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 Week Riding a Motorcycle

“It’s patina,” was my second thought. That after I looked at the black marks left by my header pipe heat shield. It’s all I could think after scraping against a curb less than ten miles on my new ride.  My first thought was, “oh shit! I’m going to tip over.”  I didn’t though. Transferring skills from a 249cc 300lb bike I learned uewto ride on to an 883cc 560lb bike was more challenging than I anticipated.  I intellectualized what I needed to do before I got on my Harley Iron 883, but without experience, I would not know the nuances, despite similar riding positions, of how different these two bikes really are.  In just one short week, my patina on my heat shield is one of many skills I learned and, believe it or not, a great example of what I enjoyed.  More on why below.

Here is how I break down my first week.

What I Enjoyed 

The similarities and differences between motorcycling and bicycling 
Before I even considered getting on a motorcycle, I knew that there would be some similarities.  Balance and shifting weight to turn have to be similar, I thought.  Cyclists and motorcyclist share one really important issue in common, we both face the same dangers from the road, elements and other vehicular traffic.  Many motorist don’t understand that shit in the road and potholes feel multitude times larger while riding  a bicycle. It’s no different on a motorcycle, except that avoiding these requires faster reaction times.  So it’s ecesntial to be alert and constantly scan for dangers in the road. Wind.  I didn’t expect it to be as much of a factor on a motorcycle as it is.  Wind while riding bicycle makes it easier or harder to pedal depending on wind direction. On a motorcycle, cross winds are challenging especially if there are strong gusts. Leaning correctly against the wind is important.  For other vehicles, visibility is the obvious one similarity, but when motorist do see motorcyclists, they expect them to behave as other traffic would. In the short week that I’ve been riding, I’ve been clipped a few times.  I’ve learned to expect this and adjust my position on the street accordingly.  Motorist also expect that motorcyclist should travel at the same speed as other motorist.  Depending on the conditions (wind, curves, road detritus, potholes, other vehicle traffic) it’s necessary to adjust speed differently than cars.  Some less patient motorists react in negatively by tailgating or speeding around in a no passing zone.

The challenge of learning a new skill, sped way up

Holy piston slap, batman.  There is a lot to contend with!  Balancing, leaning, shifting (without lugging or revving high RPMs), scanning for motorists that want to kill you!! Is this supposed to be fun?!  Well, it is.  I started riding on Saturday of this week.  By Wednesday I was riding in traffic. By Friday I was really comfortable riding in traffic.  So comfortable I was visibly shaking my head.

Discovering the nuances of my motorcycle

Learning to ride your motorcycle is a lot like the beginning of a relationship.  How should you handle the shifter, the clutch, and the throttle. My bike likes it rough with the shifter, tender softness with the throttle and depeding on the situation, a little of both with the clutch.  This is all true for now, but monotony may set in and we’ll have to mix things up a bit.  We’re still talking about learning to ride a motorcycle, right. Whew,  I feel a nervous sweat setting in.

So What Did I Learn in this first week?

Relax and don’t deathgrip the bars on the motorcycle.  Loosen up your grip.  Rigidity is not only uncomfortable, it slows your reaction time and makes turning and leaning more difficult.  Each time I found myself with stiff arms and a deathgrip, I paused for a short second and reminded myself to relax.

Weight really matters.  I’ve only been riding a week, so I’ll speak to this as a new rider.  My Harley Iron 883 is 562 lbs. The little Suzuki I learned on was 300 lbs lighter.  I felt I could maneuver that little bike wherever I wanted the moment I got got on it. Not so much with the Iron 883.  I needed a little more time to get the feel of how to shift my weight with the bike.  I have a lot more time to fully get the feel for this. It part pf the relationship factor.  It’s still early on. We need more time for our love to set in. We’ll get there though. This ain’t no hit it and quit!

Where your eyes go, you go.  I knew this to be true from riding a bicycle. Sped things up 20-30 mph and this becomes more true than ever.  If I look at that pothole, I’m going to ride right over it and feel all it’s ugliness on my bum.  Take a quick scan of the road.  If there is a pothole, lean if there is time or swerve if you can do so safely and look down the road to where you should be going next.

“Four Fingers on the Front Brake” should not be law said in mantra to remember. This phrase was repeated so many  times during my MSF BasicRider course that it darn near got stuck in my head.  On the little Suzuki, this worked well for me.  Noit so much on the Harley. With four fingers on the brake, I would grab not only the brake, but a palmful of throttle.  When I pull on the lever, I’d roll on accidentally.  This lead to my  header pipe heat shield “patina” shown above. Once I started using only my pointer and middle finger did I get better control f the bike. This was not a way I wanted to learn this, but I have a nice reminder every time I look at the drive side of my bike.

It doesn’t take long to develop muscle memory.  I’ve learned so much in a week.  Riding over 300 miles in that week helped and it lead to training my brain to go on autopoilot so that it can think about more important things like scanning for motorists that are about to kill me and buick-sized potholes.  I became so comfortable on the bike that my next post will be about riding 100 miles to my parents house in central Wisocnsin. I look forward to telling you all about it.  In the meantime, if you’re a new rider, or a seasoned one, go on get cozy with your bike.  Get to know her nuances.  You’ll only have this early part of your relationship once.




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.

A New Two Wheel Adventure: From a Bicycle to a Motorcycle

I learned how to ride a bike at a very young age.  I’ve had forays into other activities (some quite healthy and others not so), but ever since I was able to pedal without falling over, the bicycle has been the solution to every conundrum I’ve ever had. It took far too long for me to make that connection.

The bicycle is a means of transportation.  It got me to the corner candy store when I was 8 years old and later, when I was 17 and without a car, to my girlfriend’s house.  Now I ride my bicycle to and from work about 50 miles per week (soon to be 65 miles when I move next month).

The bicycle also saved me a ton of money.  My daily commutes to work and trips to the grocery store save me on insurance, gas, expensive car repairs and the unmeasurable health benefits that kept me from spending money on doctors and the latest exercise gimmick (I’m looking at you Vibro-belt).

That’s not what this blog is about though. This blog is about adventure.  That and learning to ride a motorbike after a lifetime of cycling.

At the top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park
At the top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park after climbing 3,477 feet biking 32 miles along the the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Going down was a lot more fun.

The bicycle has has taken me on numerous adventures from ocean shores to 6000-foot mountain passes.  When I buy a motorcycle this March,  I’ll kick my two wheel adventure up a notch with a bit of motorcycle fun between my legs.

Why am I making this transition?  Well, simply, for adventure. I’ll never stop riding a bicycle.  It’s my first and true two wheel love.  The motorcycle is an extension of my love for all two-wheeled transportation.

This blog will touch on why I chose a certain motorcycle to ride, learning to ride a motorcycle, how to safely ride a motorcycle, the differences and similarities between cycling and motorcycle riding, and, most importantly, all the adventures along the way. What I hope you’ll see in early post on this blog is a ton of cycling adventure-related images and posts.  As my motorbike adventures increase, I hope to have a balance of the two. Maybe one will overtake the other at times, but there will many adventures along the way.