Monday, April 13, 2009

The original first bike...and how I got the SilverStreak

I don't have a picture of it, but it was ugly. It was a 1985 Honda Shadow 700C, black tins, no ignition switch, dented tank, missing side covers, and totally boogered wiring. When I bought it for $750 (don't tell me, I already know, hindsight is 20/20 remember?), it was on a battery charger 'because it hadn't been started in awhile.'
I didn't have my license, didn't know how to ride, so I bought it unridden. It started and ran okay sitting there in the garage. The guy delivered it to the house with the title and I gave him cash. Done deal.
The boogered up wiring that someone had done to install a toggle switch to start the bike was fouling the charging system somehow, and the new battery wouldn't hold a charge. When it was charged, I couldn't get it started. Every time.
I finally rode it once in a big parking lot, and I hated it right away. The exhaust ran right under my left leg on that side, and the heat shield wasn't enough. The ergonomics forced my knees to flex too much on the midmount pegs. And I hated the buckhorn bars. They had my wrists all twisted up. I didn't ever get the damn thing started again, but my ex-boyfriend did and lost the key to the gas cap, so he broke it and thought it would be fine to open with a screw driver.

He and I parted ways and I sold the bike for $400, good riddance.

Mistake #1--I bought the first bike I looked at.
I wanted a bike really bad, and made an emotional decision. Bad idea with any large purchase. There are lots of bikes out there, I could have learned more about them and made a logical decision.
Mistake #2--I bought it because I could pay cash for it right now.
A bike is a major purchase. Buy right, buy once. Grabbing anything I could afford regardless of condition is ludicrous and asking for a long list of repairs and parts to buy.
Mistake #3--I didn't do my homework on how to buy a used bike and what to steer clear of.

When I finally started bike shopping, I didn't have money, but I had time to look and sift information. I considered many bikes of several types, and Sweetie (he's my squeeze of the last couple years, a great wrench, and an excellent rider with 20 years experience) kept asking, 'What kind of riding do you want to do? The frame design of the bike will affect it's suitability for your purpose." That led to many conversations and illustrations of frame geometry, looking at pictures of people riding different models of bikes, and applied ergonomics. It kept coming back to the same group of likes and dislikes. Then we found models that fit those design specs and began to narrow the field further.
Mistake #4--I didn't really know what kind of riding I wanted to do....
Until I saw a demonstration of precision riding by the Michigan State University exhibition motor officer team. They rode Electraglides in tiny circles, slower than walking speeds, weaving this way and that through the crowd. They stopped with their feet up and just sat there, then moved on, scraping their footboards on both sides as they turned impossibly sharp corners. I didn't care about riding fast, I wanted to ride like that.
Mistake #5--I didn't have a license so I could test ride my own prospective bike.
I took the MSF course and was dismissed before completion by the teacher. It had been 4 years since the Honda debacle, and I was so nervous that I would fail. With a helmet on, I couldn't hear the instructor clearly at times. The controls on my bike were sloppy and I missed shifts. After the first riding course day, Sweetie put his bike on the lift and blocked it steady. He told me to climb on and ride it, shifting up and down through the gears. I did, smoothly. His bike is very precisely adjusted, nothing out of whack. But I couldn't do it on the course the next day.
The other people on the course with me all had riding experience, and I was holding them up with my slow speeds on the course. I was afraid my next step to getting a bike would get yanked out from under me, so afraid that it became self-fulfilling. I went home furious.
Mistake #6--I didn't know anything about riding except what it felt like from the back seat.
Sweetie told me to pay attention when I rode with him, to listen to how he shifted and braked. He showed me the difference between using just back brakes, just front brakes, and both brakes. After the MSF mess, we spent even more time talking about riding and the controls on the bike. He showed me what he was doing and explained it until I understood each time he adjusted something or serviced something on his bike. He looked for another way for me to get better theory instruction on precise riding, and shortly after I bought my bike, he purchased Jerry Palladino's Ride Like a Pro DVD for me. It covered many things that the MSF course didn't, including how to feather the clutch and the rear brake so that I could ride straight and smooth at less than 5 miles an hour. It gave me confidence.
Mistake #7--I expected the person selling me the bike to help me decide what I wanted.
So, obviously I was led to believe that I wanted that piece of crap Honda, and I fell for it. My bad. I should know what I want before I go buying (as opposed to shopping, where you eliminate what you don't want).
When my financial situation began to look favorable to getting a loan for a bike, I talked to my credit union and was turned down. However, the loan officer gave me some information that would help negotiate the best deal I could if I could get financed through a dealer. I checked with my local Harley dealer, and they said they could finance someone with my score (it wasn't pretty <:P). So the search was on.
My criteria:
An upright riding position, probably with mid-mount pegs properly positioned.
I didn't like the forward pegs on the MSF bike I rode.
No buckhorns.
Neutral frame geometry--no extended forks, but not so upright that the bike would be too "flickable." I had to learn about rake and trail, and their affect on bike handling.
About 1000-1200 cc engine.
Rebuildability and repairability with parts easily available.
American made.
Very little chrome. I wanted to ride the bike, not fondle it.
Price within my means.
The bike I found (after hours of searching the net, craigslist, other makes of bike dealers and eliminating models and deadbeats) that fit most of the criteria I had was the Harley Sportster. The particular model I found was the 2001 Sportster 1200 Sport. The dealership had a silver one with blacked out pipes and stuff, and it looked okay, except it was silver. Tins can be painted. I still didn't have a license, or even a permit, so Sweetie rode front when we test rode it. I decided it would have a solo seat before too long, because the pillion was most uncomfortable, and I wouldn't be using it anyway. He took it around the block and up the road a piece without me as well, and pronounced it sound and roadworthy.
Purchasing this bike was not emotional until I was sitting there looking at it across the showroom floor, waiting for credit approval, and another salesperson showed someone else my bike. Sweetie was a bit concerned that I would get up and tell him hands off the bike, but I just muttered curses upon the other customer until he rolled my bike back into the lineup. She sat on another one that was all lowered and boogered up with chrome to wash and polish, and I shut up. We struck a deal. Sweetie rode the Streak home for me, and said it had cajones and handled well when he rode it a bit more aggressively, looking for any necessary adjustments. I got my permit the next day and started riding.

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