Photo by Genghis
LOW RIDER INFLUENCE: The H-D Low Rider led me to get my ’71 Super Glide Mabel.
“…..’course you know I like whatever you write! I have a thought experiment for you: what would you do if Mabel were totaled? I know you both (you and Patty) bounced back after that horrific wreck in Queens in the ’90s, but what if Mabel were terminal, fubared, kaput? I think you’d probably spend an appropriate amount of time grieving…. but I think you’d scout out an older FX; do’er up as a tribute to your deceased love…
Another Low Rider memory for you: Fall/Winter ’78 I’m working at a full-service Texaco filling station along the freeway in Jacksonville, which is the home of Little Rock Air Force Base. Everyday at 5 PM, an airman on one of the first Low Riders blasts down the access road on the way to the base. That guy was the coolest, his bike, the best. He always wore a sleeveless Levis jacket with a big HD eagle patch on the back. When it was warm, it was just the denim, when it got colder the vest wwhen over his leather. He stopped by the station a few times & I got to see the bike & biker up close. I was on my Honda CB 360T at the time, and this airman, with no bravado or bluster, just his quiet cool, is something I’ve always remembered. I feel really blessed to have become infatuated with Harleys before they became fashionable, when they were Trouble, Real Trouble, in all its connotations. You knew a guy on a Harley knew what he was getting into.
One more thing (hey I’m sitting at B and N using their wifi, drinkin mocha, so I’ve got time), re: your previous Low Rider blogpost, you mentioned the Bay Area style. I always thought the Bay Area look, popularized by Arlen (before he became a Mess) was a swingarm BigTwin with drag bars and 3 1/2 gallon fats, no? Then HD, as they always did, appropriated the look for the Low Rider (as they later did with Duc Dufour’s Low Boy, redone by the factory as the Fat Boy). Frisco Style was, as I understand it, rigids with midrange (FX) controls & frisco’ed XL tanks & Z-bars…?”
NEW YORK COLISEUM 1982
Certain events are pivotal in bikers’s lives. In my life, this was one of them. This was the year when I met my wife, Patty, when she became one of my martial arts students where I held my classes at the Third Street Music School on 11th Street, in New York City. I know, there are contradictions in that statement. For one, a martial arts class being held in a music school? What you don’t know is that the Third Street Music School has dance floors where ballet is taught. I rented out this dance floor, two nights a week, when the sound of bashing of ribs took place instead of the whispered flurry of little ballerinas’ feet. The Third Street Music school is America’s oldest community school for the arts and was established in 1894. I’ll give you three guesses, as to what street it originally resided on. This year was pivotal for me for two major reasons. One, I met Patty, and two, it was the year that cemented my resolve to finally move on to a shovelhead from my Sportster. Until recently, I didn’t know that one particular motorcycle model was of prescient importance for me and David Snow, in shaping our views on how the Harley 74 would play a role in our lives. This motorcycle, was the Harley-Davidson Low Rider.
In 1982, Patty and I went to a car and motorcycle show at the now-defunct New York Coliseum. If this old venue rings a familiar bell, it’s because it was the site in the late ’60s when the New York Chapter of the Aliens M.C. had a ferocious turf battle with the Pagans M.C. They really tore the place apart. Because of this nationally publicized occurrence, the Aliens were absorbed into the HAMC and became the New York Chapter of the Hells Angels. This car and bike show would prove fateful with regard to my Harley future, and tie me with Snow in coincidental ways that could be considered Orwellian.
You see how David’s exposure to the Harley Low Rider has caused a simmering desire for that model, culminating in a delayed search for the right Low Rider. As Snow says, “I’ll know it when I see it.” The Harley Low Rider caused a similarly fateful gut reaction in me. As we ambled along the aisles of the New York Coliseum, we came across a silver Low Rider, which I sat on. The effect was electric. All of my repressed desires for a shovelhead were suddenly and volcanically awakened. It was like a religious experience. I felt my face flush with pleasure, as I sat in the saddle of this low-slung beauty, her shovelhead rocker boxes winking up at me like two seductive, glistening eyes. I put my feet on her foward pegs. I reached for the handlebars, and I was hooked. That did it. I had to get a shovelhead. I spent the next three years saving enough money to buy a shovel, and the resulting purchase was Mabel, my beloved ’71 Super Glide.
How uncanny was it that a single model of Harley-Davidson, was the game-changer that it was for both Snow and me? The big difference of course, is that I didn’t maintain a fixation on the Low Rider. I was happy just to have a shovel in a classic four speed swingarm frame. Snow on the other hand, seems intent on finding a original, unmodified Low Rider. Who knew, considering Snow’s well-documented predilection for changing his bikes over the years, as chronicled in Iron Horse? Snow won’t settle for a good-condition but modified Low Rider. He wants a Low Rider that is original. As he says, “A Low Rider is only original once.“
That’s how I ended up with Mabel, my Harley stroker. I love my bike, but Snow posed an interesting question. What would I do if Mabel were beyond repair, what would I replace her with? Simple. I would look for another shovelhead in a swingram frame in good condition. I would in fact, depend on Andrew Rosa of Rosa’s Cyles to find me one, to cull excellence from the pack, that’s how much I trust Andrew.
Snow mentioned Bay area style bikes, I would think that David has a more concrete idea of what the the Bay area style is than I do, but here’s what comes to my mind when I hear “Bay area.” My mind harkens back to the late ’60s, when Arlen Ness built these spindly little swingarm Sportsters, constructed on spindly little custom frames with small diameter tubing, and spindly little springers made with small diameter tubing. The frames may have been stretched, but horizontally. The necks of these bikes were kept low. Some of the bikes had a rake, but in all, these Ness Sporties all hugged the ground and looked small and fragile. The controls and pegs were always mid-positioned, highway pegs were an expleteive deleted, as far as Ness was concerned with these bikes. The bars were usually of the tiller type, kept low and reaching back to the rider so it seemed as if the rider was gripping the bars at waist level. The tanks always seemed to be custom diamond tanks, very small and never Frisco mounted. These bikes always looked laughable to me, especially with a rider on board. With a rider in the saddle, the bikes looked (to me) pitifully outclassed by the street. The street demands strong looking Harleys, that dominate the street, not the other way around.
I hated these bikes.
The closest association I can dredge up when I saw pictures of these little bikes, was of “children’s tricycles.” These Bay area Ness bikes weren’t small-looking in a righteous way that an old Knuck in an original, unraked rigid looks. To me, those Ness bay area Sportsters, looked small in a way that would cause dispepsia. Just around that time, someone offered kits—I can’t remember who—that featured a frame with no top tube. Therefore, the gas tank was moved elsewhere on the bike, and there was nothing but air above the Sportster motors. These looked even more ridiculously childish, than the Ness Sportsters, like Vespas on mild steroids.
Some experiences in life leave permanent physical creases in our brains. How else to explain Snow’s burgeoning and consuming love affair with the Harley Low Rider? I know that my sitting on that Low Rider at the New York Coliseum in 1982, left measurable crevices in my cerebrum, that led my lifelong appreciation for the shovelhead-powered four speed swingarm. I believe that the physical changes in Snow’s cerebrum, will eventually lead to his scoring a cherry Harley Low Rider. The saga continues. Later.