My Switchback wouldn’t start. At least, not the first time. When I got the bike two years ago, I figured the days of messing with the throttle, the carb and the choke (OK, “enrichener”) were over, and it would be smooth sailing… rather, smooth starting. Au contraire, mon amie.
I’d noticed the beginnings of the problem about a year ago. Sometimes the engine would turn over but not start. If I shut it down and recycled the starting sequence, it would fire right up. It really was just a minor inconvenience until this year’s trip to Laconia and, the next month, Canada, when it wouldn’t start on the second try. Or the third. I’d have to wait a few minutes to retry and eventually the spark would ignite the fuel.
This was getting to be a real problem, so about a week before Sturgis I took it to my local dealership to test the battery, and was informed that it was fine. Not surprisingly, they couldn’t duplicate the problem; it was intermittent and I couldn’t make it happen at will, either. I changed the batteries in my fobs even though I was told that probably wasn’t the issue. So I rode her back to the house, hoping for the best.
The next day, I spoke to Ken Puzio at my local shop, Black Hills Custom Parts, and we both agreed that even though the battery tested fine, and the bike was only two years old (any Harley battery I’d ever owned had lasted at least four years and I always keep them on a Battery Tender), it might be the prudent thing to do. I didn’t have time to mess with it that day, so we agreed I would pop into the shop in a day or two.
Well, the time flew by and before I realized, it was the day before I was set to leave for Sturgis. I rode to the shop and the new battery was installed. It started right up. I stopped for gas on the way home and again it started immediately. I pulled into the garage and began to pack my gear for the next day’s ride.
An hour or so later, I realized I hadn’t done the photo shoot I meant to do before I left. I rolled the bike out of the garage and spent an hour cleaning her and scrubbing the goo off the exhaust pipes. I finished the shoot and went to start her up again to get her back into the garage (too much of a struggle to push it up the slight incline). Wouldn’t start. Hmmm… I guess the problem wasn’t the old battery after all. I shut it down and went through the start sequence again… RRRRrrr. RRRRrrr. No spark. Recycled again and this time… R…r…r……r………r………… The battery was draining quickly… too quickly. I got some help to roll her into the garage and immediately plugged in the Battery Tender, hoping for a miracle. Nope. Nothing.
By then it was late afternoon. Time for Plan B. I eyed the FXD and tried to remember the last time I rode her. Near as I could figure, it was 11 months prior. And how long ago had I changed the oil? I dashed upstairs and rifled through my maintenance records. All the fluids had been changed a thousand miles ago. OK, then. Time for a shakedown ride to make sure there were no obvious problems.
I rolled Black Beauty out of the garage and, after a little carb coaxing, she started. So we took a brief test ride, stopping at the shop where I told Ken what happened. To his credit he offered to bring another new battery to my house, even though the first one had been fully charged when it went into the bike. I graciously declined, figuring it probably wasn’t the battery at fault, and since I didn’t know what the problem was, I wasn’t willing to take the chance the night before a two-week road trip.
I rode around a bit more—man, that FXD sure felt good! Why hadn’t I ridden her in so long? When we got home again, I continued my packing chores and, late that night, I loaded her down with all my gear for the trip. Here it was six hours later and the light on the Switchback’s Battery Tender still hadn’t turned green.
Early the next morning I went down to the garage and saw that the FLD’s battery had finally charged. I detached the cable and this time, the Switchback immediately rumbled to life. But I still wasn’t willing to take the risk of the battery draining from some unknown problem and leaving me stranded. It was the Super Glide and me. Black Beauty and I were on our way.
The ride to Sturgis was a pure delight. I’d forgotten how comfortable the bike was, and how well we fit one another. The miles just flew by—625 the first day and 580 the second—and I was nearly in South Dakota! The only issue I had was that somewhere along the way, my front left running light went out, although the turn signal still worked. Thanks to Dakota of Motorcycle Cowboys who made a special trip to find me a dual-filament bulb that would fit under the flat lens, that minor problem was fixed midway through the rally.
Getting home was just as smooth; the bike performed flawlessly. The only thing was, by the time I got home the exhaust wrap had begun unraveling. So a few days later I took the bike to Ken at Black Hills, asked him to wrap the pipes again and while he was at it, do a full service. In the meantime, I rode the FLD back to the Harley dealership to diagnose the starting problem. Later that day I got a call from Ken, telling me that when they removed the oil filter, there was a ton of metal debris stuck to the magnets. Not a good sign. Seems like Black Beauty isn’t coming home with me anytime soon. I was set to ride to Milwaukee for Harley’s 110th Anniversary Celebration and I needed a bike!
I went downstairs and surveyed the near-empty garage… and there was my Sportster, stuffed way in the corner, hooked up to her life support. She’d been sitting in the same spot for over two years, dusty, with mildew on her leather saddlebags, waiting patiently for some TLC. Or for me to take her for a ride. “Wanna come out and play, Ruby?” I could almost hear her sigh, “It’s about time.”