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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE DROP SEAT FRAME"
Photo by Genghis
POST-'64 FLH: Low, but not as low as a "drop seat."
GENGHIS IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE, "ULTRATRADITION:"
"Snow educated me about traditional Sportsters. Until his lesson about the existence of short frames and long frames, I had no idea about their roles in Harley history. I certainly didn't know about the fervent followers of the short frame. I truly respect their integrity in their allegiance to their ideals. Man, 'Short Frame Tradidionalists.' What's next, pre-electric start four speed frames? Actually, these do exist, and they are slightly different dimensionally than the Electra Glide frames that were introduced in 1965. But, I'm not that fanatical. I love my electric start. Later."
MIKE ZAPP AT THE SEEDY X-BAR:
"Ultratraditionalists? Funny you should say that, cuz I'm one of those, and always have been. I much prefer the '64 and earlier what are called 'drop seat frames' to the later electric start frames, and its just like what Snow described in his XL short vs long frame diatribe. The '65 and above FLH frames have a 2" stretch in the rear tubes to accomodate the larger battery, and the rest of the e-start stuff. I know 2" may not seem like much, but I can definetly tell the difference and prefer the old 'drop seats' every time. Same with swingarms, I can't stand the square swingarms, I just love the look of the round. Call me cagey about this, can't help it, its what I dig. "
Maybe I oughta take that "ultratraditionalist" label off of my forehead, and delete the "ultra" portion of the word. Like Judge Judy says, "Does it say 'stupid' on my forehead?"
After all, there are FLH frame purists who insist that the last true big twin swingarm frame was made in 1964, and these bikers claim to be the true ultratraditionalists. The big twin swingarm frame that was made by Harley-Davidson between 1958 and 1964, is known as the "drop seat frame." This original swingarm frame that held the panhead engine, had the classic horseshoe oil tank, which in turn housed the kick start battery.
These earlier frames acquired the "drop seat" name, because of the slightly higher electric start frames introduced by The Firm in 1965.
Bikes like my '71 Super Glide, have the 1965 and later electric start frame that housed the square oil tank which sat under and toward the left side of the frame, with the battery sitting on a separate battery tray on the right side of the frame. Therein lies the difference between drop seat frames made between 1958 and 1964, and the electric start frames made between 1965 and 1986. My Super Glide is generically the FLH frame, on which The Firm changed some peripheral components and christened the "Super Glide" for marketing reasons, when they introduced the original Super Glide in 1971. A Sportster front end was grafted on. The notorious "Night Train" fiberglass seat and fender arrangement, was concocted and mated to the rear. All I did by reuniting Mabel's frame with a short wide glide fork, was return her to her FLH roots. My Super Glide did differ from the drop seat-equipped big twins in this basic way, in that she sits a bit higher than the '58 to '64 drop seats.
Yet, concepts like "traditionalist" and "ultratraditionalist" are a matter of perspective. A biker who only likes pre-1958 frames which are rigid frames, might consider himself to be the ultratraditionalist and by extension, the '58 and foward "drop seat" advocate, the untraditional biker. It's all relative, man. To these rigid frame traditionalists, the "Duo Glide" which is so revered by swingarm traditionalists, is an ill-conceived design they consider, going off the reservation.
There are even subdivisions among the rigid frame traditionalists. A wishbone frame traditionalist might consider the straight leg rigid frame, which The Firm manufactured between 1955 and 1957, to be pure, unadulterated heresy. In his eyes, wishbone frame fanatics are the "ultratraditionalsts" and the" straight leg crowd," the untraditional newcomers. One can parse and slice traditionalism into pieces so small, that one would need an electron microscope to see 'em.
However, preferences are always influenced by personal perspective. My own world view of FLH frames is influenced by my opinion, that electric start was one of the greatest developments for the FLH , whether that great big bastard of a starter motor is turning over a panhead, shovelhead or EVO motor. Andrew Rosa ran the service department at Harley-Davidson of New York when he made Mabel's conversion to electric start, and I'll never forget what he said after he did this: "Scott, this thing turns over like a bastard!" This conversion would not have been possible if Mabel's frame was a drop seat frame. Without the introduction of the electric start frame, Robert Blake might've starred in a movie titled, "Drop Seat in Blue."
My Super Glide Mabel, was ill-advisedly equipped by The Firm as a kick-start only bike. The Firm did this to create the illusion that this 600 pound bike was lightweight compared to her FLH electric start sisters. To me, this was a grave mistake. The class that the traditional wide glide fork have the FL models, is irreplaceable The Sportster fork that Wille G. grafted onto the '71 Super Glide, was a poor substitute.
All Willie G. had to do to create the same marketing buzz around the Super Glide, was drop the saddlebags, windshield and headlight nacelle, floorboards and replace the rear fender with a smaller fender. This would've achieved the image goal.
Yes, amazing but true. That lame narrow glide fork came back to haunt me.
The Firm put the same fork that was on my '68 Sportster, onto my Super Glide! Unbelievable! To me, this was a regression. Why do it? It made no sense. The two best changes I made to Mabel, which returned her to her FLH roots, was reconverting to electric start, and returning to a wide glide fork. This was in effect, a return to ground zero, a level playing field with contemporaneous FLHs, which the Firm took from me when they designed the Super Glide.
I do agree with Mike Zapp about round swingarms. To my traditional eye and mind, the round swingram is a vestige of the rear section of the Harley rigid frame, minus the top rails attaching to the axle plates. For some reason which is hard to articulate, this is important to me historically and traditionally. The round swingarm to me, is a traditional bridge from one era to another, the rigid frame era handing off the baton to the swingarm era. The square swingarm to me, has lost that vestigial importance, shunned as an outcast in the Harley Time Continuum. The square swingarm looks as antiseptic and untraditional to my critical eye, as an aluminum Harley motor.
Yeah, so reality bites. Reality being, function does count for something in the biker subculture, even among "traditionalists." I can't tell you what a pleasure it is, to just hit that button and go! Or to squeeze that brake lever and stop. Hey man, "going" and "stopping" is the name of the game. Also part of the game, is relative comfort. That's where rear shocks come into the equation, and where the traditionalists that prefer pre-'58 (the year rear suspension was introduced by The Firm) FLs, are missing the boat. But that's a topic for another time. Later.