TECH TORQ #127

Got a question for Doc Robinson, our Technical Editor? Email Doc at info@heavyduty.com.au

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FIRST SOFTAIL

Doc, I hope you can settle an argument between three mates. Jonno reckons Willie G designed the Softail from the ground up, but Mike reckons some private guy did and Harley copied it. I reckon I saw it in one of the old man’s bike mags way back in the ’70s, though it was much different. We agreed to let you make the call. I get a slab if I’m right!

– Lumpy

Well Lumpy, depending on how the situation is viewed, both Mike and you are right. Well, sort of. Bill Davis, an avid Harley rider and engineer from St. Louis, Missouri, designed a ‘Softail’ in the early 1970s and sold the rights to what he called his ‘Sub Shock Wide-Glide prototype’ to Harley-Davidson in 1982. And, as we all know, in 1984 Harley-Davidson began to manufacture its revised version of the Davis Softail. So Mike is right to a degree. But you are also right in that a company in the early 1970s produced a frame it called the ‘Softail’ but which ran plunger rear suspension, a system that originated prior to WWII. This set-up used small sprung, shock-
absorbing devices between the rear wheel and the rigid rear section. It was not a very good system. The image here is from a 1970 issue of Choppers magazine that I dug out of my magazine archives. It took so long to find I reckon we should split that slab three ways!

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