First, a few words about the MSF class. I took the Basic Rider Safety course, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to start riding. It gave me a lot more confidence, particularly at the low speed handling stuff that frequently causes embarrassment to new riders. That said, the step up from the little 125cc Kawasaki Eliminator I rode for the weekend, and the 1200cc Harley-Davidson Sportster I picked up today was like night and day.
The little Kawasaki was almost like riding a heavier, slightly faster bicycle. With my size, I felt like I could pretty much just fling it wherever I wanted with a flick of the wrist. Great maneuverability, but power? Not so much. At 6'1" and a solid 200 pounds plus all my gear, most of the lessons in clutch control were totally lost on me. Let the clutch out half-way? Find the friction zone? I basically had to dump the clutch and feed in throttle just to get the wheels rolling.
That said though, I really did feel the class was invaluable. More than that, it was just fun, and something I'd recommend to people even if they aren't particularly interested in owning or regularly riding a motorcycle of their own.
Then I picked up my Harley. My particular bike is a 2008 model, with 19k miles on the odometer. The previous owner made some interesting component choices, making it part go-fast race bike, and part cross-country tourer. There's the aftermarket exhaust, intake, and ECU tune that added 15hp at the dyno. Coupled with the digital RPM gauge and shift system, it screams "Go faster!" On the other end of the spectrum though, there's the big windscreen, wide touring saddlebags, comfortable seat, and GPS wiring.
Decision time. The dealer handed me the keys, pointed out the controls and shook my hand. My wife and the three younger kids were watching from the car. Time to throw a leg over and fire it up.
|She's built to go far and fast. Which suits my plans just fine.|
First impression: this thing feels angry. At idle she shakes and rattles. The RPMs twitch and it feels like you're sitting atop a very upset, very wild fire-breathing monster.
Let the clutch out. 10mph? I don't even have the clutch all the way out yet? The Eliminator was screaming for 2nd gear at this point! 15mph. The clutch is out, and the engine's finally ticking over at 2k RPMs. I shift around 3k and 20mph and everything smooths out.
Some around town riding shows that she's happiest in the cruising band of 35-50mph. Any faster and the wind starts rolling over the top of the screen and slapping me in the head. Cruising down the street though, the engine smooths out, and the pipes growl my presence to any cagers around me. Especially the ones driving with their windows down on this warm June day.
I find a country road with a 65mph speed limit and see how freeway speeds feel. Shaky from the wind coming off the fairing, but the engine's perfectly happy to rumble along in 5th gear at 3k RPM. If I tuck in behind the windscreen like I'm on a sportsbike and not a cruiser/wanna-be tourer, and scoot my butt back into the seat a bit, the wind goes away completely. I don't know if I could keep that position up for hours, and it's tough to see the speedometer, but I suppose I'll find out.
I had a really good first day of riding. Carving circles in parking lots, blasting down an empty country road, and rumbling through town, all of it was great. I know there are lots of bikes that are more composed to ride, are better at one thing or another than mine is, but for now, at least, I don't care. This one is mine. And we're going to have some adventures!