The beginning of Factory Customizing
The wild sixties are not called that by chance. The desire for boring music and conventional motorcycles became less. As a consequence of the burgeoning cult, in which motorcycling became a lifestyle and people wanted to get away from the one-size-fits-all, Harley-Davidson reacted with a factory custom: the Super Glide! At the time, the company’s design department consisted of Willie G. Davidson and one other employee, and they were excited about the developments in this scene. There were the Sportys and there were the Big Twins. Enough material to build something new from.
At the latest, when “Easy Rider” flickered across cinema screens in 1969, it was clear that Harley-Davidson had to offer alternatives. In 1971, Harley’s chief designer Willie G. reached into his kit, took a slim fork and the narrow front wheel of an XL Sportster and combined this front end with the frame, the potent Shovelhead engine and the fat rear wheel of the FL Big Twin. The Super Glide is considered the company’s first factory custom bike, a motorcycle that was perfectly suited to the unconventional lifestyle of the time.
While in many a backyard people began to customize motorcycles and combine elements of different series, at that time they were rather disappointed by the Harley-Davidson Company’s offer.
Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the company’s founders and head of Harley’s design department from 1963, however, was excited by this scene! He decided to design a motorcycle himself, which already conveyed an individual feeling as the choppers created in hours of painstaking work.
It was, so to speak, the zero hour of factory customizing at Harley-Davidson.
Willie G.’s idea was based on marrying the slim fork and narrow front wheel of an XL Sportster with the frame, the potent Shovelhead engine and the fat rear wheel of an FL Big Twin.
This is indicated by the type FX, which also stood for “Factory Experimental”.
The result, the FX Super Glide, rolled off the assembly line for the first time in 1971. Just one year after the premiere, the plastic rear end called Boat Tail, which was little loved by the fans, disappeared. Instead, a curved rear fender and a compact, stepped seat harmonized the design and helped the machine achieve its final breakthrough.
The FX Super Glide was followed by many successful bikes such as the Low Rider (1977) and the Wide Glide (1980), including the FXR family – the first bikes to use the new, vibration-isolated Evolution engine and a new frame.
In 1991, the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis debuted, the first model to carry the letter suffix D for “Dyna” in place of the R in its type designation.
With each of these and subsequent models, Harley-Davidson’s reputation as a manufacturer of particularly individual and non-conformist motorcycles was further consolidated.
Just in time for the company’s 115th anniversary in 2018, Harley-Davidson presented a completely new model series under the already familiar name Softail, which was intended to unite the previous Softail and Dyna series.
Nowadays, the purist Street Bob and the dynamic Low Rider S in the completely new Softail frame, equipped with the powerful Milwaukee-Eight engine can be seen as the successor to the 1971 Super Glide, which once opened up new target groups for Harley-Davidson.
In our custom bike gallery you can see what can be done with these and the many other models. Hardly any other bike is as suitable for customizing as a Harley-Davidson!
[Text: H. Herz / M. Zimpel, Photos: Harley-Davidson Archive]