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HARLEY-DAVIDSON BAGGER MOTORCYCLE- The Insanity Of It All
This article exposes a dangerous trend of financial ruin to most everyone who purchases or customizes a Harley-Davidson bagger (dresser/touring) motorcycle.
What is a bagger? It can be any brand and any model of motorcycle by any manufacturer, but this article focuses on the Harley-Davidson Twin-Cam touring motorcycles. You can tell a bagger as it will have large saddlebags and a large fairing mounted up front. See Baggers Magazine photo image below. The custom bagger is the worst beast you can own. The bike on the magazine cover is somewhat mildly customized, but within reason and is relatively safe. The low-profile front tire makes the bike dangerous for a blow-out.
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Only the big Twin-Cam engine models will be discussed here.
Who Should Buy a Bagger?
Anybody who will use the bike to ride with a passenger and take long road trips. Problem is, too many riders are buying into the bigger-is-better hype and with a Harley-Davidson that can spell big trouble for you financially.
The Bad News About Baggers
Take a look at the many big-wheel baggers in the magazines and at motorcycle rallies. If that front wheel is 26" or taller you can't legally ride that bike on the street because the wheel is not DOT (Dept. of Transportation) approved. It means any cop can pull you over and have the bike towed away on the spot leaving you stranded! Just because you see tons of wheel advertisers pushing their big-wheels at rallies and in magazine ads does not mean you are safe. You can end up losing all of your money. And if you instead try to sell the bike to somebody else? Well, they can come back and sue you for fraudulently selling them an unlawful motorcycle by not "disclosing" the truth. If you want that big-wheel look on your bagger you better be ready to pay the price! The day will come you will have to remove that big wheel and that also means the front fender, the triple tree and any custom brake disk and rotor. You can then sell the parts at a deep loss of money. Do not install illegal anything on your bike unless you are prepared to one day have to remove it. Now, exhaust pipes is no comparison as per sound emission standards bogged enforcement down in court as unenforceable for many years. However, no such discretion exists for a big-wheel. If it is not DOT approved wheel, you going to need another way to get home if a cop stops you. You better be real polite and nice to the officer and hope he only gives you a repair ticket or does not notice the infraction. This is a game not worth playing on the street.
If you find yourself wanting to ride a bagger you need to realize you are buying trouble. Of course, your friends ride baggers and you want to fit in. Okay, so be it, but you are still heading for financial disaster of which few can truly afford. Be careful. Think it over. Don't make another mistake. Do not let yourself be caught up in the "bagger craze" which is a ploy by the industry to hook you up and make financial gain at your expense.
Most bagger riders are ignorant of the high maintenance and repair costs all around to own a bagger motorcycle. What is terrible is the Twin-Cam engine is a train wreck that keeps on breaking down. Fact is, 99% of Harley-Davidson riders are totally unaware of the numerous defects in the engine, primary chain system and frame. The transmissions are holding up pretty good in the Twin-Can but that is little consolation to forgive the other defects that will creep up on you and give you an awful repair bill.
Know What You Are Getting
Owning a Harley-Davidson bagger is not an evil thing in itself as long as you are fully aware of what you are actually buying. Salespersons are not going to mention anything negative to you or warn you beforehand. This is called unlawful disclosure prior to the sale. If they know of the defects and do not disclose them to you they could be liable depending on state and federal law. Buyer beware, but be aware of what you are buying. Make sure you purchase an extended warranty with your bagger for you will most likely need it. Don't expect much of a return when you trade-in or sell your custom bagger. Few people will want to buy it.
Bagger Motorcycle magazines are now pushing bagger event rallies and it is going to take off in a very big way. Many Harley-Davidson riders graduate up the food chain to the ultimate (in their foolish eyes) to one day own a big, fat bagger. It is a status symbol that they have arrived and so they have arrived... to discover their bank account is wiped clean! Oh, the price of fun.
These baggers often come with loud stereo systems and others upgrade to boom box components that blast loud music. First, it is foolishness to ride a motorcycle where you can not hear approaching traffic or create a distraction. Sound bounces in all directions and windows nearby can reflect the sound like a ventriloquist causing motorist to look elsewhere to see where the music (or loud pipes) is coming from and suddenly you get crushed by that distracted and now an inattentive driver. Also, I have seen many bikers with loud radios fall off their bikes skidding to a stop. They drive too fast (pacing with the music) and they can't stop in time. Motorcycles are not cars, they fall down if you skid the wheels on asphalt, especially heavy Harley-Davidson touring bikes. You also can't hear cars approaching from behind or beside you if you are blasting loud music. Such is the idiotic riders of baggers today and sadly, a ton of them are getting in awful accidents due to that stupid loud stereo system. Turn it off, pay attention to your riding and stay fully aware of what is beside and behind you, always. It's not going to make you look cool when the paramedics arrive to care for your injuries.
A custom bagger also has a "craving" to hop-up the engine with more power. So many riders are doing it now, pumping up the horses and ruining their engines. Your local dealer will gladly install Screaming Eagle racing components (piston, cam, heads, stroked crankshaft) into your engine knowing you will be back for even more devastating repair bills in the future. Your stock Harley can't even handle the heat as is. If you increase power you increase loading and heat... you can not escape this fact. It means parts break frequently as they are stressed from added power. But the insanity does not stop there... they add nitrous oxide or even a turbocharger or supercharger to the engine that can produce 150 horsepower on a engine that is designed 50% to 70% lower and that is just going to devastate and ruin that engine! The problem is we see these things at rallies and in the magazines thinking installing these items is cool and okay. It is not okay... it will destroy your engine! Read the article: Increasing Horsepower on Motorcycles
Twin-Cam Engine Defects
The stock Harley-Davidson Twin-Cam engine is a total disaster. It is an engineering failure causing Harley-Davidson to keep trying to employ patchwork fixes into the engine every year on the new bike models. Read our related Harley-Davidson articles:
You will gain a new knowledge of your motorcycle few Harley riders are aware of and, those that know, refuse to talk about it. The Twin-Cam engine is seriously defective. All one needs to do is compare that TC engine to the Sportster Evolution (this motor not the big-twin EVO engine) and you will see the defects clear as day. Read motorcycle magazines and read the repair articles to fix "defects" and you won't be seeing the Sportster engine being repaired, its the Twin-Cam that is failing and need of constant expensive repair... and we are talking "stock" engine. Hopping up the motor to get more horsepower does not fix these defects, it only makes the defect fail sooner. The installation of gear drive cams is a decent fix, but those gears are vertically stacked that can cause a worn crank or cam bearing to bend the crankshaft's pinion shaft... and that will cause you to buy a brand new crankshaft. Other parts will also fail in the engine even if you do not hop it up with more power.
The vast majority of Harley-Davidson riders are totally ignorant of these serious engine defects and dive head-first into financial ruin. I see it all the time. I see it when I walk into a H-D dealership. I see it at independent V-Twin repair shops. Twin-Cam engines being torn apart to fix engine defects costing their owners thousands of dollars.
My advice? Make a small bagger of a model year 2012 or later Sportster 1200 Custom and you will have none of the troubles TC engine owners have. Yes, you will see Sportster's converted to baggers in the magazines and at motorcycle rallies. Many seasoned editors, mechanics and sales people are switching to the Sportster because the engine is absolutely perfect in design, function, reliability and low cost to buy and maintain. Just change the oil and go, go, go! No more engine problems. No more repair bills. No more sadness and grief. I know, I did it too. I had those big bikes (two 125 c.i. V-twin bikes) of my 19 motorcycles so far. The new Sportster is satisfying in all things. I need not say more.
"Learn to Install New Tires on Your Motorcycle and Fix Flat Tires" click to learn more. Even Installing and Balancing Harley-Davidson Tires Too... stop paying, do it yourself... it's easy.
Crashing Your Bike
Others discover the hard way with broken bones when their beloved bagger-beast dumps them off like a violent bull. Others have crashed from out-of-control wobbles from poor frame design, oversize wheels along with improper fork rake angle, suspension and related frame bearing failures. Not to mention what happens when the engine explodes from one of many known internal defects splashing oil all over the rear wheel... yikes! Baggers are trouble. At least know you know so when trouble arrives you expected it to happen.
Baggers Are Dangerous
The custom baggers are worse, but all baggers are too heavy and can not maneuver quickly to avoid road hazards. Then when you look at the custom bagger with a huge front wheel and only one disk brake rotor on a heavy beast bike like this it is a disaster in the making. Those skinny front tires with one brake rotor means no power and little tire contact patch with the road will cause the bike not to stop and the front wheel will lose traction even when not braking. Big-Wheel baggers are unstable and more so when the rear of the bike is slammed down low reversing the rake angle of the frame to squat down in the rear. It means more instability. Some argue this is not true, but if you ever have to emergency brake any bagger you will likely find yourself spread out on the pavement. The weight of these bikes is simply more than a human can handle. Many custom baggers also have minimal lighting preferring style over safety. Some baggers are way too low to the ground to the point they will crash if they hit a bump in the road, so beware of the slammed look is a killer.
These huge, heavy beasts are growing heavier and heavier until they become utterly nonsensical, impractical and unmanageably dangerous. Heavy bikes don't like to turn or stop and you see these baggers high-balling down the roadways as if they were sport bikes with Brembo clamp-tight brakes... they are not stoppable at speed. The big bagger is a killer. Just look at the accidents. They are mostly sport bikes and baggers! People used to "chop" their bikes to get rid of the weight and gain joyful performance and safety. This big-wheel bagger craze is just plain stupid. Okay for bike contest, shows and museums. Dangerous as hell on the streets. The engine load, wear and heat is horrific on these heavy bikes and reliability suffers greatly.
Another stupid trend is to see bagger riders not properly dressed to ride a motorcycle. Those short beany helmets if you fall will not protect your face so the jaw and teeth, chin and cheekbones are all going to be crushed. I saw it in emergency rooms with dozen of pins in the bones to reconstruct the face. Stop looking "cool" and be "smart" and wear the proper gear. Your blue jeans will protect you from asphalt a huge two seconds of sliding. Kevlar jeans will give you 150 feet! And dressing in drab black leather will get you killed as you only blend in with the black asphalt and can not be easily seen. Wear a bright color white or silver or better yet a yellow or green day glow jacket with protective armor. How many dumb bagger riders have you seen wearing short pants? Bagger riders are the most unprofessional riders you will find in any group. It also means you should not find yourself surrounded with these unprofessionals riding in a group ride with them. Think of a fighter jet pilot with his gear. He is a professional and dresses for the profession to save his own life. Does the average bagger rider dress professionally? Well, if he can't be professional why would you trust your life riding next to him? Yes, judge them by their cover. If they look unprofessional (the typical Harley look) then they are unprofessional.
Too Much Body Work
There is so much body work and low fenders with low saddlebags you can't even see the rear tire if there is a nail in it. Worse, you can't even fix the tire with a rubber or rope plug due to no access to the tire!
All baggers, including big-wheel baggers, all look the same. Only the color of the paint and some design lines change, but mostly when you ride a bagger it does not really turn many eyes. Just take a stroll on the showroom of the Harley-Davidson dealership and see if I am wrong. Even custom baggers all look the same. You can spend a lot of money to be ordinary. If you want to be different build a custom "chopper" as they most all look unique and they turn heads daily at much less cost than a custom bagger.
You will definitely notice the average custom and non-custom bagger rider is an amateur. Just look at the way they are dressed. Short pants, sandals or sneakers, no body armor, short-sleeve T-shirt, tiny black helmet (or no helmet at all), black color clothing, playing loud music, etc. These bikers are inattentive car drivers who just happen to have a bagger motorcycle for the most part. You can tell by the way they drive the bike. They are in the wrong lane, wrong speed, wrong position, not using turn signals to change lanes and going too fast for conditions or riding in the passing lane, not stopping at stop signs, trying to beat traffic signal lights, passing cars too fast and too close. The list goes on. You see these guys crashed at motorcycle rallies and many fatally injured. They think motorcycles are toys. They are, but they are dangerous toys and baggers are more dangerous than all due to the extreme weight and mass of the machine. It takes a professional rider to manage a bagger and even then the bagger can not truly be tamed or controlled with any degree of confidence. If it begins to slide, it will fall over for it is inherently instable and too heavy to catch with your leg and reverse its fall. Instead, it will just crush you. Another thing you notice about the majority of bagger riders is they drive through intersections like a car, going too fast, looking straight ahead and they appear to be "joy riding" and way too relaxed as they zip through traffic. I have seen many of them slam on the brakes and fall down just because they are driving too fast. Yes, lower your speed below the speed limit because the speed limit is actually too fast for all motorcycles. A lower speed increases your visibility to other drivers and gives you time to evade or stop in a timely manner. If you see a bagger rider wearing bright-color riding gear you will see a professional rider, in most cases. But do you really want to ride along side an amateur bagger rider? I have seen these idiots ram and crash into other riders in the group.
Keep The Bike You Now Have
If you already own a stock touring model Harley-Davidson keep it. Don't upgrade to an expensive bagger if you do not truly need one. Don't let the bagger types cast their eyes down on you. After all, they are the true fools who will pay dearly for making poor financial decisions. Is that what you want? Don't be caught up in the insanity. If you want a bagger buy a Harley-Davidson Road King or similar road model cruiser. They look like a bagger because it is a bagger and it will cost you less to purchase, less to insure too. But before you buy read our article How to Buy a Cruiser Motorcycle.
The bagger is a heavy bike made heavier than ever by added accessories which makes the Twin-Cam engine run hot as hell and even hotter if the engine has been performance modified with pistons and cams, etc. Normal engine oil temperature is 180-250 F and up to 280 F is common, but oil will fail to lubricate at 325 F for any appreciable length of time. So make sure the oil in the bagger (even stock Harley's) is full-synthetic for maximum engine protection. It's cheap insurance. However, a hot engine will wear out faster, so don't expect a heavy custom bagger to last as long as a stock Harley-Davidson motorcycle. You should also consider a 25W60 weight oil. S&S makes the V-Twin oil for hot-running engines. If you overheat a V-Twin engine it will warp engine cases, pistons, valves and much more. I would install duel engine oil coolers, but remember, those wonderful devices will not cool the primary chain case or the transmission.
A Sensible Bagger?
Iron Works Magazine on page 48 has a photo of a Sportster converted into a bagger. It made sense and it looks real good too. Jan/Feb 2014 edition. Purchase the back issue if available. Story by Sam Kanish and photos by Buck Lovell.
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