Willy in the winter

You sure won’t hear me complaining about the recent snowfall — us Manitoba bikers rode well past Halloween this year.

My Harley-Davidson Super Glide has been rolled into the corner of the garage, because the primo parking is now reserved for a 2013 Arctic-Cat snowmobile that guarantees many days of solid winter fun.

That said, there’s still plenty of motorcycle mayhem on tap for the long prairie winter.
Following my collision with a deer back in August — which resulted in my beloved 2011 Harley-Davidson Road King being destroyed — I replaced it with a like-new 2001 Super Glide.

Soon after buying the Super Glide, Willy took it for a ride up to one of his favourite haunts outside Winnipeg.

The Super Glide

Never one to leave a perfectly good motorcycle alone, there are all sorts of plans in the works over the winter to make it a little more mine. That hideous luggage rack has already been removed, which turned out to be quite the ordeal, requiring removal of the saddle bags, jacking the bike up, removing the shocks and getting my beautiful bride to go elbow-deep under the rear fender to reach one of the retaining nuts. It was worth it. The back end looks much cleaner now. I also swapped out the stock seat for a LePera Bare Bones solo seat and added a four-inch handlebar riser to get my hands up a bit higher.

Although I only bought this bike in August, I managed to ride it more than 5,000 kilometres and find it both comfortable and capable. My buddy Paulywood says I’m much faster off the line now, which is no mystery considering the Super Glide is about 150 pounds lighter than the Road King. The bonus is I didn’t have to alter my diet one bit.

The Super Glide was able to shed a few pounds and look good in the process. Willy? Well, that’s a whole different challenge.

Future plans for this bike include fresh rubber. The rear tire is so bald I can almost see the air in it. Rather than the typical street tires, my goal is to install adventure tires with some degree of off-road capability. I ride about 10 kms of gravel every day and need a bit more bite than the standard street tires provide. It was tough finding a 16-inch dual-purpose tire for the rear, but it looks like the meaty Kenda k761 should do the trick. I also plan to black out the 13-spoke mag wheels and add some LED running lights. I’m pretty pumped about how it’s going to look, somewhere between what Mad Max and the Terminator would ride.

When you live outside Winnipeg, it’s pretty important that your garage be spacious, heated, and stuffed full of both bikes and sleds.

Ranger restoration

While the work on my Harley is primarily cosmetic, I have much bigger plans for an old dual-purpose bike that’s been tucked away in my garage for more than 20 years. The story of how it came to be mine is one of my favourites.

Back in the early ’90s, while working as a corrections officer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, I mentioned to my partner Joey I was looking for a cheap used dirt bike to ride around at our cabin at Grand Beach. Joey told me a buddy from his hometown of Ethelbert, located about 370 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg and 60 kms north of Dauphin, had an old Honda in his barn he’d probably sell.

A few weeks later on a sunny fall day, Joey picked me up at my house in his Nissan Hardbody pickup, with his two young sons tucked in the rear jump seats. They were about 5 and 7 at the time. The plan was to drop off the kids in Dauphin so they could stay at their grandparents’ house for the weekend, then motor on to Ethelbert and grab the Honda. Although I’d never seen the bike or spoken to the owner, Joey assured me it was in mint shape.

After dropping off the kids in Dauphin, we finally wound up in Ethelbert about mid-afternoon at an old farm with a huge old barn. Joey introduced me to his buddy, Jim, and we were led into the dark barn. Way in the back, surrounded by old tractors and a few beat-up pickup trucks, Jim pulled a dirty tarp off an old motorcycle — and angels started singing.

The “ultimate trail bike” with “outstanding performance” and “peak reliability.” Did Don Draper write that copy?

It wasn’t a Honda at all, but rather a 1974 Suzuki TC185 Ranger. Despite being a bit dusty, it appeared to be in near-new condition. The odometer read less than 500 miles. Jim told the story of how his father had bought the bike brand new from the Suzuki dealer in Dauphin and rode it around the farm for one summer. Sadly, he became ill and died the following year and Jim could never bring himself to ride it again. It hadn’t been started or ran since 1976.

Needless to say, I bought it for the full asking price of $300.

It was a long day of driving and nearly midnight by the time Joey dropped me and the bike off at home, but I was up early the next morning, excited to get it running.

My brother, Allen, came over and we cleaned up the bike together. We made a trip to a local motorcycle dealer and picked up some two-stroke oil, a new battery and a spark plug. The fuel tank was a bit rusty inside so I cleaned it up the best I could and also replaced the fuel line.

With the new battery installed, I let Allen have the honours and with just a short push of the starter button, the old Suzuki roared to life. We cheered in unison, and once the bike warmed up, we took turns touring the neighbourhood on this classic time machine.

Although only a 185cc, it is a two-stroke, and easily goes 100 km/h. It has full lights, the electric starter, a horn and a chrome rack on the back. The Ranger designation also means it has the optional high-low transmission. An additional shift lever on the side of the transmission case allows you to choose high or low, effectively making the 5-speed transmission a 10-speed.

New tires were installed before I did any serious riding, and for three solid summers I rode that little Suzuki all around Grand Beach Provincial Park. It was dirt cheap to insure, extremely reliable and ridiculously fun. One hot summer day while tooling down the trail in the thick forest, I came upon a huge black bear sitting on his butt eating his lunch. He was only about five feet away from me when I hammered on the back brake, made a rapid U-turn and blazed back in the opposite direction. This was long before GoPro cameras, but the memory easily replays in my mind’s eye.

This is an older photo and the Ranger looks a little dustier and more beaten-up these days, but it’ll be good as new again in the spring.

Winter project

It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve ridden the old TC, but it has been stored in a heated shop for all those years. Cosmetically, it still looks pretty good; the first winter I owned the bike, the gas tank was painted, and it has held up great. The tires have cracked and the boot on the carburetor looks like it has dried up. But it is still entirely complete.

My goal this winter is to get it back into mint shape and ride it next summer. I’ve owned about 50 motorcycles over the years, but this is without question my favourite — and the one I’ve owned the longest. I will never sell it.

There’s something so perfect about an old two-stroke bike like this. It is smooth on the highway and beyond fun in the tight trails. You’d never ride it fast — it won’t let you — but it purrs along at a steady pace and has given me countless hours of riding enjoyment.

I’ve always called the bike Ranger, and it’s high time he got restored. Working on an old motorcycle in the dead of winter with On Any Sunday playing on the 42-inch TV in the shop reminds me what a lucky man I am.

Join the conversation!