Chaos at REI, heated riding gear, and the Mistress comes back to her castle

Yesterday, being Saturday and all, started out like any winter weekend…cold, balmy, and sort of depressing.  I had gotten up early to attend REI’s semi-annual garage sale and braved the low temperatures with the many other “deal finders” that stood in line outside the giant outdoors retailer.  Why is that the average consumer visiting this store still looks like they are in high school?  Another sign that I am getting older I guess.  The average age had to be around 21; with those representing at least three decades of life or more being in the very slim percentage.

Anyways, the doors opened after we all heard one of the store’s customer service attendants give us all the speech about the proper way one should conduct their selves in a 90% off free-for-all.  Of course, as to be expected with so overly caffeinated younger crowd, the scene fell into sheer chaos.  People running all over, trying to find tables of freshly returned merchandise.  Buyers of consumables stuffing their carts without looking at merchandise, only to wheel them to corners of the store where they could evaluate their grabs before deciding what to return back to the tables.

Quickly identifying that nothing that had been previously returned interested me, I made my way to the regular clearance tents which were at least 30% off.  Nobody else crowded my space, and I easily found a tent that I had been researching for weeks previously…the REI Quarter Dome T2 Plus.  Very highly rated, it’s 3 pounds less than my current Eureka Apex 3XT and more importantly, compacts from 10×24 of the old tent to about 7×17, saving much space.  And, maybe even more importantly…instead of being bright orange that could be spotted from space, it’s a more subtle green and gray…so maybe the bears won’t find me as easily.  Into the cart it went.  Now I’ll just have to keep watching REI and eBay for the associated footprint, since those are on clearance too and hard to find.  Worse comes to worse, I’ll buy a tarp and cut it to size to work.

Got back home, infused myself with a few cups of hot coffee, and proceeded over to Mitch’s garage to finish doing some work on the Mistress.  Didn’t take a camera with me yesterday, so no pictures today.  The fairing went back on so the motorcycle actually looked like a ride-able piece of machinery again.  The following two hours was spent doing a complete fluids change…oil, transmission, primary.  It takes time, since you want the fluids to drain as much as possible before adding new fluids.  While the bike dripped out the old stuff, I proceeded to do some electrical work.  Mitch loves to weld and work with steel, so he alternated checking in with me and offering a hand where needed, and crafting up a new creation he’s been working on.

For years, I have put off buying heated riding gear for the motorcycle.  I enjoy riding all year round, as long as there is no snow or ice on the asphalt.  Cold temps never bothered me in years past, as I would simply layer up and proceed out into the cold dressed like the Michelin made with an outer layer of leather on.  This year, I reached my “wall” regarding cold weather riding.  The ride Mitch, LJ, and myself had done several weeks ago (pic on this blog) was done in the twenties…and all of us were frozen when we got back.  Especially our hands.  At that point, I decided to wimp out and just get the comfort items I needed to get.  So, I bought heated gear.

Probably the best heated gear on the market right now is made from a little known, but very quickly growing company, called Warm&Safe.  They actually made gear for a more well-known company called Firstgear.  The quality of their products (Warm&Safe) actually has surpassed that of a more famous heated gear company, Gerbings (at least in my own opinion).  The ride to bring the Mistress home was about fifty minutes in length, in 40-something degree weather.  A perfect opportunity to try out the new gear.  And it worked.  Very well.

So, I am now a convert to the usage of heated gear.  It works so well, there’s no reason to wear anything but a base layer of clothes, the liner, and my main riding leather jacket.  And the hands were very toasty.  So if you are on the fence over getting some heated gear, get it.  Should have done this years ago.

The Mistress is now in her own garage, where she should be.  Today’s order of business is a garage cleaning, as it has become a catch-all over the last several months.  Once things are back in order, I will take off the front fairing and start doing some in-depth electrical work on the Ultra.  A good way to blow a cold Sunday…at least until football comes on this afternoon.

Another milestone is reached…major work is D-O-N-E!

Been a busy week, with two visits in the past seven days over to see my far-way, but not forgotten, Mistress.  She’s been up in the air, wheels off the pavement, waiting for her Master to come back and continue with her much needed upgrades.

The first visit was in the now-to-be expected temperature range of about twenty degrees.  The salamander propane heater got a workout this day, as the degrees on the outside thermostat continued to drop as the work continued on.  In fact, the heater was up so high, we again ran out of heat in the middle of a task.  We braved on, disregarding the slow numbing of our hands and faces as we worked.

The old tire was frozen on…blast with heat, he says…
The spoons came out, and we pulled on the tire and fought it off the rim.  It was much easier than the back tire we had done several weeks ago, but still worked up enough sweat to realize we aren’t eighteen years old anymore.
New tire getting prepped to go back onto the wheel
Once more, the spoons were used to coerce the rubber back onto the steel.  While again easier than the back wheel, the cold wasn’t helping and we fought it long enough to warrant a hot chocolate break as the prize for our success.
Four spoons at the bottom, two rim protectors on the left side

Old-school tire installs with plastic protectors and steel spoons are for those that are seeking some physical misery in their lives.  Of course, the accomplishment of “beating” the change-out by doing it with no mechanical equipment does leave one feeling a little prideful.  So yes, the torn up knuckles, the expense of valuable energy for long periods of time, and the grunting and cussing were all worth it.  Everybody should have to do this once; it makes you appreciate how invented technology has made our lives so much easier!

The bike got new wheel bearings, a manual balance (which actually was very easy, as it required just a couple of wheel weights), and both sets of front brake pads replaced.  The pads went on last night, where the temperatures were more tolerable at around 45 degrees and settling down to around 35 by the time we finished for the evening.



With everything re-installed the bike now has all its major upgrades finished!  A lot of hours went into this with Mitch and I slowly but confidently ensuring that every single step was properly completed.  The local independent motorcycle shops charge $60-75 an hour, and the local Harley dealerships charge anywhere from $75-100 an hour for upgrade work such as we have done.  By doing it ourselves, I was able to save well over a grand, I know it got done right and everything is torqued down to manufacturer’s specs (something the dealership neglects to do many times), and I can boast that I helped do the actual work.
All back together, minus outer fairing and seat.  And no longer on a lift!
So, what’s left to do before the bike is completely done and back together?  Well, now I enter my realm of knowledge…electronics, audio, and vehicle networks of wires, capacitors, and voltage readings.
  • CB radio is not working correctly, so that’s going to get some dedicated diagnosing time
  • The audio system was upgraded a few years ago, and it’s time to re-do the connectors, speaker wire, and do some maintenance on the amplifiers that power it all.  That’s at least 4 hours work in itself.
  • The Garmin Zumo 660 I picked up for nearly a steal needs a affixed permanent home on the bike so that needs to be determined and installed.
  • The above require the gas tank get removed so the wires can be hidden underneath.  While doing such, I’m moving previously ran wires at the same time to also become more hidden.
  • The connection to the battery for the heated gear needs to be installed.  Probably the easiest thing to do, the wiring will be reachable under the seat, but hidden when not in use.
  • All the fluids get changed in all three holes. Oil, transmission, primary.
  • Other maintenance things, like new spark plugs and oil filter, will find a home on the upgraded Harley.
With Christmas coming, family appearing at the door soon, and just needing to take a break, we decided to shelve the work for around a week or so and recuperate a little.  I have a big smile on my face realizing what I have learned tearing apart the front and rear of the Ultra, and cannot thank my buddy Mitch enough for his patience and guidance.
So, happy holidays to all.  I’ll be back here soon.

Under 6 months to go

Just realized looking at the calendar today that I’m under six months until departure for Alaska.  The older you get, the faster time flies by.  It seems like just yesterday that I had made the determination to try to accomplish my bucket list item of making it to the Arctic Circle…on the wheels of a Harley.  The past three months have been a whirlwind of changes, and so much is now different than where life was in the fall.  Time for an internal status check of how things are going.

Motorcycle upgrades

Actually pretty close to being done with the major things.  I met with Mitch over the weekend, and we were able to get the front tire changed out and the new bearings installed..  Just need to get the tire re-installed along with the fender, and swap out brake pads for new ones.  The hardest work is finished, and now I’ll be moving into taking care of a number of smaller headache problems I have had over the past year (CB frequently cutting out, amp fuse problems, etc.)  Also need to install some permanent wiring, both for my new heated gear (details to come later) and the Garmin Zumo 660 connection to the battery.

Needed gear for trip

Other than a Delorme inReach SE and its required annual plan, I have everything I need for the trip now.  I am in the process of doing another round of evaluating on my gear that I will take, and triple checking the checklists that I have created that I know that I’ll be looking at each week going forward.  But I could easily leave today and have what I need.  The inReach will be acquired in the spring, when typically they go on sale for a few extra bucks off (yes, I can be cheap).

Smoking update

Or should I say the non-smoking update.  Having quit numerous times in the past, I always picked it back up in just days or weeks…sometimes making it a few months; all the while fighting intense urges to go back to the tobacco.  Since quitting September 11, no serious urges, no desires at all.  I can handle being around others that smoke without the threat of asking them for a cigarette.  I’m not saying I am now going to be a life-long ex-smoker, but I sure am hoping that is the direction it goes.  Everybody that smokes needs to reach that time in their life to actually quit…and I hit mine a week after my mother passed away from cancer this fall.  There is absolutely no interest in starting again, and I have been able to deal with daily stress in other productive ways.


For the past two decade plus, my main job has been behind a desk at least 75% of the time.  This has turned me into a bowl of lazy jelly who had gotten short-winded and out of shape.  A couple months ago, I decided to do something about the fact that I am getting older, facing medical problems in the years to come, and needing to strengthen my physical core…or at least to make the effort and to have been able to say that I actually tried to do something.

Well, I find myself exercising religiously at least five days a week.  Treadmill, cardio exercises, resistance training, walking an indoor track, and tons of alone in the morning basketball shooting…each workout hits at least two of these areas.  I feel myself getting stronger for a change, and some days I feel alive again after a rough workout.  Heck, my three-point shooting is back to my high school days of over 80%, and I have recently started mixing the fast walking in with running.  I am at the point where I know that the more I sweat, the more in shape I am becoming.  It’s becoming a workout goal to become even more drenched than the last session.  Sounds sick…but if you’ve been there, you know what I am talking about.

Losing weight

All the exercise is helping me lose weight.  Like the majority of American adults, I tip the scales higher than I should.  While not ready to disclose the starting weight or what number I am now (that comes a few months more down the road), I can say that so far, I have lost a dozen pounds.  Some weeks have been harder than others, but the overall direction of the weight is going down.  It gets me excited each Sunday morning when I weight myself in the same clothes used each week, and to see the scale show a decrease from last week’s numbers.

Dietary changes

Now that I sit down and think about it, the biggest surprise change to me has been the change in what is going in my mouth each day.  Before making some changes, each day’s ritual was:

Breakfast:   I stopped at the gas station on the way to work and grabbed a 44 ounce fountain soda.  Near work, stop and grab 2 Sausage Egg McMuffins or a few Dunkin’ Donuts namesakes.

Lunch:  2 trips to the local spicy Chinese buffet each week, with other trips to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Burger King each day for a big hamburger and fries.  Wash it down with repeat cups of diet coke or some other carbonated, sugary beverage.  Usually bring one back to the office with me since the 44 ouncer was gone by lunchtime.

Dinner:  Either eating out, ordering delivery, or opening up a can of food full of salt, calories, and having no good dietary benefit.

Snacks:  OH my…the days of opening a bag of chips and some dip…watching TV, and then realizing the bag had gone empty mysteriously!  It’s a wonder I didn’t weigh a couple hundred pounds more than I did.

Breakfast is now oatmeal…lunch is usually brought in from home with nutritional foods, and dinner is either fish, salad, stir-fry, or just vegetables.  Snacks are now applesauce, apples, grapes, and yogurt.  Still not a fan of the yogurt, regardless of brand or flavor.

The mind

I’m focusing on one day at a time, and doing pretty well getting through.  Sure, life throws non-stop curveballs at each of us, but I’m hitting a few back out nowadays.  There’s lots of reasons for me to go to Alaska that I have previously mentioned.  Each person, at least once a decade, needs to self-evaluate their selves, where they are, and where they want to go.  A deep look at ourselves to see who we have become, and whether the foreseeable future is the path we wish to take.  Call it a mid-life crisis of sorts, but I have been down this road each of the decades before in my life…and I feel it is time to go through it again in a way.  The Alaska trip will help me refocus on me and to determine the direction of the things in my life.


So, overall I feel good at under six months to go.  I don’t feel big changes yet, and I don’t see big changes yet…but I know that in the months to come, that will all change.

Hoping to get over to the bike later this week and finish up the work enough that it is back in the condition to take it out and ride it.  We shall see if that works out.

Ain’t nothing easy on a Harley

In the past week, we have worked on the bike twice.  Sunday’s football games, which should have been enjoyed in the Lazy-Boy recliner, were a unseen spectacle as I drove over to Mitch’s who graciously gave up his Sunday afternoon so that we could continue on with the Ultra’s upgrades.

The temperature was in the thirties, not too cold, but definitely requiring the use of Mitch’s salamander-type propane heater.  This device can put out the heat…hot enough to melt boot soles when one experiments just how hot it can get.  My boots survived this day…but in my younger days, I may have been more ramped up to actually see how fast they took to melt.

Sounds like a jet engine, and the flames are spectacular to watch in person
Today’s goal was to remove and replace the front Harley stock shocks with the Progressive Monotubes.  By the end of four plus hours, we resigned ourselves with the knowledge what should have been easily accomplished was not to be done as expected.

The first order of business is to remove the spotlights and their bar holder, and to remove the chrome fascia that dresses up the bike under where the outer fairing once was located.  This was easily accomplished in minutes, in which time a friend of ours had arrived (LJ).  Some good nature ribbing all the way around, and we each focused on different things throughout the afternoon.  LJ had brought his bike by the previous week, and like me was using Mitch’s expertise to guide him along with some maintenance needs on his Road King.

The lower inner fairing needed to be removed next.  This is an arduous task, because the handlebars must be turned to the left and locked at the fork stop before the ignition switch can be removed.  What makes this difficult is that Harley, in one of their boneheaded moves, decided to make the ignition switch dependent on the proper alignment of the handlebars to re-install the removed parts.  Knowing this, I had previously watched a YouTube video about what was needed to devise a tool that allowed everything to work properly.  In true fashion, the tool that was made to duplicate the video did not work, and I locked myself out of getting the switch realigned.  If you get bored, have a Harley and want to learn something, or curious to just exactly what got boogered, watch this video:  IGNITION SWITCH VIDEO

As soon as I realized that the took didn’t work (just a piece of copper tubing with some thick tape wrapped on it and bent into an L), I spent the next hour trying to get the forks to lock and unlock as desired so I could do the future shock work.  Finally, with Mitch’s help, we were able to realign the tumblers, and get the handlebars turned where we needed them.

We got the right shock (left side in picture below) removed, and for some reason, it finally hit me just how dirty my bike had gotten from the last several rides of the year.  I’ll have to do something about that, but not on this day.

Filthy, filthy bike

We then spent the next hour taking the shock apart, draining the oil, and then realizing that to install the Monotubes, the original shock needed to be dismantled completely but in a different order so that we could remove the retaining bolt on the bottom of the shock.  Hard to explain the problem…but we spent an hour, which involved warming up to some hot chocolate and looking for online videos from Progressive, to show us how to correct what we screwed up.  HEY…it happens.  It’s a learning process…that’s why I am doing the work now, and not waiting for the last week of May!

So, for Sunday, the last thing we did was get the removed shock disassembled correctly, in preparation for what we would do on our next session.  Too tired to care, we realized we didn’t get much overall progress…but we valued the learning experience to know exactly how to do this type of work again in the future.

Let it sit and drain out the nasty ol’ fork oil

If you are still reading this, then jump forward a few days.  It’s now Tuesday evening.  It’s 18 degrees outside.  It’s so cold in the unheated garage we are working in, that a bottle of Meguiar’s detailer I had brought over back on Sunday was frozen solid.  I brought along a 20 pound tank of propane on this trip…and it was so cold, the garage never truly got warm, we saw our thick breath all evening long, and the salamander went through the propane tank in three hours.  Unbelievably cold!

So, where were we?  Oh yeah…get ready to install the Monotubes.  Here’s what they look like in case you don’t know:

Much prettier in person
The new shocks go inside the chrome shock cavities that were already on the Harley Davidson.  Now that we knew what we were doing with the shocks, things went much, much faster.  I guess I should say that we were forced to work fast…it was one of the only ways to retain warmth.
The internals of the stock shock in the pan

If you have never smelled used fork oil, you don’t know what you’ve been missing in your life.  Imagine the odor of spoiled raw eggs, mixed with rancid meat, topped with some bad burrito created excrement.  Yup, that’s pretty close to the smell of old fork oil.  The only good thing is that the smell doesn’t permeate too far away from the drain pan we used to collect the old fluids.  Oh… a quart of decent oil is around $3; of decent synthetic oil, about $8; of decent fork oil, that’s going to cost you a Jackson note.

Putting the shocks back on were cake, one of the easiest things accomplished since we started the overall upgrade project.  The light bar went back on, the ignition switch back in (after again fighting it to free up the locked handlebars as we had to do previously), and a little quick cleaning to get the bugs out of the areas that would not be easily accessible when the fender and tire goes back on later.

Forgot to mention…the reason the picture quality keeps changing is because I’m now using another camera.  The Nikon Coolpix AW110.  This camera is drop-proof, water-proof, and shock-proof.  The Sony I was using is a GREAT camera…but it does not have any of the three qualities I just mentioned about the Nikon.  Giving it some thought, I rather use a cheaper camera that can handle the elements, so now I’m trying to get used to it.  The Nikon has a mind of it own and seems to change the brightness settings too liberally for each photo I take.  It will take me some time to learn it and master it.  Good project to do while maybe watching this upcoming Sunday’s football games in my Lazy-Boy?

We are getting close to the end of the project lists.  Let’s see…need to swap out the tire (doing it the manual way again, that should be a fun experience one more), replace the wheel bearings, install the new brake pads, and maybe put on a front wheel mud flap (have not decided on this yet).  That would finish out the harder mechanical stuff I wanted to do over the winter.  And then, my area of interest gets focused on…the electrical system upgrades and issues.  I have developed some electrical gremlins I want to fix over the winter, and that I’ll describe in a future post when that work occurs.

So, that’s it for today’s entry.  I’ll leave you with something totally not related to the project at hand.  I do a lot of charity rides, volunteering, and trying to help out those that just need a hand.  I’m also very passionate about animals, and support some of the local rescues every chance I can.  I was asked by a reader here if I had any dogs.  Yep…got two of them:

The above is our German Short Hair Pointer mix; her name is Whisper.  One of the fastest running dogs I’ve ever seen.  Very loving, only wants to please anybody…all the time!  Probably has barked four times in the last four years.  Dang thing can eat like nobody’s business, and never gains weight due to all the running and playing she does nonstop.

And then we have Sasha, our newest rescue; she’s around 1-2 years old we believe.  She’s a dancer…she constantly dances around in a drunken ballet, thrashes in the air back and forth, and is very awkward in her movements.  Sasha was hit by a car and left to die; through some rescue friends, she came into our life after some major surgery and plates added to her hind quarters.  She had turned into the house defender…loves to play, barks at everything, and is become more of a lap dog than she needs to be.  She still is very timid of anything new…and very protective for a collie mix.

So, take a moment and give that animal of yours a few minutes of play time, followed by a treat.  Love my dogs…non-judgmental, and don’t care how bad your days was…all they want to do is make you smile.

And the front comes off

Now that Turkey Day has passed, and life gets back to normal for a few weeks until the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and their required commitments come about, it was time to start work on the front of the Harley Ultra Classic.

My arrival after work to my friend Mitch’s garage was done in great winter riding weather…upper fifties, but that would slowly deteriorate to a more seasonal 35 degrees by the end of our evening work on the bike.  Our ride a couple a weeks ago a distancing memory, we placed the bike back up on the jack and started dismantling the front part of the dark blue bike.  The outer fairing gets removed, which reveals the large mess of electrical wiring and components that many motorcycle riders have no idea exists.

Speakers, gauges, CB, amplifiers, and tons of wiring
The Ultra gets even more funnier looking when the chrome skirting and the light-and-turn signal bar comes off.
No Mo’ Headlights
The last work completed was removing the front tire and the brake system.  Like the rear of the bike, the Ultra will be receiving a new Dunlop Elite E3 tire, new brake pads, new bearings, and some new hardware to mount it all back together as possibly required by Harley-Davidson.
Almost looks like the back of the bike several weeks ago

Plans are to take off the inner fairing, remove the existing shocks, and start really getting into the grime and grease that is yet to be encountered.  There’s a new set of Progressive Monotubes that will get installed in place of the stock Harley configuration which will add an even more comfortable ride to the bike.  We originally planned to get together again tomorrow (Friday evening) after we are done with our primary jobs.  However, weather forecasters are predicting ice and snow, up to a possible 8 inches, so we’ll be playing this by ear for tomorrow as to whether or not any additional work gets performed.

It’s coming along…and we are almost at the six month countdown to riding out of the Hoosier state to go explore the nation’s largest state.