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GOING THE DISTANCE
"NO BIG THING"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
WHAT MAKES RIGIDS SPECIAL: They look small.
It was the Giant Mantis That Ate New York!
I saw this bike cruising down Second Avenue in NYC.
It was a bright lime green with yellow highlights. Not just the tank and fenders, but the frame, too. The gas tank was one of those stretched, swoopy deals that had a lot of ground to cover between the seat and the frame's neck, because the backbone of the bike was so long.
There was enough empty territory between the top of the motor and the bike's spine, for an airbag installation.
I thought to myself, "How did rigids end up looking like this?"
This guy oughta name his bike the "Mile High Club." A stretched and raked rigid, the long fork looked about two feet over stock. It had the requisite fat rear tire that looks like Jabba The Hut rubber.
The neck of the bike looked about as high as the full height of the man riding it, if the man had been standing up. I was dumbstruck by how big this bike looked. Is this the way a rigid should look?
The overriding impression was of an imposingly large and heavy motorcycle.
It looked like the Mack truck of custom bikes.
I've got this serious condtion, and there's no cure for it. It's called nostalgia.
Just as Janis once offered, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...," I say that nostalgia is just another way to say that I stick by my biker principles, and continue to dig bikes the way they oughta be, regardless of how much time has passed. Or am I "too stubborn to change?" I don't think so. With rigids, sensationalism has replaced class as a premium. What's righteous is timeless, and what's sensational is transient. Harley-Davidson rigid frames are indeed timeless in their perfect proportions, and the way that they interact with the drivetrain. That's why you can shoehorn a panhead or a shovelhead into an early knuck frame, and the combination will still look right in its proportions.
In my early days as a young biker, what struck me as exquisitely gorgeous about a stripped-down rigid Harley, was just how small one looked when you stood next to her. Here you had this low-slung beauty with a short fork with a thirty degree rake, with it's seat inches lower than your kneecap---man, wotta rush that gives ya.
Now, that's low. The overall effect with all of the garbage wagon paraphernalia removed, was of a starkly sparse and small bike, quite a visual trick for a big twin. The illusion of smallness, was the Harley rigid's charm.
The Harley rigid has lost her way since those simple, halcyon days of yore when rigids looked compact, culminating in monstrosities like that gargantuan lime green chop I saw on Second Avenue. The idea that such a large motorcycle could be claimed by the owners of such bikes to be choppers, shows how meaningless the term "chopper" has become today.
I guess that Godzilla's made a comeback, only now he's bright lime green.
I swear, this lime green bike could make a fully accessorized dresser look petite.
The overall profile is freakishly dimensioned, crying out for a Jenny Craig program.
Is the quality of rigids now judged by the quantity of metal? Is less not more, anymore?
Used to be that bikers created bobjobs out of their full dresser Harleys, to simulate track bikes of the day. Stripped down, these rigids were the purest expression of the bare bones Harley: Purposeful looking in its spartan undress, the stripped down Hog was downright beautiful with drive--the drive to be light, fast and no-nonsense. These days, the drive among some customizers is to infuse as much fussy nonsense into the design as possible, in contravention to the stark intentions of the bikers of yesteryear who showed class with what they did. Simple is best and less has always been more. Some biker principles never change, no matter what freakish "innovations" have taken root in recent years.
It's always back to fundamentals to recapture what was the best, whether we're talking about football, the martial arts or stripped down motorcycles. The only way to capture the essence of whatever field one is in, is to go back to basics. Only then are high goals achieved. The highest goal for a rigid Harley, is for that bike to have the most diminutive profile possible, a low profile that makes you exclaim, "Wow!" involuntarily.
The bike should shock you with how small it looks when you're looking at it in person. These days, I'm shocked by how big so-called "choppers" look in person. Drama Queens to the end, they're festooned with frilly nonsense and an excess of metal. With all the garbage on these barges, they are far from what the essence of a stripped down Harley is. Is there really much difference between the humongous chopper and the garbage wagon? Only in the way that the bulk is distributed.
Es-sence. noun: The permanent as contrasted with the accidental element of being.
What is the essence of the stripped down Harley? Very simply, the basic motorcycle, minus all that is inessential to its sucessful operation on the street. The permanent template was created by the Harley-Davidson frame/motor combinations through the decades.
Frame stretches, extreme rakes, mile-long forks, Jabba The Hut rear tires---these can be argued as "accidental." In fact, these attempts to be different, are unfortunate accidents, much in the same way that Fido has unfortunate accidents in the living room.
An Essential Harley rigid is one that looks improbably small. The seat is low, but what is being missed these days is that the neck of the bike should be commensurately low to nurture that feeling of compactness, that makes the design seem so right. The proportions of a stock Harley rigid frame are perfect for hardtails, and any deviation from those proportions just seems to make the bike worse. Don't mess with perfection, man. A rigid with an ultra-low seat and an ultra-high neck looks seriously out of whack. Who said that late term abortions were outlawed?
There is a reason why Harley-Davidson rigid frames interact so well visually with their motors, and that is because the chassis components were designed around the motors. The lines all flow, and they flow in an intregrated manner. Homeostasis has been achieved with a Harley frame/Harley motor combination. Water always seeks its own level, and this occurs with the OEM combination.
When a customizer stretches and rakes a rigid frame, this component of the bike changes dimensionally, while the dimensions of the motors stay the same. What this produces, is a visual mismatch. Here, water did not seek its own level---it's overflowed the parameters of the motor design.
Hey man, maybe it's me. Maybe I'm incapable of changing with the times. I've read in recent biker rags that they're beginning to cater to a new generation of biker, bikers with different ideas of what's righteous. The affinity for skateboards is supposed to be emblematic of this change in generational ideas. There's just something pathetic to me about a 30 year old guy on a skateboard. Kid stuff, man.
Skateboards are in, as are very large choppers.
I think I'll skip the Kool-Aid that the rags are passin' out. I'll stick to what I know show class: stripped down Harleys without the crap.
Newcomers label this "nostalgia." I call it righteous. An Essential Harley is a beautiful thing, man. It's honesty and lack of pretension mark it as the real thing. Make it essential, the way a class Harley is supposed to be. Later.