It’s May 17, the day of the annual Iron Knights MC pig roast. This is when we officially throw open the doors of our clubhouse and welcome everyone to come celebrate the advent of longer days and even longer road trips.
I’m planted between the food table and the beer keg, so naturally I get to talk to pretty much everyone in attendance. My club sister Dusty approaches and I ask her if she’s done any riding lately. She gives me a woeful look and says, “I don’t have a bike anymore. It’s gone.” In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy flooded her Sportster beyond repair and Dusty hasn’t been able to find another that fits into her budget. I find myself saying, “My Sportster is just sitting in the garage. I never ride it. Do you want to borrow it until you can get your own?” Dusty’s eyes light up and she exclaims, “Yeah! That would be great!”
Just like that, the deal is struck. We make a plan, but I get home and life intervenes. My sister comes to visit. Then I’m up against work deadlines and overwhelmed with all I imagine has to be done to get the bike back in shape. Dusty texts me that she has the next week off work and asks if she can help with the bike. I tell her to come over Monday, but that I will not be able to assist her with anything because we go to press this week and I’ll be slammed.
Dusty shows up Monday morning and I introduce her to my 2000 XLH. I unscrew the gas cap and the strong smell of shellac wafts out. So I hand Dusty a turkey baster, funnel and empty gas can, roll the bike outside and leave her to the task of emptying the tank. Later I bring out a bucket, sponge and Palmolive dish liquid.
Next time I look outside, the bike is spotless and we drive to the gas station, put gas in a container, come back and fill the tank. Will she start? I turn the key on, we get power at the accessory setting, but nothing on ignition. She’s been on a Battery Tender all this time, so maybe a cable is loose. Maybe it’s the ignition switch. I look up my service records and the last receipt I can find for a battery is from 2003. New battery it is, whether that’s the problem or not. Dusty goes off to buy a battery and I go back to work. A few hours later I get a text: “Got the battery. Let me know when I can come over.” I text back one word: “Now!”
Late afternoon Dusty shows up with the battery, and I am reminded how easy it is to work on the Sportster. With Dusty in shorts, tank top and sandals and me in yoga pants, crop top and flip-flops, we install the new battery with a minimum of fuss (but a maximum of grease) and I turn the key. Full power on ignition. It seems I’ve been consistently and lovingly “Battery Tending” a dead battery for three years.
I do not want to start the bike because I do not have time to test ride her today. I tell Dusty that I will see if the bike starts tomorrow and she goes home.
Now it’s Tuesday morning, the day before we go to press. I am already way behind on my work. I call the office and tell John Galvin, our managing editor, that I will not be able to write the last story I promised and suggest something else to run in its place. I run down to the garage and hit the ignition. She starts on the second try. I roll her outside, let her idle a bit, and head out for our 10-minute shakedown ride.
I decide we need a little more time so we ride out Diamond Spring Road and Rockaway Valley Road into rural Boonton Township. I almost stop at Diva Dawn’s house, but I figure that’ll add at least a half-hour onto my run. (Good thing I don’t stop—Dawn is in the second day of a 28-day DIY body wrap program and isn’t really up to playing hostess in that state.) It’s a beautiful day and it feels wonderful to ride the Sportster again. I finally make it home over an hour later. She runs like a champ—not even a hiccup.
I add some oil and text Dusty to come and get the bike. When she arrives, I show her where the fuses are. I tell her that sometimes carb farts may occur, which could be due to the slide sticking a bit, and that if she tears into the carb, that gyroscope-looking part in the throttle body is a Power X-Wing. I describe the high-performance components that’ve been installed over the years and hand over the owner’s guide, service manual and parts catalog. I feel like an anxious mom sending her first child off to kindergarten.
Dusty starts her up, lets her run a bit and then they’re gone. I’m looking at that open spot in the garage with a mixture of pride and sadness. We’ve been together nearly 15 years, and I’ll miss her. But at least she’s being ridden and not stuffed in the corner on life support. There is one thing I forgot to tell Dusty. In the silence of the garage, I whisper, “Her name is Ruby.”