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Common Tread

It's called a jiffy stand and I refuse to compromise on this point

Sep 05, 2019

I take a lot of heat from friends over my usage of the term “jiffy stand.”

I get mocked a lot at work, too. The jiffy stand is Harley-Davidson’s name for the item that permits a motorcycle to be parked leaning to the left side but with no risk of falling over. If you ride another marque of two-wheeled conveyance, you may be thinking, “The sidestand? Is this blathering idiot talking about the kickstand?”

Jiffy stand 1
If you've never seen a Harley jiffy stand, let me explain briefly how it works. The jiffy stand has a square end that fits into a corresponding square hole broached into this beefy tab. This is the position the tab occupies when the stand is retracted and the rider is underway. (The next photo will help you make some sense of this. Bear with me.) Photo by Lemmy.

No. I am not. I am talking about the jiffy stand. The general premise among my colleagues, associates, and close personal friends is that I am antiquated and likely being unnecessarily ornery, as exhibited through my slavish adherence to nomenclature from a bygone era. But I maintain it is a jiffy stand and it is an engineering masterpiece.

Jiffy stand 2
Now here is the stand in the extended position, but the weight of the motorcycles has not been tipped to the left just yet. Notice how the tab is now aligned with the ears on the bracket? Photo by Lemmy.

Let’s start with some history. (You knew it was coming. Why would we not start at the beginning? The beginning is a very good place to start!) The original jiffy stand was H-D P/N 11331-30. For those of you who can decode that part number (either the “old” system or the “new” system, depending on your frame of reference), you will understand that its debut on the VL series of motorcycles predates the Great Depression.

Jiffy Stand 3
And here's the tab after the bike's been leaned over. It's captive! There's no way for that stand to fold up until someone picks that bike up off the jiffy stand... even if it starts trying to roll away. Photo by Lemmy.

It’s the first, baby

That longevity that is Exhibit A, my first piece of evidence that “jiffy stand” is the right and proper name for the piece. Up until that point, the only ways to walk away from a motorcycle without having it crash down on the ground were to either park it near a supportive structure or to set the rear stand, which is simple yet difficult. It involves dismounting, holding the motorcycle upright whilst traveling to the rear of the motorcycle, unclipping the rear stand from its perch on the rear fender and then lifting up the whole fucking back end of a motorcycle. It is, in a word, cumbersome.

Enter the jiffy stand. This was originally a part costing three dollars. Let’s look to the February 1935 issue of "The Enthusiast," Harley-Davidson’s magazine for motorcyclists, for some detail on its function. (You may know it as "HOG Magazine." It’s actually the oldest continuously published motorcycle magazine.)

In an article entitled "ACCESSORIES Increase Mounted Officers’ Efficiency," the author describes how the jiffy stand aided law enforcement officers. “When parking, the officer merely kicks down the stand and leans the motorcycle on it. It is sufficiently strong to hold up the motorcycle even with the rider astride and is so designed that it cannot fold up accidentally. When “taking off,” the officer merely kicks the stand back. A spring pulls it up under the footboards where it automatically locks in place. Should the stand strike an obstruction while it is down, it will not spill the rider, but will merely snap back into place. The Jiffy Stand is also helpful in holding up the motorcycle while kicking over the motor.”

Ah, Object 8, also the object of my affections. (Object 7 is the rear stand.) Harley-Davidson drawing.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s basically the same way most modern stands operate. So remember I said this is Exhibit A? Right. It is. This is the exact same piece that was described in US Patent 1675551A. You know who filed that? William S. Harley. It was the first non-rear stand for a motorcycle to be patented in the U.S.A. If the guy who patented the damn thing for use on a motorcycle says it’s called a jiffy stand, guess what? That’s what it’s called. End of story.

It’s the best, too

Now, of course, it didn’t take long to realize that lots of other folks besides the fuzz would want to rest their motorcycle in this fashion. Harley revised that stand, and though there are eight thousand different leg lengths and bracket styles and spring lengths, the design they settled on in 1936 was in use for about 80 years. 80 years! That’s a good design right there.

But not everyone loves it. “It’s fucking terrible. Just write that in there. It’s a terrible part of a terrible motorcycle,” said longtime friend and motorcycle enthusiast Joseph Zito, responding to my request for a quotation regarding the world’s greatest motorcycle leaning device. “You can quote me on any of that,” he added.

Contrary to what my friend and detractor might suggest, the jiffy stand works well for what it is. What it is not is a sidestand. Here’s my second point for maintaining that the jiffy stand is not the same as a sidestand: The two items function differently.

Zito’s beef with the jiffy stand is the same one I hear from a lot of people. “It feels like it’s gonna go over.” And I get why he feels that way. However, in reality, a jiffy stand locks up. This happens because the bracket has a few degrees of intentional angular “slop,” thus having the effect of shifting the axis relative to the jiffy stand (even though it’s actually the motorcycle and bracket moving, not the jiffy stand). That was a lot of big words to basically state that the jiffy cannot fold up if the weight is on the stand. I’ve literally watched a Harley on a hill on its stand roll away for a few feet… but it never fell over. The jiffy stand rotates about one plane when deployed, and then the stand’s travel within that is interrupted in both directions as the motorcycle is leaned over.

Metric stand
This stand can only move in a single plane. Photo by Gastair.

This differs from the stereotypical metric sidestand. Those generally extend a bit past vertical and use an “over center” spring to aid in stand retraction, but there is no locking function, nor any additional lean: The stand swings on a single plane, rotating about its axis, but that plane never shifts.

“And if you leave the stand down and you’re making a left, you’re gonna go over.”

That was Zito’s explanation for why the sidestand is superior to the jiffy stand. Once the sidestand is in the air (or even if it’s on the ground!), the stand is free to be knocked into the stowed position by either obstacle or pavement. And I agree with him, because the extension past vertical in the extended position renders the jiffy’s automatically-locking-when-the-weight-is-applied feature moot.

But in practice, this has shortcomings. Namely, the coefficient of friction between the sidestand foot and asphalt can be so high that simply rolling a bike forward can fold up a stand, leading to a spill. Effectively, you are trading more security for the times the stand is deployed versus security during the times you might have forgotten to… un-deploy it. I trust myself not to be a dope, which is probably why I like the jiffy stand. Zito? I don’t know about that guy.

He does have a point, though. The FMVSS Standard No. 123, governing motorcycle controls and displays, requires that “A stand shall fold rearward and upward if it contacts the ground when the motorcycle is moving forward.” Eric Konkel, Principal Engineer in Advanced Engineering — Chassis Structures at Harley-Davidson added a bit more clarity.

“Regarding the technical requirements of the parking function, we must consider the need for customers to park on a sloped surface. Depending on the situation, this could result in the motorcycle parked with the front end up, down, or across the sloped grade. Many government regulatory bodies around the world require OEMs to design their products to enable parking on minimum grades without tipping over or rolling. And there’s also the [previously mentioned] government-imposed safety requirement for the stand to automatically retract in the event the operator forgets to stow the stand... it is the interaction of these two requirements where the locking function of the H-D jiffy stand comes into play.

“To enable the vehicle to be parked with the front wheel pointed downhill and the gearbox in neutral, a conventional hinging side stand must be extended forward past the plane perpendicular to the centerline of the vehicle. Holding other parameters constant, the further forward the stand is placed, the steeper the hill the vehicle can be parked on without unintentionally folding under the weight of the vehicle.

This Guzzi illustrates a few of Konkel's points. Note too the locking feature there. Looks sorta familiar, doesn't it? Photo by Cjp24.

“This can be explained by the friction force between the spoon [contact area] and ground having reduced leverage to overcome the moment generated by the spring holding the stand in the forward position. One could also increase the moment generated by the spring to increase the force holding the leg forward for a similar effect. However, in either situation, the design engineer must use the same spring system and frictional forces to ensure the stand moves to the retracted position if the rider forgets to stow the stand before riding. Referencing identical physics, as the stand is rotated forward or as the spring moment increases, the ability for the stand to retract when contacting ground degrades. The locking feature implemented in the H-D jiffy stand design breaks this tension by eliminating the need for the stand to be rotated significantly forward or the need for large spring forces and moments. This results in a system that can enable the rider to park downhill on steeper grades, eliminates the worry of the jiffy stand folding, and still delivers the necessary retracting performance for those times they forget to stow the stand.“

Man, that was a lot of technical words and concepts. Take that, Zito. The Harley jiffy stand allows for the bike to not fall over even when the terrain is decidedly not level, and yet it still comes back up if it's left down. (Sort of.)

As a brief aside, Ducati once had an interesting take on this with their “auto-retracting” sidestand, affectionately referred to by Ducatisti as the “suicide stand.” It was spring-loaded to come up as soon as weight was removed from it, so if one was relocating the bike or even standing it up from the opposite side, there’s not a great way to deal with the situation. By all accounts, everyone seems to hate the damn thing. There’s such a thing as too much security, I suppose.

The final reason I like this design is that the jiffy stand has a fairly broad, flat base to provide enough surface area to slide and scrape over the pavement, rather than digging into it. If the stand is not free to move against the parking surface, the locking tab may be unable to engage the bracket’s ears. The solution to this being a problem is to have a wide, flat contact area on the jiffy stand so there is a lower ratio of weight to surface area. It just so happens that that’s really great for unstable surfaces like hot pavement, dirt, or grass — your motorcycle is less likely to fall over, and if you forgot to bring a stand pad (which seeks to achieve the same solution for bikes sporting inferior equipment!), it’s usually no problem.

And why is the jiffy stand always on the left?

It’s that way on most motorcycles. Why? During the periods of J- and V-series motorcycles, the carbs were mounted on the left side of the motorcycle, meaning that in order to start a bike on its jiffy when the thing was invented, the fuel would have been asked to run uphill to enter the jugs. That makes no sense, and if there’s one thing I know about early Harleys, it’s that they were usually very pragmatically constructed.

The placement stems from the practice of mounting a motorcycle from the left, a carryover from the equestrian world. Throughout history, left-handedness has generally been discouraged. Thus, a right-handed man equipped with a sword would carry it on his left hip in order to draw it. Mounting and dismounting a horse from the right with a sword slapping the left leg would be inconvenient, so it became standard to mount a horse from the left. That tradition continued into the motorcycle age due to habit (horses and motorcycles existed side by side on the roadways for many years!), so the stand was designed to lean to that side to make getting on and off a bit easier.

Interestingly, this also dictates why the vented fuel cap is always on the right on a dual-tank bike. The right cap sits higher than the left one when the bike is on its jiffy stand and can thus vent pressure without spilling fuel. Anyone who’s ever done a fillup on a pair of fatbobs will understand this quite readily; the left tank will pee all over until the level in the right (high) tank comes down to the level of the left filler neck.

The Jiffy Stand proved to be quite popular, well beyond its original scope of law enforcement. Shortly after it was introduced, it became standard equipment. That same year it became standard, the carburetor moved to the other side of the motorcycles. Coinkydink? I think not.

And that’s likely why your motorcycle has a stand on the left, even if it ain’t a Harley. Harley and Indian both did it that way for a long time, and being the dominant brands in the U.S.A., there were some things that were probably just easier to continue for other entrants in the market, and the left-hand placement of a stand was one.

The Topper switched sidestand placement presumably for increased rider safety. Image from October, 1960 issue of American Motorcycling magazine.

And, as a parting peculiarity, there was a Harley that had a stand on the right side — the Topper! The little scooter got a right-side stand midway through its run. The October 1960 edition of American Motorcycling mentions it when recapping Harley-Davidson’s 1961 model range. “...the Jiffy stand has been placed on the right side of the Topper. The Topper will now lean toward the curb instead of out toward traffic.”

The jiffy stand is what it’s called. It’s neat and has some cool history, and like a lot of the early motorcycle bits, its design is practical to a fault. Using the right name keeps the history from being swept away by the sands of time.

Epilogue (Or, “It’s the best, baby!” redux)

As luck would have it, a few days after reading through my sloppy copy of this article, Joe Zito moved our house Sportster, which has a non-locking stand, about three inches forward.

Then gravity moved the bike about three more feet, this time heading southbound. Those were unplanned feet, you see, because evidently the stand folded.

Zito repair
We had to swap bezels on the speedo housing. Zito seems notably less negative on that jiffy stand, I will say. Photo by Lemmy.

Terrible indeed.