Motorcycle: Hardware - Retro - Tech
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 14:04:11 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
Retro - Tech
Harley-Davidson, like any ambitious pioneer motorcycle company in its early years, introduced scores of new ideas and technologies as its motorized bicycles evolved into true motorcycles. With running gear, as with engines, change was based on a trial-and-error philosophy, in which good practice prospered and bad quickly failed and fell into disuse. It was soon clear to Harley-Davidson's founders, however, that their interests lay foremost in making things that worked - and dependably. Unfamiliar ground was broached only in response to some specific need or shortcoming, and then with a thoroughness that often escaped their rivals. To this extent, the company has changed little.
It's perhaps surprising, then, that Juneau Avenue occasionally lapsed into dubious claims of motorcycling "firsts". The "step-start" and front brake, introduced in 1914 and 1927 respectively, are cases in point. British Scotts had kick-starts much earlier and front brakes were already commonplace on European machines by the 1920s. In 1923, for instance, Douglas racers were sporting quite modern-looking front-disc brakes. When Harley-Davidson claimed a "first", what it really meant was an American first. Milwaukee makes little pretence at space-age technological innovation these days, although it might claim its machines are state-of-the-art - with the emphasis very much on "art". In sheer performance terms, novel engineering is usually introduced slowly: its first five-speed gearbox in 1980; fuel injection in 1995 (to clean up emissions more than to enhance power); and the long-awaited and still anticipated overhead cams (other than on the high-tech VR1000 Superbike racer). The two fields in which Harley-Davidson has taken a lead are in toothed-belt final drive — a relatively simple but truly wonderful development first seen on the 1980 FXB Sturgis — and, most strikingly, the concept of "Retro-Tech".
Retro-Tech grew out of the imaginations of Willie G. Davidson and his colleagues at the Product Development Center as well as the ingenuity of Harley's engineers. It is the means by which modern engineering receives a post-modern styling twist which is uniquely Harley-Davidson, which can contrive to make a 1999 model look for all the world like a 1949 HydraGlide but function far better. Willie G. coined the phrase, the "New Nostalgia".
Its chief elements are the Springer and Softail front and rear ends, respectively. The Softail system, designed by consulting engineer Bill Davis and much imitated by competitors, comprises a cantilever suspension system using two underslung shock absorbers cunningly persuaded to look like the rigid rear end of bygone days. Hence the name — Softail, a play on the "hard tail" nickname of custom machines whose rear suspension has been removed in favour of lines that are cleaner, if distinctly less comfortable.
Springer front forks are highly-stylized facsimiles of the girder forks used on Harleys prior to the HydraGlide. Despite the 1940s looks created by their exposed springs and brilliant chrome blades. Springer forks benefited from more computer-aided design than any previous piece of Harley-Davidson hardware had done.
Almost any other make of motorcycle you can mention boasts "more" than any Harley-Davidson — more cylinders, valves and camshafts, more gears, more revs, more power - but with Milwaukee's finest, as the cognoscenti well understand, less is more.
If a Harley is about anything, it's about getting back to motorcycling's roots. As styling vice president Willie G. himself observed a few years ago, owners "rank the Harley look right up there with motherhood and God and they don't want us to screw around with it." Like that other American icon, the Zippo cigarette lighter, "It Works".
And, as the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it."
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