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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE HARLEY 74"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
The Harley 74.
Words have power. "Harley 74" is biker slang for Harley big twins with a 74 cubic inch displacement, but that is a barely adequate descriptive characterization. The term "Harley 74" had meaning forty years ago, that far exceeded the sum of its parts. All of the personality that substantiated the term, dissolved with the advent of the 80 cubic inch Evo.
Even though The Firm had bikes displacing 74 cubic inches dating back to the JD model introduced in the early 1920s, the term as used in the biker subculture, refers to big twins with overhead valve motors with this displacement. These were the Knucklehead, Panhead and Shovelhead. While the term Harley 74 is really no longer heard much in common usage today, it held an almost magical aura four decades ago. "Harley 74" was considered the ultimate in motorcycle ownership, in the American motorcycle culture of the 1960s and 1970s.
Words have power.
It is thought by some that tattoos have a talismanic power. This power emanates from the words that are permanently etched into a person's skin. I have a decades old Harley bar and shield tat on my right arm. In the bar portion, it reads "Harley-Davidson." In the shield portion, it reads "74." So potent was the term "Harley 74" decades ago, that old school bikers had variations of this tattooed on ourselves, to symbolize our unparalleled dedication to our bikes. Our Harley 74s were figuratively our very souls as bikers. Our bikes were the most loved entities in our existences, sometimes outdistancing even the people in our lives in their importance to us.
Words are reality.
I had a real mellow ride today, although like all rides, the pockets of mellow yellow were interspersed with spikes with of intensity--so noted, but hardly noticed. These spikes of intensity are so common to bikers, that we are hardly aware of 'em. You know what I'm rappin' about. The almost subterranean incidents that happen numerous times during every ride, when if you didn't react to take evasive action by pure second nature, you'd be toast. This mellow ride, was on my Harley 74, of course. Technically, Mabel is now an "86" since she has an 86 inch stroker motor---but she will forever be a Harley 74. The "Harley 74" catchphrase has significant historical influence. It ranks right up there with terms like "bobjob" and "chopper" in the biker subculture lexicon. Before the extinction of the Shovelhead, the term "Harley 74" probably enjoyed wider expression by bikers than either of those other terms, because it was a broader interpretive term for big twins, than either "bobjob" or "chopper." For example, if you met another biker who you didn't know and that biker said, "So, whaddya riding?" You wouldn't respond by saying "I have a bobjob." You would say, "I have a Harley 74."
Words have power in literature.
Here's how Sonny Barger described his bike, with which he was seen in the movie, "Hell's Angels '69": ".....if you look closely during the scene where the guys are riding into the casino, my stand-in is riding a Sportster. When the shot closed in, I was riding Sweet Cocaine, my Harley 74....." Barger had a cocaine habit at that point in his life, so he named his seventy-four to reflect this.
Harley 74s have tranquilizing power.
This morning some events occurred which gave me agita. What was the medicinal remedy? Riding "Mabel", my Harley 74, calmed me down like a megadosage of Qualuudes. Riding always puts me into a tranquil mood. Can you say "Lake Placid?"
Maybe's it's the concentration needed to ride competently, that produces this calming effect. Operating a motorcycle requires greater concentration and more complex technique, than driving a car does.
Whatever it is, pharmaceutical companies should bottle it for mass distribution.
The coordination required to pilot a Harley would make Air Force trainees jealous. Formula One drivers might approach the level of skill that we bikers put on full display as we matriculate our Harleys along the streets and highways that are full of obstacles and braindead drivers. Like I said, the ride was reeeeaaaal mellow. ZZZZZzzzzzz......
74s can cause heartache.
I bought my Sportster new in 1968. By the early 70s, I just knew that I had made the wrong personal choice. I badly wanted a Harley 74, in the guise of a Shovelhead. It would be years until I saved the bread for the used 74 that I eventually ended up with. You know her as Mabel, my '71 Super Glide. She rules! The draw of the 74 cubic inch Shovel was so strong, that it literally made me ache inside when I was saving this money, like a lovesick victim of unrequited love. Can 74s cause heartache? It sure did with me. The only remedy for this heartache, was finally gettin' Mabel.
Harley 74s can sustain you.
I am happy as a clam in a bake. I'm as content as a heart without the ache. I'm running as fine a tuned Shovelhead Stroker with high octane gas circulating through its cylinders. I'm as mellow as a biker can be, knowing that I have the bike of my dreams, a dream that I've been having since I've been was in my 20s, and man---that is a long time. My soul is nourished. My life is complete, thanks to my Harley 74. Words matter, as does the symbolism behind powerful words. It's difficult to find this type of word power in the culture today. It used to be perfectly natural to see tats featuring Harley 74s on bikers. Can you imagine anybody being motivated enough to get tattoos saying "RevTech 88", "S & S 96" or "Ultima 113" on their persons? Don't make me laugh, I can't. It's a joke to even think of the possibility. That's because there is no real allegiance to these products, as old school bikers showed to the Harley 74.
Bikers having these aftermarket names emblazoned on their epidermis, would be the subjects of extreme ridicule, for good reason. 70 years from now, will any of these be memorable as an intrinisc part of biker subculture lore? Nope. They certainly don't have the same ring as Harley 74. Later.