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One for the Road: Got my back

By Shadow

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’ve still got a lot to learn. About many things in general, but Shovelheads in particular.

Most of the Shovel owners I know have been riding them since the ’60s or ’70s, but I just acquired my 1982 FXRS last year. I’m still a newbie in this regard, so I’ve been taking it easy, learning about her wiles through poring over the parts and service manuals as well as paying close attention to how she behaves. Until this past weekend, I’d only ridden her for little jaunts around my area, of probably less than 50 miles each.

It was high time I venture out for a longer trip, and the Perkiomen AMCA National Meet in Oley, Pennsylvania, seemed like a good destination. And, of course, the Shovel would fit right in. Last year was the first time I attended this meet, and this year I had a plan for how I wanted the weekend to go. Well, you know what they say about plans…

The 120-mile ride to Oley was mostly Interstates and state roads, but when I neared the small town, a series of detours directed traffic onto back country roads. I eventually realized I’d overshot a turnoff and decided to stop and check GPS to see how to get back to the right road. I pulled into the entrance to an excavation company, shut the bike down, looked at my phone, saw that I was only two miles away, and started the bike again. Or, rather, I tried to start the bike. She was dead as a doornail.

I flipped up the seat and stared at the battery, following leads to make sure nothing had loosened or gotten corroded, when a guy pulled up to the entrance and asked what kind of problem I was having. When I explained, he said he’d get one of his guys to drive over with a jumpstart kit. Turns out they both ride Shovels, so they get it. And they were happy to help. Thanks to company owner Matt Barrasso and his employee also named Matt, I was on my way in a heartbeat, taking care to keep her running until I could find a safe place to park at the fairgrounds.

Sure enough, once parked at my camping spot, she wouldn’t start again, and this time, my friend and fellow AMCA Colonial Chapter member George got her jumpstarted. I rode her over to the pavilion where he was set up as a vendor, and in the spot right next to him was Morris Magneto. Déjà vu—last year my friend Mike’s K Model was in distress and Morris Magneto owner Dave, a.k.a. Desh, basically rebuilt the entire front end by flashlight. And now it was my turn for this highly skilled, genuinely nice man to lend a helping hand.

After some initial diagnosis with a multimeter, involving George, Mike, and Desh, Desh found a few things that could have caused the problem. The bracket holding the battery had vibrated loose, leaving the positive terminal touching the frame and the side of the battery rubbing against the oil tank. The regulator plug was a little loose in the case, which I learned is a common problem with Shovelheads. Using a quick ’n’ dirty testing method courtesy of another vendor with a spare length of wire, it was determined that the stator was OK, but the regulator itself was in question.

Earlier, when I first broke down, I’d posted on Facebook that if anyone was already at Oley and wanted to help, I’d be appreciative. Although I’d updated that status, the Facebook discussions were still going strong. There were many suggestions and offers of help, with my friend Tim posting that he would toss a stator and a regulator in his vehicle and bring it the next day.

By now it was almost dark, and we all agreed that it would be a good idea to hook the battery up to a charger to see if it would fully charge. I scouted the area and found a guy I dubbed Lynn the Lifesaver (I think he liked that) who found me a trickle charger, so we left Foxy Lady under the pavilion for the night (thanks, Mudfish, for the use of your space). We enjoyed an excellent evening of firehouse food and hanging out before turning in.

Friday Tim showed up with a regulator—minus the plug. The bike’s battery had fully charged, and there was a heated debate on whether I truly needed a new regulator. Deciding to err on the side of caution, I set forth on a scavenger hunt. After all, I was at an antique swap meet.

Eventually I found an aftermarket regulator that, with a little tweaking, worked just fine. All the while Desh was testing, installing, or making suggestions, he explained everything every step of the way. The depth of his knowledge is incredible; the man is an absolute genius when it comes to motorcycles. He also shared several tips that I will most certainly use in the future.

After a great night at the Reading MC grudge races just up the road, I struck camp in the morning, packed the bike, and she started right up, taking me all the way home with no problems. There were a few cleanup details from the on-the-road repairs I needed to do when I got home, but those could be dealt with easily.

The weather wasn’t the greatest that weekend; the daytime never got above the low 50s and it rained hard both nights, with the temps hovering around the mid-40s. Still, I was dry and (almost) warm in my tent, happy as I’d ever been, with so much help given and so much knowledge to soak up. In between diagnosis and repairs, I even got to check out cool bikes, parts, and socialize with friends.

Although the weekend didn’t turn out as planned, in retrospect, it was way better than anything I could have imagined. I learned a lot about the idiosyncrasies of Shovelheads and how to deal with various problems. And I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to find that so many people have my back, without wanting anything in return.

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