Biker Blog

How to Decide on the Best Motorcycle Helmet for You

Motorcycle helmets are a top controversial topic among riders. Some see them as life savers while others see them as hindering their experience of the open road. Depending on what state you ride in (or will be riding through), wearing a helmet may be less of a choice and more of a legal requirement.

Half Helmet with Skull Flame Design

Half Helmet with Skull Flame Design

Whether you would never consider riding without a helmet or it’s something your state has mandated, helmets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of serious injury in a motorcycle accident. Thirty years ago the Hurt Report, officially titled Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical Report, provided data that showed a significant reduction in accident deaths and brain injuries when riders were wearing helmets, and today’s helmet are even more effective and heavily designed than when the report first came out.

Types of Helmets

There are basically four types of legal helmets for a biker to choose from, each with a different level of coverage to fit what you need.

Full-face helmets provide the most coverage by completely covering the head and face. A shield over the eyes provides an opening for vision that can be flipped up when the rider is stopped. This style of helmet protects your entire head as well as your mouth, nose and eyes from scraping on the pavement. For maximum protection the chinbar should have the same EPS foam as the rest of the helmet liner. Face protection from the wind, rain and bug splatter is an added benefit of this type of helmet. 

Flip-up helmets (also called modular helmets) provide a similar level of protection to full-face helmets, but the entire front faceplate can be flipped up, usually by pushing a button or lever. This allows you to leave your helmet on when running into a store or getting gas without having your face covered. The drawback to this style is that the helmets are usually heavier, by about 2 ounces, and in some circumstances there is the possibility of the faceplate coming up in an impact.

Three-quarter helmets (or open-face helmets) allow riders to feel the wind on their faces (and the occasional bug) and are lighter then either of the full-coverage helmet styles. They cover the sides and back of the head but not the face. They may be a good compromise if the full-face helmet is too uncomfortable or makes you feel claustrophobic. The disadvantage is that you will have no protection for your face in a crash and will be exposed to the elements when riding in the rain.

Half helmets (also called shorties or beanies) may be the option if you’d rather not be wearing a helmet but are required to by state law. They are legal in the U.S. as long as they are DOT approved, and they are the lightest and least restrictive style of helmet. They are popular with Harley riders. When wearing this type of helmet, you’ll need to wear some kind of eye protection, either goggles or sturdy sunglasses if your head rises above your bike’s windshield. Be sure the helmet is properly secured because half helmets have been known to roll off under impact.

How Helmets Work

If you’ve ever wondered why a helmet that’s been in an accident or even a helmet that has been dropped on the ground is no longer safe to wear, the answer has to do with the way helmets are designed to absorb impact. A helmet is made up of three layers. First is the interior liner that helps with comfort and fit, then is a layer of closed-cell expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, and finally the outer shell is made of plastic, fiberglass or composite fibers that diffuse the impact. The EPS foam is designed to crush at a controlled rate when it meets an impact. It disperses the energy and stops it from being absorbed directly into the rider’s skull. Because the foam is designed to crush on impact, once it has been in an accident or dropped it is “used-up” and you’ll need to replace the helmet. The foam liner is made of a similar type of foam to Styrofoam drink cups and is about an inch thick inside the helmet.

Safety Standards

For a helmet to be sold legally for motorcycle use in the United States, it needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT sets certain minimum standards for impact absorption. An approved helmet will pass no more than 400 g’s (meaning 400 times the force of gravity) to a rider’s head when tested from two controlled drops. The first is 72 inches at a minimum fall speed of 19.7 feet/second and the second is 54.5 inches at a minimum fall speed of 17.1 feet/second. And, no, the DOT doesn’t drop actual riders in their tests. A headform with instruments to measure the forces is used instead.

All DOT helmets will have a DOT sticker attached to the back. If it doesn’t have that sticker, it is most likely a novelty helmet and won’t provide adequate protection in an accident.

DOT isn’t the only standard, however. The Snell standard tests for an even more stringent limit of only 300 g’s passed to the rider’s head. Other standards you might see on helmets are the BSI (British standard) and the ECE (European Community) standard.

American Chopper Feb. 20 “The Apprentice Bike”

This week on American Chopper Paul Jr. builds a bike for OCC.  No, not Orange County Choppers. This bike was for a company called One Call Concepts. Oh, the irony.

What is One Call Concepts? They’re the call-before-you-dig people, and their slogan is “When safety is on the line.”  Who better to represent that brand message than the Tuetul family, who are known to hit each other in the head with shovels and other flying objects.

Jr.’s plan is to “integrate everything that has to do with digging” onto the bike.  Here’s where the cake decorator criticism comes into play.  Shovel heads and pickaxes are randomly placed throughout.  At least the shovel seat idea was abandoned as too uncomfortable, even though nobody will actually ride this bike.

Meanwhile, the real OCC is finishing up the Donald Trump bike while Sr. is away filming the Celebrity Apprentice.  Rick says it’s hard not having Paul around to yell at him and complain.  I know I hate it when my boss is out of the office too, Rick.  Then Sr. makes a call, and the OCC biker gang assembles.  They dust off charity bikes built for the New York Jets, Giants, Firefighters, POW/MIA. . .but I’ve got to ask myself, why are all those charity bikes still around?  Weren’t they supposed to give them to charity?

And of course there’s more family drama on the show this week. Sometimes I think there are more therapy sessions in the kitchen than scenes building motorcycles.  Mikey didn’t say “hi” to Sr. and the two sides “conveniently” missed each other at the wake, and I was like “oh no he didn’t, girlfriend!”  The guys on OCC are starting to remind me a lot of the spoiled teenagers on the OC only with more tattoos.

Did anyone else spot the Donald Trump bike at the end of the full on rainbow near the middle of the show? Sr. drops off the bike at Trump Plaza by riding it through the doors, and I’m amazed he made the turn into the building. The camera cut away, so I’m not entirely convinced he actually did. That was a long rake on that bike. The finished bike looks amazing covered in real gold flakes, detailed scroll work and tons of custom parts. It makes you wonder why, if they have that much talent, that they didn’t make a bike like that for the build off? When reflecting on his experience so far with Trump and his kids on Celebrity Apprentice, Paul Sr. seems almost jealous of Trump’s family. That’s a bad sign when the Trump family is on your pedestal for family values.

American Chopper Feb. 13, 2012 “Season 3 Premiere”

This week on American Chopper Donald Trump orders up a custom motorcycle. . . no, for real!

The next build is the Donald Trump Chopper.  Let construction of the 24 carat solid gold bike begin! Okay, to build a 700 pound motorcycle with gold trading at about $1,700 per ounce works out to a budget of around $19 million dollars. . .that will look great in his NYC penthouse apartment (Tower Heist anyone?).

I’m thinking the bike also needs a giant blonde mane flowing down the gas tank. So, the Donald likes length huh?  Imagine that. I suspect somebody’s compensating.  Donald also likes the concept of gold.  You don’t say.  Maybe parking that bike in the lobby of your Atlantic City Casino will bring in customers and can be used as collateral in your next bankruptcy filing.  Sorry, Donald, but as you say, it’s not personal it’s business.

But before all of that Senior takes a moment to think about some of the things he felt following the live unveil.  ”Paulie built a nice bike I thought.  Nice workmanship but the only thing I didn’t like is that it had no line to it.  If you take away all the workmanship I didn’t really like Paulie’s bike.  But I really liked Jessie’s bike because of the workmanship.”  Really, Senior?  It took you awhile to think of that?  I guess workmanship is an art except when it’s made by your own son.

Meanwhile Jr. celebrates in his shop (after much celebrating in Vegas) and then immediately starts building a bike for a client in Poland for Paul Jr.’s first international client.  In all seriousness for a minute. . . Yes, this is exactly what American manufacturing needs, MORE EXPORTS!!! America needs to be a nation that makes something again.  We need more of this.  I support buying American, and if you’re a patriotic American like me then you should too.

Meanwhile, back at Trump Tower, Senior meets with the Donald and complains about his son. “He took my manager after I fired my manager. . .”  Well maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t have fired him in the first place?  I’m just sayin’.  To which Donald replies, “I watch the show.  I respect the son.” Then later, “Don’t leave him anything.  Don’t leave him 10 cents.” ~Donald Trump.  Wow, with Donald Jr. standing right there, too.  Hey, Donald, how did you become so successful again?  Oh, that’s right, your father gave you everything too.

Donald Trump then asks Jason to redesign the logo on Trump helicopter, so Jason draws up a snowmobile.

Vince brings his 2 year old son into the shop, and he is adorable.  I hope my son will enjoy motorcycles like his old man.  That might be awhile, so I hope my brothers will get their own bikes so they can go riding with me this season to fill the gap!

“To many more years to come.  Long nights do pay off.  Don’t do drugs.  And get back to work!”

“The Wild One” Movie Review: Rebellion, Freedom and Jive Talkin’

I’ve learned if you’re into motorcycles at all, the name of this movie, “The Wild One”, will come up again and again, though if you’re looking for an edgy biker film, this quaint ‘50s tale isn’t likely to hold up against the current idea of an outlaw biker gang depicted in shows like “Sons of Anarchy”. That said, it was a controversial film when it premiered in 1953 and was actually banned in England for a number of years. The mystique of the outlaw biker and the iconic black motorcycle jacket are just two of the ways the movie is still influencing motorcycle culture. Since the flick first came out, the image of the rebel biker, epitomized by Marlon Brando’s character Johnny Strabler, has been imitated, parodied, and homaged in everything from Nickelodeon cartoons to the latest installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. With so many references and people talking about this movie, it was time to Netflix it and see what all the hoopla was for.

Despite the racy title, to modern movie audiences the main character, Johnny, will probably come off as less than wild, unless, of course, you’re referring to his talent for riding a motorcycle at highway speeds without losing his signature floppy cap. My theory is he wasn’t so rebellious, just cranky from his hat being on too tight.

The plot, loosely based on an actual incident of motorcycle enthusiasts invading the town of Hollister, Calif. in 1947, takes place in the fictional town of Wrightsville, a sleepy community that looks like the set of a wild west movie. Johnny’s motorcycle gang of around 40 members, The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, rides into town after causing trouble and stealing the second place trophy at a motorcycle track race the next town over.

Not everyone is happy to see the bikers, who rev their engines and do mini drag races in front of people’s cars, but entrepreneurial barkeep Frank Bleeker is happy to have them as they enthusiastically buy up the beer in his bar. Which brings us to one of my favorite parts of the movie – a bottle of beer could be purchased for a quarter! Nice.

On first blush, it seemed to me they were just a bunch of young guys looking for some fun on the weekend. Johnny gets the hots for the local waitress. Some of the other guys make cracks about how hickish the town is. They find a jukebox that plays jazz and start talking in jive. Not exactly my idea of an “anti-social subculture in revolt,” but I can only assume it was more shocking to people in the ‘50s.

But part of my bias may come from the fact that for me the quintessential outlaw biker gang is those guys from “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”. Ruthless, post-apocalyptic scavengers with mohawks, bondage leather and chains coming out of their noses or clean cut guys dancing to jazz music, who do you find scarier? I mean seriously. I also really enjoyed the “Weird Science” biker gang scene when Lisa conjures up the group of mutant bikers to make Gary and Wyatt seem tough, but I digress.

The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club does eventually get out of hand and start trashing the town beauty salon and other town establishments, but what did you expect after serving them all of that $.25 beer.

Perhaps the theme of the movie is best hit home in the scene when Johnny saves the bar waitress, named Kathie, from the motorcycle hooligans circling her in the street. She hops on his bike and they ride off to a wooded clearing. After they hop off, he kisses her forcefully, but she is too tired to resist. Representing all of the repression and quashed dreams and passion of her society, she finds in Johnny a kind of escape from the boredom of her life, but when she signals her interest in him, she discovers that the freedom is an illusion. Johnny turns her down, perhaps knowing on some level that his directionless life is just as much of a trap in the end.

She runs off crying, and some of the townspeople mistake that for her fleeing an attack from Johnny. The townspeople, turned angry mob, turn on the bikers and beat up Johnny. He tries to ride away on his motorcycle but has a crowbar flung at the wheels. He falls off and his bike goes careening into the elderly bartender Jimmy who dies in the street. Thanks to the testimony of Kathie and two other witnesses, Johnny is able to avoid a manslaughter charge, and the bikers leave town after agreeing to pay for the damages and never show their face in the county again. Johnny does make one trip back to Bleeker’s bar to give Kathie his only smile of the movie, his way of thanking her.

Lessons learned -

1. Leather jackets are the cat’s pajamas daddy’o, and

2. If you are in charge of serving the beer to a 40 person motorcycle gang whose obvious only way home is on motorcycles, know when to cut them off or don’t be surprised if you end up in a deadly crash later.

Marlon Brando sporting his oft copied biker jacket and cap from "The Wild One".

Bikers, Winter Doesn’t Have to Suck: What to Do When It’s Too Cold to Ride Your Motorcycle

January can be a depressing time for motorcycle enthusiasts who live north of the winter snow line. Our bikes are most likely in a garage with the battery removed and the oil drained, but that doesn’t mean there are no outlets to fill the hole left by your usual adrenaline pumping hobby.

Try a Snowmobile

If you live somewhere where the winters are particularly white and powdery, finding a new way to feel the wind on your face at high speeds may be as simple as switching to a snowmobile. Snowmobiles, also called snow machines, are often compared to motorcycles for their open riding, powerful engines and typical capacity for a driver and one passenger.

Snowmobiles are powered by either a 4- or 2-stroke internal combustion engine. Some later models can produce horsepower of up to 180, and some are designed to go 150 mph or more. Snowmobiles run on tracks made of a Kevlar composite and most are made by one of four companies: Ski-Doo, Polaris, Arctic Cat or Yamaha.

Originally designed to go where other vehicles simply couldn’t in winter weather, snowmobiles are still a great way to explore snowy trails and frozen lakes. If you don’t live near a park or forest, you may not want to fork over the cash to purchase a new snowmobile, which can go for $6000 or more. Consider a trip to a state park or recreation area where snowmobile rentals and tours go for about the same price as a ski lift ticket.

Perhaps the most exciting reason to give snowmobiling a try comes from fellow Biker Gift Shop blogger, Biker Black. He says, “Riding a motorcycle and riding a snowmobile have a lot in common, but snowmobiles have one extra advantage. Because you’re not on a road, you can go as fast as you want. On a frozen lake, you can push down the throttle and go full speed, and it’s legal! Where else can you do that? Maybe on the Salt Flats in a bike, but that’s all I can think of.”

Stay Warm on the Couch with Motorcycle and Biker Video Games

If you’d rather stay as far away from the frosty weather as you can, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a high-speed experience from the comfort of your living room.

Full disclosure – I’m not much of a gamer myself, but with the cinematic quality of graphics and lifelike physics of today’s video games, it’s undeniable that they are a great way to feed your need for excitement. And don’t forget about the classic motorcycle video games of the ‘80s and ‘90s either. The nostalgia factor alone is enough to give you a kick on the long, dark nights of winter. Here’s a list of some above average options when the ice has you couch bound.

7 Popular Motorcycle Games

1. SBK X Superbike World Championship – Available for PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, this supercharged motorcycle racing game debuted in 2010 and features two modes to cater to both arcade style and the simulation style play. It boasts stunning graphics and detailed courses with realistic 3D crowds cheering you on.

2. GP500 – Created for the PC and released in 1999, this game is still a popular option for online play. Even today online racing leagues compete in GP500 races. The game is a simulation of the 1998 Grand Prix motorcycle racing season, containing 24 riders from the official roster. At the time it came out, it was one of the most advanced motorcycle games available.

3. Trials HD – was launched for Xbox in 2009 as part of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade title. In the game the player attempts to guide a motorcycle over obstacles and objects including vertical climbs and boxes of dynamite in a world of exaggerated physics and puzzles. There are 35 courses in the game and difficulty ranges from beginner to extreme. Players can also create and share their own levels with friends. This addictive game has consistently garnered positive reviews.

4. Tourist Trophy:The Real Riding Simulator – Released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, this realistic motorcycle racing game was designed by Polyphony Digital, the same company that makes the Gran Turismo auto racing games. The game uses the same physics engine, graphics and most of the circuits found in Gran Turismo 4, but this game features 132 different road and racing bikes from 12 different manufacturers. So, if there’s a bike you’ve always wanted to ride, this game may get you a step closer.

5. Excitebike – The original NES game came out in 1986 and for some of us may have been the first motorcycle video game we played. The game features five tracks where the player can race alone or against computer riders. You’ll race to compete in the Excitebike championship race. If you don’t still have a functional Nintendo in your basement somewhere, never fear, the Nintendo Wii offers a revamped version that launched in 2011.

6. Road Rash – Long before Grand Theft Auto had players terrorizing the streets there was Road Rash, the motorcycle racing game where players compete in violent illegal street races. You can kick, punch or even use weapons to knock other riders off their bikes. The original game was released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis (my personal favorite childhood gaming system), but later versions are available from EA’s Replay collection for the PSP.


Start Planning Your Spring Motorcycle Tour

They say that anticipation is half the fun of any trip, so if you get tired of games,why not pull out your calendar and pick some dates to set aside for that trail, biker rally or camping tour you’ve been talking about forever.

The first step is researching your options. The big name events like Daytona or Sturgis might be the first to come to mind, but there are literally thousands of smaller events and destinations that are more than worth the trip.

The following list of websites is a great place to start researching upcoming events. Events are often organized by state, so you can choose to stay close to home or explore a new part of the country.

  1. USA and Canadian Motorcycle Events
  2. Let’s Ride
  3. Harley-Davidson USA Event Calendar

If you like mixing in the opportunity for water sports on your motorcycle trips and you’re located anywhere in the Midwest, then I’d also like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug Bikefest in my beautiful hometown locale of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

 Once you’ve chosen a destination, it’s time to coordinate with other friends who might be joining your trip because there’s nothing like company on the road.

 Watever you do to pass the time until spring riding season takes you back out on the road, be safe and try not to be too envious of your biker friends down south who ride through the winter. This August while you’re enjoying a high-paced summer ride, they’ll be sitting out when their temps hit the triple digits.

 (And to be sure your bike will be ready to ride come spring, here’s an article on winterizing your bike.)


9 Ways to Customize Your Motorcycle

You’re standing at the dealership. You’ve just signed the papers on your shiny new, straight-from-the-factory motorcycle. You grab the handlebars, try out the seat, and know there’s only one thing to do next…start changing things. There’s nothing wrong with a stock bike, but with so many ways to make your motorcycle uniquely yours, most bikers don’t wait long before making a few (or a ton of) modifications.


1. Chrome

This is the most common aftermarket accessory added to motorcycles, and with the obvious bling it adds, it’s literally not hard to see why. Almost any part of the bike can be chromed from front wheel spokes to tail lights.

2. Exhaust

The most popular custom feature after chrome is the exhaust pipes. Nothing beats the sound of your own custom pipes as you ride through town. Harley-Davidson offers several custom exhaust systems, and when used in combination with intake, it can add torque and horsepower as well as great sound. Although you might not be on the best of terms with your neighbors if you ride your motorcycle to work at 5 a.m. Other popular name brands include Vance & Hines®, Rinehart, BUB, Thunderheader, Patriot, Kuryakyn®, Bassani®, Python, Road Burner, Samson®, Klock Werks,Santee, SuperTrap, Cycle Shack, Battistinis, Joker, Cobra®, Paughco, Dyno Power®, Krome Werks and Rush.

3. Seats

Green Harley with custom snakeskin seat 

Coming in as the third most common aftermarket accessory, new seats go a long way toward increasing comfort and making those long rides a lot more enjoyable. You can buy an aftermarket seat or have the manufacturer build you a custom seat matched to your weight, height, inseam, and width. Custom seats can provide big changes in your ride. For example, if you are a little taller or shorter than most, you can adjust the height to give you the perfect amount of legroom.

Another popular option is to have your seat made from visco-elastic gel. These seats use a similar technology as memory foam pillows or mattresses, meaning they conform to the shape of your backside but return to normal once you get up from your 500 mile trek to Sturgis.

If totally replacing your seat is more than you’re looking to do, consider installing a new seat cushion. They come in many varieties and are adjustable.

To make your passengers happier, you may also want to consider adding a backrest. A backrest allows your passenger to lean back and relax and can even stop them from sliding off if you suddenly get started too fast.

4. Wheels

The wider the better. At least that’s what you’d think looking at the latest trends in aftermarket and custom wheel markets. Some of the widest rear wheels you can get in a stock bike are in the 200- to 240-series range, but aftermarket hoops get up to the 330-series range and may continue to get wider. Wide rear tires are certainly attention getting, but the wider tires add more weight and may negatively affect how the bike rides and takes turns. Eighteen inches is the most common wheel diameter, and there are three main types of wheels: cast wheels, which are formed by pouring metal into a mold; forged wheels, which come from a solid piece of metal that is heated and pressed under extreme pressure to create the correct shape; and wire wheels with the traditional spokes, which are still common on most choppers and classic bikes today. The forged wheels are typically the strongest.

5. Windshields

A windshield can keep you warm and more relaxed on long rides as well as keep the bugs out of your face. Windshields typically are mounted with a set of handlebar and fork-tube clamps. The important thing to remember about installing a new windshield is setting it to the proper height and angle. You should be able to see over the shield with your eyes several inches above the shield. This prevents an obstructed view in case of glare from oncoming headlights at night, dirt, water or other debris.

6. Lights

Just because the sun has gone down doesn’t mean you’re done with your ride. There are a variety of custom options to let you light up the night the way you see fit. Strip lights, which are low-wattage lights, can make the motorcycle more visible and be used as decoration. Pencil beam driving lamps are an option to improve nighttime driver visibility. They project a focused beam of light far into the distance. Wide beams, by contrast, send light out to a wide but shallower area to supplement the low beam. Replacing headlight lenses with clear lenses and faceted reflectors is another popular trend. A faceted reflector with a clear lens is better at directing and spreading light. This results in brighter, whiter, more focused light.

Beyond headlights you can also mount lights in engine cases, forks, mirror stems, crash bars, light bars, fairings, or more. Just be sure not to mount any lights higher than the headlight.

7. Sound System

With all the wind and road noise that buffet the typical motorcycle rider, achieving high-quality acoustics is a little too much to expect. But there are still plenty of options to drown out the voices in your head. AM/FM radios are the simplest option and will provide local news and music. Satellite radio is also available from your Harley dealer if you do a lot of long trips and get tired of losing your stations with AM/FM. CD players are generally a bad idea with the amount of vibration that can happen on a bike, but MP3 players are a nice fix for that problem. CB radios will allow riders and motorists within range to communicate and are great for getting information on local conditions. They are even offered standard on some Harleys. If you want to get optimal sound quality on your bike, helmet speakers and microphones are the way to go. They can also be used as part of an intercom system with other riders or as a Bluetooth headset. Be sure to check if helmet speakers are legal in your state.

8. Handlebars and Grips, Heated Grips

Heated grips are an essential feature to extend the riding season in northern states, and once you try them, you’re not likely to want to do without. They’re more than a luxury because they allow for better control of the throttle, front brake and clutch level. You will also be able to wear lighter gloves. Be sure to find grips with at least two temperature settings to better match the weather. Also try to avoid add-ons that install over the existing grips.

Custom handlebars can be a worthwhile addition because like adjusting seats and pegs, changing the handle bar height and distance forward fits the bike for your size and comfort.

9. Paint Job

Not much needs to be said here. I’ve seen people paint their bikes with snakeskin designs, skulls, symbols and about any color you can imagine. I even saw a girl in Michigan paint her bike bright pink to match her velour jumpsuit. The point, as with any customizing is to make a bike that’s truly yours.

Knucklehead, Flathead, Shovelhead, Evolution and More: Harley-Davidson Engines since 1909

If you ride a Harley or would like to someday, knowing a thing or two about the evolution of the company’s iconic V-twin engines is pretty important. You’ll need that knowledge to help you maintain your street cred, or at least keep you from needing to lip-sync the song Tequila in a biker bar. (If you don’t get it, don’t ask.) Want to learn the actual differences between a Knucklehead, Panhead, or Twin Cam 96 and why you should care? Read on.

The Harley-Davidson V-twin engine is nearly as storied as the company that created it. The angled engine cylinders set at 45 degrees first appeared commercially on Harleys in 1909, but the design was a flop at first. Only a few dozen were ever built. The automatic intake valves were designed for single-cylinder engines and caused problems with the flow characteristics. It took some tweaking, the addition of mechanical intake valves, and a new frame before the V-twin found success in 1911.

A Brief History of Engine Names

Through the years Harley motors have increased in displacement and sophistication, but the Big Twins have always kept some things in common. All Big Twin Harleys have been longitudinally-mounted, air-cooled, 45-degree V-twins with large displacements. Not all Harley models have been Big Twins, but most of the longest running and most memorable are. Several Big-Twin engines earned nicknames based on their appearance while others go by their official factory names.

F-Head (1911 to 1929)

These were some of the first V-twins, and they get their name from the shape of the intake tract determined by the location of the valves.

Flathead (1929 to 1939)

Harley-Davidson Flathead Engine


A flathead or a “sidevalve” doesn’t have valves in the cylinder head, but rather has them set off to the side. The name flathead, oddly enough, came from the flat shape of the heads on top. First built in 1929, it was a 45-cubic-inch WL sidevalve with twin bullet headlights. A 74-cubic-inch version was introduced in 1930. The engine was still used in the three-wheeled Servicecar until 1974.

Knucklehead (1936 to 1947)

The knucklehead was Harley-Davidson’s first production motorcycle with overhead valves and a re-circulating oil system. Originally introduced with a engine displacing 61 cubic inches, it increased to 74 cubic inches by 1941. The UL and ULH models got an 80-cubic-inch engine from 1936 until 1945. The name comes from the curving shape of the rocker covers, which sort of resemble the knuckles on a fist.

Panhead (1948 to 1965)

The Panhead engine emerged as World War II was ending. It was the beginning of a new generation of Big Twins, and while the engine kept the overhead valves of the Knucklehead, it now included aluminum cylinder heads and hydraulic valve lifters. It was available in 61 and 74-cubic-inch versions. It was also the first Harley to feature an electric starter instead of a kick starter with the 1965 Electra Glide model. The engine’s name comes from the pan-like shape of the valve covers.

Shovelhead (1966 to 1985)

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Engine


The first Shovelhead engines were introduced in 1966, with the first models at 74 cubic inches. Later some models would grow to 80 inches by 1979. They featured cast aluminum rocker boxes to replace the leaky sheet metal used in the Panhead and had a Tilotson carburetor and PowerPak heads to give up to a 15 percent increase in power. The shovel shape of the engine’s cylinder heads is the culprit behind the name.

In 1980 the Sturgis became the first modern Harley model to have a belt final drive as opposed to the louder chain. It also lasted longer and needed fewer adjustments and no lubrication. That same year the FLT Tour Glide model was introduced with three elastomer rubber mounts. They allowed the engine to shake without shaking the rider by isolating the vibration between the frame and rider.

Evolution (1984 to 1999)

The Evolution, “Blockhead” or “Evo” as it’s most commonly called, was the engine that brought Harley-Davidson back in a big way. The engine displaced 80 cubic inches or 1340 cc, but was constructed with steel-lined alloy cylinders with new pushrods, pistons and cylinder heads. Although it had the same displacement as its predecessor, it created significantly more torque and horsepower.

Twin Cam 88 (1999 to 2006)

It’s no stretch of the imagination to arrive at the name for the Twin Cam 88. The 88-cubic-inch (1450cc) engine featured two camshafts. In the FL and Dyna models, the engine was rubber mounted to isolate the vibration from the rider, and in 2000, Harley-Davidson introduced the 88B version, which only came in the Softail models. It had twin counterbalancers, which are weights that turn opposite to the engine’s crankshaft, to cancel out engine vibration before it reaches the frame. This is easier on bike parts as well as the rider. The counterbalancers allow the engine to be mounted solidly to the frame, which results in a much stronger frame. It also allows the frame to fit more closely to the engine for a classic look.

V-Rod (2002 to the present)

 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Engine

The V-Rod was a distinctive shift from anything Harley-Davidson had done in the past. The company teamed with German automaker Porsche to develop a new V-twin. Beyond the modern styling, an obvious difference included having the cylinders separated 60 degrees apart, not 45, to allow for a lower motorcycle design and increased space for mounting fuel injectors and the air box. The engine displaced 1130cc, and while the rear-wheel horsepower was 106, the torque was only 72 lb-ft, which indicated a revving engine rather than a torque engine like the classic Big Twins. Some newer models were increased to 1250cc.

Twin Cam 96 (2007 to the present)

Twin Cam 96 Engine 

While very similar in appearance to the Twin Cam 88, the Twin Cam 96 has, go figure, displacement of 96 cubic inches (1584cc). The increased displacement was achieved by increasing the stroke from 101.5 mm to 111.25mm while using the same 95.2 mm bore. This change increased the compression ratio from 8.9 to 9.2:1. New Big Twin engines also got a new six-speed transmission replacing the old five-speed. And starting in 2007 all Harley models are fuel injected.

Now that you know a thing or two about Harley engines, why not check out our selection of biker gifts and accessories on our shop pages?

And if you'd like to learn more check out the book “Everything You Need to Know Harley-Davidson Motorcycles” by Bill Stermer (2007)


American Chopper “Biker Build-Off Part 2″ Aired Live Dec, 6 2011

On this special LIVE laser show episode in 3D featuring special musical guest Bush. . .Sr. shows off a post apocalyptic vision of the future, Jr. presents an airplane with no wings, and self-proclaimed outlaw with no confirmed ties to the infamous criminal of the same name displays an old school, polished stainless steel red rocket chopper.

Sr. enters with his Mad Max “machine”, and immediately I’m praying he doesn’t spin out and torch the crowd. The compliment of the night comes when Sr. is prodded into saying “Jr.’s bike is good too”. Jr. is the clear winner but still doesn’t get any respect from his father or Jesse for that matter.

Up next is Jesse “Trash Talk” James. What makes your bike special? You wouldn’t understand.

Then there is Jr.’s bike. Part airplane, part bike. The crowd should thank Jr. for not using the smoke during his entrance. Thirty inch wheels with wood inlays that look like propellers, 2000 rivets, aluminum sheet metal trimmed in copper, and a one gallon gas tank for a 20 mile range (more on that in a minute). My only critique is why is the seat not in the shape of his logo? It seems like a natural fit. Also shouldn’t the handlebars be wings?

Now everybody knows that theme bikes are probably the opposite of choppers, but they must be heavier than I thought to get only 20 mpg, especially riding on 30″ wheels. In this DESIGN competition, of course, the bikes are pieces of art that can be ridden but aren’t really meant to be. They are mostly for show, but I think Jesse wants a street race to determine the winner. Hey, Jesse, do a biker build off with Erik Buell and prove it on the track.

For a second episode in a row, Vinnie shows a lot of character and class. The work does speak for itself. You have to respect Jr. for bringing his crew out to Vegas and acknowledging the team effort. So much more is possible when you don’t try to do it all yourself. When will Rick reunite with Jr. and Vinnie? When will Mickey stop throwing paint at a canvas and start painting tins for motorcycles?

Later, Jr. and Sr. sit down for nationally televised group therapy. The crowd is completely silent for a change. Paul is right that even though it was painful, the termination was the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He’s no longer in his dad’s shadow and can be his own man.

It was touching when Jr. told his dad “I love you” and gave him a big man hug. Awwww they do love each other. Maybe there’s hope for them after all. Well darn, I guess that means it’s the end of the series. It was just getting good again too.

Jesse James then enters with a stool he made himself by hand from iron-ore with a hammer and heat from his forge to continue to taunt and disrespect his completion. Jesse tells Jr. that he’s not a real bike builder, but I’m pretty sure I saw an airplane driving down Las Vegas Blvd. in the intro. And Jr. did win the judges decision (split).

On to the fan winner. I felt a little bad for the boos for Sr.’s “bike”, and no surprise it came in 3rd place. It was a wild machine and was definitely different. Nice try Jason Pohl.

So, the experts score 2 for Paul Jr. and 1 vote for Jesse James. Congratulations to Paul Jr. – voted best bike builder by the experts and the fans. Will that shut up Jesse “Trash Talk” James? I don’t know, but I see good things for both of them in the future.

American Chopper Dec 5, 2012 “The Build Off”

On this episode of American Trash Talkers “The Build Off” Junior builds a plane, Senior builds an ATV for an Ice Road Trucker, and Jesse James builds a chopper from raw iron-ore, coal, and rubber all by himself with handlebars that he can’t see over.

Let’s start with some basics. Motorcycle (noun) is a two-wheeled vehicle that is powered by a motor and has no pedals. So to answer your question, Rick, “is that technically a motorcycle?”. No, no it is not. “Will the tracks deter too much from the bike?” Would bacon deter too much from a peanut butter sandwich? Skip to the end and notice how Senior doesn’t even call it a bike but instead it’s a “machine”. So within the first 5 minutes the competition is down to Jesse vs. Junior.

Brendan hits a chord with the group by saying, “It’ll be fun to go against Jesse. . .oh and the other side of OCC,” and scores big laughs all around. The establishment, OCC, is now a joke. How long before Junior takes over at OCC?

“Well, we have a short time frame as usual so we better get to work.”

So Jesse’s plan is to build everything himself. “I’m going to make the frame, the sheet metal, the front end, all the pieces and everything in between; I’m going to fabricate and machine myself.” Seems ambitious. What about the engine, transmission, fasteners. . .? Enter Dan who looks terrified. Jesse ends up spending all of his time on the frame and it pretty much looks like every other tube frame I’ve ever seen. So instead of buying that awesome forge, you could have bought a frame to start with and wouldn’t have wasted so much time building it yourself. Oh wait, I forgot, that’s not “cool”. “A hammer, heat, and an anvil, and that’s all you need. You don’t have the best metal guy in the business because that guy is me.” Ok, well put me in a forest with an ax, and I’ll build you a home. But why not use Home Depot and save some time?

Meanwhile Senior thinks Jesse James is a genius and picks Jesse to beat his own son. No, you don’t win popularity contests by disrespecting the people who helped you get to where you are today, especially when they’re family. Genius Jesse James may not be really “good at explaining stuff”, but he shouldn’t give Junior such a hard time given his own non-existent relationship with his father. Jessie James should have his blonde daughter Sunny around at all times. He is a much better person when she is there.

At the start of the second hour, it’s clear that Senior has built a lawn mower. Except it’s not street legal, and it doesn’t do well on grass. . .Can someone please explain the point of this machine?

Cody is as confused as I am. “A lot riding on it. I don’t know if their mind is in the right spot.” How did you know Cody!? ”You would think [OCC] would take this pretty seriously, but I thought that about Cadillac too and you saw what happened there.” Right on again Cody.

Jesse “I’m the man” James finally admits his ego got in the way, and he needs help. Six guys from his shop then show up. So his crew is now up to 8 people compared to Junior with about half as many.

Jesse James, who has already sent male pornographic pastries to his competition then makes an Internet video to taught Junior for thanking his fans, then goes on to say, “Maybe I’m the only one that wants to give this industry and world of TV and fabricating some respect back.” Does that seem like a contradiction to anyone else?

Jesse’s bike is finally starting to come to together. The red fenders look hot for all of 1 minute when oops. Who is Dan and why is he allowed to touch things in Jesse’s shop? If you complain about the Tuttles, maybe take a look a little closer to home.

Junior’s bike is the biggest bike I’ve ever seen and it looks amazing. With the smoke, it creates its own theatrical entrance. Rider’s please be safe and do NOT idle this bike. Drive it full speed or not at all.

I’ve yet to see Senior’s bike be driven on a public road. Jesse muses, “You think their pipes are going to shoot fire?” Yes actually, although, shouldn’t the flames be coming out the back?

Jesse builds another chopper where you can’t see over the handle bars.

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