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All the way from New York?

Karan Andrea, Member #35048 | Published on 12/1/2019

“You rode that bike all the way from New York?” 
“I did. 741 miles.”

“Man! That takes guts!”

This was the exchange I had many times over at the Music City Road Run in Lebanon, TN. I think I became somewhat of a curiosity. The woman who rode her shovel from Lancaster, NY to Lebanon, TN by herself. 
The bike in question is a 1974 FLH – I call it the “Atomic Shovel.” At first, I figured I’d just ride it locally, but at a certain point, I decided that I wanted more from this bike. It needed a lot of work to make it reliable, even as a day rider, but every trip I take pushes the bike, and reveals what needs attention next. Some people may shake their heads, but for me, it is a physical and mental challenge, and really – one big adventure. 
In June I took it to the Allegheny Mountain chapter run in Ligonier, PA, and after that 1,000-mile trip, the bike went back on the lift for repairs, and more preventative work.
I just finished 1,900 miles on this Music City run, and again, the bike will go back up for repairs and more preventative work. 
I was on the road for nine days, and probably six of those days, I was fixing something on the bike. Many of the issues I have dealt with are due to the vibration of the bike. It just shakes like a wet dog, and stuff goes flying off of it. I check the bike over, but I rarely catch anything loose before it just disappears. So here is how the 1,900 miles in 9 days went for me and my Atomic Shovel.
Karan on her '74 FLH Harley-Davidson

Day 1: About 100 miles in to my almost 400-mile day, I started hearing this clatter. I stopped and looked  – nothing. I also noticed when I stopped behind a pickup truck, that there was no reflection from my headlight, or one of my spots in the tailgate. I flicked my hi-beam. Nothing. So I knew I had work to do once I got to my hotel.
Once I checked in and rode to an auto parts store, I called my friend and mentor, Dan Thayer, and he said the clatter sounded like maybe the chain was slapping the chain guard. I never thought to check the chain guard. Forehead smack. Indeed, when I checked it, it was riding loose in the space between the saddlebag and the wheel. I was very lucky it had stayed in place. The front bracket was completely gone, and the rear bracket had cracked in two. I pulled it out, chucked in the garbage, and moved to the headlight/spotlight situation.
Day 1 headlight repair in front of the auto parts store. 

Broken chain guard. Not my cigarette butt in the photo – just ambience. The front bracket is completely missing, and the rear bracket is broken where it bends to attach to the bike.

My wiring schematic. I took the electrical diagram and color coded it to match the wiring harness. Then I added the section to the right because my front block is a pan-style block, not a shovel block. This section shows exactly what goes to each terminal, and is a really good quick reference.

I couldn’t get a replacement spotlight – it’s a sealed beam, and I couldn’t locate one. Not a show stopper. So – the headlight. First, a new bulb. Nope. Put a test light on the pigtail for the light. Yep. The pigtail was bad. Possibly a victim of fragile construction and the shovelhead shake. I replaced the pigtail and bulb –back in business. Fortunately, I had brought wiring tools and supplies with me, and I have a photo of my schematic on my phone, so if I do need to verify something, it’s there.
Day 2: Again, about 100 miles in, I stopped for a break and then couldn’t get the bike started. I tried everything, and of course, eventually flooded it. I called Dan again, and after some back and forth question/answer, he said it sounded like the bike was just too hot. It would start, do about two shovelhead lubs of the motor, and die. I rolled it to the shade, bought another cold drink, and gave it some time. Tried again, and it started right up. By the time I got to the hotel, however, I had a huge spatter of oil on the right side of the bike, and some on the left, but not as much. At first, I thought it might be the head gasket, but it turns out the Allen head cap in the front rocker box was oozing, and there was also some seeping between the head and the rocker box. I cleaned up the mess and got ready for Day 3, which would take me to Lebanon, TN. 
Day 3: On the way to Lebanon, I picked up some hi-temp gasket seal and brake clean. When I got there, a buddy of mine gave me a hand, gooped up the screw and put it back in. That repair has held pretty well, but will need to be redone correctly with a new o-ring. The gasket sealer came in handy again when I realized I’d lost the bolt from the front exhaust. I got a replacement bolt, but the hole was beginning to strip, so we gooped that bolt up and put it back in. That repair has also held, and will be addressed this winter.
I also noticed that I’d lost a screw out of my right handlebar controls. No idea when that happened. Never saw it go. Add it to the list…

Pictured above is Karan on the Music City National Road Run

Days 4, 5, 6 the shovel behaved. I had no problems on the three days of the run itself. The shovel ran great, and the routes were absolutely beautiful runs through mid-Tennessee.
Day 7: This was the last day of the run. The bike ran great all day, but between the time I parked it for the closing banquet, and when I came back out to ride back to the hotel, my headlight switch stopped working. So I was back to no headlight, one spot, and it’s dark. Fortunately, I was able to follow another bike back, so I used his headlight, and my one spot for light. For the second time in a week, I’m into the headlight to see what the problem was – I couldn’t imagine it was the pigtail again. The bulb was new. Only thing left was the switch on the handlebar. Bingo. I was going to be traveling for two days to get home – I needed a headlight. So I moved the hi-beam wire from the headlight circuit to the circuit I had my spotlight switch on, and I was back in business.
Day 8: On my walk-around, I noticed a hitch pin missing from my left saddlebag. There was a hardware store across the street from the hotel, so on my way out of town, I went in and picked up a few replacements. I put one on, and the rest in my windshield bag. During the ride that day, I felt something nudge my left foot. I was doing 55 on a bike – there shouldn’t be anything nudging my foot. I looked down, and my horn was sitting between my foot and the primary, with the wires still attached.  The bracket had broken in half. There was nowhere to pull off right where I was, so I just reached down, disconnected the wires, and put the horn on the seat between my legs. In a couple miles, I found a gas station to pull over into. I put the horn in my saddlebag, and kept going. It didn’t work anyway.
For a day or two, I had been noticing that the starter button was beginning to have a delay in it. By Day 8, I had to wiggle it to get it to work – I was on borrowed time. 
Day 9: My last day on the road – 380 miles and about 9 hours to get home. The starter button completely failed. I knew from when I wired the bike, that you could bypass the switch by bridging the posts on the solenoid mounted beneath the battery box. So I started the bike with a screwdriver bridging the posts – I have to say, I was a little impressed with myself for remembering that trick, and practically giggled when it actually worked. I used that trick a few more times that day. 
I remember back to a trip I took 3-4 years ago on my Dyna. My rear brake fell off somewhere outside Memphis, and I was pretty freaked out. I’d never had a bike break down on me before. When I first got this shovel, I knew nothing about a bike except how to ride one, and this bike was pretty sketchy. I decided if I was going to ride it, I’d better learn how to work on it. 
Less than a year ago, I tore it down to rewire it. I had no idea what I was doing, and I got some help from a couple friends. I’ve been very fortunate to have help from Dan Thayer – Thayer Sales & Service – in Corfu, NY. He lets me work with him. I do what I know how to do, and then he helps me when I’m over my head. Now I’m out on the road with this beast, pushing it, pushing myself, and having the time of my life.

(The '74 without the bags)

P.O. Box 663, HUNTSVILLE, AL 35804