Building a 1933 Harley-Davidson VL: Horn Button Upgrade

Harley has made a lot of changes to their motorcycles over the last 100+ years, but in all that time, one thing has stayed the same, the horn button has always been black.  Sure you can get chrome covers for your late model buttons, but for us vintage guys the options have been black, black or black.  So when I saw some custom colored horn buttons on Instagram, I quickly reached to @knucklejunky to see what they were all about.

The Ultimate Harley-Davidson VL Tool Roll

Nowadays it seems like anyone who can sew together waxed cotton or leather is making a motorcycle tool roll.  Don't get me wrong, there are some real works of art being produced to keep your oily tools secured, but on a whole, they are all a bit too large for my application.  Like all the VL models, my '33 came from the factory with a locking metal tool box.  It measures in at just under 8", so finding a tool roll that could fit comfortably inside it was a bit of a challenge.

The Brute: The First Stroker Knucklehead

The story of how the first Harley-Davidson Knucklehead stroker motor was built reminds me of those old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 80’s. Random events would always cause a chocolate bar to land in a jar of peanut butter, resulting in an unexpected and delicious flavor combination. Just like the commercials, random events brought together all the parts to build the first Knucklehead stroker motor and it only took the right person to see how they all went together.

Day 19: End of the Road

In complete disregard for the water shortage, I decided that before we rode the last 60 miles to the coast, my bike was going to be clean.  After nearly 3 weeks on the road and it's tendency to sweat horsepower (i.e. leak oil) there was plenty of grime, bugs and debris that needed to be hosed off.  Once clean, I strapped my camera bag to the luggage rack, poured my last quart of Spectro 50wt oil into the tank and kicked started the bike for the last leg of the trip.

Day 18: California

Before leaving the Days Inn in Carson City, we both made some final adjustments to our bikes.  Now that we are so close to our final destination, it would be foolish to have something like a loose chain or poorly adjusted valves possibly put an end to the ride.  Once both bikes were packed and ready, we rode back into the mountains, making our way to Lake Tahoe.

Day 17: The Loneliest Road in America

Ely, NV turned out to be the wettest place we camped.  This is partially my fault since I forgot to remove my sheepskin seat cover, so of course it rained all night.  Then in the morning we were hit with a heavy fog, which locked in the moisture and kept everything nice and wet.  With the prospect of sitting on a wet sheepskin all morning, I decided the best coarse of action was just to wear my rain pants.  Plus it was still pretty cold and an extra layer seemed like a good idea.

Day 16: Entering Nevada

Day 16 was the start of a two day push across Nevada.  For once we were up early and packed before 9:00, so we used the extra hour to eat breakfast with Trip and his family.  Then it was time to lay down some miles.  Salina was a little more than halfway across Utah, so we still had 160 miles to ride just to reach Nevada.  With a bigger than usual breakfast filling our stomachs, we planned to ride straight to Nevada, waiting to eat lunch until we had crossed into the "Sagebrush State."  Once again we headed west on Route 50 and settled in for a four hour ride across the western half of Utah.

Day 15: Riding in Butch Cassidy's Shadow

When your riding in Utah, it seems like every mile is filled with spectacular scenery.  The shot above was taken alongside I-70 as we made our way west from Moab.  I think I could have spent the entire trip in Utah, stopping at every overlook as I crisscrossed between National Parks.  There was so much to see and I feel like we only just scratched the surface as we shot across the state at 50 mph.

Day 14: Moab

Leaving Mesa Verde behind us, it was only a short ride across the border and into Utah.  If your paying attention, you'll notice that Tim's bike (that's the red one on the right) now has a 2.5 gallon gas can strapped to the back.  We've been warned that there are some 100+ mile stretches between gas stops and with Tim's bike getting 35mpg it seemed prudent to carry some extra fuel.  Tim's range is about 120 miles, but there is no need to take any chances...

Day 13: Mesa Verde

Day 13 wasn't a Friday, but it sounded like it was an unlucky day for some of the local wildlife.  At around 5AM, we were awakened by howls from a pack of coyotes who had just made a kill.  That really came as no surprise as the local deer population was so tame that they just walked in and out of the campsites, oblivious to the campers.  Probably made for easy pickings for the resident carnivores.

Day 12: Durango

Up until now, we have been riding across the country at a fairly good pace when you consider both bikes are 80+ years old.  Although we have made at least one "tourist" stop each day, we have been banking time the last eleven days so that we could spend the next ten days exploring the western part of our great country.  Growing up on the east coast, there is nothing that compares to the natural wonders west of the Rocky Mountains and we want to make sure we have time to see as much of it as possible.

Day 11: Wolf Creek Pass

After watching a perfect sunrise over our campsite, it was time to conquer the Rocky Mountains.  Based on advice from a good friend who lived in Colorado for a few years, we chose to take US Route 160 which is the lowest route through the mountains.  Still, this is the Rockies and the road took us over Wolf Creek Pass which is at an elevation of 10,856 feet!  That thin air meant the bikes were running pretty rich, but a few clicks of the high speed needle cut out most of the backfiring...

Day 10: Bent's Old Fort

It took us nine days of riding, but now we are truly "out west".  After today's ride we will reach our biggest challenge yet, the Rocky Mountains which makes the mountains back home look like mere hills.  Even taking a route that keeps us at lower elevations, we are still going to be climbing over 10,000' to make it over some of the passes.  The bikes have been running great so far, so I just hope it continues as we head up the mountains.

Day 9: Dodge City

After seven days of camping, sleeping in a real bed was something of a novelty.  I had forgotten what it was like to sleep through the night without a single rock or stick poking into my back.  George cooked up an excellent breakfast once everyone was filling out of bed and it didn't take much to convince him to be our personal guide for the rest of our time in Kansas.  His 1968 Shovelhead is a little modern, but he rode slow and didn't show off his electric starter too may times.

Day 8: Rest and Repairs

Growing up on the coast, I knew that there was an unwritten rule among fisherman that no time was too early to fish.  I now know that this is not a regional mindset, but something shared by fisherman across the country.  About 4 AM, the boats started cranking up and heading out across Lake El Dorado.  What was different about the fish here in Kansas was that they must be attracted to 60's music as the boat anchored closest to our tent was blaring Led Zeppelin.  I must be getting old, because I found I had no appreciation for rock & roll that time of the morning.  Apparently the fish didn't either and the boat soon moved on.

Day 7: Big Brutus

On our way out of Springfield, we were able to spend a short time on the famous Route 66.  Now I can finally say that I've ridden "the Mother Road".  I just won't mention that my total mileage was somewhere in the 10 mile range.  After exiting off of Route 66, it was a short ride to the Kansas border.  Before leaving Missouri we did find out why they are not the birthplace of aviation...

Day 6: Big Spring Missouri

Thankfully I woke up feeling a lot better than when I went to sleep.  Lambert's Cafe gave my stomach a good beating, but I bounced back surprisingly well and was ready for another day in the saddle.  We weren't expecting to do much sightseeing as we crossed Missouri, so the plan was just to hit the highway and put down some miles.  That all changed by lunchtime, when we stumbled across a historic marker in Van Buren, MO.

Day 5: Mostly Maintenance

One of the many things that makes riding a vintage motorcycle different than a newer model is the maintenance.  While you guys/gals on new bikes might go a whole riding season without making a single adjustment, my '33 Harley needs to be attended to on a daily basis.  The good news is that the maintenance is pretty basic.  You can essentially break down most of the tasks into one of two categories:  the first being lubrication and the second being mechanical adjustments.  That adds up to one saddlebag filled with hand tools and the other filled with various lubricants.

Day 4: Corvettes and Trains

After a good nights sleep in Russell Springs, we headed west across southern Kentucky.  Two hours later we reached Bowling Springs, needing gas and a bite to eat.  As we rolled into town we passed a sign for the National Corvette Museum and after some frantic hand gesturing, the decision was made to pull in for a tour.