Published on June 4th, 2015 | by Boris
OFF THE DIAL
People did crazy shit in the late 80s. And motorcycle people were not exempt. Our shit was crazier than anybody else’s shit because we were crazier than anybody else.
But that was fine.
None of us expected to live past the year 1999 anyway, when, if the world didn’t end as a result of something Nostradamus had foretold, we would certainly be killed by cops, cars, or our own booming madness.
And never had this booming madness blossomed more brilliantly than when Keatsy got his Softail Evo turbocharged.
In the late 80s, the Evo was still new and no-one was really sure if it was a real Harley yet or not. I was still riding a Shovelhead, so as far I was concerned, any bastard riding an Evo was riding it to cat shows and ballroom-dancing lessons.
But I was still jealous when Keatsy bought a blue Softail. And insensate with awe when he got the Natli Engineering brothers, Paul and Manuel, to bolt a turbo to it.
It had to have been one of the first, if not the first, turbocharged Harley in Australia. No-one had ever taken enough drugs to become insane enough to attempt such a modification on a Shovelhead. Many of us had spoken of such things when our madness was at its zestiest, but none of us wanted to be part of the ensuing explosion.
The advent of the Evolution motor had clearly emboldened people in ways that were disturbingly new. I have no idea what kind of insanity had gripped Paul and Manuel, but I approved of it the instant I heard the brothers had developed a turbo kit that would bolt straight onto an Evo Harley.
And so they did, and Keatsy duly appeared at work astride the finished product.
Now it wasn’t the kind of turbo commonly used today. It was another kind. The kind that sounds shit. Keatsy’s bike had sounded fabulous. The day he turned up with his new bolt-on, it sounded choked and flat and pfaffed rather than potatoed.
But, and this is a very big but, it went.
By the chafed and oozing nipples of the Road Gods it went. I know this, because he let me ride it, and the girl I had on the back at the time became a heroin junkie not long after I fired us and it down the backroads behind Bundanoon. I’m pretty sure the blokes on Jap bikes I split like ten-pins as I hammered between them have hated and feared Harley riders ever since.
I have no idea how fast I was going then. Or even how fast the Softail actually went. Neither did Keatsy. The speedo was only numbered (with inane optimism) to 220km/h. The turbo caused it to wind past the numbers until it sat on the red ‘INC.’ in HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTOR CO. INC. that was written on the bottom of the dial.
This was terrifying and exhilarating in totally unequal parts. It was exhilarating because speed is exhilarating. But when you’re speeding on a motorcycle that is simply not designed to go as fast as you’ve now forced it to go, exhilaration is quickly overpowered by stark, screaming terror.
You think the brakes on your Harley are pretty average now, you should have seen what we had to deal with in the 80s. The same goes for the suspension. How could’ve those poor bastards from Milwaukee ever anticipated Aussie madmen bolting turbochargers to their ‘made-for-American-freeways’ motorcycles, and sling-shotting them down rutted goat-tracks?
If you got a big cannon, laid it flat on the ground and fired a washing machine out of it, you’d be getting close to what it must have looked and sounded like to people who saw it being ridden in anger.
The rider, of course, was not seeing that at all. The rider was actually not seeing much of anything thanks to a) vibrations that were off the scale; b) a helmet strap that had cut off the blood-flow to his brain; and c) cheap-shit wrap-around sunnies that were either blown off by the wind, or so ill-fitting all you could see were watery colours through the speed-tears.
The rider was just hanging on. Appalled. Amazed. Un-manned. And entirely out of his depth.
I rode Keatsy’s bike twice. The second time was only to make sure it was as unspeakably mental as it was the first time. It was. Probably even more so because even though I was prepared for the way it accelerated, it still managed to liquefy my brain. It was doing shit that didn’t compute.
Keatsy rode it every day, and did big miles on it. He got greyer as the weeks went past. The prognosis was grim. Something had to give.
We were all amazed the engine kept on as long as it did. When it finally surrendered to the turbo, it did it with silent dignity. By refusing to start.
All of us were quietly pleased it ended much like the 80s – with a whimper rather than a bang.