Harley Iron 883: Motorcycling Joie de Vivre – Part One

It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable on my Harley Iron 883.  It was six weeks ago that I rode the Sportster for the first time and three weeks ago that I rode it on my first lengthy 100-mile trip.  That’s a short period of time for both, but to me it feels like ages ago because I’ve gain a lot of skill and confidence on the bike since then.  Don’t read that as “complacent.”  I’m still as vigilant and ATGATT as I was when I started, but I’m doing it with a hell of a lot more joie de vivre.  Should a Harley owner say phases like “joie de vivre?”  Meh, I don’t care.  Freedom and motorcycles are intensely connected and  freedom means to me is enjoying my ride they way I see fit, regardless what direction the Harley prevailing winds are blowing. Especially if it’s a headwind.

Road Rager - Photo from my Harley Iron 883
I’m getting pretty comfortable on my Harley Iron 883. Even when there is a road raging jerk getting out of his car to flail expletives at cars honking at him because he’s blocking traffic.

These six weeks have been amazing.  I’m having a blast discovering what I am capable on the bike.  Swerving tactics to avoid being hit by merging drivers is one skill that I shouldn’t enjoy doing so much, but I know that white SUV driver did not see me in his blind spot while we were  in the otter loop going around the Wisconsin State Capitol.  I had to swerve into the bike lane to avoid being hit.  That’s a maneuver I would not be able to do in a car.

I also like the quick acceleration on a motorcycle.  There is a right turn on my commute into work that goes up a hill while angled far to the right.  It’s basically 45-degree right turn up a steep hill.  That’s challenging for a beginning motorcyclist.  Adding to the difficult maneuver, the turn usually is right after starting off from a red light during busy morning commuting traffic.   My first few times executing this turn, I think use what I learned.  I just searched and executed.  I was so focused on search, by looking and worried about the cars behind me, that I completely forgot about evaluating my turn.  This resulted in me taking this steep angled and high-hilled turn too wide.  My counter-weighting (AKA, lean angle) was poor, I was pulling on the throttle too late, and, while my speed was fast enough, I wasn’t using my counter-steering skills that I’ve been successfully executing the last few weeks. I needed a better plan for this challenging angled-hill-turn.

Even riding at night is fun on my Harley Iron 883.
Even riding at night is fun on my Harley Iron 883.

Okay, back to my MSF course training.  Ah, yes, S.E.E., Search-Evaluate-Execute.  I was only really fully executing.  Before taking on this hill, I recently watched a few you-tube video where motorcyclists were rear-ended by distracted motorists.  So, like a restless little kid at bedtime that had been told that there is a monster under their bed, I was so focused on not being rear-ended.  Mind-you, I still used S.E.E. while I rode, but this high-angled-hill turn was a big distraction from what I needed to do to be safe.  Centrifugal force was pushing me wide into the other lane on the turn, while it not a high-traffic road, it could be a dangerous situation if I did evaluate and execute this better.  Here’s what I did.

I knew I was coming into the turn too hot.  Pushing myself into the opposite lane on the turn is a good clue that that’s the case.  I was worried about the cars behind me after the red light, so I thought getting out of the way quickly was the best plan. It only led to rushed evaluation of my turn.  Sure, I could have counterweighted by leaning to my right more, and I may take this turn that way sometime in the future, but with only four or five weeks of skill on two wheels, There is a better, and safer way.  I’m usually stopped by the red light proceeding this turn, so what I do now is accelerate fast enough to get ahead of any vehicles behind me.  A quick glance in my mirror tells me that I’ve got a pretty good cushion, even if I don’t aggressive taps on on my brakes alerts tailgaters that I’m slowing WAY down. If they need to come to a near stop while I safely turn, tough cookies.  Next I make sure I’m in the center of the road before I turn.

Practicing emergency stopping, slow  maneuvering, and swerving at an emtpy mall parking lot near my house has help imensley with my confidence while riding in real world situations. Especially when danger has come up.
Practicing emergency stopping, slow maneuvering, and swerving at an emtpy mall parking lot near my house has help imensley with my confidence while riding in real world situations. Especially when danger has come up.

This give me enough of a road to execute the steep angle.  I then look up the hill to where I’m going.  This is key. I then start my turn with a good lean angle, I feel the angle rather than watch it, because I’m still looking up the hill to where I’m going. Feeling good about where the bike is heading I pull on the throttle, If I shifted down to first, I put her in second to get up the hill, but only after I’ve put the bike upright. Once at the top, I shift into third and continue on down the road.

The first time I took this turn after I planned ahead, I successfully executed the turn without merging into the opposite lane.  Good thing too because for the first time going up this hill there was a driver coming down the hill going what seemed to be 10 MPH over a safe speed for that hill.

I’m digging my increased comfort level and how I’m concentrated so heavily on safety while I ride. Some may think my focus on safety may take the fun out of motorcycling.  I feel it’s all part of the motorcycling joie de vivre.


In part Two of Motorcycling Joie de Vivre, I’ll write about how much fun it is to be able to communicate with other motorists on the road with hand signals.


My First 100-Mile Motorcycle Ride

Last October when the air was crisp and the leaves had changed from summer greens to  the beauty of reds and oranges, I rode my bicycle 100 miles from Madison to where my parents live in central Wisconsin.  It’s not the first time I made this journey by bicycle and one a route I really enjoy.

With the exception of one intersection, the first 10 miles are through some of Madison’s

Near the Wisconsin State Capitol Building on my Harley Iron 883
Near the Wisconsin State Capitol Building on my Harley Iron 883

best neighborhoods for cycling.  The next 40 are along some great backroads in Dane and Dodge Counties passing through a few small towns with just enough character to appreciate, but none that would attract tourists that make riding through a bit of a challenge.  The next 30 miles is along, what I believe , is the the most unheralded multi-use trails in the state of Wisconsin: The Wild Goose trail.  You’ll see an occasional dog walker, a couple enjoying a stroll in nature, or another cyclist, but there are very few users of this trail.  It’s a true hidden gem. For 34-miles, the trail runs along the Horicon March State and National Wildlife Areas.  Add the beauty of the leaves changing during autumn, the birds and other wildlife withing the natural area, and the low use of the trail by other people, it makes for a peaceful ride.

I’ve enjoyed this route on my bicycle so much that I decided to ride it on my motorcycle. Mind you, I have only been riding a motorcycle for 10 days, so I figured it would be an adventure.

While I wouldn’t be able to take my Harley on the Wild Goose State Trail, there are enough roads along this route to satisfy my need for both beauty and challenging motorcycle riding.  Seasoned motorcycle riders may find some roads less of a challenge, but 10-day into my motorcycling adventures these roads are appropriate.  One section of the route in southwest Dodge County takes me along a short section of the Crawfish River. It’s not well known, which makes this river more appealing.  As I approached a turn leading up to the river, I saw a small muskrat sniffing on the left side of the road.  I heard the roar of my bike well enough  in advance to scurry to the river side of the road, where, presumably, it ran to its river burrow.

In northeast Dane County along one of the many backroads on my 100-mile ride.
In northeast Dane County along one of the many backroads on my 100-mile ride.

From there my route took me just north of Reeseville down Seven Hill Road. Some wayward construction project must have removed a few hills because by my count Seven Hill Road only has five. I’ve been down this road quite a few time on my bicycle.  It’s fun to ride and it didn’t disappoint on my Harley.

Rolling into Reeseville is not a bad experience, but other than a place to get fuel and a bar called “Rehab,” there is not much to do other than to roll though with the Amy Winehouse song in your head.

The rest of the route take me near the Horicon Marsh.  I’s good riding.  This ride was during early spring, so I’d imagine that summer and autumn will be prettier rides with more tree colors and places to stop for ice cream.

It was windy during this ride.  15-18 mph headwinds most of the way.  I don’t have a windshield so it made it more of a challenge.  I don’t anticipate riding at interstate speeds very often and I use a full faced helmet, so I likely won’t get a windshield.  I’ll never say never though on that. With that said, I need to train myself to lighten my deathgrip on the bars.  My left hand was a bit numb during the last 20 miles.  This is an issue that I have on longer rides on my bicycle, so it’s nothing new.  I;ve corrected it on the bicycle by adjusting the levers off my ulnar nerve (the one that runs through the middle of your lower palm to to your wrist), but that’s not an option on the Harley.  Lightening up on my grip is the best option.

I purchased a set of Viking saddlebags and I don’t have them installed yet.  So I stuffed a backpack full of everything I needed for this journey.  My shoulders hurt by the end of the ride.  For the next long trip, I’ll need to have those saddlebags installed.  The stock seat is great for short trips around Madison, but man, my ass was lumpy hard by mile 80. I purchased a Mustang touring saddle for the Iron 883 with a back rest.  The seat should make long distances easier on my ass and the backrest will likely help with riding at faster speeds more comfortably.

The ride back was equally as fun, but not nearly as challenging.  I lightened my load by leaving the backpack behind.  It’s so much more comfortable riding without it.  I also had the wind at my back most of the way.  So I sat more upright at faster speeds.  When I road by Crawfish River again, I saw my old friend the Muskrat dart across the road.  I’ll expect to see him every time I ride through.

I’ve gained enough confidence on the motorcycle early on.  Enough to feel comfortable in all types of traffic.  Comfort is different than lax.  I’ve ridden my bicycle in enough hairy situations to remain vigilant.  This is no different on the motorcycle–at a faster pace. Knowing this, I went through the isthmus when I returned to Madison.  Traffic was heavy along Willy St.  An SUV behind me had his driver-side turn signal on for about four blocks. So during stop-and-start traffic, I aggressively pointed to my left rear tail light.  Another block later his signal was still on.  I pointed again, but this time I opened and closed my fist to mimic a blinking light.  Fist to fingers fist to fingers.  seconds later the SUV driver turned his signal off.

It’s a nice perk being able to non-verbally communicate more effectively than if I were caged in a car or moving too slowly on bicycle.

Blue Skies and fair winds help me keep the rubber side down on my Harley Iron 883.  Near Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, WI

Like the summer changing to crisp autumn air and green foliage changing to fall colors, my transition from cyclist to motorcyclist is going just as beautifully.  I’m looking forward to may more long ride on my Harley.

Today I Ride (How I Got My Motorcycle License and How You Can Too)

This post is several days overdue.  Not because I’m a procrastinator.  I am that. I mean, I waited until I reached my forties before riding and buying my first motorcycle. This post is overdue because I have been riding my 2017 Harley Iron 883 for better part of the last three days!  I’d be out there riding right now, but the sky has opened up with a deluge of rain.  Not a good combo with a rider that only has three days of riding experience. I’ll be honest and say that riding a bike 235 lbs heavier than the Suzuki TU250X I learned to ride on was intimidating and challenging.  Hell, the difference in weight is pretty close to the weight of the Suzuki. I haven’t even mentioned the difference in engine power, which is a little over 3.5X larger!

There is so much to learn and do as a motorcyclist.  I can feel my brain expanding as my cells grow. No, really.  reserch has shown that riding a motorcycle is good for your brain. Check it out here.  Yeah science, bitch! All that wonderful inprovment in cognitive ability could be offset by one rookie mistake.  I’ve already put a good sized scratch in the header pipe heat shield scraping a curb on a turn. I hadn’t even put ten miles on the bike yet! Learning to wield 560 lbs around while in motion at street speeds ain’t easy, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun!

This time two weeks ago, I was still only wondering what riding would be like. This time last week I was sitting in the DMV hoping to pass to get my “M” endorsement. So how did I get to this point?

First, keep dreaming of throwing a leg over the bike of your dreams and squeezing the throttle. It’ll keep you motivated, especially when you get discouraged. Learning to ride a motorcycle is like going back to being 16 years old and learning to drive a car, but 100x more difficult. Before you even touch a motorcycle, do as much research as possible. Look at bike types.  Which bike appeals to you and determine why.  Looks shouldn’t be the only factor. Do you need a low bike because you have a short inseam?  You’ll need to reach the ground when stopping. Are you tall? If so, you may need a custom Harley like Shaquille O’neal’s.

Also look at costs. You’re going to need to to include safety gear into that cost.  Having purchased cycling helmets my whole life, I was astounded that low end motorcycle helmet prices started at upper end cycling helmet prices. Some really good motorcycle helmets cost $700.  It’s not just a helmet you’ll need.  It may look like cosplay to some, but that leather jacket, chaps, and boots are for safety.  Leather not your thing?  There are plenty of textile safety jackets and other non-cosplay-looking gear out there that costs just as much or more. I’ve been a motorcyclist for exactly one week and I spent nearly $1000 on safety gear before I got on my bike for the first time. I’m planning on spending more. Sure, that’s a lot of money, but it’s a small price to pay for keeping your skin and protecting your noggin when going down in a crash. Maybe it’s because I’m at that age when my youthful invincibility is wearing off or maybe I’m getting smarter because of all the years of cycling I’ve done has the same effect on my brain that motorcycling does.  Whatever the reason, safety while riding a motorcycle was just as important as fun and aesthetics.  It should be at the forefront of every motorcyclist’s mind, new and seasoned

Still keeping your dream bike in mind for motivation, find out if motorcycling is truly for you.  The very best way to do this inexpensively is to take a a Motorcycle Safety Foundation certified Basic RiderCourse.  Not only, for just a few hundred dollars, will you learn the foundations of safely riding a motorcycle in a classroom setting, you’ll also spend 10 hours of riding time on a closed course. Motorcycles are provided so you can get the skills you need on a smaller bike.  Helmets are also provided, but I would suggest getting your own so you have one that fits you well. The classroom works for some, but that’s not how I learn. I’m much better at learning by doing, so I learned more in on the bike during the class.  I’m also convinced I got more out of 10 hours of riding than I could have making a multitude of errors riding alone. Though, I’ve made my share while riding over the last three days.  The best part is, in some states, successfully completing a BRC provides a waiver so you don’t have to take the skills assessment at the DMV.  Saving you time and money.  This is the case in Wisconsin where I’m from.

After you’ve learned how to ride, passed your written tests, and passed your skills test you think you’re ready to safely ride.  Not even close.  There is so much more to learn. Emergency maneuvers and counter-steering to name a few. What I’m doing is reading a book titled Proficient Motorcycling by David L. Hough.  I may review this book at some point. This book has been helpful so far.  I’ll read a section or chapter and then get on the bike and apply what I’ve read.  So far so good.  The older version can be picked up for a couple of bucks and the update version is only about $15 or so.

Finally, you are going to get a shit-ton of advice from every seasoned rider, young and old.  It’s true in life and now also motorcycling: there is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, listen to and process the advice of these seasoned riders. Absorb it with all it’s useful glory.  You’ll find though that advice from one seasoned rider may contradict the advice of another.  In the end, do safely what works for you.

Wait, what is this?  The sun is peaking out and the roads have dried?  I’m off to ride.  Give me a wave when you see me on the road.