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Photo by Genghis

"PRESENCE:" My Harley 74, "Mabel," has it in spades!


"And, I don't know what it is, but out of all the vehicles I've ever owned, Animal Mother is the only one that demanded, deserved, screamed a name. Maybe it's the intensity of the interaction---the relationship---that one must cultivate with a kick-only, magneto XLCH that reveals idiosyncrasies of the machinery that we identify as personality. I suspect it was Scott's initial experiences with "Sally" that informed his perceptions of H-Ds in the years to follow. Scott started out with a dire bitch goddess and wound up with a mellow Super Glide and was thus predisposed to see in these machines, a certain---PRESENCE. Just the opposite with me, going from civilized japbikes to what turned out to be, in comparison, an even more civilized motorcycle---my '82 FXE Super Glide. Supremely mellow, reliable, confidence-inspiring, like a big, friendly dog.....As much as I loved my Super Glide, it seemed a distant companion, as did the FXWG. Certainly they never screamed a name---I had to contrive "Rebelene" for the Wide Glide (which was perrect), and I never felt compelled, after 30 years on Harleys, to get an H-D tat until now. Again, the converse of Scott's experience. Scott began with a 'CH and winds up with a Super Glide tattoo. I start with a Super Glide and wind up with a 'CH tat!"


"Look at this bike, she has so much presence!"

AUGUST 1990:

David Snow and I were standing in a doorway of a church near the corner of 3rd Street and McDougal Street in Greenwhich Village, while Rob Sager was setting up to take pictures of my Harley 74, "Mabel." These pictures were going to be used in the feature article, "Genghis Rides A Harley" that was going to appear in issue #100 of Iron Horse magazine. Snow asked me, "So, why'd ya name your bike "Mabel?" I replied, "Because Mabel's user-friendly, and the name sorta fits."

Yeah, what Snow said. It harkened back to what I said to Patty on that day in June of 1985. I'd just bought the 1971 Super Glide that I would eventually name "Mabel," from John and Cindy Bays in Brooklyn. We rented a cargo van from a Hertz rent-a-truck place on the west side of Manhattan, and deposited this gorgeous Harley 74 in my mother's Chinese laundry. This was when my mother was still alive and she was well enough to run her business. You read about this laundry in earlier article titled "Chinese Laundry Bike Shop." The Shovelhead was sitting side by side next to my '68 XLCH, "Sally The BItch," and man, what a pair they looked to be. These days when I have to keep Mabel in an outdoor (but fenced and locked) parking lot, I look back to those halcyon days with longing and nostalgia, when my bike was in a dry and safe environment where I could work on her at my leisure. In 1990, the reason I gave Snow for my naming my Shovelhead, Mabel, was that the name of Mabel seemed appropriate for her user-friendly personality. I would find out how "user-friendly" Mabel is, in the days and years following my first day with her. On my first day with Mabel after her personage changed owners, I stood in front of her transfixed, and it wasn't by any potential user-friendliness of my new acquisition. As we stood there staring at Mabel, my impression was expressed in what I said to Patty that day, as clear in my memory as if it was yesterday. I said....

"Look at her. She has so much presence!"

No exaggeration, man, I was literally overwhelmed by this feeling about this magnificent '71 Super Glide, that she had so much presence that she was taking my breath away, much as a museum-bound classic painting might take the breath away from an art appreciator, who stood there dumbstruck by the beauty and genius of what hung before him. I ain't goin' Sarah Bernhardt on ya, here. As Patty and I stood before the majesty of this first-year FX, it felt like an arcane aura of power was emanating from her. Would Kirlian photography render these electrical coronal discharges visible to the naked biker eye? That was the effect her presence had on me. "Presence" is a hard quality to define, for it varies according to the subjective tastes of the host definer. The base definition is rather mundane: "The state of existing, occurring, or being in a place or thing." The secondary and more meaningful definition, in the relevant context that Snow and I are applying to our righteous Harleys, is.....

"The ability to project self-assurance and magnificence, an imposing or dignified personality."

Yeah, that's more like it. That's what I found so overwhelming about this 74 cubic inch wonder I just bought, whose presence boasted of the storied tree stump-pulling torque that Harley 74s are known for---the ability to pull, and pull and keep pulling---effortlessly---while in fourth gear and rising above 80 miles per hour. The very same torque makes the lucky rider feel as if he's goin' from zero to 60 in about three seconds flat. That's what prodigious torque does for ya, that no amount of high horsepower produced at high revs can: Gives you the wonderful sensation of effortless low-end acceleration, that no high rpm sewing machine, can. "Presence" is as presence does---that's what the three wiseguys say---and the big inch Seventy-Four does it in spades, baby!

Yet, a stroked Shovelhead can---as Snow says---also imbue her rider with confidence, as Mabel does with me---with a mellow ease, as if to say to me, "Don't worry, just relax, and I'll do all the work....I'll never give you a hard time..." Like a big friendly dog? Oh yeah, that and more. She's a big friendly dog that'll never run out of gumption as the revs rise. A Shovelhead stroker like Mabel will feel even stronger, even more unlimited as you both reach the ton mark on the highway. Her reserves of power seem relatively untapped, until you get to illegal speed limits. She seems to fly as I twist the throttle as we zip past cars doing the customary highway cruising speed, well above the posted speed limits. Hey, contemporary big inch Harleys can do this too. But do they have the presence of my 42 year old beauty? Not in my world, man.

Snow called these new Harleys, "Harley junk." I wouldn't go that far, but I share his sentiments. These new bikes don't have the soul, the "presence" that a '71 Shovelhead or a '69 XLCH has. "Soul" is another interpretative definition of "presence"---except that you won't find it in Webster's Dictionary. You'll find it in the Biker Subculture Dictionary, fer sure. Soul, or presence, is why bikers get Harley tattoos. Soul, or presence, is why bikers commit themselves to go the distance over the span of their lifetimes, not just to bike-riding. Not just to the Harley brand. But to the particular engines and models which inspires them so. These Harley-Davidson Instruments of Choice, not coincidentally---become bikers' Motorcycle Loves of their Lives.

The history and tradition behind these old Harleys, is part of the presence appeal. I'll tell ya what. If you're riding a 40 plus year old Harley, that will set you apart from the crowd. Individuality has always been a common attritubute among true bikers, regardless of which model Harley each favors. The Shovelhead had 30 years of OHV Big Twin tradition behind it when it was introduced in 1966, beginning with her grandparent, the Knucklehead that came to life in 1936. The Ironhead Sportsters, created in 1957, had the tradition of the K Models from the early '50s to depend on for tradition. It is noteworthy that the Shovelhead and Ironheads share such a similar familial appearance, with their Doppelganger rocker boxes.

Beyond that, the Shovelhead and the XLCH have different types of "presence," as Snow pointed out so eloquently in "Fate In a Used Car Lot." The '69 XLCH, with her minimalist and survivalist approach to motorcycle design, exudes a Presence of Raw Intensity, that acts as a challenge to her owner to put up or shut up, no matter what the accompanying inconveniences to owning and riding her. She brooks no nonsense and does not suffer fools gladly. She will turn around and bite you as fiercely as a supposedly tamed and domesticated wildcat, ever-wild in her heart, most times without immediate warning---even if you fed her by baby bottle since she was a kitten. That wild streak is always there. She feels though, that you've had plenty of advance warning. After all, her rep precedes her into every owner's home, shorn of sugar-coating or euphemism. There's a reason I named my XLCH, "Sally The Bitch:" Because like every other 'CH sister, she is at times, a hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation---who was a real Bitch On Wheels in her own right.

The Shovelhead, projects a Presence of Power, promising a minimum of muscle-contraction (muscles don't "flex"---only joints flex) at any speed. She can squat 400 pounds and deadlift 700, all without breathing hard. She commits---as dictated by her programmed personality--- to presenting her grateful owner with gobs of usable, thrilling and seemingly bottomless pulling power, safe or unsafe at any speed (sorry, Ralph Nader), depending on the skill of her rider. Before Andrew Rosa rebuilt her gearbox, Mabel had what was known as a "parade first gear." This was a very low gear, allowing the bike to be ridden at very low speeds in first gear. Man, when she had that, Mabel would almost pull my arms out of their sockets, with a full turn of the wick in first. When that happened, I had to make sure my hands weren't sweating, because I had to hold onto the drag bars for dear life. That's one of the reasons I began favoring wearing gloves all year round---for the traction it gave me on the grips. The combination of Mabel's low-end torque, even with her stock 74 inches (she's an 86 incher now), was unreal to experience with the parade first gear. It made me feel like Andrew Rosa on his record-holding, legendary 9 second Shovelhead.

I'm definitely with Snow on the presence of these old motorcycles. They rule, man. You can throw all the horsepower, torque and performance numbers you want about modern Harley-Davidsons at me---but the new bikes---which Snow calls Harley junk, leave me cold. They elicit zero emotion in me. Why? because they lack presence, as interpreted by my mind and more importantly, my biker soul. It is ultimately emotion that defines "presence" for bikers---at least those bikers who are influenced by history and tradition. I am admittedly, a biker who is soaked in history and tradition with regard to old school Harleys like Shovelheads and Ironheads. Other bikers who came up much later than me, may be merely wet behind the ears with the drippings of biker subculture history and tradition---not inundated enough to appreciate Iron Harleys.

Where David and I divert, is in our perceptions of our bikes as companions. Where Snow felt that his Super Glide was a more distant companion than his Sportster, I felt just the opposite. I fell head over bootheels in love with my Super Glide, Mabel. Mabel is the Motorcycle Love of My Life (MLOML). "Sally The Bitch " on the other hand, always seemed like a hesitant and cantankerous motorcycle companion by comparison. I loved Sally, but it was like loving a spouse intent on arguing with you every other day. Can you say, "fishwife?" The amount of love I have for Mabel, outstrips the love I had for Sally. I'll say one thing about the way Snow feels about his bike, "Animal Mother:" I'm happy that he found his one true Harley Love. I'm not only happy for Snow, I'm grateful for my friend. His Harley Love Relationships have been a tortured affair, and I'm grateful that my friend is finally settling down with the Harley Girl of His Dreams. Later.