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GOING THE DISTANCE
"WHY I RIDE A SHOVELHEAD"
Photo by Genghis
VIEW FROM THE TOP: Hittin' the highway on my Harley 74.
EXCERPT FROM "BORN TO BE MILD: THE CHANGING SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTORCYCLE":
by Richard Webb
"The annual swap meet in Keene, New Hampshire, had always been one of my favorites.....Late one Saturday afternoon, several years ago, I finished loading leftover parts into my pickup truck, and wandered over to where Tramp was fuming and cussing and stomping on his kickstarter in a futile attempt to get his motor running....We turned as eight or nine riders in new leather jackets swung their legs over shiny new Evolution-series big twins....At the time, I thought there was something cheesy about the look of this new generation of Harley-Davidson motors, and also that there was something funny about the men and women who had climbed into their saddles--not funny ha-ha, but funny peculiar. It occurred to me later that it was the fact that they were much cleaner and better groomed than most of my friends....'Yeah,' I said. 'Didja notice, there was about ten booths selling nothin' but t-shirts and bandannas and crap?....'
Although the new motors have rapidly gained acceptance among the great majority of enthusiasts, tension still often emerges whenever... traditionalists encounter, or even talk about, the new breed of Harley-Davidson owners.... Bob, a 47-year-old self-employed insurance agent, recently sold his 1989 Low Rider....he now owns a Japanese-made motorcycle....he based his decision to sell his Harley on the grounds that bikers are generally a crude and offensive lot, embracing an excessive and potentially destructive commitment to a lifestyle revolving around what he regards as nothing more than a grown-up toy.....John literally had to abandon the Harley-Davidson as a symbol in order to redefine his identity as former--but not current--outlaw: He sold it, and bought a green Kawasaki...."
Bob and John don't have to worry. According to the latest chopper rags, they too, can now have a Genuine, Officially-Licensed "outlaw chopper" by hackin' up their Yamahas and Kawasakis. They can rigidize both the back and front ends of their Honda choppers, run a chunky soup can (but definitely retain the Campbell's label for effect) for a gas tank, and tie a raccoon tail on their seven foot tall sissy bars, to show that they still belong, that they are hardcore. They can still fulfill their biker bona fides, without having to put up with these Harley-Davidson "grown-up toys," and the "lifestyle that revolves" around these misbegotten toys.
Here's where they've gone wrong: They mistake the one-off custom parts, for what really gives a righteous bike its soul: The motor. Never mind the decades of tradition that were laid brick by brick, cemented with the mortar of Harley-Davidson brand loyalty. Never mind that bikers throughout the years, have cemented their souls within the walls of the culture, brick by brick, decade after decade for the last 80 plus years. All of that means nothing, because tradition in the biker culture means nothing to the Hardcore Revisionists M.C. They're rewriting the bylaws of the subculture, with a broadbrush, and watered-down paint, the natural history of the culture, be damned. The natural course of a subculture, runs through time like a river, with time-honored tributaries that are created by the ebbs and eddies of circumstance. You cannot build a dam to divert this river, it flows where it's directed to, by time.
Bikers' lifeblood could constitute eighty percent of the mortar that cements the bricks of the biker subculture, and this would mean nothing to these folks. To them, it's all about creating a new reality, based on newfound standards, enforced by applied peer pressure. I'll tell ya what: Peer pressure sucks, especially when it seeks to wrest bikers from their independent thought, making 'em dependent on what the New World Order of Biker Standards, feeds em. Never mind tradition. They need their Pablum Fix.
They can have their responsible Japanese bikes for adults only, and eat it too. For those of us who've been here and stayed the course in the biker subculture, the mental contortions of the Bandana & T-Shirt M.C. means no never mind to us. They can ride off the White Cliffs of Dover, on their XS 650s, for all I care. In fact, I wish that these Nipponese choppers would take a nosedive into the rapids.
Part of the problem with current chopper rags and the chopper scene in general, is this obsession with Belonging. Hey man, who cares? If you have your old Harley and you love the old girl, why give a rat's ass about how others perceive you? If you found yourself stranded on an island by your lonesome with your bike, with nobody around to ooh and ahhh about the latest oil tank you made for your chopper out of a petrified coconut shell, would you have bothered to change out your OEM oil tank for the organic substitute? Would you even bother riding it around the circular road on that island, if there was nobody to see you riding? Does it matter that much what others think?
Photo by Genghis
HARLEY MOTOR: It's what makes a righteous bike special.
It's the motor, stupid.
It is The Motor that gives a motorcycle its class. That's why its called a Motor-Cycle.
For me, the most significant motors are Harley-Davidson motors, as they've held this honorific mantle in the traditional biker subculture, by default. Different strokes for different folks in the culture, but my personal strokes in their order of significance, are the shovelhead, panhead, knucklehead and Sportster ironhead. EVOs, Twin Cams, V-Rods and post-ironhead Sportster motors, mean nothing to me. The knuck, pan and shovel exist in their own class separate from the ironhead, because of their Big Twin Continuum category. These models are what gave the term Harley 74, its righteousness, and special place in the biker subculture lexicon. The Harley 74 will always remain the classic Outlaw Harley. The ironhead Sportster reigns in its own class, because the XLCH is such a badass, hardcore Harley in its own right.
There's another category of motor that means nothing to me, and that is the clone motor. I can see suffusing a Harley motor with S & S parts, and that Harley motor will retain its Harley character. It will always be a Harley motor, but that's not true of aftermarket crate engines. My shovel has S & S stroker flywheels, S & S pistons and Manley Valves, but Mabel's motor will always be a righteous Harley-Davidson Heart pumping out power for her righteous four-speed body.
Here's another point, which is related: Everything I said about Harley-Davidson motors, is true of Harley-Davidson frames, as well. There isn't a Paughco, Santee, Jammer or any aftermarket frame, that can match the quality of a Harley frame. Clone frames, like aftermarket crate motors may be conveniences, but much is lost in the translation when resorting to clone frames.
The knucklehead to me, will always be Grandma, the progenitor of the OHV Big Twin Continuum. Knuckle's daughter Panhead, who's Mom, is bigger and stronger than Grandma. Then we come to the Third and Final Generation of the Big Twin Continuum, Panhead's girl, Shovelhead. She is the Ultimate Harley Daughter.
Panhead's whelp, I've always considered the bigger, faster and stronger of all the three generations of this familial triad, the last of the True Iron Big Twins before the aluminum motors took over on the family tree. Do I sound as if I consider the shovelhead, the Last True Harley that rolled off of H-D's assembly lines? This is a cliche among hardcore bikers but yup, I do believe this.
She is, and She rules! This high opinion I have of the shovelhead in the family rotation, is why I ride a shovelhead. When I ride my shovelhead-powered Harley 74, I feel as if I'm riding the Best of the Best, with each successive generation of Harley Big Twins having been genetically improved, between the years of 1936 and 1966, 1966 being the Signature Year.
I am the Shovel Revelator. As for Bob's and John's Japanese motorcycles? You've gotta be kidding me, right? They and the droves of Japanese customs we see nowadays, couldn't even carry my shovel's brastraps. Later.