Friday, June 23, 2017

"You've got the Look that I want to know Better. You've got the look that's all together!"

This was the hot "Frisco" look popular at the time. Note the lack of a  front  brake.
                                                      photo source: Choppers magazine

                                                     video source: You Tube

This Jordasche jean advertising jingle was all over the airwaves in the Eighties. Though I never did squeeze myself into a pair of designer jeans back in the 70s I wanted that "Frisco" look. Arlen Ness was the most famous proponent of the look at the time, and he was a local Bay Area builder. I found my dream bike in May of 1976.

The Frisco look led to the overwhelming popularity and desirability of the Harley Sportster. This was the golden age for this bike.  The look was long, tall in the front and very narrow. The high mounted tank, narrow buckhorn bars, cobra seat, and lack of a sissy bar were all part of the style. This was all easily achieved with the Sportster which was pretty slim even when stock. Riders of big twins were running narrowed triple clamps and ditching their beautiful fat bob tanks trying to fit in. Full dressers were disdainfully referred to as "garbage wagons." Funny how things can change, ten years later the "fat bob " look was in, and this later lead to the stripped dresser coming into vogue. Never again would the Sporster be so desirable.

I still wanted a Harley and I finally bought an incredibly beat and worn out 1970 XLCH chopper. This was really a bad move as the bike needed everything. A complete motor rebuild down to the crankcases. These even had to have some cracks welded up and a "new" kick starter boss welded on at the same time. Hard to believe now, but HDs were considered so valuable that there was an entire industry that developed to sell and install replacement crankcase sections. This lead to complete reproduction crankcases being available within a few years. Unfortunately I only performed about 95% of a complete rebuild and I experienced quite a few problems with the remaining five percent! I repainted the bike glossy black and rode it in this original configuration for several months. I found that it just wasn't up to my performance expectations. Changes would have to be made.

Damn! That thing looks better than I remember!
There's my '70 Coupe de Ville in the background.

Long and narrow. Who needs a fatbob?

The bike was reconfigured from it's as- purchased set up. First of all, I wanted to add a front brake! I had actually ridden it up to Mendocino without the brake and lived to tell. However this required riding so slowly through the curves that it just took all the fun out of it. And the laws of physics can't be circumvented, the bike just couldn't stop in a short enough distance to be safe. I added a 1973 XL glide front end, extended ten inches, with a "banana" caliper front brake laced to a 21'' front wheel. Arlen Ness's shop supplied  a fiberglass custom rear fender with the molded in tail light and license plate mount. They also supplied a trick throttle cable set up and air cleaner. For added safety and legal compliance, I added a bicycle squeeze horn. I decide to be trick and curl the visible wires leading from the generator and battery and voltage regulator, just like a show bike. I kind of underestimated the amount of vibration that all the components would be subjected to. I didn't use "Locktite," who ever used that on a Honda? I found out why the Harley guys used it, copiously!

I guess that there are a lot of guys out there reading this that wouldn't have ridden this bike around the block, but I was getting ready for my first long trip trip. To Alaska!

There was an added fiberglass cafe racer fender attached under that dirt bike fork brace.
 Outfitted like this, what could go wrong?

A few touring accessories were added. A couple of Army surplus canvas ammo bags were hung off each side as saddlebags. The handiest items for a motorcyclist were a collection of bungie cords, those double hooked elastic wonders.  These made loading the bike so much easier and secure. A smaller surplus bag was bungie corded to the handlebars The small bag actually functioned as a kind of windbreak in lieu of a windscreen. Combined with the rolled up sleeping bag it also gave a "cool" look.

To connect the front brake caliper to the handle bar master cylinder I used the popular high pressure plastic tubing that was commonly used to hook up aftermarket oil pressure gauges. Since disc brakes weren't routinely used on extended front ends at this time, there weren't any better brake lines available. I remember that I had just hooked up the brake and done my best to bleed the system on the day before I left! It was working at about half capacity, but I guess the vibration of constant running shook all the bubbles loose. By the end of the first day, it was at full strength.

I had also added a newly available accessory, a front motor mount, spin on oil filter. It replaced the left mounting plate with a chrome unit. The bike did not originally come equipped with an oil filter of any kind! This filter would increase the capacity of the oiling system by almost a quart and would dissipate engine heat into the air stream. A worthwhile addition. Harley Sportsters of this era, even in good shape, would consume a quart of oil every five hundred miles. This meant that you would have to top up the oil every day. Harley had three grades of oil available; 40, 50, and 60 weight. 60 weight was recommended for Summer and "severe duty" use. On the road, it wasn't always possible to find an HD dealer and secure the proper oil. Most service stations only carried straight 40 wt. and that went through the motor like water!

The extended forks were kind of flexible. The usual fork brace was a bar shaped rectangular clamp that slipped down the fork tubes before they were slid up into the triple clamps. The pinch bolts were then snugged down. This system relied on the friction of the clamp and the tubes and was generally not too effective. I decided to go with a dirt bike style alloy device that bolted securely to the lower fork leg's four fender mounts. This was a much stronger set up and I thought it would be more appropriate for the possible rough roads we might encounter. I remembered my trip on the SL 350 where I had removed the front fender, for aesthetics, and suffered a sloppy trip in the rain. I attached a small fiberglass cafe racer style to the fork legs over the brace.

Perhaps my biggest pre trip expenditure was for a set of leathers. Harley Davidson offered a set of "Buckskin Buckaroo" (I'm not making this up!) coat and pants through their accessory catalog. I thought that the lighter brown color would absorb less heat, and appear less menacing to the motoring public. The jacket wasn't a "Wild One" knock off like my vinyl jacket had been. It was what is now usually referred to as a "cafe racer" style. Peter Fonda wore a black version of this jacket in "Easy Rider" so the look was definitely "cool." The proper look was essential for the proper experience.

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