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GOING THE DISTANCE
"RISE OF THE SUPER GLIDE"
Photo by Genghis
The venerable Super Glide.
Andrew Rosa, the Ace Mechanic and master motor builder who has drag racing records, and who's built innumerable stroker Harleys over the decades for bikers all over the nation, is very particular about his personal bike.
Andrew's rep precedes him, as The Man when it comes to building Harley motors. His "Rosabilt" motors are second to none.
This man could have any type of Harley he wants, with any kind of frame and motor. It would be at his fingertips, and in his capable ace wrench hands. He could if he wished, build this bike from the ground up in his Rosa's Cycles shop in Huntington, Long Island , uitilizing his genius abilities and the shop's top flight facilities.
Yet, his personal bike is his more or less stock 1972 Harley-Davidson Super Glide. He once had it stroked, but he even returned his Super Glide's shovelhead motor to the original 74 cubic inch displacement. So unflagging is his loyalty to his Super Glide, and so strong is the siren call of this iconic Harley-Davidson, that he'd rather fight than switch. For Andrew who builds his share of big displacement EVOs and Twin Cams, it has to be his Super Glide and nothing else. For Andrew who builds bikes powered by Rosabilt knuckles and pans, it has to be his shovel-powered Super Glide.
Ya know what? I know how he feels.
What kind of Harley-Davidson engenders such allegiance, to the exclusion of others? The type that inspired me to have its name on my left arm. This tat consists of two rockers in blue. The top rocker says "Super" and the bottom rocker says "Glide." In between these rockers in orange, is "FX." This is a marriage made in Harley Heaven between man and bike, and this marriage will last forever. I look with amusement at the constant changes that magazine types seem obsessed to make on their current bikes, and laugh a little laugh.
It seems that some are never satisfied with the way thay their bikes are. For that matter, some magazine types have to change bikes on a regular basis, and may compulsively own multiple bikes, in an effort to find the happiness that an ideal bike should give. Some own multiple bikes, as a status symbol, but this tactic doesn't seem to quench the quest for satisfaction. That's a mistake. Owning bikes to gain status, and I realize that this may be necessary PR with magazine readers for business reasons, doesn't give the same satisfaction, as a true love of a Harley.
One magazine editor told me that the reason he was building a rigid, was because the readers "expected" it of him.
However, for me (and for Andrew Rosa), my Super Glide is The One. This is a pure and unadulterated attachment to the bike, that Andrew and I have to our Super Glides. It's as simple as that. Bikers that show a constant dissatisfaction with their bikes, are not attached to their bikes. Why else the persistent hope and change? These guys change bikes or things on their bikes all the time, hoping that it'll make 'em happy.
Andrew has owned his Super Glide for 40 years, now. I've been with my Super Glide Mabel, for over a quarter of a century. Not once was I tempted to trade her in or sell her. Not once was I ever attracted to own another type of Harley besides her. This allegiance to the Super Glide was chronicled by Snow in a special issue of Iron Horse, which he called the "Celebration of the Super Glide" issue.
Several bikers and their Super Glides were featured.
My allegiance to the Super Glide actually started, way before I owned Mabel. It all started when Jack Sheehan rode up to me in Jackson Heights, Queens in the early '70s.
I was working on my bike, "Sally The Bitch" on the street. Sally was my '68 XLCH. Jack rode up on his new Super Glide. It was blue and it had that gorgeous Super Glide banana gas tank, and I knew. The sound of that 74 cubic inch shovelhead, the sight of Jack's Super Glide in Blue with those great flowing lines. I knew. All of a sudden, I experienced coveting my neighbor's Super Glide, but not his wife. My hands started to sweat, and I contemplated violent acts against my friend, to wrest that Super Glide from his cold, dead hands.
I knew that a Super Glide was the bike I wanted. My envy of Jack and his Super Glide was palpable. My resolve to get a Super Glide was cemented years later, when I sat on a Harley Low Rider at a bike show at the old New York Coliseum. I consider the shovel Low Rider to be another variant of the Super Glide.
That whole "Celebration of the Super Glide" issue of IH, highlighted the owners' dedication to this Harley model, which is intense, deep and enduring. I look at some of the customized abortions in today's magazines and wonder how their owners can stand some of these ugly fuglies, and that's just the Harleys---never mind the hacked up Yamaha XS650s and Honda CBs. The straightforward beauty of the original Super Glides was and is powerful in its simplicity. So many customs are decidedly and intentionally made more complex by design. Complexity for complexity's sake, does not increase beauty in a motorcycle, in my view. The execution of the original Super Glides' designs, celebrated the power in simplicity.
Photo by Genghis
CLEAN DESIGN: There is power in simplicity.
I consider the Super Glide the nexis between the old era and the new era.
Leading from the the old era into the new, the Super Glide's frame is the righteous and venerable four-speed swingarm frame, which is just an evolution of the straightleg Harley rigid frame. Look at both frames from the seat post forward, and you will see the family resemblance. Yet, it has rear suspension, an artifact of the new era. The Super Glide has the shovelhead motor, which is an evolution from its panhead sister. There is a familial continuity, as the shovel motor takes over from the panhead motor, in improved form, another manifestation of transitioning from one era to another. Yet, the original Super Glides held forth before the entrance of the latest era, the era of the aluminum motor. The shovelhead was the last of the great iron engines. Iron Horse, indeed.
Photo by Genghis
ORIGINAL SUPER GLIDES: The nexis between eras.
A Harley is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is possible to fall in love with the individual components of a Harley. I love the original Super Glide's shovelhead motor, which I consider the pinnacle of the Big Three of the truest Harley mills, the knucklehead-panhead-shovelhead trifecta. Every step along this evolution, introduced improvement . I love the classic four speed frame, which was the basis of so many stripped-down Harleys in the purest era of the biker subculture, which took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
This was the era of the Stripper Harley, when stripping was both functional and powerful in its simplicity, before splashy paint and ugly radicalism, gained favor. Stripped FLs ruled in the Pure Years.
I especially value the four speed frame for its obvious improvement in chassis function, with the move to rear suspension. It is interesting that one of the greatest advances in Big Twin technology and philosophy, has been so mindlessly denigrated among the "chopper crowd." This is why I characterized the 1950s and 1960s as the purest biker subculture era, because it was devoid of pretentiousness, elitism and effeminate fanciness in the stripped-down Harley.
This is something I've written about before, the phenomenon of the denigration of rear-suspension on Harleys, by a whole class of people. That's why I put "chopper crowd" into quotation marks, and why I consider the post-1960s in the biker subculture, so phony and superficial. The denial of rear-suspension by today's customizers is I think, a classic form of mindless conformity. This "Me-Tooism" reminds me of lemmings rushing to their deaths in the sea, in an act of mass suicide, in the ultimate game of Follow the Leader.
The lame knee-jerk following of trends in the biker subculture, is a result of weak-minded individuals who would rather follow than think for themselves. I say that True Bikers are better than that, at least they were, back in the 1950s and 1960s.
Want a bike? "Gotta be a rigid." Want class pipes? "Cover 'em in righteous bandages." What about brakes? "Leave the front brake off." Should I use a hand clutch? "Gotta be a handshift." What about my primary? "Gotta be an open primary." See what I mean? By the way, have you ever really looked at a closed primary and noticed how visually beautiful it is in its simplicity compared to an open primary? Open primaries look like unfinished rat's nests, to me. It's like looking at a person's chest cavity, without the skin. Gotta show them ribs, man---that's righteous.
One Super Glide component I'm absolutely crazy about, is the Super Glide banana tank. Its rounded voluptuous lines are sleek without being bulbous. It looks slim compared to a similar 3.5 gallon capacity set of fatbobs. It has the capacity without the visual bulk. After spending roughly 20 years staring down at Sportster tanks on Sally and then Mabel, I couldn't wait to score a Super Glide banana tank for Mabel. It is a part of her heritage. I was lucky enough to find a new one at New York H-D.
Photo by Genghis
BANANA TANK: Sexy but functional.
I feel it's an affront for later Super Glides to be named as such. I believe it's an honor that they did not earn. The Dyna chassis at casual glance, is an obvious attempt at replicating the four speed frame look, but in reality it is a totally different chassis. It is as much an original Super Glide frame as the Softail is a Harley straightleg rigid frame. It just ain't there, baby. It is as much a real Super Glide frame, as the newer Sportster frame is an ironhead Sportster frame. If you look carefully at the original XLCH frames, you'll notice their stark and simple beauty, and it is not a coincidence that you'll see a family resemblance between the XLCH frame and the Big Twin four speed frame.
The original Super Glides have it. They were reflective of an era when simplicity ruled. No computers. No fuel injection. No fuse boxes or circuit breakers. Just the facts, ma'am. This is what the early Super Glides have, a stark and simple beauty, emanating from the simple execution of design. Powerful. Functional, and everything a biker needs. I know this secret. Andrew Rosa knows it too. That's why after decades, and the opportunity to move on to other Harleys, we stick with our Super Glides. That's what I have "SUPER FX GLIDE" permanently inked onto my skin. The loyalty to my Super Glide is deeper than skin-deep. It is as deep as my soul. Super Glide Forever! Later.