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Last year when I was preparing to ride across the US, I decided it was time to check out the ...


Last year when I was preparing to ride across the US, I decided it was time to check out the current line up of motorbike helmets and order something to replace my aging Suomy helmet.  I had gotten stuck with the Suomy when my brand new Shoei was stolen in the parking lot of a Ducati dealership while on a trip to the mountains.  Forced to buy a replacement on the spot, my choices were either spending $100 on a Suomy or $600+ on an Arai.  Not wanting to skip meals and sleep outside for the rest of the trip,  I plopped down $100 bucks, grabbed the Suomy and hit the road.

Vents at located at the chin and on top of the head allow the rider to control airflow through the helmet.
Before that mishap, I had owned a Schuberth modular helmet, which I really liked until it got run over in a parking lot (me, parking lots and helmets don't seem to mix) and decided to give their S2 model a try.  It was supposed to be light, quiet and aerodynamic, which sounded like the perfect mix for riding across the country without a windshield.

Warm air exits through large rear vents, providing plenty of flow and keeping your head cool.
The outer shell of the S2 is made of a proprietary glass fiber and resin composite that is formed under high pressure vacuum, providing superior strength and lower weight.  The interior shell uses multi-zone foaming (whatever that means) to provide optimal shock absorption and distribution.  Covering the EPS foam interior is a removable and washable liner made using a combination of COOLMAX and Thermocool fabrics.  The inner liner also has retroreflective material around the neck to provide increased visibility at night.  Overall, I'd say the construction is top notch and most importantly passes both DOT and ECE 22.05 safety standards.  The low weight was definitely a plus because even after a day of riding I never rolled into camp with a sore neck.

The drop down sun screen will instantly have you humming the theme song to "Top Gun".
Aerodynamically, the helmet has been designed for motorcycles in which the rider is in more of an upright position.  Wind tunnel testing shows that the helmet has virtually no upward lift at both low and high speeds.  In practice this means that there is little buffeting when riding without the protection of a fairing or a windshield.  Although most of my riding is not what you would call high speeds (averaged about 50 mph crossing the US), I can say that I had no issues with the S2 buffeting in any wind or traffic conditions.

The Pinlock system works just like a double paned glass window, using a layer of air to keep the inside surface of the visor from fogging up.
Schuberth is also very proud of how quiet the S2 is at speed.  Their tests show only 85dB at 100 km per hour on a naked motorcycle, which "sounds" really good.  In reality, I found the S2 to be no quieter than my cheap Suomy and often times found it difficult to listen to music while riding (via earbuds) when on the highway.  I have read that the addition of their communication system remedies this as it adds additional wind protection around the neck.  Unfortunately that system sells for close to the price I paid for the helmet, so I will probably just stick with cheap disposable ear plugs.

The chin strap is easily removed by pulling down on the red fabric tab located just after the Schuberth logo a on the locking mechanism.
Some of the other nice features are the Pinlock  visor which eliminates interior fogging. Something I really appreciate anytime I am caught in the rain or on a cool morning.  It also has an integrated sun visor which slides in front of yours eyes using an easy to operate lever on the side of the helmet.  This is nice because you don't have to bother with wearing sunglasses under your helmet or switching between clear and dark visors.  Probably my favorite feature is the chin strap.  Instead of your standard D-rings, the S2 uses a micro-lock ratchet lock.  It operates similar to a car seat belt and is easy on and off, even with gloves.

The S2 has been out for a few years, but the good news is you can often find it at much lower prices than its original retail price from online suppliers like www.motoblouz.co.uk.  It might not be the quietest helmet I've ever tried, but if you are looking for comfort and safety, then you can't go wrong with the Schuberth S2.  After a year of constant use, I'd wouldn't hesitate to buy another one, but this one has held up so well I hope to get another couple seasons out of it at least.

Buzz Kanter's 1929 JDH.  Photo by American Iron Magazine . Nowadays the thought of ri...

Buzz Kanter's 1929 JDH.  Photo by American Iron Magazine.

Nowadays the thought of riding a motorcycle in the winter months has almost become completely unheard of, especially among vintage riders.  Most of us are lucky enough to have other forms of transportation and can safely leave our motorcycles in a warm garage all winter.  This certainly wasn't always the case and a quick web search will yield hundreds of old photos of vintage motorcycles being ridden in all sorts of inclement weather.  So for those that want to keep riding all year long, our old motorcycles are definitely up to the challenge with the proper preparation.  Here's a few things to consider this fall to make sure your vintage machine is ready to hit the snow and ice this winter.

1. Service Your Braking System

Antique motorcycles already suffer from poor braking, so riding in wet conditions caused by snow or slush does nothing to improve their performance.  Unfortunately, checking your braking system can be a bit of a hassle since it usually requires removing the wheel to see what's going on inside the brake drum.  Check your brake shoes for even wear and replace or reshape them as necessary.  Also make sure to properly adjust and lubricate any linkages/cables to get as much slop out of the system as possible.  While adjusting your linkages, keep an eye out for any excessive wear to bushings, clevis' and cotter pins.

Once you get the brake apart, check the shoes for even wear and overall thickness.

2. Invest in Studded Tires

If you are going to be riding in really extreme conditions, its probably worth considering mounting a set of studded tires on your motorcycle.  Most US States permit their use but you should verify make sure that your state is one of them.  Tire studs can be installed in most tires with just the use of an cordless drill and a couple hours of time.   
Tire studs come in a variety of sizes, make sure to get the right length so you don't damage your tires.

3. Upgrade Your Lights

The daylight hours are considerably shorter in winter and if you are going to ride you can be sure you are going to end up having to do so at night.  6 volt electronics don't always make for the brightest lights, but luckily with the advent of LED technology there are some new options for low power lighting that makes riding at night tolerable.  Also keep in mind that it just as important that other drivers see you, so upgrading your tail light to a brighter LED bulb is also a good idea.

The warm glow of a 6 volt headlight might be fine in town, but on a dark winter's night the added brightness of an LED bulb makes a big difference.

4. Protect Your Electronics

Riding for hours in wet conditions can be detrimental to even the most basic electrical system.  Make sure all your connections are tight and add a little dielectric grease to your connections to help keep the moisture out. 

A little dielectric grease on your electrical connections will help keep them dry and corrosion free.

5. Rust Prevention

A major issue with riding in the winter is the amount of road salt that will work it's way into every part of your motorcycle.  Luckily my old motorcycles have a nice protective layer of oil on most of their parts, but for those rare clean areas a liberal coating of WD-40 helps to fight off the corrosion.  I recommend a thorough rinse after each ride on salty roads followed by wiping down and/or spraying with WD-40.

The "WD" stands for "Water Displacement", use liberally on metal parts after a thorough rinse.

6. Have a Jump Starter Ready

Motorcycle batteries are significantly smaller than the ones on cars so they are more likely to die when left out in cold weather.  However most antique engines do not need that much power to start (especially if your motorcycle is kick only) which means a small jump starter will work wonders. To be more specific, there is an entire range of jump starters / power banks that you can use to power your phone, your laptop and in an emergency jump start a car. You may or may not believe that they are strong enough to jump start a car, but they have certainly more than enough power to jump start a motorcycle, so have one ready.  Reviews Academy recommends the PowerAll model, but honestly, any portable jump starter will do.  Just make sure you get a jump starter with the appropriate voltage for you motorcycle or adjust the voltage with an inline voltage reducer.

A small jump starter will easily fit in your saddlebag, just make sure to charge it first.

7. Grease, Grease, Grease

The best way to keep salt, water, sand, etc out of your external moving parts is with the application of a good quality grease.  Currently I am using a marine grade grease from Mercury on my 1933 VL which is heavy weight and resistant to salt water.  There are over 20 grease fittings on a VL, so make sure to take your time and hit every one with some grease.

A high quality grease will help cut down on corrosion and keep your moving parts working smoothly.

These tips should put you on the right track to getting your motorcycle ready to log some miles over the winter.  Just as you've spent extra time preparing your machine, make sure to spend some time going over your riding gear.  Warm hands and dry feet go a long ways in making winter riding a pleasant experience...

Now that you are ready to ride all winter, maybe you should plan for some winter camping too...

Harley has made a lot of changes to their motorcycles over the last 100+ years, but in all that...

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.

My initial assumption was that he had probably designed a mold and was casting them out of some type of plastic.  This was not the case at all as he quickly explained that he was actually making each one by hand.  The starting material is a casino poker chip (which explains that swirl pattern) and using a lathe, he shapes the poker chip into the profile of a horn button.  The result is a great looking durable button that still has me scratching my head as to how exactly he is able to make these in a standard lathe.

Installation of the button takes about 10 minutes and requires two flathead screwdrivers.  To start, remove the two screws holding your horn button assembly to the handlebars.  Hopefully you left enough slack in your wiring harness to allow you access to the back for the assembly...
Look carefully and you will see that there are two slots cut into the sides of the horn button assembly.  These hold a piece of copper sheet metal which keeps the horn's internals together.
Using a small screwdriver, gently pry one of the tabs on the copper bracket out of the slot.  Make sure you don't bend the bracket since replacing it requires rewiring the horn button.
Now the horn button's internals can be completely disassembled and the original black button can be removed.
Drop the new button into the horn button assembly (it only fits in one way).
The upper brass contact comes next.  Note that it is designed to fit inside the spring, so it does matter which side you leave facing up.
When installed correctly, the spring will slip over the brass contact.
Push in the lower contact and reinstall the copper bracket to hold everything together.  At this point you will be tempted to test your new button and will be disappointed when it doesn't work.  Keep in mind that the horn button will not work unless the assembly is grounded (typically through the handlebars), so be patient and wait until you have completed the installation before testing.
Lastly make sure to carefully push the excess wire back into the handlebar and reinstall the two screws.
@knucklejunkey makes buttons in four different colors (red, yellow, green and blue) so finding one that looks good with your paint scheme should not be an issue.  If your not on Instagram, you can reach him via email at o.blainville@free.fr.

Nowadays it seems like anyone who can sew together waxed cotton or leather is making a motorcycl...


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.

After about an hour of searching the internet for a "miniature" motorcycle tool roll, I stumbled across an upcycled US Military M13 spare parts roll on Etsy.
Being a guy that rides a motorcycle that constantly drips oil on the ground (by design, mind you), you can probably guess that upcycling is not at the top of my priority list, but maybe this will buy me some carbon credits...

I purchased the tool roll from a company called New Leaf Fabrications which specializes in upcycling military surplus.  For this particular piece, the internal pouches have been restitched to allow for longer tools to be inserted and the canvas has been rewaxed with their "home brew" canvas wax.
Looking at the picture above, you can see that it holds quite a few tools (I've pulled them out so you can see them better).

Here's a list of the contents:
feeler gauge
misc. screwdriver bits
complete set of stubby wrenches
complete set of midget wrenches
spare ignition keys
master link
contact file

New Leaf Fabrications also added a piece of paracord which turned out to make a great pull cord for removing it from the tool box.
When rolled up, the shape is not perfectly round, but actually closer to the pear shape of the tool box.  This makes for a snug fit, but not so tight that you have trouble removing it.
Over the course of my cross country ride, that tool roll was pulled in and out of my tool box dozens of times.  It contained our only complete set of wrenches, so when either motorcycle needed an adjustment, out came the tool roll.

Besides a little blue Rustoleum and a grease stain or two, the tool roll looks just as good as the day I got it.  The snug fit not only kept the tools from rattling for 3600 miles, but also kept the canvas from wearing or fraying.  Remember this is a military surplus tool roll, so the quality is exactly what you would expect from military field grade equipment.

If you've got a VL out in your garage, you need this tool roll.  Supplies are limited, so check out New Leaf Fabrications while they still have some available.

The story of how the first Harley-Davidson Knucklehead stroker motor was built reminds me of tho...

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.

In case your not sure what a "stroker" motor is, let me get you up to speed.  When you are building a “high performance” Harley-Davidson engine, or any engine for that matter, there are two standard methods for increasing displacement and in turn increasing horsepower and torque. The first is to bore out the cylinders and fit larger pistons. This approach is commonly used to convert an 883 Sportster into a 1200 Sportster and produces good results at a relatively low cost. For those that really want to hot rod their engine and are willing to invest a bit more time and money, lengthening the stroke is a second option for adding more displacement. “Stroking” an engine is a much more extensive modification requiring complete disassembly of the cases and the installation of different flywheels and connecting rods.
That may seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but there are some key advantages to stroking vs boring. The longer stroke increases leverage on the pistons which results in more torque. Also, a stroked motor will typically produce more horsepower than an engine of the same displacement with a larger bore. So if you converted your 74” motor to an 80” motor by stroking, you would have more horsepower than if you bored your 74” cylinders to reach the same 80”displacement.

That all sounds pretty good, but with any performance modification there are always some downsides. The extra stroke length means that your piston has to travel a longer distance when moving up and down inside the cylinder. This distance has to be covered in the same amount of time as in a stock engine, so your piston speed goes up as does the amount of wear and tear on your engine. The increased piston speed can also be problematic if you want to run at high RPMs for sustained periods. This can lead to catastrophic engine failures when the piston reaches a velocity at which it can no longer maintain its structural integrity. Still the stroker motor has proved to be a viable powerplant and for applications like street riding and drag racing, it has been a popular modification since the first stroker motor was built in the late 1940’s.
According to a first-hand account from Gil Armas, who helped build the motor, it all came together one afternoon in his shop. Gil was tearing down the 80” engine from his Big Twin Flathead when his buddy C.B. Clausen happened to stop by. While Gil was taking apart the Flathead, C.B. was on the other side of the shop looking at Gil’s Knucklehead engine which was laying in pieces on the bench. After eyeing the parts for a while, C.B. went over to Gil and picked up the flywheels from the Flathead engine. A quick check with a ruler confirmed that they would fit inside the Knucklehead cases, so C.B. started putting the Knucklehead back together using the larger Flathead components.
Everything was going fine until he fitted the engine with 61” cylinders. The increased stroke of the Flathead flywheels caused the pistons to stick out past the top of the cylinders. Unphased, C.B. grabbed a set of 74” cylinders and everything lined up perfectly. The piston skirts had to be modified slightly to clear the flywheels and with that the stroker motor was born.

Looking back, this seems like it would be pretty obvious to most motor builders, but you have to keep in mind that the Flathead and Knucklehead engines are two very different motors. Flatheads use a side valve configuration which houses the valves inside the cylinder casting, beside and parallel with the piston. The Knucklehead uses overhead valves mounted in the cylinder head, just like most modern motorcycles. These large differences must have been what kept others from attempting this parts swap.

Now here is where the story really gets interesting, fast forward a few years to the early 1950’s. C.B. Clausen and his stroker motor had been making a name for themselves on the drag strip and the salt flats. C.B. nicknamed the machine “The Brute” and pilot Louis Castro raced it in a variety of configurations including a full streamliner. Cycle Magazine got wind of this machine and decided it would be a great promotional stunt to drag race The Brute against a US Air Force Lockheed T-33 jet.

The race was held in Los Angeles, CA on April 12, 1952. Taxiing across the runway, the jet was able to complete a ¼ mile run in 11 seconds. The Brute made the same pass, but beat the jet, running the ¼ mile in 9.4 seconds and reaching a speed of 132.81 MPH. Not to be outdone, the Air Force brought out a P-51 Mustang. This time the plane was airborne, but The Brute was able to beat the Mustang by 4 plane lengths on a ½ mile course.
The success of the stroker motor led to the production of custom made stroker flywheels, which you can still buy today. Now you can easily stroke almost any Harley-Davidson engine, from a 1915 J to a 1999 Evolution using stroker flywheels kits available from Truett & Osborne. Something to consider the next time you have to rebuild your old Harley. Who wouldn’t want to have a Harley that was faster than a jet…

In complete disregard for the water shortage, I decided that before we rode the last 60 miles to...

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.

The ride to San Francisco was relatively painless.  We headed out late morning, so we missed the morning commute traffic and rolled right up to an overlook across from the Golden Gate Bridge.  Construction on the bridge actually started the same year my bike was built, but Harley was able to finish their build within the year, while the bridge didn't open for another four.  After clearing off the tourists, we got down to the business of a proper photo shoot.  I'm sure there were some disgruntled folks who wanted to shoot selfies with the bridge, but after riding across the country I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to capture the end of our ride.
Photos at the Golden Gate were nice, but we were doing a coast to coast ride and had to reach the beach to complete the trip.  So we headed south down the Pacific Coast Highway and pulled off at a public beach access.  We took some more photos, but more importantly we gained bragging rights for a true coast to coast ride on 80+ year old motorcycles.

We had some help making our way through San Francisco from another flathead rider whose sweet 40's bobber made me rethink having a modern engine with recirculating oil.
After leaving the beach around 2:00, I figured it would be an easy ride back to Joe's house.  Well I couldn't have been more wrong.  As soon as we got into town, traffic was bumper to bumper.  There was no way we were going to let our flatheads burn up in traffic, so with Joe in the lead on his Ultra, we started splitting lanes.  For the uninitiated, lane splitting seems to border on insanity even with a new bike.  Adding to the excitement, we were riding bikes with poor brakes, foot clutches and hand shifters.  That's a lot to coordinate while squeezing between cars!  The traffic was relentless and really never let up until we reached Joe's house.  By the time we pulled into the garage, both me and the bike were ready for a well deserved break.

As I look back over the last three weeks, I'd like to tell you about all the times things went wrong and we just got by holding things together with duct tape and bailing wire, but it turns out we never had any issues with either bike.  Sure there is a little luck involved with a problem free ride across the country on antique motorcycles, but I like to think it was the intense preparation and careful attention to daily maintenance which kept us running smoothly for over 3600 miles.  One thing for sure, these old bikes can still be viable forms of transportation and with time and dedication just about anyone can learn how to keep them running.
The round trip from Joe's house to San Francisco logged another 115 miles on the old GPS, putting the total mileage for the trip at 3649.5 miles.

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