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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Southern Comfort, A Love Story? (Pitbull / Motorcycle Lift Comparison)

Love Story? WTF?

So it's like this....I know I'll hear it from my Bros, but sometimes a guy just has to get out on a limb, and this might just be my time. So here's the scoop: I'm totally in love....In love with my Pitbull Lift !! And yeah, maybe a few other things (My Harley, for one), but right now, this Pitbull motorcycle lift is definitely floating my boat.

Now before I say anything else, I'll mention that this damn blog has included day-by-day accounts of a ride throughout the southeastern US, including countless details no one but me could possibly care about, and even a little social awareness, environmental rant. And then I began adding posts about other biker events here on the East Coast, the craziest of which was East Coast Sturgis (which is still the #1 reason folks view this blog).

Later the blog included the Search for the Perfect Motorcycle Trailer, and little tips and tidbits about that purchase. Recently I included info about a trip I took to Daytona, scouting around for Bike Week info, and yeah, having a good time in the process. It was also the test-run for the bike trailer. (The "Kendon Trailer" posts, coincidentally, are the second-biggest reason people are reading Southern Comfort. I get a lot of feedback and thumbs-up about the Kendon Trailer details.)

My point here is that the blog has included a wide variety of biker-related stuff, BUT there's been no romance, or for that matter, SEX! Well, no sex unless you count the East Coast Sturgis pix, and that wasn't hands-on involvement. I was just there to get the photos, Dammit :-) And yeah, not all the topless babes were movie stars.....

So get to the point, Cowboy!

OK, there's still no sex ( I gotta work on that ), and this Love Story stretches the definition of "kissy-face, huggy-bear" romance. Still, when something is just what you expected...actually even more....then damn it, you gotta love it, right?

Here's my take on motorcycle lifts, and my search focused solely on lifts for Big Twin Harley Davidson bikes, and more specifically, my Softail Custom. There were other lifts for dirt bikes, Jap bikes, and God knows what else, but I wasn't interested, and my comments are limited to what I saw that might do the job.

What job? I wanted a lift that made it easier to clean my bike, and also to make routine maintenance easier. To that end, the bike had to be lifted high enough so work wasn't back-breaking. It also had to be stable enough to withstand tugging and pulling. And I needed something that allows the wheels to spin freely.  Air operation was out, limiting me to a hydraulic lift. Finally, and maybe most important, it had to be solid and well-built. I don't have enough space for one of the platform lifts, so they weren't on my radar. They also don't lend themselves to under the bike work, and you still need attachments to rotate the wheels with one of those.

Regarding compressed height, it's obviously very important that the lift rolls under the bike. Ideally, you should be able to do this with the bike resting on the sidestand. If you can't, there are two options: 1) Stand the bike up straighter and then roll the stand under. Not as clean, but it'll work. You can also roll one or both tires up on boards, leaving the center section open for the lift to be rolled in. Be careful with this because the bike will lean over much further on the sidestand with the extra height! I guess you could always put the same size blocks under the stand too, but damn, that's making things complicated! Anyway, height is definitely something to take into consideration before you buy. Let your bike rest on the sidestand and take a measurement.

When I started searching, I immediately gravitated to the ubiquitous Sears "Red" lift, which costs about $120.00, and $100 if you catch a sale. These damn things are everywhere, and the same lift, or a knock off, is all over eBay and the net for anywhere between $80 and $125. They're made in China. I looked closely at one, and the parts and assembly weren't bad, but the welding looked like a kid did it. Hell, maybe a kid DID do it!!!

And yeah, for the record, I'm an engineer and used to own a machine shop, so I'm qualified to make the call on fabrication/component quality.

Before I bought anything, I read a lot of comments on the net, and my buddy Fred, shared this advice: Are you really going to bargain shop for a lift to hold up your $21,000 Harley? And that could fall on you if the lift fails? And Fred added this sentiment: "Cowboy, you have a Hummer, a Porsche, and a Harley. Is this the right time to get thrifty? Maybe you should wait and become thrifty next time you buy socks!" (So Fred, how do you really feel? Don't hold back next time.)

Fits on the store shelf sideways. This gives you a good idea of how wide, and thus stable, this lift is.

Now, to be 100% fair, another Bro of mine, Guy, has the Red lift and has gotten good service out of it, so it's not a bad choice, depending on your wallet and what you're going to be doing. There are many similar positive comments about the Sears Red lift online, so before you buy, make sure you define your needs before making the decision. I think Guy also uses one of the roll-on lifts for his major work, so I think it's safe to say he uses the right tool for the job, and maybe the Red lift isn't always that tool. (Here's a video of the Sears Red lift that also discusses necessary mods to make it work with a Dyna)

I didn't buy the Sears Red lift for two reasons: 1) I didn't like those welds, and 2) most important, it didn't lower nearly enough to go under my Softail which has been lowered an inch or so.
The next-in-line choice is the Sears "Yellow" lift for $200.00, and I actually bought one of these. It's also an import. The second I got it home, I realized that despite it lowering far enough and not having a funky welded construction, it was very narrow at the rear wheels, with basically the same configuration as a floor jack for a car. Stability of a bike on a Yellow lift is really questionable due to the very narrow footprint (Here's a YouTube video demonstrating this.). And the damn handle would also be in the way. Before the dust had even settled, I returned it to Sears.

And I should mention, if you research motorcycle lifts, you'll see lots of comments referring to "Red" and "Yellow" lifts. The lifts mentioned above are what folks are referring to.

From here on, the selection of lifts get pricey, but if you're at $200 and still not happy, 2 is pretty close to $300...or $400. It is, isn't it?

The next lift in line is the J & S lift which is made in the USA, and is a really nice lift. They sell for $339 plus $55 shipping. It's wider, far more stable, and raises the bike up 18", with a minimum height of 4" and a 2,000lb! capacity. Of all the lifts I looked at, and I looked at a lot, this one compresses lowest and has the most lifting capacity. (Here's a J&S video)

Once I started adding up the J&S lift price, the optional handle (Really?), shipping, etc, I was getting into to Pitbull Lift pricing territory, which slowed me down. I actually had the order form filled out, but Fred (remember Fred?) told me that he'd bought a Pitbull Lift from Watson Manufacturing at the Timonium Bike Show a year or so back. He got a good price, plus he saved the shipping costs. And the next Timonium show was just a few weeks away! I decided to sit on the J&S order and contacted Watson Manufacturing, the maker of Pitbull Lifts.

I got a great reply from Hieka Watson, Customer Support at Watson, who sent the very latest specs on their lifts, told me they'd be at the show with special pricing, and they'd bring lifts for immediate sale. She said they'd be happy to hold one for me! In short, she made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Tony Watson is the owner, he's a biker, and a great guy to talk to about the lifts.

Pitbull Lifts, by Watson, is the top of the line, and is genuinely shop-grade. List price, online, is $439 plus about $50-60 for shipping. They're rated at 1,450lbs, have a 4 1/2 min height, raise the bike a whopping 24", and of all the lifts, these have the widest, stablest footprint. They weigh about 110 pounds, and come with a (free) handle to move the bike around. In addition, Pitbull offers a turntable attachment that replaces the stock top rails, allowing you to rotate the Harley. Their lifts are made in the USA (Tennessee), and come with a lifetime warranty on everything except the cylinder, and they'll sell you a replacement cylinder cheap if yours goes bad. (Here's a Pitbull Lift video)

Turntable? As my friends say, that's if you're too fucking lazy to walk to the other side. I am and I bought one! Rotating the bike 90deg allows also you to get closer access from either side, so the turntable helps. And yeah, you don't have to walk around. LOL The turntable locks into position for work. (And friends are quick to point out that the turntable options could come in handy for more personal activities, so maybe SEX isn't totally out of the picture.........)

There's also something different about the way a Harley Dyna is set up, and I think it's that the tranny is lower than the frame rails. Pitbull also has a special lift that addresses's NOT the same as their stock lift.

I got my Pitbull Hydraulic lift at the 2011 Timonium Bike Show for $424 including tax, and paid another $170 for the turntable which they'll ship to me. It was, I think, a great deal, and I'll give Hieka extra points for holding mine until I got there. She told me should could have sold it twice, and it was only Saturday morning when I got there!

I had it home and in use right away, just like a kid with a new toy. Assembly took 15 minutes. You have to bolt on the front wheels, the cylinder, and attach the foot pedal. It slid right under my bike and raised it off the sidestand, up 24" and back down on the sidestand just like their video. Not often something goes exactly as advertised!

In the raised position, I lightly pulled on the bike to test stability. Nothing felt shaky. I pulled some more, much harder, and finally just yanked down hard on both the front and rear. That damn bike wasn't coming off. It certainly flexed a little, but nothing to be remotely concerned about, and it wasn't even tied down.

When I put the handle into the socket, I could effortlessly move the bike around, far easier than I expected, including pushing it up against the garage wall, where it takes up a little less storage space than when on the kickstand. There are two jack bolts in the frame you can screw down until they contact the floor. These act as brakes, keeping the bike where you want it. You'll need those. Just waxing the bike pushes it around. It's that easy to move.

Since the first setup, I've done some serious polishing and maintenance, and never once felt uncomfortable sitting under the bike doing my thing. I pulled and tugged very hard to remove the mufflers, and the bike never shifted. It's solid as a rock, and easily worth the bucks. I leave the bike on it, in a raised position, resting against the mechanical locks. There's a sweet little Porsche 911 sitting right next to it in the garage, so a fall will be expensive and painful. I've learned to trust this lift.

The Pitbill Lift is a serious piece of shop equipment, built for the duration. Might be overkill, but like Fred says, do you REALLY want your Harley up on a lightweight, Chinese-made stand that a kid welded together? I decided I didn't. No regrets.

But now that I'm broke, I need to head to WalMart for socks.

Part II

I have also learned something new, and it's something no lift manufacturers seem to mention. Like Dynas, Softails also have a quirk that needs to be taken into consideration when lifting. Softail shocks sit slightly lower than the lowest part of the frame rails. On mine, it's maybe 1/8 - 3/16th of an inch. Lift manufacturers (J&S and Pitbull) say it's OK to lift on the shocks, but lots and lots of owners say when doing so, you run the risk of bending the shock shafts. $$$$!! I'm told that after a bend, you'll hear some squeaking when you ride.

You can just about see the height difference in this picture, taken with my bike on the Pitbull Lift, but without the turntable attachment mounted.


You can shim the back of the lift platform up just under the rails, wrap some tubing around the rails, or Harley even sells a set of bright orange rubber frame protector deals that pop on to make up the gap. They charge you $15 bucks, and that's gotta be the cheapest fucking part number in the whole Harley catalog! I got those, but I'll also suggest a $3.00 length of 1 1/4" PVC tubing split lengthwise and popped onto the frame at the area near the shocks. It ain't orange like the Harley bits, but it'll get you by.

And by the way, I hear those orange deals look like Holy Hell if you forget to take them off. By the way, they come in pairs so get someone to split a pair with you. Take one, cut it in half, and you're set.

Harley Davidson Frame Protectors snapped on. Actually these are more like shock protectors instead of frame protectors, but whatever.....Using these allows you to move the lift back for better balance for certain jobs without stressing the shock shafts or mounts. 

This quirk with the shock height is something Softail owners will definitely need to remember when lifting their scoots. This is whether or not you use the Pitbull turntable, and it doesn't matter what kind of lift you use.

Or you could just take your chances. The weight of the bike quickly transfers from the shocks to the frame after the lifting starts. The shocks are simply pushed upwards until the lift pad contacts the frame. One guy swears he lifts that way without a problem, even storing the bike on the lift. Pitbull and J&S also say it won't hurt. But another says he bent his shocks doing it that way, and he had to replace 'em. For about 15 bucks (or even 3 bucks, the price of some PVC pipe), I think I'll shim mine up, and not take the chance. to be honest, though, I have lifted it without shims, and hundreds of road miles later I haven't noticed any damage.