Bullz-Eye Gets Back to Basics with Harley-Davidson
It started, as these things invariably do, with an email from a publicist.
The situation was thus: the fine folks from Harley-Davidson were looking to shine the light on the ’72 Harley, the latest and greatest model from their Dark Custom Line, with an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago’s Wild Fire Harley-Davidson. Fair enough…except for the fact that I don’t own a motorcycle, it’s been more than ten years since I’ve ridden on a motorcycle, and, given that the ride in question – on the back of my brother-in-law’s bike – was so goddamned terrifying (he turned a corner, my feet dragged on the ground, and I was convinced that both our asses were about to hit the fucking pavement) that I’ve never thought for even so much as a moment about buying a motorcycle.
Ah, but the pitch wasn’t just about motorcycles. Indeed, the phrase used to describe the expedition was “a jam-packed day of ass-kicking and whiskey drinking.” Now, not being much of a scrapper, I can take or leave the former, but when you bring up the latter…? Sir, you have my undivided attention.
And that, my friends, is how I came to get…
Because of the designated start time on Saturday and the terribly unhelpful flight times from my home base from Norfolk (ORF) to Chicago, it was agreed that the most convenient time for me to arrive into O’Hare would actually be on Friday…and after this was agreed upon, I then begged, pleaded, and ultimately annoyed my hosts into getting me on the earliest possible flight, so as to be in Chicago for as long as possible.
Coming down the escalator, I was met by a driver holding up a card with my name on it, which is an experience that every flier should have at least once in their life. In short order, I had been deposited at the front door of The Drake Hotel, a gorgeous establishment right in the heart of the city, and – to my utter amazement – I was able to check in immediately, go right up to my room, drop off my bags, and hit the streets of Chicago.
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Posted in: Cigars, Entertainment, Food & Drink, Grooming, Motorcycles, Music, On Location, Travel
Tags: 3 Aces, American Girl, Brauerhouse, Chicago, Cigars, Harley Davidson, Joe's Barber Shop, Pegboy, Scotch, straight razor shave, The Drake Hotel, The Flat Iron, The Onion, The Onion AV Club, whiskey, whisky, Wild Fire Harley-Davidson
Harley-Davidson Softail Slim Review
Many have claimed that rock is dead, and if recent trends are anything to go by, they may be right. As the Black Keys’ screed against Nickelback last January showed, rock is struggling to reconnect with a generation that has turned to auto-tuned, plastic pop stars for entertainment instead of the thrum of electric guitars. But the main reason why people have turned away from rock has gone unsaid. Rock was always about rebellion, but lost people when the image of rebellion overtook the message. Like rock, motorcycles are a symbol of rebellion in culture gone soft. Also, like rock, they are struggling to reinvent themselves for a new generation after marketing rebellion instead of living it. However, as Harley-Davidson’s Softail Slim shows, rebellion is not dead in the motorcycle marketplace. And if this bike is anything to go by for both rock and motorcycles, the way to reconnect with younger kids may be going back to what made you so popular in the first place.
The Softail Slim is one of two new Dark Custom motorcycles that harkens back to the days of the choppers and bobbers from the 1950s. In the ‘50s, choppers weren’t just something you could buy; they were built with bare hands and bad attitudes as a serious style statement. To bring the Slim in line with this attitude, the bike is finished with a few time-appropriate design cues. But it’s not enough to just make the bike look old and then market it as something badass; the product should actually act out the marketing message. What Harley has done to the Slim to capture that old chopper mindset is to follow up its vintage look with a really raw riding experience.
This first step in bringing the bike in line with its historical inspirations is to get the look right. First, the overall stance is slimmed down to give the bike a more custom look. The fenders are bobbed, turn signals and accessories are slimmed down or removed, a thin solo seat is placed on the bike, and skinnier tires with thick sidewalls are added. Then, a few period correct cues are put on, like the Hollywood handlebars on the bike. Characterized by the crossbeam on the top, and the gentle sweep to bring the bars closer to your hands, the Hollywood bars were originally a Harley-Davidson accessory back in the ‘50s that have been taken out of retirement to give this bike a more vintage feel.
However, like the lead guitar in a band, the center of attention on a Harley has always been the engine. In the Slim, the motor is a 103 cubic inch V-Twin that has had an extra dose of attitude added with a healthy coat of black paint. To highlight the vintage feel, a round air cleaner has been added. Internally, nothing is changed over other Softail models. What this means is that you get the same 79hp and 90lb feet of torque that is on other Softails, such as the Blackline we reviewed last year. But more importantly, this is where that vintage feel starts to shine through. The motor responds to inputs nicely, but along the way it vibrates, shimmies and shakes. It feels natural where other motors feel too refined and clinical. It’s more time machine than engine in that it really brings you back to how older bikes feel.
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Harley-Davidson: The Forgotten Art of the Road Trip
In today’s market, speed rules the conversation. Superbikes, supercars, super(blank) are the center of attention. All marketing materials talk about is going faster and harder. Horsepower, lap times, and what minute difference is going to give one bike an edge is seemingly all we talk about with motorcycles, and what the public sees of us. But beyond the power, speed and fury that few people will use on the street, there is a whole type of riding that goes unnoticed: the road trip.
There used to be a valued segment of the marketplace for “grand tourers.” For cars, these were old Jaguars XK’s and graceful Aston Martins; machines that were built to effortlessly travel long distances with power and grace. As such, they were tuned to deliver a ride that would not rattle every bone in your body to dust. For motorcycles, it has always been the cruiser: Big, bold machines with slow turning engines that produce more torque than power. Many manufactures make bikes built for this segment, but only one has built their reputation on cruisers: Harley-Davidson. On our recent trip to Miami with Harley-Davidson, I discovered the experience of a road trip on a trip from Miami to Key West, and back, in one day.
The U.S. is built for road trips. Our roads are long and flat. Our country is big and wide. Culturally, we have always felt a need to push towards the frontier, and the road trip satisfies that need. It must then be easier to ride long distances than attacking a road course with Red Bull-aided fury since you really are riding in a straight line. But that’s not the case. The experience of a cruise is less technical precision than it is adapting to the little things that get in your way. This is where the difficulty lies.
Take the road itself. Not much attention is paid to it in a car because you don’t feel the differences in the pavement unless you’re in a sports car. On a bike, you feel the difference between where the road has been patched, the seams in the road, gravel, and how it may dip or rise in certain areas, and this all effects how the bike handles. The relationship is much more intense because it changes the way the bike moves.
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Harley-Davidson: The Art of Custom
Look, sound and feel. These are the defining traits of the Harley-Davidson brand as told by Willie G. Davidson. The look is characterized by simple designs that highlight the mechanics of the bike. The sound is the familiar loping idle of their V-Twin engines. And the feel is contained in the details such as finishes and riding characteristics that make a Harley feel substantial and sure-footed. More importantly, these traits are used as launching pads for owners to put their own spin on the bike. It is in this culture of customization that the bike becomes more than another mass-produced good, but a part of the owner’s life.
Customization has been ingrained in Harley owners since the very start. From small touches on the very earliest bikes – such as headlights – to fully customized examples seen today, a bike’s design process does not stop at the factory, but begins in the hands of the owner. This needing of expression from owners has driven Harley to offer more products that reflect their tastes and preferences. One way to do this is to offer bikes that display classic design cues from the past. Motorcycles such as the ‘72 and the Softail Slim do just that, reinventing them for a generation that wants to feel connected to a history that they were not a part of. “They want that feeling of something both mechanical and natural,” as Willie G. Davidson describes it. These products are machines that grow with you instead of being disposed of within a year or when the contract expires.
But offering more bikes is just the first step in a customer’s relationship with the brand. After the bike is bought, owners have access to an extensive list of parts and accessories (P&A) to customize their bike. A variety of finishes, parts and equipment are available. The part offerings include things from grips to exhausts and everything in between. Also, dealers have the ability to work with you on a personal level in order to get parts that fit the exact look you're going for. Of course, there are enough chrome items to fill the Bible, but there are also a variety of parts that you’d be surprised to find.
First Drive: 2012 Harley Night Rod
Shrines are places so hallowed, so respected, that entering into them sends a chill straight up your spine. They become this way by being attached to events that are legendary and seem almost impossible. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of these places. For over 100 years, people have challenged the laws of physics to extract even more speed out of the vehicles they raced in. To ride here is to ride along with the many legends that have come before. This weekend, I had a chance to ride in this cathedral of speed as a guest of Harley Davidson.
When one thinks of Harley Davidson, racing is not the first thing to come to mind. However, Harley has a proud past and present in various racing leagues across the country, including its own class in AMA racing for the XR1200. Harley is not just chrome and loud pipes, but a significant part of the racing culture in the U.S. For our trip on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they chose a bike that can trace its roots back to racing: the newest Harley V-Rod, the Harley Night Rod.
The original V-Rod is not a racer at first glance. It is by all respects a power cruiser. Back in 2001, it was meant to bring the attitude of Harley cruisers into the new millennium. To do this, they started with a brand new, water-cooled motor. And this is where the racing connection is made. The reason is that the motor of the V-Rod was not made specifically for the bike, it was meant for racing in a bespoke superbike. In fact, the motor was even developed with the help of Porsche. However, the racing bike was shelved, so Harley created the V-Rod instead, and as they say, the rest is history. 10 years later, Harley is celebrating the V-rod with two new versions: the Night Rod and the 10th Anniversary edition.
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