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The first three weeks

Harley-DavidsonMusings after three weeks of ownership

October, 1998Coming up on my third week on the '98 1200S. To recap, I started riding in 1967, have owned entirely too many bikes, mostly rice burners, (but no harley clones) stayed off bikes for the last 2 years or so, and and am now riding my first Harley. It's slightly used, having 2800 miles on it, but is perfect in nearly every way. (A bit of black creeping into the odometer, but I understand from reading the Harley group that this is common. I'm not going to worry about it until I can't see the numbers.) It has the Screamin' Eagle pipes, air cleaner and carb parts.

The morning I bought it there was an article in the Oregonian on the 1200S model. I showed it to my wife and said that there was one close by I'd already looked at and I'd like to test drive it. At that point she knew it was hopeless and only said "I hope you can afford it".

I've ridden 628 miles as of this morning. Some of it in the rain, fog, cold, but I don't care. I can't stay off the thing. I still don't have a leather jacket yet but my old riding gloves still fit and tall steel toed work boots are filling in for riding boots.

Last weekend a friend and I rode from Hillsborough along highway 8 to the university, then cut over to 26 and went out to Camp 18 for lunch. We started early, it was *really* brisk, but the smell of pine, the mist on the mountain, the sun breaking through the clouds, were all experiences you don't soon forget. The clouds were walking at the top of the pass. It got very chilly at that point, and it became time to remember the ol' Zen cold control meditations. But down the other side the sun broke through again and things warmed up. The food at Camp 18 was excellent, the waitspeople attractive and friendly. I bought a purple stuffed bear for my daughter. There were almost no other bikes on the road. We waved at the few we saw and they all waved back. Whata buncha maniacs...

My wife suggested the trip (which surprised me) but about halfway there we had to stop and let her rest. She's still recovering from a minor back injury (one of the dogs collided with her and sent her tumbling down the stairs) and the bouncing around was too much for her. I adjusted the suspension out until handling got a little sloppy, and it helped her back some. The adjustable suspension is a great feature. As soon as we got home again I wound all four shocks in and got my handling back.

I think if wife unit is going to spend much time on the back, I'll need a different seat or something. Any suggestions? I've looked at the Corbins, but if anything they look like they have even less padding on the back.

The 1200 settles down real pretty at highway speed. At 60 the engine turns 2800 in fifth, hardly makes a sound, can barely be felt through the seat. At one point, entering the highway from a rest stop, I took it up to 5000 in 2 through 4 (haven't hit redline yet) and the acceleration was brisk enough to thrill me and cause my wife to beat on my ribs.

The sporty shares some characteristics with my previous bike (Suzuki GS1100); triple floating disks, gas shocks front and rear, fork brace, high performance engine parts. But where the 1100 is gutless in the low end and then all 105 horses kick you in the ass at 4300 RPM, the Sporty starts pushing at 1500, gradually peaks at around 4000, and then gradually starts to level off. Very controllable, no surprises.

The 1100 likes to scream through canyons but is a pain to ride around town. The Sportster is most at home around town, which is where I do most of my driving, but does well enough on the open road, either full throttle through twistys or putting along at touring speeds.

Handling has no comparison. The GS1100 is what the Europeans would call "poisonous". Top heavy with a short wheelbase, it resists starting a turn and then suddenly falls into it, requiring significant counter- correction as it tries to turn in a decreasing radius. It likes to shoot through corners at high speed, but the rider has to be on the ball and use significant body language to keep it going the intended direction.

The Sportster weighs about 50 pounds less than the GS1100 and the weight appears to be concentrated a lot lower down. My experience so far has been absolutely neutral handling and a confident feel even to severe angles. The suspension is also easier to adjust.

The Suzuki's overly aggressive handling and obnoxious powerband are probably the main reasons I parked it two years ago. Having a child at that time and starting to consider my own mortality probably were contributing factors. Getting back on a bike again required a bit of soul searching.

I do have a question: What is a Screamin' Eagle "chip"? The newspaper article mentioned a "chip" that ups the horsepower in a 1200S, but no mention of what it does or where it goes. From reading the manual, the best I can think of is that it replaces the stock electronic spark advance with something a bit more aggressive. Is this right? Is it worth it, or am I looking for trouble? I want the bike to remain streetable.

The only complaint I have with the bike, overall, is the three gallon gas tank. Harley doesn't make one larger, and I don't go touring with that little gas on hand, *and* the big twin (with big tank) doesn't suit me right now, so the only solution appears to be a larger tank.

I've settled on a Cyborg Cycles "Porkster" which I plan to have pressure tested, painted and decal'd to match the stock tank. I will of course save the stock tank for a spare and for the resale value. If there is some reason I should not do this, or you have some other tips, please let me know. Sticking with 3 gallons on the open road is out of the question.

...Oh, and the stock mirrors are useless. Tired of watching my shoulders instead of the traffic behind me, I went back to the dealer two days after I bought the thing and bought (at $20 apiece) the longer mirrors for it. Why Harley puts such useless shorty mirrors on short handlebars is a mystery. Probably the same engineer that designed that tiny tank. This story wouldn't be complete without some mention of the attention I get. Teenage boys pump their fists in the air, women of all ages watch me go past, and people come over to talk to me when I fill up. I don't recall this ever happening on any of my other bikes. Also, other Harley riders treat me as a long lost cousin even if they've never seen me before. There's a sense of comraderie, of belonging, that I've not experienced before.

But mostly, I'm riding again and enjoying it for the first time in years. I can't wait until the work day is done and I can get on it again. Maybe I'll find a different way home tonight.


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