Easy Rider and Chopperguy

Thoughts on Easy Rider, biker cinema, and riding and working on a vintage chopper.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Chopper Economy

Filled the chopper up with gas today. I have no way of knowing with any certainty what my gas mileage is as I have no odometer. No gauges of any kind as I have stuck to the pure minimalism of the chopper form. Instead I have to make guesses at my chopper fuel economy based on what I have experienced on the less stripped down 73.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ, 1973 Sportster) gets approximately 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. Some serious fuel economy for a high power ride. Seraphine (or Sera, 1965 Sportster chopper), based on a daily commute of 15 miles plus a little putting around town for errands, is getting somewhere between 40-50 mpg. Probably really close to 43 mpg city driving. That is some SUPER serious fuel economy for a rolling work of art.

Why the difference when both are powered by Ironhead Sportster engines? The devil is in the details. TAZ is a 1200cc engine with a Super E carb, battery powered ignition, generator, swing arm frame, saddle bags, inline oil cooler, and has a small diameter sprocket sticking out of the transmission. Sera is a 1000cc with Bendix carb, batteryless magneto ignition, alternator conversion, rigid frame, and larger sprocket. The street geared TAZ weighs over 200 pounds more than the highway geared Sera. Somehow all that comes together and manifests as a nearly 10 mpg difference in fuel economy. Cool. But some of that just seems backwards to me.

Above the economic sensibilities of the chopper in these times of rising gas prices, there is the art. It is not uncommon for someone walking down the street to stop and stare at my bike for a while. This can happen in front of my house or while parked at the coffee shop. Just last week as I sat at an outside table writing at the Red and Black, a man appeared on the corner and yelled, "Whose chopper is that?" Early this week a biker on a new Sportster pulled along side of me and yelled, "What year is that?" These people don't need to know this information, they just want to make the extra connection to the artist. You don't need to see your favorite band in concert to appreciate their music, but backstage passes to hang with them are awesome.

Then there are those who roll their eyes and say, "Boys and their toys." Next week I am hauling the chop up to Car d'Lane, a street gathering of classic and custom vehicles from around the Pacific Northwest. Some will see a playground full of boys and their toys. For me it is an open air gallery for artists who work in steel, rubber, and high octane. Much of the offerings will be paint-by-numbers restoration jobs. It is a craft to completely restore and old vehicle to its former glory. Those who are master craftsmen will stick out from the crowd. Then there will be those of us who transform the mundane into the exceptional. There will be fully functional works of art from the full on customs of the expert builders to the rat chopper assemblages of outsider extremists. From starving artist velvet Elvises to She Wolf like Pollocks, they will all be there. And I'm sure there will be some playing in the streets, too. Artists should never take themselves too seriously.

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