Where the Biker Meets the Bike

I recently talked about a new (to me) Sportster I picked up a few weeks ago. I really like the bike and have been on it several times over the last week or so once I replaced the damaged wheel, put on some new brake pads, and got her licensed. With that being said, there are a couple of places where the rider (me) "interfaces" with the motorcycle that weren't as comfortable as I would like, so I've started to make some adjustments.

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The Handlebar Grips

I've noticed over the years that I'm not a really big fan of really fat grips. They just don't feel very comfortable to me and because this is one of the primary places where the rider meets the bike, I think the grips need to be comfortable. I've also come to appreciate that I prefer a little contour to the grips—in other words, I wasn't liking the fat, straight grips that came on the bike.

Fortunately, changing the grips is pretty easy. The new grips are pictured above.

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I've also learned that I tend to like the familiar—so when I found a pair of Drag Specialty grips, like I have on my Road King, I bought them. I knew I liked them (because I have been riding with them for years), I didn't see any reason to keep looking for something else I might not like, the price was right, and the folks at Revzilla offer free shipping on orders over $39.99. In addition to the grips, I ordered something else, met the free shipping limit, and three days later I had my grips.

Installing grips on a Harley requires a little more than simply slipping them on, but it's not tough. My Road King and the Sportster both have an integrated twin cable throttle set up so these instructions apply to other bikes like that—but it's still very easy.

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You'll know this is the type of throttle you have on your bike if there are two cables coming out of the housing on the right side of the handlebar. 

There's a rubber cover over the adjustment nut you'll need to push up and out of the way on both of the cables. Loosen the locking nut and add some slack into the cable to get started.

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Once that is done, remove the two torx fasteners on the clamshell. There is one on the top in the middle of the housing and the other on the bottom to the right of the switches (on the right side and to the left on the left-side housing). This will enable you to lift the clamshell off and swing it out of the way.

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The cable sits in a channel on the inside end of the grip and terminates with a barrel on the end that slips into an opening on either side of the grip. As a kid, if you ever took your bicycle brakes apart, it felt like the same type of thing and will be familiar to you when you look at the grip.

When you consider that 115 years ago motorcycles really weren't anything more than bicycles with motors, I think these remnants of their origins makes sense. What's more, the approach still works.

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You'll need to pull on that slack you created earlier to pull the barrel end of the cable from the housing on the grip. Be aware though, that the barrel end is a small piece that slips on a ball-type shape on the end of the cable, so if you're not watching you might drop it. 

I imagine it would be difficult to find if it hit the floor and bounced out of the way. I wasn't expecting it and it almost dropped when I removed the end of the cable.

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Lift the top of the clamshell out of the way to slide the old grip off and then slip the new grip on. Out with the old and in with the new. There's a grove on the top half of the clamshell that the cable housing on the grip fits into.

Reattach the barrel ends into the new grip and make sure the cables sit within the groves inside the housing on either side of the grip. You'll need to pull the slack up again to get the cable ends seated properly.

You'll need to readjust the cable nut so your throttle will work properly. Make sure the adjustment for the return allows the throttle to slip back without the need to push it back. Then tighten the locking nut on the end of the adjuster.

Once you've done that, replace the clamshell and tighten it up.

Repeat the process on the left-side grip. You won't have to worry about any cables on that side, but you may need to cut the old grip off because it probably won't just slip off.

Once you've cleaned the bar (my bar had some grip glue on it), you're ready to install the new grip. You have a number of choices of mediums you can use to help slide the new grip on and keep it in place, I've tried a few of them.

  1. You can use compressed air (if you have a compressor) to help the grip slip on.
  2. You can use a little soapy water to lubricate the inside of the grip to slip on the bar. I've used this method on a bicycle grip before. When the soapy water evaporates, the residue left behind acts to help the grip stick.
  3. You can use glass cleaner to do the same thing. This was my preferred method until recently.
  4. Rubbing alcohol is something else you can use as a lubricant and is what I prefer to use now.
  5. You can also use grip glue. It will lube the grip going on and glue it in place as it dries.
  6. Many guys also use hairspray to do the same thing.

I don't think it really matters. I like the alcohol method these days.

Depending upon the grip, it may or may not fit into the groove inside the top of the clamshell. For example, the grip I took off didn't, but the grip I installed did.

Once you have your grips in place, you probably won't want to jump on the bike and take a ride. Depending upon the type of grip you have, if you ride it before it's had time to dry and set, you could twist and mis-shape your new grip. Leave it until tomorrow to be safe.

Foot Pegs

Although there wasn't really anything wrong with them, I didn't like the front foot pegs. I liked the pegs the previous owner had used for the passenger better.

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I felt like they suited the look of the bike better, so when I removed the rear pegs (I don't plan on riding two-up on this bike), I swapped them to the front. The diameter is also a little smaller and I feel like my feet are able to more easily work the controls.

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The Seat

So far I'm not unhappy with the seat, but I haven't put enough miles on the bike at one time to know for sure. After I've spent enough saddle time on the bike, I'm sure I'll know whether or not I want a new saddle. There's a saddle made by La Pera I have my eye on if I decide to make a change. I'm generally not a fan of the stock saddles Harley uses, but so far this one doesn't seem too bad. We'll see.

I'm convinced these three places where the rider directly interacts with the bike are important enough that if something just doesn't feel right, it's worth changing. After you've spent some time on the bike, ask yourself some questions like these:

  1. Does my butt get numb after a few hours in the saddle?
  2. Do my hands hurt or feel pressure points during a ride?
  3. If you have a bike like my Sportster, without full size footboards, do the pegs make it easy or allow you to easily operate the shifter and the rear brakes?

You can also look at your handlebar height and width. I was on a friends Ultra Classic once with such narrow handlebars it was really difficult to control the bike at slow speeds like running through a parking lot. Don't be shy about a new bar if it's too tall, too wide, too narrow, or just doesn't feel right.

Although making these adjustment will impact your comfort and maybe even the look of your bike (I feel like this bike looks better), it also impacts your ability to control the bike—and ultimately your safety.