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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE POLITICS OF REAR SUSPENSION"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
Is the Softail a good motorcycle?
ENGLISHMAN AT THE SEEDY X-BAR & GRILL:
"I still do not think the Softail is a good motorcycle. The suspension geometry is compromised so the bike can look like a rigid. There's a scant couple of inches movement on the shocks, and when they (as a boatload do) lower them, they are down to about an inch of travel. All the ride of a rigid, with all the weight of a swingarm setup. The four speed swingarm setup rides WAY better...."
MIKE ZAPP AT THE SEEDY X-BAR & GRILL:
"....I hafta disagree with him that the bike is not a good motorcycle, in fact, violently disagree. In 1998, I decided to just once, buy a new bike from Harley, just to have a learning experience if nothing else. Went to a few dealerships in the L.A. area, Van Nuys Cycle, Barger's HD (not related,) Glendale HD, finally saw what I wanted at Bartell's HD in Marina Del Rey, yes, this is the dealership that Gary Busey bought a bike , then cracked his skull open in front of it in 1988. It was a vivid black Softail Custom, with gold and red pinstipes. I almost bought it on sight as it was, but got my salesman, who really was a good dude, to switch-out the solid rear rim for a spoked rim at no extra charge, and he even thru in some saddlebags. Got it out the door, tax, licence, everything for around $17,995-paying for it mostly in cash. I'll tell you what- it was the last of the Evos, took it home, changed out the pipes, opened up the head/breather/ aircleaner, jetted the very exellent CV carb appropriatly and rode the piss out of it. Never broke down, very comfortable, reliable, and even tho I used lowering shocks, the ride was not that bad at all. Really. After that, I moved to Arizona, and me and Sonny Barger put a cam in it. Only thing that ever went wrong was the starter clutch shit the bed, but that was it. It did everything I think a motorcycle is supposed to do, and it looked very good doing it. But then, 4-5 years later, I got the chopper bug again, so after 25-30,000 miles I sold it for 15 large. Talk about holding value. If its two bikes I wish I had never sold, and held onto, was this Softail, and my '70 FLH, and thats a fact...."
POLITICS: Competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership.
There's nothing derogatory in my view of politics. After all, we have our own points of view which we believe to be correct. However, there is no denying that the political positions that people take, are advanced in argument with one goal in mind: to further the popularity of that point of view. This is known with some vulgarity as, "pushing an agenda." I said in a previous column, that to circumnavigate the politics of rear suspension to reach the truth,
that one had to clearly define and recognize as separate entities, image versus reality. I believe that Englishman's point of view represents "image," while Mike's point of view represents "reality." Mike's point of view represents reality, because he is obviously in the better stance of the two, to offer an objective opinion. He's owned the Softail and currently owns a rigid, and he doesn't have any motives other than telling the truth. Englishman on the other hand, is the face and voice of a publication that has an agenda of promoting a certain style of bike, not that there's anything wrong with that. David Snow did it too, when he advocated the hardtail style, but with one big difference in his magazine. David didn't single-mindedly push hardtails in Iron Horse as the predominant motorcycle style, while relegating rear-suspended bikes to the inferiority scrapheap of derision. Remember the "Celebration Of The Superglide" issue of IH?
Those who push the agenda of hardtails as representative of a superior style of motorcycle, tend to use this simple forumula with which to convince others, of the validity of their argument:
"Hardtails = hardcore."
By inference, that would mean that:
"Rear shocks = lame."
Need I remind anyone how silly these formulae are, by pointing out the type of bike that Mike Zapp's former employer, the esteemed Mr. Barger, rides? I don't think that anyone will imply that he is lame for riding a rear-suspended bike. This also points out how vacuous and immaterial, the "hardtails = hardcore" concept truly is. This brings to mind, the possible motives for pushing a "hardtail = hardcore" agenda. The reason is uncomplicated and obvious: to jack up an image politically, to achieve a goal. What would the goal of a publication be, except to create an opinion among certain types of readers, to increase business? Not that there's anything wrong with increasing business, for this is how businesses well....stay in business. To continue as a viable entity, all businesses must promote themselves. This is just a fact of life. It's the oldest political game in the world, to demonize an opposite opinion, to make one's own opinion seem more valid.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Softail can be an extremely good motorcycle, provided that the owner is not blinded by the politics inherent in the debate. The irony of Englishman, who is a hardtail proponent, pointing out the suspending deficiencies of the Softail rear end, has to be appreciated with a healthy dose of unmitigated laughter. It is true that the Softail suspension is a compromise when compared to a fully dedicated, conventional rear-suspension with full-size shocks, such as the classic Duo Glide four-speed frame. For argument's sake, let's say that the Softail rear-suspension only delivers 50% of the suspension efficiency of Mabel, my rear-suspended four-speed equipped Super Glide. Isn't that still 50% more suspension efficiency than that of a rigid shovel? The Softail can still do everything the hardtail can do, but more. It might be at the worst, analogous to having a sprung Bates solo seat on a rigid. It's probably even better than that. Using damping ability as a yardstick, the Softail is still better in this regard than a hardtail.
As far as what the motivation of The Firm was when it designed the Softail, who cares? It fools nobody into believing that it's a rigid, but it does give a low seating position. Isn't the latter really the idea? Did The Firm really try to hoodwink people into thinking that the Softail was a rigid, or did it simply want to provide a low motorcycle, by using a rigid profile as a template? As for the bike itself, the Softail motorcycle is a machine of pure mechanical heart, that harbors no motives. It is a transportation conveyance, which does its job. That in itself, makes it a good motorcycle. Hey man, Mike Zapp dug his, didn't he? Also, didn't a certain biker magazine editor dig his, before it was ripped off? All it takes to fully appreciate the Softail for what it is, is to divorce oneself from the politics of the issue. The Softail has been demonized into the depths of hell, for being the bike of choice for Biker Lites in the '90s. Ya know what though? That's not the motorcycle's fault. Every Softail left The Firm, ready and willing to be a faithful and loyal servant, to whoever paid for 'em. Think about this. If every hardcore in the biker subculture had bought a Softail, instead of the yups, then we wouldn't be having this discussion now. Instead, the Softail would've been revered instead of demonized.
There's nothing wrong with the Softail in the real world.
In politics, when a publication is stoking up opinions in a certain direction, this is known as appealing to the base. It is no different than when Obama attacks the Arizona law allowing authorities to identify illegal aliens, which by the way---mirrors federal law---which the feds are not enforcing. Obama obviously, is "playing to the base" of latino voters, in order to get their votes, by having his Justice Department sue Arizona. This is also the reason why Obama's dragging his feet in enforcing existing immigration law, by securing the border: it appeals to his base of latino voters.
Another example of Obama "appealing to, or playing to the base," is Obama's Justice Department's suppression of the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, even though Obama's feds had an airtight case, featuring video coverage of New Black Panthers standing around polling places, with billy clubs to discourage white voters from entering. Obama is playing to his base of black voters, regardless of whether the suppression of the New Black Panther case is right or wrong.
With regard to pushing rigids as the absolute pinnacle of motorcycle styling, publications are "playing to the base" with the goal of selling more magazines. Nothing wrong with that, as long as intelligent readers know what's happening, and why. Later.