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by Genghis


THE HARLEY 74: Lost its crown as the most customized cycle in the USA?


"I have met many people who grew up in, were born in, or moved to New York City. One thing is constant, they all believe it is the greatest city in the world, and it may very well be. The few times I've been there I've been quite impressed. Another constant seems to be the sure and certain knowledge, that NYC is the center of the universe....denizens of the City That Never Sleeps tend to think that if it doesn't happen there, it doesn't happen anywhere. I don't believe that a single sampling of the biker subculture in NYC, extrapolates to the rest of the country. As much as "Magazine World" may be an artificial construct, the New York City Bubble is a unique self contained environment where things are real as they get, but not necessarily typical of the rest of the USA. I would wager, the most often customized bike in the USA right now is probably the Yamaha XS650....they certainly are plentiful, and currently cheap. The "Harley 74"? I haven't heard that more than once (other than here) in the last five years. There hasn't even BEEN a '74' for almost forty years (yeah, I know the 1200 Evo XL is technically a 74", but nobody refers to it as such)."


The literal interpretation of language can be dangerous to the health of one's ability to think geometrically. Idiomatic language is an example of a geometric concept, as opposed to the literal meaning of a phrase. The origination of the term "Harley 74" stemmed from the displacement of Harley big twins decades ago, although 74 cubic inch Harley cycles of that time whose motors were stroked to larger displacements like my 86 inch shovelhead Mabel, continued to be called 74s. Conversely, a 74 inch Sportster will never be referred to in normal conversation, as a "74," because this term has become so closely associated in the culture, with the pre-1978 Harley big twin. Because the phrase "Harley 74" has become so ingrained in the biker subculture's consciousness, I could never refer to my Super Glide as a "Harley 86." That would sound ridiculous. So much for thinking literally.

The idiomatic nomenclature of "Harley 74" will forever refer to the Harley big twin made before 1978. The term matched with pre-'78 big twins, is like horse and carriage or love and marriage. They are as inseperable as democrats and uncontrollable spending, as permanently wedded as "Lombardi" and "Super Bowl." Another example of an idiom, is "hot rod," connoting a hopped up car or motorcycle. Nobody who is able to use basic geometric logic, will ever mistake the term "hot rod" to mean a thin straight metal bar, that is heated to a high temperature. No one with common sense, would ever think that a quarterback who executes a "Hail Mary," is leading a prayer in the huddle. At least, I hope not. Would Hank Stram exhorting his players to, "Matriculate the ball down the field," cause a person to believe that the football was going to receive college tuition funds? Lord only knows. That same person, upon hearing that a saloon customer is "getting smashed," is not going to think that the customer's getting beaten with a baseball bat.

Of course, I will concede that the term "Harley 74" is not commonly used in current biker subculture phraseology, unless it's used by old schoolers like me who were around at the time that the terminology was in widespread use. The usage of established terminology becomes a habit, to those who don't necessarily adopt the prevalent fads of the time, in phraseology. I'm not in the habit of discontinuing language, just because the newest crop of twenty-somethings don't use it. Just because a thousand other bikers started using the term "bobbers" doesn't necessarily translate to my acceptance of it. In fact, I can't stand the term. It reminds of Whack-A-Mole.

Certain phrases do not keep up with the times, withering on the vine of the young. Time moves on and never looks back, except when certain terminology becomes permanently entrenched in the culture's lexicon. Like "showing class" and "citizens," the term "Harley 74" has fallen in favor with the passage of time. Subculture language is in constant flux, subject to the ebb and flow of personal preference, and extraneous influences. This fluidity of idiomatic language peculiar to the biker subculture, ensures a steady turnover. But the iconization of select idioms does happen, if the phrases are meaningful enough. No doubt, phrases such "showing class" are from another era in the culture, but are significant enough so that everyone in the culture know what they mean. They still evoke their true idiomatic meaning, even decades after their popularity. Or maybe not. If you ask a young biker what "showing class" means, he might point you to the nearest junior high school.

Language has meaning.

Chopped Yamahas on the other hand, don't. Don't have much meaning in the biker subculture, that is. The artificial construct of the Magazine World that Englishman would have you believe is a microcosmic representation of the biker subculture, is like a lab experiment. This Frankenstein's Monster of an experiment, is to see if the magazine can convince the reading public that the Yam is the next greatest thing in the biker subculture, based on the numbers in play. The basis for this claim: "The Yamaha....is the most often customized bike in the USA..." If sheer numbers identified true bikers in the culture, then moped riders would form the largest M.C. in the world. Will this experiment succeed? I don't know. I only know that any reader who believes this, will be like the lab rat, subject to the whims and commands of the lab scientists. Run the maze and you get a hunk of cheese from your masters. Some would believe that Japanese cycles are worthy of consideration, for their own significance. Here'w what Rivercityslim had to say at The Seedy:

"Maybe part of the attraction to the Honda 450 was it's historical importance in the world of motorcycling. When the DOHC 450 was introduced in 1965, it was the beginning of the end for the British motorcycle industry (and caused Harley to re-think their business as well). The 450 had reliable electrics, an electric starter, dual overhead cams and produced 43 horsepower but only weighed about 400 lbs. Those little suckers could run right up there with the hottest British twins yet weighed less, cost less and didn't leak. In just a few short years these OHC bikes along with the advent of the 4 cylinder 750 put the British right out of business. In 1960, if you had said that in just a few years the mighty British motorcycle industry would disappear practically overnight you would have been considered crazy. But that's what happened. Doesn't mean that you should like the bike, but historically it was an important milestone in the manufacturing of motorcycles."

I'm not buying that entirely, but I can't disagree with Rivercityslim's facts or logic. However, I know what the biker subculture is, and I do know what the subculture is not. I also know that bikes like the Honda 450 and bikes like it, are not revered in the culture. I do know that these bikes are not the pillars of the culture that Harley-Davidson cycles are. To believe so, would constitute a serious case of denial, beyond the reach of reality intervention. There is a huge difference between the motorcycle culture, and the biker subculture. The motorcycle culture is vast and includes everybody that rides on two wheels---it's edges are not well-defined. The biker subculture is more discrete and specialized, represented by specific beliefs, its edges are sharp and unmistakable. The biker subculture, also stresses greater sociological cohesion, fostering a sense of kinship.

There is only one motorcycle make that can lay claim to a high end level of significance in the biker subculture, and that is the Harley motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson is historically necessary to the subculture, while bikes on the periphery like Japanese bikes are entirely dispensable. If Japanese motorcycles sudden;y vanished from the face of the earth, the subculture wouldn't even notice. A subculture's language reflects the significant in the subculture. Just as we know what "Harley 74" refers to, no matter what era we're referencing it in, we know what brand of bike has supported the biker subculture for the past 80 years, and its not baked anc chopped Yams. It's is the Harley-Davidson. Later.