Common Tread

Demo daze: I can't let Dad sell the Softail

Jul 29, 2016

"Hey, Vin," my Dad said. "Indian is having a demo day this weekend. I've been thinking about selling my bike for a smaller one and that new Scout is just so cool. Want to go?"

He knew I’d recognize the deep implications of that seemingly innocuous but dangerous piece of information in the middle — that little bit about selling his bike — so he sweetened the deal with something he knew I couldn’t resist: the opportunity to rail the ever-living piss out of a motorcycle I don’t own in the name of research. The man is good.

Why would I be so concerned about the sale of a motorcycle not my own?

My father, The Good Captain, stands a mighty five feet, five inches tall. That makes handling some larger, heavier bikes significantly more challenging than it would be to our long-of-limb brethren. Eventually, that becomes absolutely irrelevant, as the primordial male predisposition to assert his dominance over all things mechanical renders any sense of logic and practicality completely and totally unnecessary.

To his credit, my father started riding with two reasonably manageable models. But in the summer of 2005, his testes began to itch with an urgency that only Milwaukee engineering could scratch and he graced the spot of honor in the family garage with a brand-spanking-new burgundy Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe.

It arrived with much pomp and circumstance. After all, this was a motorcycle he had dreamed of as a kid, one that starred in posters on his bedroom walls. At 15 years old, I was sure this motorcycle was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, a big fat chromed slice of apple pie with the all the class and style of Humphrey Bogart and an exhaust note that would make the thighs of Lady Liberty herself clench with new and confusing emotion. Best of all, it came with a promise.

"You know, Vin, one day, when I'm dead, this bike will be all yours."

I can still hear the words echoing against the walls of our garage as we stood admiring it together for the first time. They resonated so powerfully in my puberty-ravaged brain that visions of twisted desert highways, dirty leather, and fast, sparsely toothed women made my eyes grow wide with possibility. It was a future so assured that I could practically smell the Wild Turkey on their breath.

Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
The Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe, my rightful inheritance. Photo by Vincent Morello.

The Softail was our personal piece of Americana to be passed down through our family for as long as Morellos rode motorcycles. And if I had any say in the matter, Morellos would be riding a very long time.

I added an M to my driver's license late in the summer of 2013, almost 10 years after the H-D's glorious arrival. From then, my own bikes came to share her paddock as she sat sipping from her Battery Tender and waiting patiently for the day we’d jump a divider into an aqueduct, or ferry President Kardashian across the Delaware River. As far as we were concerned, we were just biding our time.

But as the odometers on my own motorcycles spun blisteringly with each passing season, The Good Captain’s slowly ground into stagnancy. The once intoxicating prospect of long open roads and wind-burned faces gave way to the lamentable effort required to simply get her out of the garage. For my father, riding had lost its luster. But on that mild Sunday morning in April, the effort didn't seem to matter. We were off to demo The Captain’s new intended.

My work was cut out for me if I wanted to avoid the loss of my inheritance. It was clear I needed to accomplish two things that day: Enjoy the speed and performance only a motorcycle under an insurance policy I do not own can provide, and dissuade my father from selling his motorcycle, at all costs. But not necessarily in that order.

We handled the necessary paperwork and made nice with the salespeople before stepping out to saddle up on a pair of eager-looking Scouts. It was finally time for Captain Carl to get his demo on.

Indian Scout
A row of Indian Scouts, ready for demo duty. Indian Motorcycle of Mineola photo.

The ride captains gave the signal and 20-plus Indians turned over at once. Regardless of what you ride, there’s something distinctly ceremonial about the sound of big American V-twins thundering their arrival in staggered unison. We hit the first red light less than a quarter mile from the dealership.

Juan Carlos pulled right up next to me and shouted, "I have bad news for you, Vin. I'm selling my bike."

The man hadn’t even tickled third gear. So easy to please.

Though I suppose I can’t blame him. The Scout was fun. The power on tap was delicious and crisp, the handling was quick and flickable. With each twist of the throttle and bend in the road, it became painfully apparent that it would be hard to hold a grudge against the little Indian. But I was determined to remain resolute. I knew that even one positive utterance to my father would exponentially increase the likelihood of losing my birthright to this usurper.

After completing the demo loop, Cap’n was beaming. For him, the Scout was pushing all the right buttons: an engine whose torque floweth over, the classic American pastiche of yesteryear, and a lightweight, well handling chassis that provided a modicum of reassurance that it wouldn’t crush him to death if it ever fell over.

I grimaced with each excited conversation he entered into with the other attendees. I tried half-heartedly to argue the negative points my previous research had prepared me to encounter: the suspension travel was lackluster, that big front tire made the front end lazy, the ride position could grow tiresome… But after experiencing the sum of the Scout’s parts, I hardly believed them myself.

Carl would hear none of it. He gazed longingly through the dealership window. He wouldn’t be swayed.

We stepped outside for the next demo loop and El Capitán bee-lined for the Scout 60, a dialed-back, less expensive, yet somehow still raucous incarnation of its big brother.

"It's worth a shot, don't you think? Might save me some money," he said.

Now, I’d never knock the 60 without giving it due diligence. If the plain old Scout was fun, you’d assume that a few less ponies wouldn’t make that much difference. But the idea that my promised white-walled Nimitz-class battle stallion would be downgraded to a spunky, middle-weight bruiser was already taxing enough. Now, as if to twist the blade deeper into my already gutted corpse, the man was considering even less bike?

The fear consumed me. Time was running out. From somewhere deep inside came the message: If you don't like the way things are going, change the conversation. My eyes drifted over the line of Indians, down to a baby-blue fairing the size of South Dakota.

The 2016 Indian Roadmaster is Indian’s premier luxury touring platform. It’s about the size of an A380, weighs quite literally 1,000 pounds laden, and costs upwards of $29,399, depending on how it’s equipped. This one was equipped with a cup holder, which in my opinion made it worth about three times whatever they were asking. It was pure, unadulterated ‘Murican glory on two wheels.

Indian Chief Roadmaster
The Good Captain snapped this photo of me on the blue whale, in all its all-American glory. Photo by Carl Morello.

I swung a leg over and allowed my quivering butt cheeks to meet the plushy, quilted, heated leather saddle and grasped the controls as if I had taken the reins of Pegasus. My victory was nearly assured. The outlandish novelty of this undertaking would be too much for him to bear. I was sure the image of his sport-bike-loving son abusing a $30,000 blue whale would be far too distracting a sight for him to concentrate on forming a positive opinion of the littler Scout.

"You're really going to ride that?"

“You bet your sweet ass I am.”

“Come on, Vin. I think you should consider something more manageable."

“What? I can’t hear you over the radio, Dad. Look at that, it even tells you what station you’re listening to! Let me put on NPR. You like the NPR, right?”

"Jesus, Vin, I never thought I'd see the day."

“I bet, now would you mind throwing off my stern lines?” (To myself: Way to go, Vin. He loves that nautical shit.)

The ride captains signaled it was time to go. On WNYC, Jonathan Schwartz introduced Frank Sinatra’s “Here Goes” as I pulled the motorcycling equivalent of Tess Holliday away from the curb. This time it was me who shouted at the first stoplight.


Dad actually chuckled. “How does it feel?”

“She's a fine vessel!”

“You look ridiculous."

The light turned green and as the riders in front of us began to pull off the line, Carl gave a testy twist of the throttle, but I would not be outdone. If he was convinced that the solution to his problem lay in reducing the size and weight of the bike he rode, then I would demonstrate that nimble and fast were not the result of the machine, but who straddled it. And I could straddle the best of ‘em…

Or at least I hoped I could. Keep in mind that at this moment I had very little insight into how that mammoth actually performed. Regardless, this could all be overcome with a smattering of bravery. I snapped the throttle on with the kind of fury I reserve for stuck jar lids and – in a moment that appeared to bend the very laws of physics itself – the half-ton Roadmaster dove after The Captain. The Thunderstroke 111 engine roared hard and pushed me back into her supple brown leather with fervent authority. To our mutual disbelief, not only had I caught up to Carl, but now we were riding side by side. With another smooth roll-on, Blue Velvet placed Carlton squarely in the frame of my right mirror.

The demo course continued on quick and technical country roads. It was here that I began to realize just how awesome a machine the Roadmaster really is. The suspension, plush and airy at a cruise, performed admirably under my malevolence, gracefully tipping into the tight stuff and making no bones about acquainting its floorboards with the asphalt whenever I yoked her over hard. The immensely competent mill was quick to jettison me out of turns with smooth throttle response. I felt like I was throwing a coach bus around Le Mans. She was a thousand-pound ballerina that moved as fast as Sweet Connie at a Grand Funk concert.

I was at the front of the pack when the ride captains turned us back into the paddock. My hooliganism put me far out in front of The Carl, far enough that I was sure he had lost sight of the dressage-like performance I had so elegantly displayed.  As I backed Blue into her slip, I began to realize that I had enjoyed the Roadmaster so much I had lost sight of my mission. El Jefe had been left alone with the 60 long enough to form the dangerous opinions I was so afraid of.

"I want the Scout," Dad said emphatically as we laced up our helmets for the ride home.

That night, I found Cap’n hunched over his iPad at the kitchen table. An "Indian Red" Scout filled the screen as he tapped different accessories on and off.

“Did you boys have fun today?” my Mom asked, all practiced enthusiasm.

“I want an Indian Scout,” Dad grumbled.

Obsession runs deep in this family. It would only be a matter of time now until the “For Sale” signs would be taped to the Softail's saddle bags, Craigslist ads would require my proofreading, and a stranger would ride off into the sunset, leaving me with nothing but the thump of her potato-dirge as she faded from view. I suppose it wouldn’t be long after that a new Scout would occupy the once sacred spot the Softail had called home for the better part of a decade. But every undesirable change I could see on the horizon was bookended by thoughts of that shit-eating grin plastered across my father's face during his time on the Scout. His face probably still hurt from all the smiling. That grin.

father and son
My father on the Softail and me on my first bike. This is a photo of our first ride together. Photo by Vincent Morello.

Motorcycling is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but at its core it’s about a very singular and visceral emotion. Motorcycling is the first time you power-walk the parking lot without stalling at the MSF course. It’s the vicious tongue lashing I got from my father when I pulled my brand-spanking-used Ducati Monster into the drive for the very first time because “now you’ll never just go cruising anymore.” It’s 250s, dank whoolies, Sturgis, arguments about oil, cops tapping their helmets, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, high-sides, guys on Harleys who never wave, Valentino Rossi, squids on Gixxers, Sons of Anarchy and the Tail of the Dragon. But that day, motorcycling was the grin that seldom left my father’s face for most of that unseasonably warm Sunday in April.

In a moment of uncharacteristic clarity, I knew that if the Scout could bring that feeling back to my Dad, then I had absolutely no right to stand in the way.