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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.



  1. Hacksaw #0 Says:

    i agree with you on this one, G.
    the whole trick to bobbing or cutting down, in my opinion – the actual art of bobbing, is directly tied into the natural form/function of the machine.
    how one is best able to feel the machine. understand it and become one with it, will determine the success of the endeavor.

    truly less, is more. its imperative to understand that concept to be successfull. now this is different than a custom bike or an all out chopper. those are exercises of a different nature. or perhaps un-nature. nothing wrong with them. i dabble in them myself. but a true cut down is as you say, working within the true nature of the bike.
    it will sound hokey, but there are vibes in this. a rhythym. a cycle of machine to man and back to machine. all the while searching to perfect the form.

    as to the s/a mounted fender. it appears to the uninitiated as “trick”. its a chopped down fender mounted up to meet some persons idea of cool. but in reality, because of that attempt at “cool”, it becomes an add on. not a cut off. as you said G, its just not “right”.

    the beauty is in the simplicity. thats why one has to let the machine talk to them. it will tell you what works and what doesnt. especially 4 speed shovelheads. have i always listened? no. it hard for modern men to shake off the trappings of everything thrown at their senses today, and accept listening to a machine. but those that can, build better bobbers.

  2. Chris1%er,Outlaws,Mechelen Says:

    Hey Scott,
    My well-being is still very OK.
    That one time when it went wrong sure was “a pain in the ass”… However I still think of the digger-set-up as one of the coolest mods for a hard-core swing arm bike.Also I have had much worse injuries as a BMX-racer (I raced from 1979-2001)than I ever got on my motorcycles.Pain comes with life…especially if you live it “on the edge”…and for that I sure have no regrets.

  3. Chris1%er,Outlaws,Mechelen Says:

    But one thing is for sure:my experience proves your theory to be right for a full 100%!

  4. chopperexchange Says:

    Useful resource…

    Here is among the most relevant posts we saw about this…

  5. Migmig Says:

    Oh, Lordy, Lord…

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