Archive for May, 2011

Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Roadster

Posted in Harley-Davidson with tags , , on May 13, 2011 by bleiglass

Deciding on my next commuter motorcycle, replacing my present scooter, a Piaggio MP3 400i, the element of hoped for FUN defined the brand, it had to be a Harley-Davidson.

Even with the biggest marketing budget, it will be difficult for Harley-Davidson to establish itself as a natural choice for a commuter bike, but that’s were we, the addicted HOG members, come in. The real question was: what Harley?

In my previous post, I defined 3 areas of competence in which a commuter bike has to tick the boxes. Today I want to talk about


It is not so much speed, but acceleration you need. As a commuter of lower powered motorcycle, I love the London Black Cabs or Big Red Buses, as they accelerate like a sack of potatoes, even overweighted pedestrians can outrun them when a red light turns green. This compares favourably to the aggressive BMW 3 series rider, who realised he paid to much for his car that is standing in long traffic jams, providing him single digit miles to the gallon. At least when the red light turns green, he wants to have his fun, and will try to outrun this arrogant Hayabusa that just squeezed next to him. He will fail, but its not safe for the Hayabussa rider. Think bike!!

High speeds are dangerous, but a good acceleration is vital, as it brings you quickly out of every danger zone, without even breaking any speed limit. Remember: there are no acceleration limits, as long as you do not burn too much rubber.

But agility is not just acceleration, its also the lightness of rolling through files of standing cars, easily filtering through them, changing to the left or right, depending on what idiotic Mini driver thinks he can park his car wherever he wants, forgetting that it’s a bloody big car nowadays. Even some Smart drivers manage to block whole streets just by their presence.

This agility you get from a short wheelbase, and a steep rack angle. If your front wheel is two car length in front of your back wheel, forget to filter between them. The turning is very much helped by a steep angle of the front fork, not these long easy riders, more like a roller board or Skaty. With zero degree angle you can turn on a post stamp.

Comparison 883 vs MP3

Weight, wheelbase and rack angle, some Harley models exclude themselves by birth from being used as commuter bike, the Ultra is overweight, the V-Rod has a wide rack angle and a custom bike… not suitable for inner city commuting!

The only viable family member of Harley-Davidson to be considered for daily commuting is the Sportster, and typically for Harley, the choices and options you have to build your dream Sportster fill the pages of a thick telephone book.

As you plan to use it in whatever weather, and will surely not wash it every evening, forget about looks for a moment, lets first stay practical. With the Sportster, you have the choice of 2 engines, the 883 cc and the 1200 cc Evolution. I drove both, and asked many people for advise, and my conclusion is: get the 883 engine for commuting. The 883 is agile, but it is one more very important thing: it is forgiving.

As commuter you ride in the early morning hours, when your brain still wants to be in bed, and you return tired after a long and hard day of work. The 1200 is nervous, it wants to run, it wants to play with you, challenging your senses. The 883 by contrast does not execute every mistake you make, specially on the wet. The 883 still not as easy as a small scooter, where the throttle only needs 2 positions: closed or fully opened, but if you open it by mistake a bit too much, no problem, the 883 will forgive you. A 1200 by contrast may well tell you that this was something you should not have done on this particular man-cover or white crossing label: wake up, or better stay home.

Seating height and foot position

So: agility is good, but not too much of it. Just consider this: bicycle drivers are often faster then the bikers, they not only jump the red lights, but easily catch you at the next red one. It is this constant stop and go that defines your shortest possible journey time, not the power of your engine nor the speed you go the few yards between 2 red lights. And believe me, they are always red.

But even with a 883 engine, Harley offers you choices: the retro 883 Roadster, or the beautiful mean black 883 Iron.

My choice without hesitation: the Roadster, as it’s the only 883 Sportster with one very important feature for commuting: double front disc brakes. Not sure why Harley offers this important safety feature only to their entry model as standard, but for commuting, strong front brakes are a absolute must.

Remember: the next red light is just a few yards away, the next iPod listening pedestrian still dreaming of the previous night steps into your path twice a day, and the cyclist who thinks that he owns the streets because he has the weakest engine will prove his arrogance over and over again to you. You want double front disc brakes, trust me on that.

Next: storage and weather protection on a commuter bike


Swapping a Scooter for a Harley-Davidson

Posted in Harley-Davidson with tags , , on May 7, 2011 by bleiglass

This is Part 2 of my series to decide on a new commuter motorcycle >> Part 1 here  Part 3 to come later…

Commuting nearly every day for 40 mile in and out of London in any weather is a stressful activity, whichever mean of transport you choose, and each one has severe health risks.

When commuting by train and bus you spend 2 hours a day in the worlds most efficient incubator for any kind of virus and bacteria the human body wants to absorb readily, and if there would be statistics stating the official employee sick leave times for flu by means of transport, I am confident a pro rata comparison would read: 80% public transport users (Train, subway, bus) vs 20% private transport users (car, bike, cycling).

The private transport however bears other risks, more lethal ones. While driving in your posh car you may just get stones thrown at you, riding a motorcycle or pedal bike may not get you the flu, but the death rate by serious accidents is over-proportionally high.

All means of commuting  requires constant attention and is causing stress. When using public transport you have to be alert and on the constant watch-out for pick pockets and mobbers interested in your new mobile phone or for some worse, sexual attributes. Using a motorcycle will keep you alert with respect all the other inattentive sleepy idiots sharing the road with you in the early morning hours.

Travelling by public or private means, we all have 2 things in common: we very likely do not want to be where we are and we have a tight schedule to follow. Worse, some of us even do not need to be were they are, as alternative working arrangements can not only improve health by reducing commuting, but is also environmentally friendly and efficient, without reducing your productivity for the company a single dot.

I decided many years ago to use a motorcycle for commuting, and did this in Frankfurt, Tokyo and London, riding tens of thousands of miles in dense and often hostile traffic, in whatever weather above or below the freezing point. There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

I used big bikes (Honda Pan European and Goldwing) and smaller scooters (Yamaha 250 Majesty and Piaggio MP3 400i), and this mixed experience led me to formulate 3 core attributes for selecting the ideal next commuter bike:

– agility
– storage
– weather protection

My recent experiences on a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic added one further criteria for selection: FUN, as this Milwaukee vibrator achieves one facial reaction over and over again: a big smile. I hope to add some fun to my commuting, arriving a bit more relaxed, following the inivitation on my morning coffee mug: Screw It! Lets Ride.

In the next instalments, I will look at these factors in more detail. To be continued.

ABCD – Gary, here my picture

Posted in HOG with tags on May 1, 2011 by bleiglass

Taken as requested on the 1st of May, it includes me, and the centreline of the road.

It was taken while me and members of my Chapter rode to collect town letters for the A to Z HOG challenge.

More pictures of the day can be found here: