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Foot clutch on 1950 Pan

I had the opportunity to ride on a 1950 Panhead Harley this past summer. A club buddy has a restored daily rider that he takes on runs. I was talking to him about the bike and he offered me a chance to take it for a ride. A quick lesson on the foot operated rocker clutch, "Toe to go, heel to stop" and some points on starting should the thing stall and I was ready to go. I yelled to my girlfriend, "Hey take a picture of me on it before I go, while it’s in one piece".

I manually advanced the points and with the second kick , the beast fired up. A lot of vibration and mechanical noise came out of this machine. I rocked the clutch back and reached down and grabbed the shifter rod under the seat and threw it back into first. Easing forward using the foot clutch out of the driveway wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Down the street I went staying in first as I approached the stop sign getting ready to pull out onto a busy secondary road. "Heel to stop", I think as I come to the stop..

As I wait at the stop sign with the bike shaking beneath me I contemplate the task before me. Was I nervous? Hell ya! This was a nearly priceless bike that my buddy was letting me ride and the thing wasn’t like anything I had ridden before. My oldest bike had been a 78 Triumph Bonni’ that had modern controls on the correct sides.

I said a little prayer and eased the toe forward as I felt the dry clutch start to grab and I was off. Bringing up to speed in first I rocked the clutch back and moved the shifter rod forward. I rocked the clutch forward and gave it some gas and found neutral. Oops! Quick clutch and push the rod forwards another six inches and I think I was in second. I rocked the clutch forward and I was off again. Into third and into forth I had the bike up to 50mph. I couldn’t believe my buddy rode this thing all over the place with trips into Boston for commuter duty once and a while. The bike was wandering all over the road. Any crack in the pavement had it requiring constant corrective steering. It had an old pan head springer front end with the wide tire and fender much like the new Heritage Springer. I can see why everyone loved the Hydra Glide. Springers are tough. Any bump had the front bouncing.

This ride made me appreciate my own modern bikes. It felt like the bike had every fastener loose compared to my Road King never mind my 996. I brought the bike back and in one piece. I pulled into the driveway and brought it to a stop and shut it down. Wow, what an experience.

Later on I took off on my Road King and thought how sterile it felt. A good and bad thing depending on where you stand. I can see why Steve loves that old bike. It’s alive.

Tom Seed of Abraham
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