Viagra for a Softail

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The current customer base the Factory has cultivated would argue that Softails are the best looking frame ever to hold a big twin motor. Of course, they are making that statement without much knowledge or exposure of the truly great motorcycles produced in Milwaukee over the last hundred or so years. I would argue that statement for sure, and, while that frame may rank very high on my list, they do have great potential.

Softails are trying to look like something they are not: a hardtail. In stock form, they offer a ride that is better than a hardtail. The fenders ride high above the tire like a motocross bike, so one of the first things customizers do is to drop the frame down. They end up with a frame that rides worse than a hardtail, is much heavier, and still looks like it’s trying to be something it’s not. The framerails are very low, cornering sucks, and the constant bottoming out of lowered shocks wreaks havoc on your spine, and that is even less cool than they look.

So, where is the potential? Well, thanks to the poor economy, these motorcycles that once were worth their weight in gold, can now be had for a song. A “song” means a lot of different things to different people, but an early ‘90’s Softail can be bought for 6 grand or less here. The biggest plus for these bikes is the drivetrain. Evolution motors and 5 speeds run, and run, and run. That 6 thousand dollar bike you just bought can likely be ridden many thousands of miles with only primary chain adjustments, and fluid changes. Unlike Ironheads or Shovels,  these bikes have probably had only a couple  of  owners,  and most likely those previous owners haven’t tried to work on them (read: screw them all up!) with their limited skills. Lots of them have very low miles too, having spent more time being covered in the garage than on the road. Not having  to spend money on a powertrain rebuild means more money is available for other mods – like getting rid of that swingarm!

Viagra For A Softail

I’ve been wanting to hardtail one of these frames for a while, and I finally got my chance. James Simonelli from Baker Drivetrain contacted me about doing one for a friend of his, Scott, from Racine Wisconsin. Scott had a complete ’94 bike that he wanted chopped up, so we hashed out a plan. Scott decided to bring the frame here on a weekend, so we could go over the job which included some additional fab work. When they arrived on a Saturday morning, the first thing I noticed was that Scott  had to duck to get through the door in the shop, and walk through sideways to squeeze his shoulders through. This frame is going to need to be longer than a stock frame for him to be able to fit it, and I’m going to have to put in some extra time on it so this guy can still have my punch-in-the- nose guarantee.

Viagra For A Softail

The frame weighed in at a lofty 69 pounds to start. Then, you would need to add in another 44 pounds for a swingarm, shocks, fender strut covers, and swingarm pivot hardware. So, the frame starts out at roughly 113 pounds. Lets see how much we can cut out of that number. I marked the cutting points with blue tape for the benefit of the pictures, and within 5 minutes the porta band saw removed 25 pounds. I spent the next half hour cutting the rear tranny mounts out of the carcass so I could re-install it in the new tail section, but that turned out to be a waste of time. The rear mount works fine in the suspended frame, where the  tail is also held together at the swingarm. Without that extra support, I felt the frame might be too weak with the stock rear trans mount, so I tossed that idea.

The second coolest thing about this particular project, is that it’s the first frame I will be hardtailing with some brand new AMERICAN MADE cast steel axleplates from my friend, John Grant, of Hardtail Choppers, Inc. John is casting these high quality axleplates, along with just about every other stock casting for vintage frames. Check him out at www.hardtailchoppers.com. I’ve been waiting for these, and John was cool enough to send me one of the first sets. The finish on these parts is beautiful, and the machining is spot-on. These are going to be a pleasure to work with.

Viagra For A Softail

Once the frame was prepped (paint removed at the joints, and the tubes beveled inside and out), I dropped it in the jig. I machined the stock slot openings in the axleplates so they would fit a 1” axle, as well as pre-drilling them so the tubes could be plug welded in place, and then bolted them into the fixture. I adjusted the fixture to push them 2” farther back than stock, and spread the distance to accommodate a 180 tire. I took a few dimensions for the bends on the lower tubes, and Dan Roedel showed up to lend a hand. We bent up the lower tubes, and got them right on the first try. The normal slugs I use for Shovel frames worked with only a few minor diameter changes to fit the Softail frame.

Viagra For A Softail

I left on the factory plates that strengthen the seatpost area of the frame, and heated the tube stubs so I could bend them into the proper shape to blend into the axleplates. The extra set of eyes and hands sped this up, and the top tubes went in without much trouble either. I pulled all 4 of them out so I could add holes to plug weld the slugs in place, and back in they went. Now, it was time to add the new rear  trans mounts. I decided to make them similar to a stock Shovel frame, by making up some ¾” diameter threaded bungs welded to a tubing crossmember.

I used 1” by 2” by 1/8” wall thickness for the lower cross brace. Once I figured the length, I clamped the tube into the drill press vise, and chucked up a roto-bit to cope  the ends of the tube to fit the lower framerails. Some careful measuring, a little filing, and the tube slid into it’s new   spot. I transferred the rear tranny mount holes to the tube with some transfer punches, and back into the vice it went  so I could bore the ¾” holes for the bungs. I made a pair of threaded bungs, shimmed them to the right height in the jig, and bolted the whole puzzle in place. The frame was ready to weld up.

I like to take my time welding the frame, tacking every joint first, and then skipping around to all of the joints and welding a small section of them at a time. After I weld up as much as I can, I unbolt the front of the frame from the jig, leaving the motor mount and tranny mount plates in place, and swing the frame over 180 degrees around  the axle. Leaving the axle and spacers intact lessens the chance of the tails section twisting from the heat. And oh yeah, welding John’s cast steel axleplates to the tubing is a breeze.

I would normally weld in the cross brace in front of the rear fender on the upper frame rails while the frame is in   the jig, but Scott dropped off a Paul Cox Rigidaire air ride seat kit, so he will be making a trip back her so we can fit it in place where it suits him best. All that’s left now, is to grind and polish out the welds for a seamless look.

The finished frame ended up at 63 pounds, so a weight savings of 50 pounds was realized by this conversion. With  a suspended seat, Scott can expect a ride that’s better than  his lowered Softail once was. Plus, it will look a lot better. The cost of this mod hovers around a grand for all materials and labor, and the frame can be returned with extras installed and welded so that re-assembly is a breeze. A strong, fast, reliable, titled chopper can be made from any of the thousands of slop-tails out there. Let the hate mail from the Softail purists begin.

Viagra For A Softail