Sunday, January 25, 2009


Got home yesterday and found that the check from the insurance company had arrived while I was stuck out on the road (I had cashed out an old insurance policy a week or two ago, in order to help pay off my debts.) I quickly deposited it through the ATM at my bank. That will allow me to pay off my auto loan early and have enough money left over to catch up with everything I'm behind on at present. That will eliminate completely the biggest single payment I had to make each month and give me considerable financial "breathing room." That was the best news I've  had in months. 

The extra money also gave me the cash I needed to give my bike, Miss Velvet, her initial 1,000 mile servicing. This has to be done by the Harley dealer the first time, in order to keep my warranty active. It was a beautiful, sunny day Saturday, so I rode Velvet over to the dealership to take care of that chore. The temperature was a bit chilly, in the mid-forties, but I bundled up and had no problems riding, except that my legs got cold. I got too lazy to put on my leather chaps and paid for it in that manner. Next time, maybe. . . 

I was there about two hours, while they changed the engine and transmission oil, checked, tightened and adjusted her drive belt (no chain), her cables, and all the critical bolts and nuts. She ran like a top when they finished, with her throttle, clutch, and gearshift working like the thoroughbred machine that she is. The wind had gotten friskier, with random nasty gusts blowing me all over the map, so I rode her straight back home, then got into my soon-to-be-paid-for Chevy and drove over to my favorite "adult daycare center," Coyote Joe's, for an early supper and some brews. I was still quite road-weary, so it didn't take but three beers to almost knock me out completely. I said my goodbyes, drove home and went to bed early. Another day in my life in the books. 

And, speaking of Harleys -- I've got some more Harley-Davidson lore that I'm going to share with y'all in this edition of the Dawg's Life. As a chronicler of All Things Harley-Davidson, I'll be presenting these tidbits of information from time to time, as I have in the past. Look for more in the future. This issue concerns Miss Velvet's heritage and ancestry, the Harley Sportster. Enjoy! 


In the 60's the Japanese motorcycle invasion hit the shores of the U.S., with such brands as Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha offering up mainly smaller displacement motorbikes which were ideal beginner's machines and put a goodly portion of American youth up on two wheels. I owned a couple of those little putt-putts years ago, as did so many other adolescents of that era. Before the Asian invasion, though, there was another invasion, which reached our shores in the late 40's and 50's. This was the British/European invasion, which introduced makes such as Triumph, BSA, Norton, BMW, Ducati, and many others. The three top British manufacturers led the pack with their medium displacement machines, which ranged from 500 to 750 cc's in general. Light, fast, and completely unique, the Brit bikes caught on quickly with Americans, who found them much easier to deal with than an 800 pound Harley Big Twin-powered "hog." The Milwaukee Motor Company started losing sales to the Brits and it rapidly became obvious that they had to do something in order to compete. 

The engineering and syling gurus at Harley rolled up their sleeves and got to work. In 1957 they introduced their own medium displacement machine which they named the Sportster. Today the Sportster family of Harleys are the oldest continuously-produced bikes that they make -- 52 years old and still going strong. The original Sportser, like its British counterparts, was a lighter machine, weighing in at a little over 500 pounds. It had clean, trimmed-down lines and looked lean and mean. Power-wise, it boasted an even bigger displacement engine than any of the Brit makes -- an 883 cc engine in the standard Harley V-Twin form, of course. You'd expect no less from the Motor Company, after all. That engine was nicknamed the "Ironhead," due to its cast iron cylinder heads and cylinder "jugs," and it was billed as a "900 cubic centimeter" engine, instead of its true 883 measurement. But what's  a measly 17 cc's between friends, huh? The Ironhead Sportster engine remained the standard powerplant for the bikes from 1957 through 1985 -- another longevity record at Harley. In 1986, the Ironhead was replaced by a special Sportster version of the Evolution (EVO) engine and that's what powers my Miss Velvet and all her present-day cousins. But there are quite a few of the older Ironheads still around and kicking, believe me. 

One thing that bike enthusiasts found out quickly when the Sportster was born; they were decidedly fast! They blew by most of the Brit bikes and flat-out embarrassed more than a few riders of Harley Big Twins. That "little Harley" engine put out a ton of low-end torque and accelerated like a guided missle on two wheels. The Sportster caught on almost overnight and Harley knew they had scored, bigtime. It wasn't long before Cycle World magazine, the industry's top rag at the time, declared the Sportster to be the first-ever Superbike. It held on to that designation until the late 60's, when Honda came out with their first four-cylinder, 750 cc "crotch rockets."  That became the hot bike to have, but the Sportsters were still revered by their owners and sales stayed steady. It was the only smaller bike Harley made and was the ideal "first Harley" for many buyers who would later upgrade to one of the Big Twin models. And then are those riders, like myself, who just love the clean, racy lines of the Sportster better than all the others and prefer to ride a lighter bike that can still hold its own with many of the bigger ones, power-wise. Yeah, many a modern Sporty has surprised riders of the Big Twins , just as their ancestors did, back in the day. They can still earn the respect of the Big Bike crowd quite often. 

The Sportster was named the "XL" model by Harley and has retained that same designation up through the present day. It originally stood for Experimental Lightweight, although today it is only a model/bike family designation. Miss Velvet's official factory name is XL1200L, which translates, in Harley language, to:  Sportster model, 1200 cubic centimeter engine, and Lowered chassis. There have been many other Sportster designations over the years, such as XLH, the semi-racing XLCH (the latter two letters standing for "Competition Hot"), XLR, XL1000, XL1100, XL1200N, and so on.The Sporty family has offered several optional, larger displacement engines also, such as the 1000 cc, the 1100 cc, and Miss Velvet's 1200 cc/74 c.i. motor, which for years on end was Harley's Big Twin engine, until the large displacement boom began in the early 1980's. Now, with the advent of the Twin Cam 96 engine in 2007, the Big Twin has been upgraded to 96 c.i. at almost 1600 cc's. My venerable Milwaukee 1200/74 incher is now considered a medium displacement engine. How times change! 

The Sportster has stood the test of time and is still one of Harley's best-selling bikes. As long as there's a market for a lighter bike that doesn't skimp on power one bit, they'll remain in the Motor Company's lineup. They're versatile enough for local city bar-hopping and, with the addition of saddlebags and a luggage rack, can be turned into shorter distance tourers as well, suitable for overnight or day trips almost anywhere you want to go. They have enough power to conquer any terrain and they can still turn heads at traffic lights. I certainly know Miss Velvet has, more than once. 

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