Chopper Charlie: Frozen Toes and Greasy Fingers

Article By: Charlie Weisel

Originally Published In The January 2020 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Snow globes, Christmas trees, stocking stuffers, and turkey. These are the things most typical Americans are thinking about this time of year. But we aren’t typical. Instead, we are using this winter season as an opportunity to rebuild or reinvent our motorcycles. Getting our hands covered in grease instead of tinsel. Scraping black grime out from under our fingernails instead of cupcake frosting. Shopping for pistons instead of ornaments. I’ve been seeing it all over social media. Bikes coming apart for paint, new wheels, a frame chop or whatever it is the owner feels it needs to make it more presentable for the upcoming new year. This is rebuild season, and it’s going to be a big one for me this year. My motor is clapped out, again. My Baker 6 speed t r a n s m i s s i o n sucks just as much now as it did when it was brand new. My wiring situation is beyond embarrassing after years and years of roadside repairs. I did recently replace my neck bearings, though, so at least I’ve got that going for me. Each year it seems we all struggle to keep these bikes alive, and I have to wonder why we do it. So many others would simply park it and replace it. The American way. The minute something fails simply throw it away and buy new. A shiny new black Street Glide would grace the garage after the first minor mechanical hiccup. Not us though, we insist on forcing these machines down the road regardless of how hard they fight back. Weather that makes us resourceful, patient, or dumb, I do not know for sure, but it’s what we do.

This is an internal battle I’ve been having with myself recently. Is it time to retire the tired old girl and start fresh? Or do I continue to repair, replace, repeat? The truth is, I will likely rebuild her again this year and continue to pack on the miles. In fact, there’s a plan coming together that will involve packing on a whole lot of miles in some rather unforgiving environments, but more about that in the future. I’m sentimental about things, that’s why I’m refusing to give up on my chopper at the moment. Plus, I love when a rider develops a history with a motorcycle. That history and the stories that come with it only come with keeping it on the road at almost any cost. The real question though is this- does a bike ever have to be retired, or can it literally be repaired and ridden forever? I’m inclined to lean towards the latter, I really don’t think a bike ever has to be retired. The argument for the former, of course, is that with age comes more repairs. Yes, that can be true. But, how many of you have purchased a motorcycle to immediately find yourself chasing a gremlin? Most of you, if I had to guess. So, here is where my argument comes in. If you hang on to a motorcycle for more than a couple of years you will eventually work out all the kinks. From that point on, you will be riding a bike that is relatively trouble-free, aside from the inevitable mechanical failure of parts we can’t do anything about. I’m referring to things such as charging systems, ignition modules, batteries, and the such. These things will fail whenever they decide to. There’s nothing we can do about it. So why then, ever replace a motorcycle?

For me, it’ll be when I’m sick of looking at it, I guess. When I’m simply in the mood for something new and exciting. I doubt I’ll ever sell it though; some sucker would have to hand me $250,000 for me to simply break even at this point. I could buy a house with the amount of money I’ve dumped into that thing over the years. I don’t hate her for it though. So, what’s my plan for this winter, you ask? It is this: I hope to ride out on it in December for the David Mann Chopperfest in California and then again in February for the Cycle Showcase show in St. Louis. Both of these are contingent on the weather of course, but I will make it to St. Louis one way or another. I’ve been asked to show my bike there, which I feel both humbled and excited by. My buddy Steve and I had discussed a frozen snot ride to Milwaukee in February, so hopefully I can talk him into St. Louis instead. I know, crossing the Great Plains in February holds the very strong likelihood of becoming a ball buster of a ride, possibly even losing a digit or two to frostbite, but I’m always up for a good challenge. How many fingers and toes does a guy really need anyway? My friend Mark only has 8 fingers, and he gets by just fine. After our last ride to Milwaukee, over Labor Day weekend, which coincidentally was Steve’s first Great Plains crossing on a motorcycle, he started to think twice but our February plans. I think he had underestimated the sheer size and openness of that part of the country. Miles and miles of exposed, windy and frigid landscape. No place to hide.

There is nothing glamorous about a ride like that, it is purely for the personal challenge. At some point between these, or after, I haven’t quite decided, I will rebuild the motor, tackle a complete rewire, and continue to curse my choice of transmission. In regard to my motor, it will be a build similar to the previous. It is currently a 95”, up from the original 88” it started life as and will stay that way unless a cylinder boring is necessary. I’ve never thought that bigger is better when it comes to motors, I’m definitely more concerned with durability above all. Plus, there’s only so far you can bore these things out until you have to replace them. Like I said earlier, I’m sentimental and want to preserve the originality of the motor as much as possible. Long story short, I’m not entirely positive what this winter will look like for me. Possibly a couple of long rides, probably some major bike repair and definitely a lot of cursing the cold weather. Regardless, I’ll make the best of it and hope that you all do too! To follow along in real-time, you can follow me on Instagram @charlietravelingchopper

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