Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brace yourself: the “What I’m Thankful For” posts are coming (and we’re no exception)

The day to give friends & family ‘the bird’ is happening tomorrow: Thanksgiving Day! And now you’re about to see everyone & their mother post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter what they’re thankful for. Doing what everybody else is doing is not the ‘norm’ for most bikers. Don’t get me wrong- we are very thankful bunch for what we have and the experiences we’ve encountered. We're just not all that big on broadcasting it to the world. But this year I’m breaking with Biker tradition and actually following the crowd.

Me & Cali
So of course I’m thankful for the usual stuff: the fact that I raised two kids (20 & 18 years old) who are becoming decent adults, my ‘dog’ (who is just as much part of our family as my kids are) to greet me at the door and cuddle with, my husband for putting up with me always having to be right, my horse who is just as much a goof-ball as I am, my job which is more fun than work, the co-workers and customers who have become close friends, my car – especially since I have to drive it for about six months out of the year, and yes, my 2004 Harley-Davidson® Dyna® Super Glide®.

But this year my one “Big Ticket Item” to be thankful for is the Founding Fathers of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Because without them and their insight to build a motorcycle that became ingrained in American Culture, I don’t think I would have as much to be thankful for.

L to R: Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, Bill Harley, William Davidson

Rumor has it that Arthur Davidson and William Harley wanted an easier way to get up to their favorite fishing hole. Bicycles were all the rage in that age, but the boys (in their 20’s) didn’t want the work of pedaling up hill. Bill Harley – with help from Arthur – drew up plans for an engine to go into a bicycle. But when they tested it they found peddle power was needed to get up hills. Back to the drawing board, and with brothers Walter & William Davidson, they began working on the second-generation machine. Eventually the three brothers and one friend produced ‘Serial Number One’ from their ‘factory’ – a 10x15 shed in the backyard with “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” painted on the door.

Serial Number One
Now, nearly 115 years later, HDMC has their main headquarters in Milwaukee – not far from where they first started out. The engines that are the heart of the motorcycle are also built in Wisconsin, and two factories – in Kansas City, MO and York, PA – put together the motorcycles from scratch. If you haven’t yet taken a tour, you should. You’ll see the fenders & tanks stamped out of steel, frames welded together and put on a cart with a build sheet for that particular bike. As the cart rolls into each station workers immediately put what they’re supposed to on that bike – the parts are already there. The logistics of it all are amazing.

And yet when these bikes roll off the assembly line, they are so much more than “just” a motorcycle. It’s the wind in your face, the feeling as the bike leans into the curve, the power as you roll on the throttle, and the exhilaration you feel as you’re flying down the road. When you get a Harley® you’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting an experience – one that isn’t easily matched.

The First Factory - a 10x15 backyard shed
I often wonder: Did Bill Harley and Arthur, Walter & William Davidson know what they were starting? Did they foresee how much Harley-Davidson® motorcycles – like baseball and apple pie – would become part of American culture? The camaraderie bikers feel as we pass each other on the road, giving the ‘Biker Wave’? How we’ll travel 50 miles on our Harley just to get good ice cream? That they’d go from just 15 workers to well over a million employees working in both their factories and dealerships all over the world? If only I could go back in time and ask!!

Sure there were others doing the same thing – putting engines into frames to make motorcycles. But it was these four guys who did it well and did it right. With them I’ve found what I feel is my passion, my true calling for this Life Behind Bars, and for that I’m truly thankful.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Getting a gift for a Biker (a.k.a. Motorcycle Enthusiast)? Here’s what you need to know:

It is a bit early – not even Thanksgiving week yet! – to start talking about holiday gift guides…. BUT with the holiday season about to kick off, I thought I’d get this out there so you can have a fighting chance!! Have that new son-in-law with a Harley® parked in the garage? Or perhaps you drew the name of that co-worker who has more pictures of his/her bike than pics of people in their cubicle…. Never fear – the first ever ‘Life Behind Bars’ holiday gift guide is here!!

First off, it really is the gift that counts with most bikers. So there’s no need to worry if they’ve already got those pair of gloves, or that set of motorcycle themed pint glasses. If we don’t already have it, we’ll use it. And if we already do own the exact same gift you just gave us, we’ll put yours to use once the other one wears out.

That being said – if you’re planning on buying parts for his/her bike, please find out the year, make and model of said bike! At F.X. Caprara Harley-Davidson® we really do want you – and the recipient – to be happy! Trust me when I say that they may be a little disappointed to find out that the gift you got them won’t fit. And we won’t know what kind of bike it is just because it has saddlebags on it – that could be a Switchback, Heritage, Street Glide, etc., etc. A picture can usually help tell us the make & model, but not the year. If we have seen the bike for service we can look it up, but if you’re shopping for Uncle Leo two states away, please know what bike Uncle Leo is riding.

You can get personal, just not too personal – meaning please think three times before sending out their gas tank for a custom paint. Surprise – for most bikers their bike is an extension of them, like an arm or a leg (yeah, it’s that important!). Sure they may have talked about having a picture of Elvira painted on their tank, but then changed their mind. I once freaked out my husband – I got a bigger tank for his Sportster®…. then I had to get a different seat because of how the two fit together…. I sent him a ‘coupon’ exclaiming how I was the best wife in the world to do this for him while he was off fighting for our country (he was deployed at the time). You can probably guess he wasn’t too happy with me until he got home and saw his bike… Luckily he liked it, but it was a close call!

Also, please do not buy a helmet for anyone unless they’re with you trying them on and say, “I want this one!” We’ve had customers find a bike in 5 minutes – and then take half the day picking out their new helmet. There are half helmets, 5/8’s helmets, ¾ helmets and full face helmets. Some with a shield, others without one. Some with a drop down sun shield. Size runs vary depending on the manufacturer – I fit a medium most of the time, but sometimes a large is better. Everybody’s head is a little different, and their sense of style – especially when it comes to a helmet – most decidedly so. If you want them to have a new helmet for safety reasons, please either get them to go shopping with you or get them a gift card.

So now you have an idea of what not to get a biker for Christmas…. Here’s some helpful ideas for what to get them:

  1. Most Harley® Enthusiasts love getting t-shirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses and stickers with the dealership name on it. Especially if you live two states (or more) away, go to your local Harley dealer and get them ‘dealer branded’ stuff. Every dealership I stop at I always get a t-shirt & a shot glass.
  2. GPS may be on a lot of bikes, but motorcycle maps (not made of paper) always come in handy. Have they been talking about riding up through Nova Scotia?? There you go!
  3. Are they a reader?? Books like The Harley-Davidson® Motor Co. Archive Collection, Growing Up Harley-Davidson®: Memoirs of a Motorcycle Dynasty, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance are a good bet. Do they enjoy movies?? Add to their DVD collection with Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, The Wild One, The World’s Fastest Indian, or – of course – Easy Rider.
  4. The open road is available at home or man cave: plenty of home décor can be had for the Harley® Enthusiast. From clocks to signs, from calendars to pint glasses to vintage advertising – allow them to show off their biker side even when they’re sitting on the couch.
  5. One part that’s a universal fit (as long as their bike has a battery) is a SuperSmart Battery Tender. While their Harley® is sitting there it is drawing power from the battery and can drain it in as little as six weeks. In case you’re thinking they can just start the bike in order to charge the battery, I’m here to tell you it’s not. The bike has to be under power -meaning you can’t just start it & let it idle like you can with your car. A $40 battery tender now will save them a $120 bill for a new battery later.
  6. Check around your area for any bike raffles going on and get them a ticket (see if they have to be present to win). For instance the Fort Drum (which is right in our back yard) chapter of the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association is raffling off a Dyna® Street Bob® in June 2016, plus cash prizes, all for a mere $20 a ticket. Even if the Biker you're getting the ticket for already has a bike, they'll still appreciate another one! Motorcycles are kind of like potato chips, you can have more than one....
  7. Set the mood with some music: a MP3 Player is a nice gift! Even if their bike has a radio, chances are they can still plug in a device and jam to their own tunes as they roll down the road.
  8. Get them Riding Gear – gloves, head wrap, boots, and goggles. Just double check the shop’s return policy in case of fit issues. 
  9. A picture says a lot of words, a film says 10 times more! Get ‘em a Personal Camera (think GoPro) so they can show you the ride they took through the California Redwoods rather than just tell you.
  10. Still not sure?? Then my best suggestion is to get them a gift card. Bikers can always use extra funds – maybe they need $50 more towards a new leather jacket, or they want to pay down their service bill. It may not seem very personal, but it will definitely be appreciated.

Not into the guessing game? Have them fill out their Wish List on Harley’s website (you can do the same too, you know) which you'll be able to see. But no matter what you decide to give them, most bikers will not consider the gift itself, but the love expressed by the giver. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Enlightened Bikers" - Is there such a thing?

Enlightened: to give intellectual or spiritual light to; instruct; impart knowledge – according to “Is there such a thing as “Enlightened Bikers”?” you might be asking yourself…. Long story short: yes there is, and we need more of them.

As of late we have seen Halloween costumes spark an attack, racism and ‘safe places’ on college campuses, and – sadly – terrorist attacks on the citizens of Paris. This implies some people have gone overboard not to hurt anyone and others the extreme opposite. As for me, there’s a common thread in all of this: too many people are concerned with the opinions of others and are trying to control people into believing as they do. Is this really the reason we’ve been put on this planet?

When I asked that question to Google (because if Google doesn’t have the answer, we’re screwed – right?), it came back with a Wikipedia link. Wiki states: the meaning of life as we perceive it is derived from our philosophical and religious contemplation of, and scientific inquiries about existence, social ties, consciousness, and happiness.

“Happiness” – there’s an all encompassing word! Some of the same people who are concerned with the other people’s opinions seem to be placing their happiness on others. For example, “I’d be happier if s/he would spend more time with me,” or, “I’m sad because s/he said I’ve got an ugly face.” When you do that – place or give your power to be happy to someone else, then you play a very dangerous game. When you do that you will forever be ‘the victim.’ Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And she was right.

The majority of Bikers have known this Universal Truth for quite some time. The ‘biker culture’ as we know it today stems from soldiers returning from WWII. They were fed up with society telling them what to wear and how to act and quickly began doing things their own way while riding their motorcycles (but this is where society began to brand all bikers as ‘outlaw’ – a whole other blog topic we’ll get around to). Notable bikers who have exemplified this truth are Bessie Stringfield, Willie G. Davidson, Wayne Rainey and Dot Robinson
AMA Hall of Fame Inductee Bessie Stringfield

For most of us that travel around on two wheels, we know of ‘The Biker Code.’ This is code is a basic understanding of the culture and is less about words, more about action. Even though this code is unspoken, it has been written down and I’ve attached a copy of it below. But still, when we look at the traits of brilliant/successful people, they share a lot with bikers: We are who we are – it’s as simple as that. We give respect where respect is due but do not need anyone to validate or contradict us. It is our responsibility to believe in ourselves, to know our worth. When you come to understand this is when you begin living your adventures in this life and can declare your freedom.

Need more proof that bikers are happier? A study done last year proves that women riders are happier compared to women who don’t ride. (I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the male counterparts feel the same way.) As bikers we’re comfortable in our own skin, we help others, we live for adventure and freedom. Freedom for us to live as we please, and freedom to let others do the same (as long as no one is hurting another). By living a Life Behind Bars we can become better at really living the adventure. And when we achieve that, the world just may be a better place because there will be happier people in it. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Was it Global Warming, or was it Wishful Bikers?

The calendar may say that we are in the first week of November, but this past week - with daytime highs in the 70s – had those of us living in Northern New York thinking the calendar was more like late August. Thanks to the jet-stream quite a few states were experiencing warmer weather, with several states having the hottest year on record. Plenty of people will point to Global Warming as the cause for heating things up when they should be cooling off. But maybe it’s just “Biker Wishful Thinking.”

Heating things up on Planet Earth
Sure, Global Warming (or Climate Change) could be to blame – there seems to be lots of science backing the claim that greenhouse gasses trap the infrared radiation in our atmosphere and re-direct it back at the earth. Although a recent study of Arctic Ice indicates that the threat of Global Warming may not be as horrific as predicted. Scientists have seen an increase in the ice over the last two years. This seems to refute the claim that Global Warming is causing arctic ice to melt and sea levels to rise. But I'm not here to prove or disprove any of these theories - I think that the recent spike in warm weather was caused by me and other Motorcycle Enthusiasts.

This time of year the weather can be unpredictable. Shorter days, temperatures (usually) getting cooler, rain brings a dampness to the air, and frosted windshields in the mornings are all saying that the riding season is nearly done. And once the salt trucks come out then that’s it – it’s over! (Because salt mixing with steel and chrome just isn’t a good thing.) So right now you’ve got a pretty large group of people wishing for just one more week, day or hour of good riding weather. The freedom of riding on two wheels cannot be exactly matched by anything else. And for those of us living North of the Mason Dixon line, where the snow and ice tend to dominate half of the year, we want to extend our riding season - and that freedom - as much as possible.

Subatomic Particles Moving To The Groove 
My mom used to say, “Be careful what you think because it may come true.” I thought she was confusing the whole “be careful what you wish for” bit that I’ve said to my kids plenty of times, but it turns out she was right. (Did you hear that mom??) Scientists have influenced the behavior of subatomic particles they’re observing with what’s on their minds – this has been proven over and over again. And lots of successful people also tell of their similar belief – Henry Ford often said, “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Given all of that, it’s by no stretch of the imagination that a group of bikers can influence the weather!!

Perhaps all of us “thinking warm thoughts” can bring about good riding weather…. Maybe it was the greenhouse gasses heating things up…. But then suddenly that song by The Rolling Stones pops into my head:

Maybe it was just the Universe smiling on us…. And we bikers living a Life Behind Bars were glad for it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

How planning ahead can keep you out of trouble (most of the time)

     On October 20th, Harley-Davidson Motor Company (NYSE: HOG) announced that they will be cut 250 jobs and puttingmore money into marketing and product development. This is due to the decrease in new bike sales during the third quarter – down 1.4% worldwide. In the meantime, last week Yamaha unveiled their motorcycle-riding humanoid robot at the Tokyo Motor
Show. “What’s going on here?” you might be asking. I call it planning ahead.
Yamaha's Motobot

     Yes – you read that correctly: there has been a robot invented just to ride motorcycles. Why can’t I get that job?? (Oh ya, that’s why!) Researchers will be able to download information that will help develop advanced rider safety and rider-support systems. The Motobot will have full control over the throttle, braking system, clutch & transmission, as well as steering of an unmodified motorcycle. Still in development, Motobot’s end goal is to take a bike down the track at 124mph.

     Much has been advanced in the name of motorcycle safety thanks to forward thinking companies like Harley-Davidson and Yamaha. Gone are the days of drum rear brakes, no front brake at all, no turn signals (unless you count the rider physically indicating which way they’re turning), turning the fuel on, opening the choke and having to kick-start the motor. Now we have ABS braking systems, electronic fuel injection, electric start and real turn signal indicators. But that didn’t just happen – engineers had a plan and brought it to fruition.

     After all, that’s what we bikers do while riding: Plan Ahead. We plan which roads we’ll take, our vacation time, when to get our bikes serviced, plan ‘pit stops’ on the road, and on and on. Of course there’s no way to plan for everything. Not to mention, you don’t want to over plan either – then the experience just feels to “regimented.” There’s a cardinal rule that was taught to me when I first started riding: while on a motorcycle road trip, never make hotel reservations. The reason being is because you don’t know how the day riding is going to pan out. So it’s best to simply ride the planned route and when you feel like stopping, then find a hotel room where you are. This past summer  I did not follow the cardinal rule, and I paid for it!! I’d planned to do about 8 hours riding – but those 8 hours didn’t include the Massachusetts traffic jams I got stuck in. I ended up with a terrible migraine and HAD to stop – so I paid for the hotel room I wasn’t in (a deal I found online that required prepayment) and the hotel room I did stay in.

     Long story short, it’s still a good idea to keep the “5 P’s” in mind. A military acronym which stands for:

Just be sure to leave yourself a little wiggle room for adjustments!!