Tough Love Harley

Cue Borat voice… great success! The ’80 Hardley appears to be functional. Possibly, ridable. Probably for not very long.

But, still.

I gimped the electrics to a state of “well, it works” … battlefield medicine, so to speak. The bike’s wiring harness was cut and re-routed and shorted out to such a Byzantine extent I focused on getting the basics straight — power to the coil and starter solenoid — so the engine would run.

Once I sorted out the carb.

Which took some doing. Float level, especially. It was either too high — or too low. Getting it just right was tricky. The bike’s 1,000 CC Ironhead had been modified (not by me) and it sucks more gas, proportionately, than my ’76 Trans-Am’s 455 V8. So there was a perpetual lean-out condition … unless the float was set such that the bowl stayed full enough to not have the main jet sucking air when you rotated the throttle (and held it there). But a touch too high and the carb would leak fuel at idle unless you manually turned off the fuel tap. It took some doing to get it where it needed to be. The float tang on an ’80 Harley Ironhead’s Keihin carb is very tiny and the slightest bend (either way) results in major changes to the float level.

Want to learn patience? Work on one of these.

The regulator was shot. I knew this because of the acrid white smoke pouring out of it. So I got a new one. That plus finding (and dealing with) a few bad grounds and two bad breakers (the bike does not have fuses) and a gerry-rigged starter button (see above point about the hopelessly mauled factory harness) and the bike fired… and ran.

A reasonably stable idle has been achieved and the engine appears to not be overheating and is leaking fluids within normal Harley/AMF parameters.
This is probably the best that can be hoped for. One does not expect denizens of senior citizen homes to run marathons. If you can get them up and down a few stairs, you’ve achieved something remarkable.

So it is with AMF-era Harleys.

They are for the truly committed only. Hard-core Harley People. The only people who have the extreme emotional connection to the brand to deal with a bike that has its charms but rarely runs for any length of time. There is always something wrong with an AMF-era Harley.

If not, wait.

The other day, while still trying to resuscitate the Harley, I took a break to pay some attention to my bikes. All of which are Japanese and consequently, all of which work. Even though several are much older. Even though they’d been sitting for more than a month (I know, bad me). They all started right up. None leaked. I’d throw a leg over any one of them and head out on a 200 mile ride without Fear… and without a chase truck following behind me.

I’m very reluctant to take the Harley farther than I can reasonably walk back home.

Which would be the case with a ‘1940s-vintage car. We’re dealing with the same level of technology (though the Harley does have a 12V electrical system; it’s the one sort-of modern feature it has) and so, the same level of reliability. The reason Harley — the company — nearly slept with the fishes (before Uncle stepped in) was because British and much more so Japanese bikes made riding a motorcycle viable as a way to get from A to B without the intermediary of walking or hitching a ride or calling a friend to bring his truck and some tools. The Japanese bikes had modern electrics (alternators!) and engines that boasted technical advances (such as overhead cams and four-valve heads) that car engines (excepting exotics) wouldn’t have for decades to come.

They got great gas mileage, didn’t leak. You just rode them. Until you got tired. The bike almost never did.

Now, the Harley has its charms. Nothing else sounds like an old Ironhead exhaling through drag pipes. Such a bike produces more decibels than all four of my Japanese bikes together. If you want to upset the straights, nothing does it better than a Harley. Especially an old one, like this one.

It is rude, obnoxious.

And that’s why people — Harley People — love them. And, put up with them.
It is like having a ne’er do well son.┬áHe comes home drunk and throws up on the carpet. He’s 35 and won’t move out of the house. You bail him out jail for his 5th DWI, after he wrecked your car… again.

But, he’s your boy.

What else are you gonna do?


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