After swapping out a clutch hub bearing and installing a new primary drive belt at Rivera Primo’s shop in Goleta, California, Charlie Weisel (that’s pronounced Wisel), hit the road. After a short ride, he pulled over and returned my call. I’d called him a couple of hours earlier, right when he was elbows deep in the drive side of his 2003 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail chopper. With a car or truck passing every few minutes, Charlie sat astride the 10-foot 4-inch long custom. “Everything all right?” one concerned driver shouted out during our conversation. “Yeah, all fine!” Charlie replied. He’s used to the attention, and says, “people do tend to stop and make sure I’m good fairly often, it’s a reminder that humans are far more caring and helpful than we like to believe.” And he’d know. Over the last several years, Charlie has ridden his chopper more than 235,000 miles, traveling the roads of 17 European countries, Mexico, and all 48 contiguous United States. “I’ve never named the thing,” Charlie says of his Harley-Davidson. “But I will talk to it. I have a pretty close relationship with the machine; I’m constantly asking it to go just a little further or saying sorry for riding it where I’m asking it to go. So, either begging or apologizing!” He rides on all surfaces, from asphalt to dirt, sand and gravel. “Typically, the more remote and difficult roads yield the greatest rewards,” he explains.

A familiar roadside shrine near Conception Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]
Charlie didn’t grow up around motorcycles, but he was a seasoned traveler. His dad was a career Air Force man, and the family moved around the country every two or three years. And his mom, who was athletic and a marathon runner, got him interested in road racing bicycles. “I raced from the age of 11, up until I was 28 or 29. I basically burned out on it,” he says. “I’d win a race, live for a week on the earnings, and then drive to another race and zig-zagged around the country. Eventually, the fun was taken out of the bicycle racing and the only part I enjoyed was the traveling.” Although not raised around motorcycles, he wasn’t exactly a stranger to them. Having been taught where the clutch, brake levers and throttle were on a friend’s bike, Charlie would occasionally borrow a machine and ride for an hour or two. About 22 years ago, Charlie moved near Boulder, Colorado, and eventually got his motorcycle license. In 2002, he bought a new Harley-Davidson Sportster. “I had the idea that I’d travel, but I’d use a motorcycle to do it,” he says. Ironically, the Sportster was mostly ridden around town. It wasn’t until 2005 when Charlie put money on the ‘03 Heritage Softail that miles really began rolling under his tires. “I took a ride with a couple of friends up to Wyoming,” Charlie recalls. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it all felt very natural to me. I’d already been all over the country, just not on a motorcycle – and the motorcycle added something extra awesome to the mix.”

Charley Weisel at a roadside motel. [Charlie Weisel]
As purchased, the Heritage Softail had apehanger handlebars. Everything else about it was stock. Slowly, the machine began to evolve. “I changed the paint, cut a few things off here and there,” Charlie explains, and continues, “But about 10 years ago, I decided to hardtail it and rake it out. I’d always liked long choppers, and it was time for me to do it.” While mechanically competent, Charlie insists he’s not a fabricator or a welder. “I have friends who can help me with that,” he says. Overall, the aesthetic of his long, rigid-at-both-ends chopper is reminiscent of custom builds from Sweden. And Charlie runs a 15-inch car tire on the rear. “That’s both form and function. It’s a Swedish thing to do, and a lot of the old choppers ran car tires. For what I do, it makes total sense. I can run it a little lower on air pressure and smooth out some of the bumps, and I can get 30,000 miles out of a tire instead of changing motorcycle tires twice a month.” Experts enjoy telling Charlie that he can’t ride with a car tire on the rear of his motorcycle, regardless of the fact he has and will pound out 1,000 mile days on the machine. “People who’ve never done it are the first to say, ‘You can’t do it,’” he says. “I’m not going to put a car tire on the back of a sport bike and take it to the track, but people do tend to get super-hot about this kind of stuff.”

Other bikes, other adventures. In Namiquipa, Chihuahua Mexico, parked up with a BMW GS adventure tourer. [Charlie Weisel]
Did a young Charlie ever imagine he’d be living the life of a wayward ‘cyclist? “I don’t remember picturing my life as anything in particular as a kid,” he mused. “I do know that I always dreamt of foreign lands and desolate spaces, I know that I’ve always had an affinity for things on wheels and that being on my own is not something that concerns me. Life has a way of pushing us around and apparently riding a chopper around the world is where it thinks I should be. That might change some day. Who knows? I’ve always been independent, and I’ve been told that I don’t do things the ‘normal’ way, so it seems to add up that my mode of transportation is what it is.” You read that right. Riding a chopper around the world is Charlie’s mission. He’s able to finance this goal because, about five years ago, he decided to put the money he was earning as an electrician into real estate. After purchasing several properties, he quit his sparky gig and is now a landlord. And he doesn’t really have an agenda. He says he makes it up as he goes, but as of this writing, Charlie needs to ride his chopper across the southern states to be in Miami for the 1st of March. From there, the Harley-Davidson will be shipped to Spain. He’ll ride through Europe from mid-March until early June before heading into Russia, pointing his knobby front tire east to Vladivostok. There, the bike will be loaded onto a ship, and he’ll be back Stateside in late September or early October.

We’re not in Las Vegas anymore: under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. [Charlie Weisel]
Having completely rebuilt the Twin Cam motor twice, and replaced the top end three or four times, Charlie says his chopper is very reliable. Engine cases, cylinders, heads and transmission are all Harley-Davidson, but the internals have been entirely replaced with S&S components. It started life as an 88-inch mill, went to 95-inches and is now punched out to 96-inches. The saddle is from LePera, and Charlie had more than 100,000 miles on a Signature 2 seat when late last year the company reached out to him – completely unsolicited — with an offer to send him a new one. “I’ve always loved the LePera seat,” Charlie wrote in an Instagram post about LePera’s generosity, “and I intend to put the same miles on the new one.” All of his gear on the chopper is stowed in a Mosko Moto Reckless 80 pannier system. It’s packed, as Charlie says, “With a boatload of parts and tools, it’s overkill at the moment, but when I get into Russia, I want to be prepared.” He’s got a spare clutch, drive belts, charging system, ignition system, ring and pinion gear, tubes, tire levers and a compressor. “All of those parts have failed on me at one time or another when I’ve been on the road,” he explains. Charlie also carries camping gear, but says, “I do a lot of couch surfing and will stay in the occasional hotel as well. In the last few days, I’ve slept under the stars in the Arizona desert, in the world’s biggest Radio Flyer wagon in Joshua Tree (used by Travis Pastrana and Nitro Circus in the Life Size Toys series) and a cozy bed at my wife’s family’s house in Ventura. Sleeping under the stars is definitely my preferred place to rest, however. I’m not typically a good sleeper but a breeze on my face and a chilly clear night does the trick every time.”

Nobody said it would always be warm, traveling around the world. [Charlie Weisel]
Two questions Charlie hears most often when the chopper’s parked up, he says, are, “’How does it handle?’ and ‘Why are you riding that?’” The answer to the first question is, “Just fine. It’s not a sport bike, but it works for me.” And the second question? We spoke for quite some time about people using inappropriate machines for wheeled adventures. Whizzers going from the West Coast to the East Coast. Mid-1960s Honda Dreams on the TransAmerica Trail. Honda CT90s from New Orleans to Phoenix. “I love that challenge of riding a machine where it really shouldn’t be,” Charlie says, “Now, that’s adventure.” For five years, Charlie owned a BMW 1200 GSA. “I wanted to try one, and took a couple of trips on it, and it did everything perfectly. But I don’t think there’s anything really that adventurous about an adventure bike, and for the most part, it sat in the garage collecting dust, so I sold it. People do tend to think the chopper is unrideable, but I’m going to have a quarter of a million miles on mine.”

Solo traveling on good, if lonely roads, is an amazing gift. [Charlie Weisel]
[You can follow Charlie’s journeys on his Instagram feed @travelingchopper.]
More familiar places: the Rock Store in Malibu Canyon. [Charlie Weisel]
Camping out, looks like Baja California Norte near Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent.  He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics
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