Skip to main content

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

A letter to Harley-Davidson

The Iron 883 is one of Harley-Davidson's coolest bikes.
Dearest Harley-Davidson,

Here's the thing: the Iron 883 is easily one of the coolest-looking bikes you make. The Forty-Eight and Seventy-Two hold their own, and I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at a Low Rider, but for me a simple denim black Iron 883 still takes the sexiness prize. Meanwhile, within its price bracket the Iron 883 is the undisputed champion across all brands when it comes to looks. Sure, just about any Honda can outrun it, a Triumph Bonneville can compete in the vague terms of "authenticity," and a Yamaha XV950 offers an improved overall experience, but in the battle of aesthetics and fit and finish the Iron 883 reigns supreme.

And clearly I'm not the only person who feels this way. According to statistics from the UK Department for Transport, you sold 429 Iron 883 models in Her Majesty's United Kingdom last year, considerably more than any other Harley-Davidson model. The next best-selling model was the Forty-Eight, with 259 units sold. I'll get to the Forty-Eight in a moment.

Keeping in mind the UK is a relatively small market and so many people here claim to dislike cruisers (for example, Triumph sold just 175 Americas and a whopping 1,386 Street Triples in 2013), the numbers are damned impressive. I have no doubt that in the larger, far more pro-Harley market of the United States the Iron 883 is hugely popular. You must know that you've got a good thing on your hands.

But the reason I'm not presently riding one around is, well, you know what I'm going to say, don't you? It's a little underpowered. I mean, yes, I realise that Leslie Padoll rode across the United States on one, but in my own experience of riding the SuperLow 883 (which is just a less attractive Iron 883 for short people) I found the engine somewhat wanting at motorway speeds.

That was less the case with the Sportster 1200, though, and ever since you started offering that bike with anti-lock brakes (thank you) it has danced constantly in and out of the top slot of my What I Want list. I worry somewhat about overcoming wind blast and the less-than-generous travel of the bike's rear shocks but the main thing that puts me off (the current face of) the Sportster 1200 is its looks.

And that brings me to the point of this letter to you: Would y'all please consider offering an Iron 1200?

The Forty-Eight is sexy but mostly pointless.
OK, yes, I realise that your response to such a request might be something along the lines of: "Well, actually, Chris, we sort of already do. It's called the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight."

Fair enough. The Forty-Eight is indeed a great-looking bike and has a number of the same styling aspects as the Iron 883.  But that tank, guys; it only holds 7.9 litres (2.1 US gallons). And those marshmallow tires. And those intolerable rear shocks with only 1.2 inches of travel. That's not really a bike for riding any further than one would travel on a bicycle.

See, what got me thinking about all this is the new Indian Scout. That thing should be making you nervous. 

Officially, Indian says the Scout isn't really designed to compete against the Sportster. But in the same breath it will happily point out that the Scout and Sportster are similarly priced. And, indeed, in internet forums and such most people can't resist making the comparison. So, regardless of whether you like it or whether it's fair, the Sportster is going to have to compete against a machine that can run rings around it.

Ultimately, in order for the Sportster to survive, you are going to have to develop a different engine. But that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. In the interim, an intelligent move -- something you could initiate immediately -- would be to create some sort of Iron 1200. Here's why:

A lot of sane people and a lot of cruiser riders (note those are two different categories) are content to accept they don't really need a bike that delivers 100 horsepower. The 67 hp delivered by the Sportster 1200 engine is probably just enough -- especially when packaged in a bike that offers a number of the standard Harley-Davidson features, such as anti-lock brakes, gear indicator, and keyless start. All of those are things that don't (yet) exist on the Indian Scout (a). And all of those are things that the economy of scale would allow you to deliver at a price considerably lower than the Scout.

I guess what I'm saying here is this: Please bring back the Nightster. An updated (i.e., better paint scheme) version with as many of your modern bells and whistles as you can throw at it while still keeping the price below that of a Scout. And maybe a better suspension. And maybe don't call it a Nightster because that sounds like the name of a condom.

Bring back the Nightster.
_____________________

(a) ABS will be standard on Scouts sold in Europe since the feature will soon be required by law. Notably, and perhaps as a result of ABS, the Scout will cost £1,200 more than a Sportster in the UK.

Comments

  1. I did have a Nighster. It was my first bike ever.
    I don't think I could have ever hope for an easier bike to learn on.
    The fueling, the gearbox on that bike were outstanding.
    It had a lot of oomph too. I constantly went over 110 mph with relative ease.
    It didn't have a lot of whoa... that was one of the reasons I sold it. No ABS either. I would go fast, but wouldn't stop as good. The brakes felt like two wooden pads trying to stop 600 lbs or so of motorcycle.
    The rear suspension was dreadful too... for solo it was ok, for 2 up, it was useless.

    Mine was Candy Orange. It was gorgeous too... kinda change hue depending on the angle and the time of day.
    For some reason... I made crankcase covers all chrome... but it looked pretty wicked, high contrast of chrome and black.
    I'm sorry it had to go... but I wasn't riding it as much...
    The same can be said of my LT next to K12R...

    Anyways, back to the Nightster.
    It was a great bike. Lots of torque. No maintenance issues whatsoever (you still have to change oil once in a while).
    Sometimes I look in the classifieds, to see if it might be selling cheap...

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
TRACTORS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…