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Southern Rail: Safe keeping

By Robert Filla

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Growing up as a kid, I led a sheltered life. Times were rough on occasion, but it was a simpler time. I don’t remember my parents ever locking the front door to the house. They may have, but it was always open every day when I came in from school while both Mom and Dad were at work. There may have been keys to that door, but I certainly never saw them or had access to them. I even left the keys to my first car, a classic 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 landboat, in the ignition during the night so I didn’t have to hunt for them in the morning. Never had any sort of theft problem. And I’m certain none of my friends ever even considered locking up a bicycle or motorcycle as kids. Why bother? As I changed with time, so did all my naïve thoughts about honesty and morality.

My first Big Twin FL came with a factory lock in the frame’s steering head that engaged an internal pin mechanism in the fork stem. It worked reasonably well, locking the front wheel to the far left and permitting any would-be bike rustler the ability to only ride in circles. But it was simply a novelty to me, something I used a couple of times and then disregarded. After all, I still lived in a small town where everybody knew everyone else and there were only three hawgs total (counting my Shovelhead dresser) and everyone knew their owners. Plus any such horse thievery would be handled in true Wild West fashion involving a tall tree and a short rope.

Even when traveling I wasn’t concerned since my bike was seldom more than an arm’s length away. At night, I normally used the Harley and a tarp to create a makeshift lean-to (even when affordable, few motels catered to “those long-haired bikers”). And if some cretin were to attempt any felonious act, I’d awaken once my house began to roll away. But all my neglect of security measures was soon to change.

Six months after relocating to Houston, my beloved Shovel was appropriated by an evil person while it sat outdoors and unlocked during a party where I was attempting to reach a… uhhh… new level of consciousness (hey, it was the 70’s). Devastated beyond belief, the lowest part of my life ended on a joyous note just a few weeks later when the culprit was located and extreme prejudice was exercised by a hearty gang of friends (a.k.a. Da Thugs), ensuring that the delinquent (a.k.a. Stubby) would never be able to engage a hand clutch again and thus making the motorcycle world a safer and better place.

After returning my baby to a safe environment, the urgent need for security devices became imperative. The factory fork lock had long before been sacrificed to the chopper gods during a botched attempt at raking the frame, so that wasn’t an option. So then began the laborious experimentation with various locks, chains and cables, funky alarms with primitive mercury switches and hidden kill buttons. But packing around tons of extra gear was definitely a problem on a skinny-ass bobber. By the time my first ride to Sturgis rolled around, I had perfected the situation, minimizing the problem to a single lock with a deep throw hasp. I simply stabbed it through the spokes of my front wheel where it sat at 90 degrees and would hit the fork tubes if the bike was rolled more than just a few feet. After visiting the heads at Mount Rushmore, I rushed back to my bike in the parking and, in my haste to catch some riding buddies who were in a hurry and quickly pulling out, I forgot to remove the lock. Nailing the throttle, the security device spun through an almost complete cycle before encountering my front fender, which it totally destroyed along with a handful of spokes as the bike continued to roll along, unabated by my clever, and totally useless, gadget. Even worse than the damage was the embarrassment of having to remove my trashed front fender and throwing it away while surrounded by a pack of laughing friends and total strangers.

I eventually constructed a decent fork lock out of plate steel and carry a simple (but hefty) padlock at all times. For longer roads trips and shadowy neighborhoods, a heavy cable with a second lock is coiled around my sissy bar. In the end I’ve learned that you can never be overly cautious and that any inconvenience well outweighs having to call a friend for a ride after a moment of reckless indiscretion. Maybe we need more tall trees.

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