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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE STRIPPED ELECTRA GLIDE"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
EXCERPT FROM A 1973 CYCLE MAGAZINE ROAD TEST
"The FLH rider is a hard-to-explain breed. For him there is no other motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson biggie offers riders a certain something that no other motorcycle on the road has. We cannot tell you what it is, other than the fact that, indeed, the Glide is different than anything else we have ever ridden. There are things about the machine we don't like, and plenty of things about it that we do like. The only thing we can't explain is that Electra Glide mystique. We don't think anyone can, really.....
The FLH is impressive for the same reason that the 747 airplane is impressive. It is big. Most people are impressed by big things; one can't help it. But size isn't the only reason that the FLH stands out in the crowd.....
Harley-Davidson's use of chrome and bright colors certainly adds to the effect. With the "King of the Highway" group installed, the machine looks complete. Like one Harley-Davidson rider said, "There's nothing worse than a stripped Electra Glide." He's right. If you buy a bike like this, you may as well go all the way."
EXCERPT FROM A CHOPCULT.COM FORUM
" I have to admit, I usually enjoy The Horse. Like the bikes, and I do enjoy some of the pics of the women. Maybe the girls aren't "runway model" material, but they always looked good, and more importantly..."obtainable", like if I met them at a party, I might actually have a shot. And I do appreciate the variaty of races of the babes, after all, it is the spice of life. I long line of blonde bunny bimbos month after month would get quite old, quite quick.....
However, this last issue did confuse me a bit. The Dee Snyder spread seemed a bit contrived, like they figgered they had an opportunity to get the word out about the mag on TV and it just cost them a few pages and cover shot in this issue. Seems a bit of a sell-out for some free advertising on a reality show that, I would venture to guess, your core audience won't be watching. Nothing against Dee Snyder and his Von Dutch built bike, but it's just not the type of thing I buy the magazine for.....
Then there's the 883 Iron Sporty review. First, everyone can quit building flat black bikes, cause once the Motor Company starts issueing them from the factory, the fad is over. Probably won't be long before HD starts issueing bare metal bikes to cash in on that too. Also, new bike reviews are the last thing I want from a chopper rag.....
Even Pan's got a pic of an Electro-glide....."
I could be mistaken, but I believe that Howlinowl's reference to the Electra Glide was meant to be derogatory. If so, and if any of you out there similarly feel that the revered FLH is below consideration as anything less than righteous, then I'm just in time with this history lesson to learn ya a few things about the Electra Glide's place in the biker subculture. As you might've discerned from the 1973 Cycle World road test of the Harley Electra Glide, there were two distinct philosophical camps in the Harley World regarding the venerable FLH. One, which was represented by the quote in the Cycle World article....."There's nothing worse than a stripped Electra Glide...," displayed the view of the full dresser crowd. Garbage wagon riders felt that the FLH should have all the
accessories possible on the bike, including three thousand lights and other sundry decorations. The heavier and more gaudy, the better in their view.
The other camp however, perceived the Electra Glide (and her ancestors the Hydra Glide and Duo Glide, and others), as the very backbone of the biker subculture. It was this bike, the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, that was seen by most in the outlaw culture of the time, as the basis for a righteous bike: a stripped-down big twin, lean as a cheetah, and as mean as a Big Twin Tiger on the prowl. It was addition by subtraction. Less was definitely more, as stripped-down bikes like the Electra Glide were king.
Back then before certain bikers billed themselves as "master builders" who "created" artworks with one-off parts on 'em, it was understood by the average street biker in the trenches, that a stripped-down Harley 74 was the pinnacle of righteousness and class.
Back then, nobody paid any serious attention to the ridiculous debate as to whether "custom" was better than "bolt-on." In fact, bolt-on parts enjoyed an honorable reputation in the biker subculture up until the '70s. Bolting on available parts to your bike was the normal venue for customizing in the less fussy days of the subculture, along with minimizing the size and weight of the bike by stripping her.
The ludicrous angst that one sees today regarding "stock" versus "bolt-on" parts, was non-existent then. The attitudes we see now are worthy of psychoanalysis by Dr. Jennifer Melfi.
The period from the 1930s through the early '60s was a simpler time replete with more honest attitudes. Bikers then didn't get their panties in a bunch about whether components were one-off parts, or not, as long as the parts worked. My attitude towards catalogue parts these days mirrors that: as long as the parts work, use what works.
The snobbish elitist 'tudes we are witness to today in the culture, would've been laughed off by true bikers as paranoid thinking. The ego-driven talk and behavior seen on the internet today, would've been considered unworthy of the subculture decades ago. If you had a no-nonsense Harley that was stripped-down, man---you were a biker, pure and simple. Nobody cared where you bought those glide risers, or if they were stock H-D items from another bike, or if they were fabricated by hand. Nobody expected these parts to be hand-made in your basement, anyway. All bikers cared about, was having a righteous Harley to ride. If you did, you were privileged. If your Harley 74 was stripped, man you had righteous insight to what a good performing Hog was: a lighter, sleeker and more nimble version of the garbage barge she once had the misfortune of being at one time. Function was the name of the game. Hey man, if your stripped-down Harley just happened to look cooler with all the crap taken off, all the better. That was an unforseen consquence and benefit, a simple byproduct.
The posturing and chest-beating of magazine editors would've been seen quite correctly, as a sign of a personality deficiency, probably rooted in a deep need for ego-bolstering.
The adaptation of parts from one motorcycle model to another, sometimes from one Harley-Davidson Company model to another, and at other times, aftermarket catalogue parts, were seen as incidental to the righteousness of the basic platform: the classic four-speed frame of the Electra Glide. Fussy emotions about whether "stock" parts were inferior to "custom" parts, didn't rear their ugly and effete heads, until "celebrity bike builders" began wielding influence among the gullible on television and print media. These media represented "custom" as the only way to go, and by inference, "bolt-on" as somehow not legitimate in the culture. I say to these people, look to your history and learn something valuable. The inability to look backward for greater understanding and balance in life, is not a revision of history, but a willful ignorance of history.
Superficial celebrity based on money-grubbing bikers who would sell you a motorcycle for a hundred grand or more, is no true basis for righteousness in the biker subculture. The concepts fostered by these celeb bike builders, that stock or aftermarket bolt-on components, are inferior to "ground-up" customs, merely demonstrate the motivation behind these claims.
For the "master builders," the motivation is obvious. In order to sell their $100,000 motorcycles, the impression has to be created that their choppers are somehow "superior" to a simple, stripped-down big twin. How else can they justify any motorcycle these days, being worth $100,000? In my view under real world financial conditions of 2010, there are no motorcycles worth more than $20,000---I don't care what's on 'em. A motorcycle is a two-wheeled transportation conveyance, designed to get you down the road with speed, reliability and alacrity. The addition of some prissy little effete parts that took a hundred hours of machining, doesn't mean anything to me. What matters to me, as it did for untold decades in the biker subculture, is the historic tradition of the bike underneath, that gives the bike it's righteousness.
Media like TV and magazines have a symbiotic relationship with customizers. How media benefits, is they thrive if they help to "create" a pseudo-culture in which one style or one way of living the culture, is preached. A captive audience is the most malleable and susceptible to offer loyalty to false gods. Hawking a singular point of view also creates a compliant base of followers, unlike the natural phenomenon of bikers who made bobjobs of their big twins decades ago, by removing unnecessary parts to make them lighter and faster. Bobjobbing was a grass roots movement that evolved from the incentive of improving motorcycles' functioning. Festooning bikes with fancy one-off doodads, does nothing for the bike, but perhaps much for the hungry ego of the bike's owner.
For years longer than any of the celeb bike builders have been alive, Harley-Davidsons like the FL series have been the defining platform, for class bikes stripped down to their essence. A traditional Harley frame powered by a Harley big twin, and not much else except for two wheels, a fork and a seat. That's what a righteous bike was, and is. Just a few short years after that 1973 Cycle World article about the Electra Glide hit the stands, radical chops fell out of favor, with good reason: they were inferior motorcycles. Customization of bikes hit a zenith in the late '60s, and the rush to be different with long forks, extreme rakes, the hardtailing of swingarm frames, no front brake, etc., came crashing to a halt by the late '70s. This era in my view, did not have the substance or pure motivation that was inherent in the earlier bobjob era.
In many ways, I see this time in the '60s and '70s as a less "pure" era, than the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and early '60s. That era featured grounded, real world bikers who improved their Harley big twins, by lightening them. These became known as bobjobs.
In their quest to emulate racing motorcycles in the bobjob era, bikers removed windshields, saddlebags and other unessential equipment, to make the bikes lighter---and therefore faster and better handling. The rear fenders were "bobbed." Front fenders were thrown into the back of the garage. Sometimes the front fender became the rear fender.
Anything that didn't contribute to the functioning of the bobjob, was eliminated in the interest of making those Harleys better motorcycles. That's why the bikers of that era were truer purists compared to the customizers of the '60s and '70s. The customizers of the '60s and '70s were more cosmetic-centric. An extended fork in the bobjob era would've been unthinkable.
This obsession with being different, resulted in the rise of the radical chop of the '70s. In my view, these radical chops paled by comparisoon with the stripped bobjobs of decades past in the righteoueness department. Instead of becoming a fearsome and competent road bike like stripped bobjobs were, choppers later became mere peacocks, more adept at getting attention than matriculatin' down the road. The '60s and '70s represents the Peacock Era in the biker subculture. There is a reason that the bobjob style is timeless, while the peacock style seems as outmoded as paisley shirts and bellbottoms. One thing's for sure. The Electra Glide, and FLH's heavyweight predecessors, were not peacocks. These were and are mens' bikes. Taking an 800 pound bike like the Electra Glide, and reducing her to her essence as a 580 pound street weapon, is the very pinnacle of what the outlaw ethic is all about. If you have to ask, then you wouldn't understand. Later.