Click here for Home




THE KNUCKLEHEAD: The venerable ancestor of all great Harley V-Twins.

(Click on the "Knucklehead" link above, watch the video, and then come back to read this Christmas Message 2013)


Something occurred to me. Amazing as it sounds, I can't remember ever hearing a Knucklehead's sound in the 45 years I've been riding. I may have at some point, but I can't recall it. I've seen plenty of Knuckles in their static state, but can't recall having ever heard one running, in person. I've heard plenty of Panheads in person, but not a single Knuckle in person. That's why I inserted that YouTube video of the Knucklehead being started and run. I want you to hear it, in case you've never heard a Knuckle, either. Here was my impression: Man, what a magnificent sound! She sounds astonishingly like my Shovelhead Mabel, even though more than 30 years separated these two Harley sisters' birth dates. The voices of these Harley sisters from different eras, were genetically determined, as surely as biological human sisters' voices are.

I think I could distinguish my ever-lovin' Shovel's sound from that of the '42 Knuckle, but I wouldn't bet the house on it. That's how similar they sound. The sound of a 70 plus year old Harley is so familiar, you feel as if you know her. And maybe you do, deep down as a biker. There is a feeling of deja vu as you listen to her, and soak in the dulcet tones of her hypnotic cadence at idle. The sound of a Harley, is a truly biorythmic sound to bikers, etched as convolutions on our brains at an early age. This seemingly innate knowledge, this inborn familiarity with distant Harley sisters, is what binds us as bikers.

And that's the point. What's mind-blowing is how similiar-sounding the younger Harley sister is to the older Harley sister. This illustrates the golden familial thread that runs between these two Iron Sisters. This same golden familial thread also connects the owners of different Harleys, as if they were genetically bonded, by merely being bikers loyal to their motorcycles. This in a nutshell, is my Christmas Message: How fortunate we who call ourselves "bikers" and love their Harleys---are to be in this situation in life. Each one of us is a small part of a bigger whole, whose true Christmas blessing is the privilege of being a functional component of this bigger whole of the Biker Subculture. This is our gift at Christmas.

Christmas is a special time of joy and thankfulness. In fact, this whole period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a span of time when we should give thanks for what we have as bikers. We have these special machines, that in the vapid words of a long-ago advertising campaign, are indeed, "More than a machine." The Madison avenue driven words ring shallow, that doesn't mean there isn't deep meaning to them. The notion that Harleys are more than mere mechanical devices, is one that is held religiously among true bikers. To us, our bikes are alive. Our Harley motorcycles are the very lifeblood of our belief system, and the skeletal underpinnings of what has meaning to us, in life.

(Now click on the "Shovelhead" link, and watch the video, then come back and read the rest of the article)

These two bikers seem so different. But their bikes, oh, their Harleys! They are truly sisters under their respective Knuckle and Shovel Skins. Their sounds trumpet a family resemblance that would make one think that they are identical twins, instead of sisters born more than three decades apart---if one were to only listen to the videos without watching 'em. Think of the incredible continuity of traditional engine design, that The Firm (the Harley-Davidson Motor Company) instilled in the successive generations of Harley Big Twins, and how much value we as bikers, place on this intentional (and I hate to use this word) evolution. Ascribe any negatives you want to The Firm, but their deliberate continuity in their Big Twin line, is what has engendered such fierce loyalty to their bikes. We have a love/hate relationship with The Firm, but we firmly love the continuity The Firm has provided us.

(Now click on the "Panhead" link, watch the video, and then come back to finish this article)

When you compare the sound of these bikes on the videos, keep in mind that these three Harleys have different rates of idle. The Panhead is set at a lower idle than the others, and the Shovelhead is set at a faster idle than the Knuckle. But you know that if all three bikes were set at the same idle speed, that these three Harley sisters would sound incredibly alike. Amazingly so. That loping idle, with that cadence that is unique to Harleys, marks all three as part of a bigger family beyond their respective contemporary sisters. We too, as their masters---companions might be more accurate---share a similarity, and that is this: We speak with one voice when it comes to loyalty to our Harleys. Our voices as bikers may not sound as similar as those of these Knucklehead, Panhead and Shovelhead sisters, but our underlying loyalty to our Harley cycles and to the biker subculture, are just as in sync.

Bikers are under our gruff exteriors, extremely sentimental beings. We love our machines with all of our beings, and that love and respect toward our motorcycles, reciprocate all that our bikes give to us. We have hearts of mush for our bikes. We coddle 'em. We take care of 'em. We even give them names. They deserve names because they fill so much of our lives. These Iron Girls have voices that speak the language of dominance and royalty. You've heard their voices. You know its true. On this Christmas of 2013, we speak our thanks for what we have. Merry Christmas, everyone. Later.