The '04 River Run

Laughlin, Nevada

April 21rd to 25th, 2004

Thursday, 4/22/04  


H-D Demos, & The Outlaw Blast


I put in a 26-hour day yesterday, got 2 hours sleep, and got up at 7a.m. with another long day ahead. Somebody, somewhere, turned me on to Red Bull "energy drink" - an Austrian concoction, mostly caffeine and sugars, that tastes like Love Potion No.9. Blehhh - but it works.

First job was putting my XT on charge - an intermittent short in the charging circuit might leave me without a taillight if I don't keep the battery juiced up. And being sleepy-dumb, I forgot to do it.

I rode out at 10:30 to take care of some business. As I was pulling out, I noticed a helicopter hovering over the road nearby. I was headed that way.

It was a TV-news chopper from Channel 8 in Vegas. I looked down the road expecting to see a crash-and-burn or an armed stand-off, but no - it was the ten "Build-Off" bikes, out on the road and headed for Oatman. Cool! I pulled to the side and watched a collection of fine custom iron go by.

Area traffic was still light, with normal travel times. The sky was clear, sun hot, wind picking up - a north wind gusting to 45mph was forecast for the afternoon. I got into Laughlin around noon to see about demo-riding some H-Ds and the Victorys.

The Harley demo fleet was open for business. Appointments are still required for the V-Rods, but everything else was step up and wait. Lines were short, though - 6 to 10 people for 6 or 8 bikes, about a 20-minute wait.

Over in the vendor area, I got an "8-ounce" steak sandwich for $9, and got on line for the Sportsters. I wanted a "Sport" model, but all they had were 1200 Customs - "custom" meaning they were cursed with "forward controls" that force a rider into the flying wheelchair position.

They also had one black 883 and a red Blast waiting.

I took a 1200 Custom out first. By myself - the ride was unchaperoned! Each bike had a sticker warning the rider it was protected by a GPS locator. I suppose Harley is depending on the indubitable maturity of their customers, but I wonder if somebody might think "geocaching" one of these bikes is an irresistable joke.

I got the bike rolling and assumed the wheelchair position, having to visually hunt for the pegs away out there. Red paper arrows marked the test route.

A few blocks down Casino Drive we turned uphill on SR163, a limited-access 4-lane climbing west over the mountains. As soon as I had open road ahead I gave it the gas.

Judging performance on a Harley is pretty subjective, considering what you get from all those inches. The 1200 accelerated strongly up the grade. On a scale of "Adequate - Good - Super", I rate it good.

The way this bike handled was a great big happy surprise. The last Sportster I rode was a miserable old iron-headed dog - it made me understand why Arlen Ness called the Sportster "the paperboy bike", because that's exactly what it felt like - slow, clumsy, and top-heavy.

No more. The 1200 was strong and agile. Fast lane changes left and right at highway speed came off quick without a quiver. I was amazed at the difference between this and the ironhead. They really are investing in improving the product.

But the forward controls gave me one more reason to bitch. That gusty wind was blasting right at us, against the soles of my boots, and actually blowing my feet off the pegs. What a pointless annoying pose.

I hit the brakes hard for the turn onto Needles Highway, expecting the rear wheel to lock as weight shifted forward, but the bike handled that maneuver well also.

The rest of the ride in was on back roads at local speeds. I could feel some vibes from the engine, just enough to know I had a running motorcycle. Another surprise for me was that the suspension was sprung a little on the firm side - but at 180 pounds loaded I'm on the light side in this crowd.

Back at the corral, I got off the 1200 and signed right up for the black 883.

While the both these Sportsters have modern styling, the 883 struck me as an antique - as basic as some old farmer's Model T. I took a liking to it right away. Big points plus - low bars, and pegs near where they belong.

Over the same route, I pulled the same maneuvers. This bike also accelerated strongly uphill. There seemed to be a very slight difference in performance considering the 300cc difference in engine displacement.

The 883 was a hell of a lot more pleasant to ride at highway speed. With better bar-to-seat-to-peg angles I could settle in, lean forward into the wind, and stay comfortable for a day or days.

And though it looked like an antique, it handled as well or better than the 1200 given the same demands.

Gearbox shifting on both these Sportsters was another surprise. Still stout, the gears engage with a loud "SMACK"; but the shifting is clean and slick - it feels like it was made in a modern machine shop instead of some Third World smithy. I'm still amazed.

So - I get off the 883 and right onto the fire-engine red Blast, and take off again, same route. And I was surprised again, but not pleasantly.

In contrast to the two Sportsters, this Blast felt and rattled like tinny junk. The engine sounded good and strong, but I wondered if all was well with its mounts. The thing vibrated like hell all across the lower two-thirds of the rev range, up to at least 4,000 rpm (without a tach, these are educated guesstimates). I hope this isn't typical.

The thing felt feeble climbing the grade into the wind on 163. After I got it in top gear it wouldn't accelerate at all. I compare this to my 100,000-mile '79 XT500, which'll pull right up to its 90-mph redline on a grade like this. I guess the Blast is probably still geared a little too high.

On an easier grade, with the revs up, the bike felt better, but I still had a feeling it wasn't in top trim. I played with it a little, but couldn't put my finger on anything in particular.

Coming downhill into town, I slowed for a left, and saw flashing lights in the mirror. Metro, wishing to confer.

The cop was hot, and not at me. He told me right off he pulled the bike over because the registration was expired - 4 months ago - and that he'd pulled it over the last time it was out, and sent a message back to the corral not to send it out again. But here it was, and he was determined to send it back on a flatbed. Well blow me down.

I stood around beside the road for about 20 minutes looking like a fool with a red-headed stepchild. In due time, I got a ride back in the tow truck. I could've walked it quicker.

I didn't get a word of apology from the fleet crew that let this bike on the road with an expired plate. But, if they can't keep their bikes in order, why should I expect them to be good at anything like customer relations?

It was by now late in the afternoon, so I rode in to get charged and cleaned up for the evening on the town. As it turned out, I didn't get back til 9:30, and caught just a couple of tunes from Michael Burks' band at the Colorado Belle.

Tonight, .38 Special is at the Flamingo; Triple 7 is at the River Palms.

Tomorrow's another day. Oatman, and then the lovely Hawaiian Tropic girls! And some of the best rockin'est blues playing I've ever heard.

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