Archive for November, 2011


November 19, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

FRAME-MOUNTED FENDER: More “natural” for swingarm Harleys than the swingarm-mounted fender.



“I had my fender like this on my ’79 FX twenty years ago until I got my ass literally kicked by the bike’s bouncing rear-end on a bump in the road at about 150-160 km (95-100 mph). I can still feel it, especially on cold days and long runs. The set-up sure looked cool, but I changed my mind about it.”


For as long as there’ve been Harley-Davidsons, bikers have customized ’em, guided by the strip-down ethic, that was institutionalized in the biker subculture by racers who bobbed their Harleys in the early part of the last century, to prepare these bikes for the racing track. Obviously, less was more. A greater power-to-weight ratio guaranteed more speed and quicker acceleration for the skimpier of the two identical Harley models. All things being equal, the advantage was the lighter weight of the stripped-down bike.

This trend became popular in street Harleys, as the aesthetics of a stripped-down bike became its biggest selling point. Also, the stripped-down bike acted as a sociological indicator of the owner’s participation in the burgeoning biker subculture. The stripped-down Harley became symbolic of the outlaw motorcyclist.

The core tenet of stripping-down Harleys became entrenched in the culture, as an unwritten prequisite for acceptance in the culture. It became considered the “norm” in bike styles in the biker subculture. The role of the stripped-down Harley as a conspicuously hardcore symbol of the owners’s identity as a biker, cannot be minimized. Style preferences in the biker subculture are tribal in nature.

Swingarm big twins were introduced by The Firm in 1958 in the form of the Duo Glide, which was powered by the venerable panhead motor. In the decades following that, bikers tried their hand at creating a more retro look for their four-speed swingarm bikes, by attaching smaller rear fenders directly to the swingarm. This, instead of attaching rear fenders to the rear of the frame by way of fender struts, making swingarm-attached fenders additional unsprung weight, never a good thing. On any vehicle, whether two or four wheeled, the less unsprung weight there is, the better the vehicle will handle.

This created a two-tier riding experience for the biker and his passenger: A sprung ride for the biker, yet a rigid ride for the passenger. It’s almost as if a rider was separated from his passenger by a wall of time, each existing in different eras, with the demarcation line existing at the end of the frame. This incongruity between the front of the bike, and the rear of the bike causes a aesthetic dissonance I find hard to ignore. To me, it looks wrong, and feels wrong.

In attempting to replicate the retro pseudo-rigid look for swingrams, shorter shocks had to be installed, so that the seat area rode lower than the OEM position. This creates clearance problems with the kickstand on left-hand turns. Keeping the stock length shocks while using a swingram-mounted fender, leaves the bike looking proportionally wrong, so sacrifices for ride clearance and proper suspension geomtry, must be made for the sake of a certain look. As that quote from Deedee Capone attests to, not all sacrifices are merely comfort-related. Some are deleterious to well-being.

I used to like the look of the swingarm-mounted fender, but have revised my tastes and thinking abiut this practice. The swingarm-mounted fender look, now appears to me like a clumsy, futile and dishonest change in the swingarm bike. “Dishonest,” because that look is not what the four-speed swingarm Harley is. The four-speed swingarm Harley, is a bike that has its rear fender attached to the frame. This is the swingarm Harley’s natural look, a confluence of styling cues from the front of the bike to the back, that looks in balance and, “just right.”

Dig it: A rigid is a rigid, and a swingarm, is a swingarm. Both have their own kind of beauty. The individualistic beauty peculiar to each, is enhanced by the components that aesthetically match their respective Harley types. With this newfound perspective, I’m trying to imagine an owner of a Harley rigid, trying to attach a rear fender to his rigid frame, by using horizontal fender struts from a swingarm Harley. That, would be a dishonest look, and would look, just plain wrong.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when bikers follow the time-honored strip-down ethic beyond a certain parameter, then that exceeds a point of diminshing returns in aesthetics and pragmatism. Historically, stripping-down a full-dressed Harley consisted of removing all extraneous parts from the bike, without changing the model’s basic nature. The non-essential parts departed from the dresser, were saddlebags, windshields, floorboards, and headlight covers. In later eras, gas tanks, fenders and handlebars were swapped out for different respective parts. These changes did not change the basic nature of the bike.

It is when the basic nature of the model has been altered, that the bike has suffered aesthetically and practically. That is when the point of diminishing returns has been passed. Many bikers feel that they have to go as far as possible in customizing their Harleys. To this I say, less is more. Less unnatural changes, that is. I now feel that swingarm Harley, should look like a swingarm bike: With a frame-mounted rear fender. Later.



November 12, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

ONE OF FOUR: Rise of the machines.


I’m in the process of renewing my New York City gun license, which expires every three years. I had this thought while taking care of the routine paperwork involved: “I have entrusted my life to machines.” It’s true. In this case, I’ve wrapped my life around a delivery device that will send a 230 grain ball of lead, poste haste at a velocity of 900 feet per second at whatever that delivery device happens to be smartly aimed at.

The two devices that I depend on for the timely delivery of said lead, are a stainless Colt Government Model, and a blued Colt Commander. I admit, I love the hefty reliability of the .45 ACP caliber round. It’s comforting. I dig machines that carve large holes in the air, like .45 ACP bullets and stripped-down Harley 74s.

When I was a kid, my “delivery devices” were slingshots cut from tree branches, “Y” shaped devices cut below the bifurcations of branches, to form perfect rock-delivery machines. So it goes, man. I guess I’m obsessed with machines, whether they’re made of wood, metal or fiberglass. I have indeed, made my life around machines, with these mechanical animals as its centerpiece. The four machines I’ve configured my life around in chronlogical order, are Nikons, Corvettes, Harley-Davidsons and Colts.

Notice that I’m brand-specific when categorizing the Machines In My Life. That’s because of my well-known brand loyalty. I believe in brand loyalty, usually to the exclusion of other non-primary brands in each category of machine. I happen to believe that brand loyalty, is a test of character.

For those in the biker subculture, I hold the belief that loyalty to the Harley-Davidson brand, is a litmus test. Hey man, if you don't ride a Harley you ain't shit. Of course, that's a double negative that runs counter to my argument, but what the hey. Times may have changed over the last few decades, but an XS 650 is still scrap metal, or an effective boat anchor when nothing better is available.

All of the machines that I’ve fallen in love with, exhibit speed. My Nikon is capable of shooting six frames per second. My Harley Shovelhead stroker shows muscular arrogance on highways at 80 miles per hour, without breaking a Harley 60 weight sweat. My Vette can do a tire-smoking zero to sixty before you can say “Chevrolet.” The lead spit from my Colt pistols can traverse the length of three footbal fields in one second.

Speed kills, baby!

There is a larger point here beyond the mindless braggadocio about My Machines. It is this: For me, and people like me (chief among ’em are bikers), our machines define us. They give us identity. that’s why machines are so important to people like us. They make us “Bikers.” They also make us “Photographers.” They make us “Car Guys.” With regard to guns, they make us “Americans,” for gun ownership is uniquely American because of the Second Amendment.

Now, I’m going to demonstrate to you how we bikers are of one-mind. How often when you were blasting along in fourth gear on your Harley, have you screwed your machine’s thottle to wide-open, the bike suddenly and thrillingly leaping forward at 90 past the cars on each side, with her straight pipes howling all pleasure and power, did you feel like you were aiming your bike out of the barrel of a gun toward the horizon, the tears welling up in your eyes from the stinging wind and just the, extreme joy of it?

You hang on for life itself on the handlebars, as your bike tries to leave you behind. She’s so excited that she’s being allowed to run like she can. Once in a while under the right circumstances, you can let her off the leash. I find these moments as often as possible while riding, and it is so rewarding for me, and her. Partners on the road, partners in life. See? Great minds think alike, man. You are one of us, man. Is there any doubt?

Machines rule.

How terrible life would be without machines, and all that they mean to us, amd make us. It would be an experience as empty as the ubiquitous hotel room, without beloved machines in the folds of our lives. That they provide identity, there is no doubt. We are tribal animals, you and I. We must belong. Belonging brings order to our chaotic lives, offering a comforting framework of familiarity, conquest and success as sturdy and resilient as a four-speed swingram chassis. The things we do with our machines as partners, give our lives purpose beyond mere existence. That’s why people call you a “gearhead.” Maybe “pistonhead” would be more appropriate. Later.