Harley Davidson SofTail Custom

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Harley-Davidson SofTail Custom

The term softail refers to motorcycles and bicycles that feature a hidden rear suspension system with springs or shock absorbers to absorb bumps. Softail motorcycles give the appearance of having a hard-tail or rigid frame, normally with the shock absorbers or springs under the motorcycle and out of view.

The word “softail” is a registered trademark of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, coined with the release of the FXST Softail in 1984. Since then, the word has expanded to include other motorcycles with hidden rear suspensions as well as bicycles incorporating a rear suspension.

In Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the softail frame is designed to look like the rigid frame bikes of the past, while still offering the comfort of rear suspension. The shock absorbers are positioned along the axis of the motorcycle, tucked away under the transmission.

There are several Harley-Davidson models with the Softail frame, including the Standard, Custom, Springer, Heritage, Heritage Springer, Night Train, Deluxe, Deuce, Fat Boy, Slim, the Dark Custom Cross Bones, the Dark Custom Blackline and Breakout. With the exception of the Deuce, which has a 2 inches (51 mm) backbone stretch, these motorcycles have the same engine, transmission and frame and differ mainly in the choice of fork, wheels and accessories.

History

Bill Davis, an avid Harley rider and engineer from St. Louis, Mo. designed the softail in the mid-1970s. His first design, which he worked on in 1974 and 1975, had a cantilever swingarm pivoted at the bottom and sprung at the top with the springs and shock absorber hidden under the seat. Upon working out his design, Davis built a prototype based on his 1972 Super Glide. Davis patented his design and contacted Willie G. Davidson, arranging a meeting in August 1976. Davidson was impressed, but made no commitments. Davidson replied six months later, stating that the company would not be able to use the design at the time but was still interested in it.

Davis continued to develop the design, switching the pivot and the springing points around so that the springs and shock absorber were under the frame and the pivot point was at the top of the triangular swingarm. This allowed the traditional Harley-Davidson oil tank to be placed under the seat. Davis attempted to produce the new design independently as the Road Worx Sub-Shock, but the partnership he had put together for this purpose collapsed. Harley-Davidson executive Jeffrey Bleustein contacted Davis shortly afterward and began negotiations to buy Davis’s design. Davis sold his patents, prototype, and tooling to Harley-Davidson in January 1982. After further testing and development, Davis’s design was introduced in June 1983 as the 1984 Harley-Davidson FXST Softail.

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