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GOING THE DISTANCE
"FORK IN THE ROAD"
Photo by Genghis
The venerable Wide Glide fork.
Outlaw Class and Style.
The whole of the outlaw bike is greater than the sum of its parts.
However, certain components elevate the visual appeal of a stripped-down righteous Harley-Davidson, simply because of their outlaw appeal by association.
Just as classic Knucklehead, Panhead and Shovelhead motors lend a bike outlaw class because of their historic role in the stripped outlaw bikes that were powered by 'em in their heyday in the 1930s through the 1960s, other parts that are associated with Lightweight Harleys, have come to symbolize outlaw style. A classic example of an outlaw motorcycle component, is the venerable Wide Glide fork. Like springers before 'em, Wide Glide forks fronted stripped Lightweight Harleys, and have a recognizable outlaw style, which nondescript narrow glide forks can never emulate. When you see a Harley with a Wide Glide fork bearing down you, especially if there's no front fender, the recognition of this famous fork is instant and memorable. If it's a Harley with a mundane narrow glide fork coming toward you, the effect is anticlimactic, and ordinary.
CHINO'S BIKE: The Wide Glide fork is synonymous with outlaw style.
The outlaw style of the Wide Glide fork was immortalized in "The Wild One," in which Lee Marvin's character ("Chino") Harley had a Wide Glide fork stripped down to it's essentials. The Wide Glide on Chino's bike, was one of the bike's most unforgettable components. This heroic fork made the main character's (Marlon's Brando's "Johnny") fork on his Britbike, appear weak and ordinary by comparison. Chino's bike with its rugged Wide Glide fork, was simply the celluloid distillation, of what ordinary bikers ended up with, after stripping down their Harleys for lighter weight and therefore, greater performance. The combination of the tractor-like super torque of the Harley motor, and lightened weight of the Big Twin, created a Lightweight Harley 74, that went off like a .45 ACP with a lightened trigger pull. This was the Prototypical Outlaw Harley-Davidson. This was the template for all outlaw bikes to come. The Harley Wide Glide front end, became entrenched in the Biker Subculture, as the representative outlaw fork to have on your bike.
Looking at the Wide Glide fork, it's not hard to understand its adrenalin-producing appeal, that is an emotional appeal for bikers. That wide expanse of the triple trees, looking impossibly wide and majestic, leading down the short and stubby fork tubes, culminating in those lower legs that look like they might belong to a super-muscled female gymnast, creates an effect that is almost sensual in its brutality.
Stock-length Wide Glide forks were four inches shorter than the versions that accompanied later Harley Wide Glides and Softail models. It is the short and muscular look of the original-length fork, that makes it look so strong physically and visually. The short Wide Glide fork looks almost as wide as it is long. The effect is five by five, baby! That's what a short Wide Glide conveys. Dainty, the Wide Glide ain't! An extended Wide Glide dilutes this effect of power and indominability.
Photo by Genghis
PENTHOUSE VIEW: Gaze down at those magnificent trees.
As terrific as the Wide Glide fork looks from the front, the view of this fork from the riding position is even more magnificent, and it never fails to inspire me. Just seeing those majestic triple trees, stretching across like chromed bridges to righteousness, makes riding a visual treat. Looking down at a narrow glide while riding? Bah! Boring, man. Steering that rugged Wide Glide fork, is a job for a biker. It's a fork that inspires confidence. It's a man's fork, man. You'd never see this type of fork coming from UJM manufacturers. Only The Firm could've concocted such a front end.
Any motorcycle part that can inspire by its inherent class alone, is iconic by nature. The Wide Glide fork is as canonized historically in the Biker Subculture, as much as any Harley part, due to its association with stripped-down Lightweight Harleys. If I sound inordinately enamored of this motorcycle fork, it's because I am. Ever since I bought my '71 Shovelhead Mabel as a used motorcycle 27 years ago, this ideal of this fork was what I wanted for her. When I acquired Mabel, she had the narrow glide Sportster fork that The Firm had grafted onto the first-year Super Glide. I found this fork uninspiring. I also had it with the ineffectiveness of this drum brake when I had the same fork on my '68 XLCH, "Sally the Bitch." I wanted a disc brake.
It took me several years to accrue the new parts I needed piece by piece, for my short Wide Glide fork for Mabel.
I was focused on a modern Wide Glide fork with a disc brake. I bought all the Harley parts for a Softail fork separately, with one exception: I bought four inch under fork tubes from Forking By Frank. This nickel and dime approach to accumulating the parts I needed for my fork that took so long, was necessary, because money was scarce at that time. When I finally had all the parts and the fork came together, I was in Harley Heaven. I still remember my first ride on Mabel with her new fork leading the way. It was magical, man. I found it ironically, more responsive and better handling that the drum-brake equipped Sportster fork that preceded the Wide Glide fork. With the fork, Mabel felt transformed, as if traveling back in a time machine to a period when Lightweight Harleys had this brutish fork fronting these bikes, after a strip-down.
Photo by Genghis
SO HAPPY TOGETHER: Mabel's Wide Glide fork makes her complete.
Nothing is as classically compatible to me, as the marriage of the venerable four-speed swingarm frame and a short Wide Glide fork. It is said that a person's smile and mouth is the "lobby" of the person you are first meeting, as it is the smile that you encounter at first. This creates a first impression of that person.
The Wide Glide fork on a Harley, gives the first impression, of an outlaw machine that doesn't suffer fools gladly. It says, "Get outta my way, we're comin' through!" That Harley, because of the Wide Glide fork, exudes presence and authority. You better believe it, and if you don't--just ask Chino. Later.