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Almost Fiction: Not cold steel

By Sam Jones

Almost_Fiction

 

Most people think that all the real bikers live in Florida and California where they can ride every day of the year. Some are… but it’s not because of the weather. A quarter of an inch of rain, a little wind and the TV weatherman proclaims, “Storm Watch 2014,” and the motorcycles are pushed to the back of the garage and riders take their Lexus to work. Real bikers? Not necessarily.

In the Midwest this year, winter started early and ended late. This meant the riding season was chopped off prematurely and a new start would be delayed. It’s bad for the mileage, but the long winter allows for more time to perform the maintenance, the rebuilds and the changes that come with Harley dreams. Sure everyone would like to ride more, but if the weather means six feet of snow and they can’t ride, they massage, pet and work on their much-loved machines.

Regardless of where a person lives, real bikers take care of their equipment. They are like cowboys who look after their horses, check for saddle sores, maintain their animals and watch for a loose shoe. If they don’t, the animal goes lame and the cowboy is walking, or worse, he is thrown and laying in the rocks with a broken back.

Ed is one of these people who loves motorcycles, eats, sleeps, rides and dreams motorcycles. With the snow he rolled his 1986 FXR Harley down into the basement as though it was a surgical patient on a gurney being pushed into an operating room. The patient was not dead but cold, cold from the winter wind. It was a misnomer to refer to her as “cold steel,” and even though she would be pulled apart and lay in pieces, it wouldn’t take long for her to warm up. Ed keeps the temperature of the basement shop warm at 72 degrees.

Ed knows what’s needed and takes care of everything. Wheel bearings, any bolt or nut that shows a taste of rust, any parts that looks edgy are measured for tolerance and those items that don’t fit specifications are dealt with appropriately.

With the extended winter he also knows he has time to dig deep and go right down to the frame. It has been several years and lots of miles, so new cables, new brake pads, new fluids everywhere, new seals replace old ones, extra running lights on the back, the seat is recovered, the valves are refaced, the pistons are checked for scuffs and measured for ring wear, the transmission is opened and checked just because it is sitting on the workbench. The battery has gone several years so it is retired. Of course, new tires; Ed never skimped on tires, brakes or batteries.

Not knowing when winter would end and just in case there would be an early spring, all of this had been finished a month ago. So Ed took a chance and decided that a new paint job was a good idea. The old paint was fine but showing rock dings, and with many years of mileage it was less than perfect. So this was the year. Ed would make a deal with his friend and a newly painted gas tank was added to the list of improvements.

In a dream Ed had seen a Harley roll down the road, he had been on it, but it was not his bike. It looked like his bike but was different. The dream had lingered and when he described what he wanted to his friend the painter, Ed revealed the motorcycle from his dream.

Gloss black, black so deep you could reach in and feel the fuel, gloss so shiny you could shave in the reflection. Red flames at the front that turned from red to orange, to yellow, to white as they moved to the back of the tank; it was a classic motif, a paint scheme from the fifties, a paint scheme that would fit perfectly on a ’32 Ford “Deuce” coupe. Around the edges of the flame job was light blue pinstriping and on the top of the tank more pinstriping in the timeless Von Dutch style.

Ed was going for old school.

Spring hurried and the gas tank was the only thing lacking from a finished motorcycle. Ed worried like an expectant father. Finally there was the phone call to come and pick up his baby. “Wait a couple of weeks before you put any wax on it,” was the admonition. It was perfect, exactly as he had seen in his dream.

The workbench was cleaned off and a blanket was stolen from upstairs and laid out. The tank was carefully placed so as not to be scratched. Painter’s tape was removed from the mounting and the petcock holes and the filler neck. Tiny details were massaged and made flawless.

Waiting two painfully slow weeks, wax was kneaded into the paint, the petcocks added, the tank was mounted, the fuel lines were attached and with a gallon of gas all was made right with the world. Ed and the FXR now waited for the weather.

With the first robin of spring, the motorcycle was rolled out of the basement and onto the driveway. Ed stood for a long time and just looked at her. Without the spark plugs he thumbed the starter and she spun freely. Oil pressure filled all the galleries, the oil light went out and the engine was safely lubricated. Spark plugs were installed. Ed touched the starter again and she boomed into life. He worked the throttle to keep her running and, as she warmed up and eventually evened out, he adjusted the carburetor mixture and the idle. The bike loped along at a steady 950 rpm.

Clint Eastwood knows that “cold steel” is a misnomer for his .44 Magnum. It may start out cold, but when you wear a Smith & Wesson Model 29 in a shoulder holster for several movies it doesn’t stay cold, it gets warm, the same temperature as your body, 98.6 degrees.

Ed knew it was a misnomer to refer to his FXR as “cold steel.” He and the bike were both the same temperature, 98.6 degrees. They were perfectly in sync.

Ed threw a leg over her and they were off for the first ride of spring.

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