Subscribe Today - Starting at $4.95

Come Back, Blue

Come Back, Blue

Come Back, Blue

Professional alpine skier Kalen Thorien explains why she had to replace the engine in her beloved Harley.


 Words & Images Kalen Thorien


I had Blue not two years before she died. I bought the ‘93 Harley-Davidson FXR Super Glide from its original owner, John; tears glistened in his eyes as we loaded the bike on to my trailer, and I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy I'd never ridden a Harley before.

Even I thought it was absurd to buy an FXR without knowing how to ride it. I got to know Blue in empty parking lots, learning to shift, turn, stop, and occasionally pick her up off the ground. The next summer we rode 25,000 miles together, dodging thunderstorms in Texas, floods in Oklahoma, and a hurricane in Georgia. Blue broke down once in Alabama, then again in Florida, but nothing a little shop time couldn't fix.

Last summer I planned to take Blue overseas to Norway — epic, I know — but a few weeks before my trip, I squeezed in a last-minute ride to L.A. to attend the Born Free show, much to my mechanic’s dismay; he’d been harping that we needed to swap out Blue’s camshafts. When it happened — a total loss in power, followed by a tinny death rattle — my heart fell into my stomach. I left Blue at Bennett’s Performance in Long Beach and spent the next few days pacing around nervously, feeling like a terrible parent. Finally the call came: the Evo engine was toast. Bennett's offered to rebuild Blue's motor but said it would kill her reliability, and recommended buying a new motor. I knew they were right.

Before Blue died, I would daydream about swapping in an S&S V111 engine — a powerful, dependable, short-stroke V-twin — but couldn’t justify buying a new motor with her running strong. When she died, I called S&S and explained the situation, and they graciously donated a complete engine.

I didn’t sleep the night before I picked up Blue. Not only did my baby get a new heart, she got the heart of a goddamn lion — bigger, better, fiercer. Seeing her for the first time brought me to tears; the blacked-out 1,819cc motor barely fit in the frame. When I fired her up, she roared to life, proudly proclaiming, “I’m back, bitch.”

In one month Blue and I rode almost 8,000 miles, throughly breaking in the S&S V111. We followed the California coast to Seattle, rode across the north to Milwaukee, then back west through Midwest downpour. We explored golden aspen groves in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, scraping pegs on as much pavement as possible. There’s a spirit in this motor I can't get enough of, and because of it, my connection to Blue is stronger than ever.

Blue and I have seen so much together, sharing sunrises and sunsets. She has witnessed me at my best — and worst — and helped build me into a stronger, more confident woman, just like I’ve built her into a faster, better bike. People ask why I saved Blue when I could’ve simply bought a new bike, and my response is simple: She saved me, so I will do everything I can to save her.

This article was originally featured in Issue 035 of Iron & Air Magazine.



*$9.95 per quarter