up like I was hanging on for dear life; I had to will my muscles to relax. I was well aware the next day of the combination of tightness and using muscles that haven’t been in use a lot lately. Riding more, obviously, is the answer to both.

This is, I think, the most purely fun motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. It’s got it’s limitations (I wouldn’t take it on a 200 mile run, and it’s not at it’s best on long freeway blasts, not ’til I add a little bikini fairing, anyway). But as far as pure joy, it trumps anything I’ve ever been on. And given that I never do longs runs, the trade is far in my favor.

One of the things that I love about the triumph is that it invites customization. Pipes (done, though I went with the triumph upgrade, not the expensive and much louder options from predator or arrow or or staintune or others), upgraded suspension, performance mods, seats, fairings, light changes, chassis mods, etc. Given time and money,I’d add custom paint and gradually change out anything and everything. But I did replace the heel guard, just because I needed to do SOMETHING to make the bike visibly mine.

Here’s a street-fighter guard from motocyco.biz, who are incredibly cool people:


Later, I’ll get better pix to post. Kenny’s offered to take some, which insures they’ll be better than anything I can take myself.

two wheels good

I just put a deposit on a new motorcycle.

After looking at, and sitting on, and considering everything from retro-clasic ducatis to harley sportsters to street-fighter yamahas, kawasakis and suzukis, I fell back to a motorcycle that really, truly looks like a motorcycle.

I’m buying another triumph.

My last bike was a triumph as well. But it was one of triumph’s modern rides; clad in plastic, curvy and modern, heavy and powerful and comfortable.

Some bikes are good to ride; but others have soul.

I grew up around motorcycles. My father rode little hondas and suzukis; my aunts boyfriend rode harleys. My mom’s bosses at a local bookstore rode bmws. And I grew up trying to decide if I should get a norton, or a harley, or a triumph.

The name Triumph, for people my age, brings to mind Steve McQueen jumping fences in the great escape. It brings to mind the café racer scene of ’60s london. It was the bike of the ‘rockers’, when one imagines mods vs rockers.

The Triumph of that era was a stripped down twin, built for speed. IN it’s day, it was one of the fastest motorcycles around.

I love motorcycles. I always have. I love plastic transformer monstrosities, I love absurdly customized choppers and bobbers. And I’d collect them, if I had time and space and money, one of each type I can imagine.

Motorcycles differ from cars; cars are, almost universally, an exercise in compromise. They’re built to server several purposes at once; cargo and passengers, comfort and safety, economy and performance, reliability and affordability. Very few of them do one thing extremely well, and of those, most are race cars or work trucks.

Bikes though, almost universally, do one thing well. A suzuki hayabusa goes motherfucking fast. A harley low rider looks really cool and grunts incredibly loud. a kz650 ride trails. A gold wing goes long, long, long distances in comfort while having as much storage as a car. Harleys don’t do trails, hayabusas don’t go a long with comfortably with cargo. Sure, there are the few in-between bikes (sport touring), but they’re really one kind of bike with something else grafted onto it.

What this means is, when you buy a bike, you really need to understand what you’re getting.

I’ve spent far too much time over the last month pondering what I wanted. I knew what I didn’t want; no plastic. I knew I wanted light, maneuverable, sorty, fun to ride. I wasn’t looking at touring bikes (I never bike tour), I wasn’t looking at cruisers (when I get one, it’s going to be the real deal, a huge harley). And what I kept coming back to was the Bonneville.

The Bonneville is the triumph of my youth, without the oil leaks and kick starts and electrical problems. It’s a re-imagined version of the bike I wanted way back then. It’s my father’s bikes, but with guts and reliability.

And the one that kept speaking to me was the cafe-racer styled Thruxton.

It’s not a practical bike. It doesn’t have a nice big screen to make long rides comfortable. It’s not a relaxed upright position that would make highway miles as easy as sitting at a desk. And it’s not the fastest bike out there, the lightest. What it is, though, is the kind of bike I’ve always loved. And it suits the riding I actually do; short runs, to and from work and around town. It’s a bike you can get out just to get it out, unlike my Trophy, which always seemed grumpy until it’d been rolling at speed for 15 minutes.

I spent the last two days trying to find one. They’re something of a rarity right now, at least the ’09 version is; which isn’t surprising. Triumph’s fixed a lot little things about the bike with this rev, given it better bars, and dropped in the EFI they’ve been using in other models for years. I found one, finally, way up in Concord.

It won’t be ride-ready ’til the weekend. But I can’t wait. I need to roll.