Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Cars in the City

Throttle therapy


Summer means spending time outdoors, and what better way to experience fresh air than with an open-air ride? As such, this month’s column doesn’t feature a car at all but rather a two-wheeled thrilling ride on a 2024 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. (Note: This was a RIDE and not a test drive, as my only motorcycle experience was driving a dirt bike in the late 1970s in a grassy pasture.) I recruited Gary Bland as my driver. Gary owned a Kawasaki 440 for 20 years and drove a Harley a few times since then.

Founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903, William Harley and Walter Davidson designed an engine to fit on a two-wheeled bicycle. Harley-Davidson has weathered company ups and downs for more than a century.

Today, Harley-Davidson offers 24 different models split into different categories: Cruisers, Sport, Grand American Touring, Adventure Tour and Trike. Their best-seller of all time is the Sportster, an icon in the motorcycle world.

During Harley-Davidson’s demo days, riders could choose from a dozen or so models. Our criteria? Find the easiest one to handle that had a passenger back rest.

The Fat Boy weighs in at 699 pounds, as opposed to a touring bike, which tops out at 1,000 pounds. Weight matters, as a driver requires strength to maneuver and keep the bike upright. 

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The Fat Boy debuted in 1990, getting its name from how wide it looked when viewed from the front. The iconic shiny chrome-and-black finish fit the description of an ultimate Harley. The base model rang in at $22,349. The Milwaukee Eight 114 engine with 1,868 cubic capacity was a bump up from Gary’s Kawasaki. 

Gary, who is average height, liked how it sat low to the ground and wasn’t heavy when standing upright. The passenger’s seat seemed tiny with about a 4-inch by 6-inch padded backrest. However, it wasn’t that uncomfortable, as I’m used to an even smaller seat on my bicycle.

A line of motorcycles was ahead of us during the demo to test-ride the bikes. When the leader signaled, acceleration was quick. As we approached the open road, I began humming Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” at least until the stoplights slowed us down. That’s when riders test their motorcycle skills by balancing at low speeds.

From a passenger’s perspective, the ride isn’t designed for total comfort; it’s designed for adventure. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous as the heat from the exhaust reminded me how hot — literally and figuratively — the ride might be.

For the driver, the wide-leg stance was taxing on the thighs. Maybe it was the squats performed earlier in the gym, but, at stoplights, Gary stood up to prevent cramping in his hips. It’s definitely a workout. Experts say motorcyclists burn more calories riding than driving an SUV around town.

From the driver’s view, the small windshield blocked some wind, and the handlebar was low enough. Each time Gary took off, I braced myself, but we ended up knocking helmets against one another anyway. 

As the motorcycle group finally broke away from the endless stoplights, the road begged for Gary to speed up.

People might question, why a motorcycle? Some attribute it to “throttle therapy” when a rider takes to the road and all the problems temporarily disappear under the familiar rumble of Harley’s trademark engine and shotgun exhaust.

Harley-Davidson has come a long way since its humble beginnings, reinventing itself with updated technology. Mention a Harley, and folks instantly recognize that unmistakable rumble — which still remains 121 years later. ♦

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