I was at my local Harley dealer the other day checking out the new 2014 models, Harley has made some excellent improvements. I like the vent on the Electra Glide models as well as the semi-water-cooling on two of the touring bikes. As EPA emissions standards keep getting stricter, I’d guess pretty soon, all the touring bikes will have some type of liquid cooling.
The best thing that they’ve done in my opinion is added the ABS option to the Sportster models. Since the Sportster is marketed to newer riders and since new riders, as well as many riders have problems stopping quickly, the option of ABS on the Sportster will be a life saver.
While I was looking over the bikes, I was approached by a couple who recognized me from my safety spots on YouTube. The husband told me he had recently traded in his wife’s Sportster for a Fat Boy Low. The wife then chimed in with, I don’t feel comfortable on the Fat Boy. She said she did fine on her Sportster but the Fat Boy is so heavy at low speeds, she’s dropped it several times. She said she’s thinking about lowering it a couple of inches and asked if I thought that would help.
It seems I’ve heard this same story dozens of times over the years from men and women that have moved up from a middleweight bike to a heavyweight. In almost every case, the problem is the lack of skill of the riders. With minimal skills, many people can muscle a 550 lb. bike around at low speeds, but, add a couple hundred pounds and suddenly it’s a whole new ball game.
She then added, and I knew this was coming, I’m fine once I get going out on the road but low speeds are a nightmare. As tactfully as I could, I explained to her how riding at 40, 50 or 60mph, the bike stabilizes itself; the rider doesn’t have to worry about balancing the bike at anything above 20mph. I also explained to her that her Fat Boy Low was already as low as the Harley engineers could make it while still maintaining a decent ride and lean angle and that her 5’2″ height was more than enough to handle any size motorcycle as long as she knew the proper techniques. She looked at me in total disbelief.
I then whipped out my handy smart phone and clicked on my Ride Like a Pro, Inc. Facebook page where I had just posted a YouTube video of little 4’10” Victoria Pearce whipping a stock Harley-Davidson Electra Glide through a series of 18′ U-turns, with ease. The woman looked astounded. She called her husband over and said, “Watch this.” She clicked on the video four or five more times.
I then offered to spend a couple of hours with her in a one on one training session. She agreed and two days later she arrived at my training center on her Fat Boy.
I’d like to tell you that I gave her a few tips and one hour later she was maneuvering that bike around like a toy. Unfortunately, real life is nothing like a Hollywood movie. Here’s what actually happened. Before I gave her any tips, I asked her to show me how tight a U-turn she could make. She then proceeded to duck-walk the bike through a 40′ U-turn. I then put her on my Sportster Low training bike and asked her to try the same thing without the duck-walking. On the Sportster, which she had previously said she had no problems with, she performed a 60′ U-turn, all be it without duck-walking the bike. The reason her turn was so wide was first, she had no idea how to use the friction zone of the clutch, the rear brake or her head and eyes.
I really had my work cut out for me. The good news was she was willing to learn. I spent about an hour and a half teaching her how to use the friction zone and rear brake by practicing the slow race in a straight line while keeping her head and eyes up. Within three hours, I got her U-turns down to 30′.
Since the temperatures were in the mid 90’s, fatigue set in and three hours was all she could handle. I told her that if she spent a couple of hours practicing the techniques she learned that day on her own, in a week, she’d be ready to take one of my four hour classes on her Fat Boy.
She returned a week later and both her and her husband took my full Ride Like a Pro advanced class. During that class, my wife Donna and Victoria demonstrated the exercises on their Harley Electra Glides. Watching these women handle these huge bikes with such skill and ease is a great motivator for the students.
How did this woman do at class? I’m happy to report that after a shaky start, by hour two of the class, her light bulb came on and she was able to complete every exercise with almost no error. Her U-turns were down to a respectable 24′, (your average side street), and she had a good handle on the friction zone and rear brake usage.
At the end of the class we have a competition where the riders are timed through an exercise; the rider with the best time and least amount of errors wins a Ride Like a Pro best rider in the class trophy. She didn’t win the trophy but she did beat her husband’s time by a full second. This woman was thrilled with that and her new found skills and she no longer wants to lower her bike. Mission accomplished.
Copyright 2014 Jerry “Motorman” Palladino