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One for the Road: Break-in blues

By Shadow

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It’s eerily quiet outside. All I can hear is the creaking of my rain gutters as they try mightily to detach themselves from the roof just above my office window. Mother Nature has blessed us with yet another “snow plowing event,” the euphemism used by the weather services when they don’t want to tell you how bad things really are.

In the past 14 years, my bikes have had five—no, six—engine rebuilds, all requiring careful break-in before tuning. Some were by choice (88″ to 95″ upgrade on my Dyna) and some were by chance (a piston circlip falling into the bottom case of my Sportster), but no matter what time of year the rebuild occurs, break-in always seems to take place in the dead of winter. I remember using the Sportster as a testing platform for a magazine, with a new top-end install scheduled for March. Except that, for various reasons, it wasn’t completed until the end of December, with break-in taking place through January and February.

When I first started riding, I didn’t mind cold-weather excursions; in fact, I welcomed them. I still lived under the adage, “Your worst day on two wheels is better than your best day on four.” I would just pile on the riding gear and go. Oh, I still ride in the winter, if I have a good reason, but the rides just for the fun of it? I pretty much save them for more temperate conditions.

I thought that with this latest rebuild, I’d be finished with the break-in before the winter really took hold. The bike was returned from Black Hills Custom Parts, at the end of October, and at first, things were going swimmingly. I did a number of local rides: two to Sussex Hills Ltd. to pick up my FLD’s stock ECM, which I’d left there by mistake, and then to deliver the THUNDER PRESS I’d promised to bring up but forgot.

Next I rode to Woodland Park Range, a new shooting range that opened last year, where I got a chance to try my new Sig P938. Then I rode to Philly to visit my friend Rania Madanat, founder of WiEsccapeRoutes and Mad Social Marketing, who is now a “gear geek” at RevZilla, the new brick-and-mortar manifestation of the popular online riding gear store. Rania gave me the grand tour and I bought a pair of water- and windproof gloves to wear home. The temperature drop and wicked wind on the way back to North Jersey made me wish I’d bought those boots and “base layers” I’d tried on, too.

I initially thought that I’d knock out the rest of the thousand miles with one or two long rides, but it was the middle of November and the cold was steadily creeping in. So I planned out a bunch of shorter rides, figuring I could finish the break-in by the end of the year. There was a ride to Tramontin H-D to pick up an empty backpack to fill with warm clothing and other items for Operation Chillout, an organization that helps homeless vets and other homeless folks in New Jersey. Then I rode to the Skylands Sport Shop in Augusta for more 9mm ammo, and there I met owners Cliff and Terry Riker who, as it turns out, are fellow Harley riders.

The first of December was the 25th annual Ride with Santa Toy Run where we lucked out with 60-degree weather, producing an excellent turnout and enjoyable day overall. At first this whole break-in effort was just one more thing I had to fit into my schedule, but I realized it was getting to be fun! I rode back to Tramontin with the backpack filled with winter supplies the following Saturday, which coincidentally turned out to be a “meet Santa” day where, yes, I met Santa, but I also met a hardcore female rider named Katie. Another potential new riding buddy!

Shortly afterwards, the first of the winter snowstorms hit, bringing with them frigid temperatures where the mercury dropped below zero some nights—unseasonably cold for December in these parts. For several weeks no one was riding… except for Richie, owner of Manx Cycles in Dover, the town next to mine. I stopped by the shop one day during the worst of the winter and we stood in front of the old stove, warming our hands and everything else. Richie asked me if I rode over, but it was 7 degrees and too icy and snowy and was he nuts? He just laughed and pointed to the salt-covered 1972 Honda SL350 street-legal dirt bike sitting in the shop, and said, “I ride to work every day.” Richie wears two sets of long johns under his work clothes, a heavy jacket and a warm scarf. Turns out he does a little ice racing on one of his old Harleys, too.

I was looking forward to that weekend’s forecast of 60 degrees, but this is where Murphy’s Law conspired to prevent me from getting that last 200 miles on my Dyna. The first day of that balmy weather, I woke up with the room spinning. Vertigo kicked my butt for the next few days and by the time I recovered, the mercury had plunged again. We began experiencing weather patterns most of us had never heard of—polar vortex, Alberta clipper, solar lull, polar jet stream—and some of us started to become as weather-obsessed as we do during riding season, tossing about terms like “retrogression of the -EPO ridge” and “meridional flow.”

Finally, in mid-January I was able to take a ride out to Island Dragway. There were no races, but I wanted to see what the track looked like after its reopening last year. I knocked off the remaining miles with a ride to Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, New York. My last ride on the FXD was to Black Hills Custom Parts where she’s now waiting her turn for some dyno tuning.

The night before last, a foot of snow was again dumped on the region. We’d barely dug ourselves out when a new storm took shape. This time, the prediction is for another four to nine inches, with sleet and freezing rain thrown in just for fun. All the schools and state offices are closed and the governor has declared another state of emergency. I’m even afraid to walk up to my mailbox because the driveway is so slick. And the forecast calls for another winter pounding this weekend.

I wonder if Richie rode to work today.

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