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127.7 MPH?

  • Here is the latest from Jake and a personal memory he needed to get on paper. 

    This is a story from the late 70's and yes, it really happened lol. Sometimes fact is more entertaining than fiction.

    127.7 MPH?

    Jake Walker

     

    As I rolled into Phoenix, the sun was escaping behind the horizon in a riot of color and would have been right at home on the cover of some slick-paper magazine. I spent a pleasurable afternoon in the cool darkness of the Flame, a dancer joint where a stripper I knew worked the afternoon to 10 pm shift. As I pushed the door open, I was greeted by the familiar smells that wafted passed me. Perfume, stale beer, cigarette and cigar smoke, old sweat and it always made me grin, plus I needed something to kill the time until I left for Cali. It was a pleasurable afternoon, watching young women dance topless to thumping music while trying to relieve me of my cash and since I also knew the bartender, my beers were half price. It’s good to have friends!

    I stepped out of the air-conditioned club at 10 pm and the heat slapped me. It felt like I was stepping into a wet, flaming blanket. If you open a pizza oven and take a deep breath? Yeah, it’s just like that. I had planned to ride out in the evening when it had hopefully cooled down. The thermometer on the bank read 102 F, and I suppose that was better than when I arrived, when it had read 112 but hell, after 100 degrees, it’s all the same. I took my leather jacket and bungeed it to the sissy bar, burped the two one-gallon gas cans that I had in each saddle bag, buttoned up my cutoff and primed the 30-year-old new motor for starting.

    I had finished the 500 break-in miles on my freshly rebuilt ’57/’67 panhead chopper and I had a message for the Mother Chapter Prez from our chapter’s Prez. We knew that all our phones had all been tapped by the BATF or the FBI because of weird noises on our phones. Since I was only a Known Associate, an out of town trip to LA would be above suspicion. So, it was a Road Trip for yours truly and I was looking forward to it. I had changed the gearing from the motor to the input shaft on the 4-speed ratchet-top tranny and the ratio of teeth between the output and rear wheel sprocket. It wasn’t as quick off the line, but I was hoping to beat my record top speed of 110 mph.

    I rocked the bike into neutral, gas on, retard the spark, half-twist on the throttle, flip the kicker out. Then left knee on the seat and roll the motor thru until the compression comes up and then Kick once hard. Roll the motor thru again until it was on the compression stroke, flip the hidden switch, choke on a quarter, crack the throttle just-open and Stomp that kicker and then comes the music from the pipes. That deep thunder that you can feel in your chest and your sinuses and it has always brought a grin to my sunburned face.

    I eased the throttle off and let her idle while I did a quick walk-around. When you ride a chop that you built with your own hands, from a pile of boxes, bones and spare parts bought/borrowed or begged from friends, you know every inch of it. Every sound that’s not a part of the symphony from the heart of your Beast could mean trouble. Every small rattle, or jingle, anything ‘different’ or out of place could mean being stranded on the side of the road in ‘Enemy Territory’. Choppers were meant to be the absolute basics; they were built with that one thing in mind.

    When you ride a Factory Motorcycle, there are cables and wires and sensors, fenders and front brakes, turn signals poking out like big ears on a kid with a new haircut. The electrical systems are complicated, and then you have to disassemble half the bike to get to the problems. The handlebars are loaded with big, ugly switch-banks of controls for lights and turn signals and emergency off switches and horn buttons. The fundamental opposite of Basic.

    I named my bike Beast and she lived up to her name. She was the Quintessential Basic Chopper and I built her to be low and fast, while looking like a flat-black wraith as she flew past you on the freeway. 14” over-stock springer front end, no fender or brake on the 21” Avon front tire with wire spokes. Rigid frame that I hand-molded all the seams, custom Mustang stretched fat-bob tank that held almost 5 gallons and sat low on the Tall-Boy Aman Savior frame, 15” rear tire from a VW and a 7” disc brake (I swapped out the drum setup when I coasted into an intersection after her shoes got wet).

    As I dropped into the saddle, I was thinking about the road ahead. It was about 370 miles to L.A and I had made this trip a few times but had never ridden the route. It was a 5-hour stretch of merciless desert that had claimed many lives and if I hoped to get there and back in one piece, I would have to be careful. Beast was running an S&S Super B carburetor and while it worked well, it was also a gas-sucker. I was getting around 25 mpg and I knew that with 7 gallons, I would have to refill 3 times before my destination because I planned to NOT be doing the speed limit! If ya go faster, you use more fuel, that was the reason for the gas-stash in my saddlebags.

    I pointed the front tire west on I-10 and after the city traffic had receded, I settled in for the long run to the outskirts of LA. The club I rode with as a Known Associate owned 4 small warehouses there and ran a ‘bike parts’ shipping business out of them. Two of them were grow operations, one was a profitable bike repair and custom shop. No one ever told me what the fourth one was for and I never asked.

    As I threaded my way through the sea of cages, carrying the 99%’ers to their homes after work, I was listening to Beast. I was feeling the thrum of her 80 cubic inch engine, the hum of the tires on the road, the vibrations of the handlebars and the throaty roar of the upswept pipes. Everything felt and sounded tight and right and I was looking forward to the run between Tonopah and Quartzite. Almost 80 miles of 2-lane freeway lay open in the desert night, straight and flat and just made to go fast!

    I fished a joint out of my Marlboro pack, pushed in the electric cigarette lighter (a swap meet find with a skull handle. It’s damn hard to light anything, even with a Zippo at 70+ mph), fired that doobie up and settled in for the 50-mile ride to Tonopah. Traffic had thinned out nicely by the time I rolled out the other side of there and I could feel Beast getting antsy. She wanted to run, wide-open and unrestrained by speed limits or any Fear that I had. Once I left the city and got out in the open desert, the temperature had dropped to around 85-90 F and as the lights of the small town grew smaller in my mirror, I started to roll-on the throttle.

    My VDO speedometer was a 2 ½” back-lit red blur because of the vibrations at 90 mph, but I could make it out through my watering eyes. I slowly twisted the wick tighter, always listening to the sounds of the motor and the bike. Everything was sounding perfect; lifter-chatter was minimal, chain wasn’t slapping, the pipes were just starting to glow a dull red and Beast was roaring her challenge to the night!

    There are sometimes in your life that ya just have to say **** It and bury the throttle… and I did! I watched as the needle crept past 100, then 110 and I was concentrating on the speedo so hard that I blew passed the Highway Patrol car before I even knew he was there. ****! As his light-bar exploded in my gyrating rearview mirror, I started bringing the Beast down and preparing to pull over. I was sitting on the left side of the bike, with both legs in front of me, ID and registration and insurance papers in my hand when the Stater’s Crown Vic came screaming over the little dip in the road.

    My lights were off and when he saw me sitting there, he locked up his brakes, slid sideways, and pulled in behind me. A billowing cloud of dust, burnt tire stench and the hot-metal smell of abused Ford washed over me. His red/blue strobe lights stabbed my eyes and the headlights were doing the Left/Right switch-o swap-o thing. When he climbed out of his car, he was shaking and he headed towards me at quick-step speed. I stayed sitting and waited for him and he was talking before he ever got to me.

    “Drivers License, registration and…” He stopped talking because I was holding it out for him. “You stay right here!” he snarled and stalked back to his car. I didn’t think pointing out that I had a kick-start motorcycle would be a good idea, so I just shut up.

    He was back in 5 minutes and he had calmed down a bit and then asked, “Do you have any idea how fast were you going? And don’t lie to me because I know the answer!” and he glared at me with his best Cop Stare.

    I had dealt with cops most of my adult life and pissed-off officers in the Corps, and I knew this cop was ‘riding the ragged edge’ between thumping me or just shooting me right there. I knew I had to be careful, respectful but not over-familiar and ‘allow his authority’ because he knew that I knew, he could arrest me for reckless endangerment and many other cop terms that would mean jail for me and a tow-truck hook for Beast. In those days, they would lay the bike down and drag it onto the bed and then toss a strap over it and cinch it tight.

    “Well Sir, the needle was whipping pretty hard, (I demonstrated by wiggling my finger between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock) because it’s not rubber-mounted but I would say around… 120?” I fixed him with my best Honest eye-2-eye look and remained sitting.

    He harrumphed a cop grumble, scuffed his left foot and said “127.7 miles an hour. It’s still on my gun. Your registration says this is a 1957 FLH? But that’s a Shovelhead motor in there, right?” As he walked around the bike, he shined his head-bashing, 6 D-Cell flashlight onto the right side of the motor.

    “This is a generator-case Shovelhead? No, that’s a Panhead bottom-end. Nice frame, lemme check the numbers here… Yep all good. What kinda Frankenstein-shit have you got here? Is that a VW tire on the back?” He was now squatting by the back tire and Beast’s pipes were still a dull cherry.

    “No sir, it’s a 1957/1967 Pan Shovel. Built it myself, mostly from swap-meets. It was a 74 cubic inch motor, but it’s 80 cubic inches now but I still have the ratchet-top tranny. This used to be a frame, forks, 4 boxes of parts, a VW back tire and rim (I shimmed it) and a 3.5-gallon Mustang tank, which I stretched to almost 5. I just rebuilt the motor, did the break-in miles and this was the Shakedown Run. I’d say it went pretty well… except for startling you when I blew passed you at… 127.7 ya say?” That’s when I wondered if I had just stepped over the line.

    “Where’s your turn signals?” He was back in Cop-Mode but curious. I hit the hidden kill-switch, flipped the toggle concealed by the seat frame and the taillight came on. Then the toggle that I never used (and hoped it still worked) and the taillight blinked on the left, then the right. I wasn’t running a magneto then and the generator powered the battery hidden by the oil bag.

    “How about the front?”

    “Sir, you know the laws better than me, but isn’t a 1957 model FLH Harley exempt from turn signals in Arizona? I got the back ones so that when a cop is behind me, I can turn them on. I haven’t gotten around to installing…” I ground to a halt because he wasn’t listening, he was looking at my Jockey Shift setup and I was rather proud of how I did it. Instead of a Hand clutch/Foot shift, it’s a Foot Clutch/Hand Shift, where the shifter is a short handle attached to the transmission. Push the clutch with your left boot and shift with your left hand. Basics, no clutch cable on your handlebars.

     

    “Wait a minute, THIS is a 4-speed? A 1957/67 Harley, ratchet-top 4 speed tranny? How in the HELL did you make it do 127 mph? I’ve got a 1963 Panhead, Police Special and the best it can do is 95-100 mph, Tops!” He was outraged that a scooter tramp (like me) could coax more mph from an older motor-tranny setup than he could. So, I started talking to him about gear ratios and sprocket tooth count, rpm’s versus horsepower and we stood there talking about (mostly) his bike and after 20 minutes or so, he kinda ‘came to’ and got all Cop-Zone again.

    “Where did you say you were going?” He was now fumbling with my ‘documents’ and was all Bidness again, but without any anger. Yes, he was aware that I had exceeded the speed limit (by a factor of Mach 1) BUT, my papers were right, the bike passed muster and we had ‘bonded’ (a bit) over a similar bike that he had. Brothers? No, decidedly not. Common Ground? Definitely.

    “I didn’t say where I was headed but if you wanna know, I’m headed for LA.” Sometimes ya just gotta know when to say something and shut up.

    “Alright. Here’s your ID back and if you’re going to LA, try and keep it under a hundred, OK? I have several ‘Bros’ (he emphasized the word) between here and there. They’ll be watching for you and it would be a shame if you got Locked Up and your bike Towed!” With that statement, he handed me back my documents and turned and said over his shoulder, “Have a good ride.”

    I watched as he walked back to his cruiser, got inside, turned off the blue and red lights, fastened his seatbelt and calmly drove away… WHAT? I wasn’t going to jail? Holy ****! The enormity of what just happened started to sink in and my knees were practically banging together, I knew I had to piss and the desert sky had revealed itself in all its glory! I still had spots in my vision from the cop-strobes and my guts were a slack bag dangling in my body. As I walked back to my bike after relieving myself of at least 40 ounces  (I had to go lol), I started to breathe a little better, I stepped a little lighter and as I fished another joint out of my Marlboro pack and lit it with my Zippo, I realized that sometimes, with a little luck, a lot of caution and cunning, a bad situation can be salvaged.

    Yes, I made the run to LA without further police activity (I kept it under a 100) and I delivered the message. I was dead tired and knew that making the run back in the daytime was out of the question. The local chapter Prez offered me a safe place to crash and when I woke at 8 pm, I had a need for food and titties! There was a club, right outside Riverside that had the sweetest boobs, excellent Mexican food and it was BYOB (on the sly). Perfect way to start a Road Trip!

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