Common Tread

Why angst over the death of the Dyna is nothing new

Sep 19, 2017

The Dyna’s dead.

I’m still hearing the whining, the moaning, the gnashing of teeth. “Woe! My beloved, my fairest, has been snatched from me!”

For all you folks who like the all-new 2018 Harley cruisers, wonderful. Congratulations for being open-minded. I hope you test ride a new bike and find it to your liking. To the rest of you — the hurt, the injured, those who simply cannot believe Harley would end the Dyna, come this way. Enter Uncle Lem-lem’s garage.

Step over to my refrigerator. Grab a beer. Allow me to console you for a moment. First, I need you to know that I understand that the new bikes are foreign-feeling to you. “Lem, they may be better, dammit, but I don’t have to like them! And I won’t! And the fuel tanks look stupid! And I hate Softails! My Dyna is a good bike!”

There, there. I know, I know! Get it all out. It’s OK to yell for a bit. You’ll feel better, and you’ll have a better chance at listening to what I am gonna say. If you really were in my shop, sipping a can of my suds, I’d probably pull the cover off a nosecone (1970-84) Shovelhead for you. Because, my friends, this anger is a cyclical occurrence. You just haven’t seen it yet.

Hwide Glahd
Farewell, FXD. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Shovel, up until very recently, was decidedly uncool. The generator-engine crowd (1969 and earlier) all turned up their noses at them; they weren’t old enough to be exclusive and enigmatic. The people on late-model bikes thought Shovels were leaky old crap made by a bowling-ball company. Then a funny thing happened: people bought them. They bought them in droves, in fact. One could get into an old-timer’s garage and pick up a runner for three grand or so, just a bit more than an Evolution Sportster.

They were kind of cheap, and reliable enough. And the engines fit pretty much anywhere an old Pan or Knuck would fit, but they cost a lot less money! Parts were pretty plentiful, and because they were neither coveted nor expensive, a workin’ guy could cut one up pretty affordably. And by and large, one could obtain a motorcycle that used points (or could be fitted with them inexpensively) and a carburetor, and actually learn the principles of how an engine works.

The cone Shovel became the last “real” Harley drive train. “Those thangs got round barrels made of honest-to-God iron! Them are the last ones that still got that four-speed!” Old greybeards, having finally gotten used to them over 30 or 40 years, would actually nod when they saw a young punk on one because it wasn’t “one of them Evo motors.” Or the other ones, “the two-cam Evos or whatever they call ‘em now.”

And then they got cool. They’d always been around and been available, but it seemed like they were suddenly everywhere. They were in your face because they’d get chopped and raked and stretched and cut up because they were affordable relative to older bikes — and this phenomenon was worldwide. After becoming old enough to be desirable, the price on cone Shovels started steadily creeping upwards.

Here’s the thing, my Dyna-diehard friends. This is nothing new. There’s always been nostalgia for the old models. Harley-Davidson author and historian Herbert Wagner notes in "Harley Davidson Motorcycles, 1930-1941: Revolutionary Motorcycles and Those Who Made Them" that adoption of the EL series (that’d be the Knuck in 1936) was slowed by a belief that the proven (but slower) VL and UL bikes were superior in terms of longevity and that overhead valves were fine for the racetrack, but unnecessary on the street. The Knucklehead's reputation is still legendary to this day.

Let's come back to another modern example. Look at current club-style and stunt bikes; they’re Evolution-powered FXRs (and a few Dynas) for the most part. I like those bikes, but they don’t hold much allure for me. I owned a few Evos. That was the cheapest way to build a new Big Twin chopper, and they still are. I love the platform; with a few modifications they are a great street engine. I’m also old enough that they ain’t magical for me. But I know some folks who think of the Evo as an “old” bike, and I guess that’s about right: the first ones rolled off the line over three decades ago, and the last ones were made at the turn of the century — a time I remember, but it does seem to be getting small in my rearview mirror, now that I think of it.

If you look at the price of an Evolution-powered FXR now, you’ve seen them climbing for a year or two. They’re getting cool, and they’re in demand. If you haven’t, go price out an FXRT or an FXRP — the prices will stop your heart. Because riders are even waxing romantic about the Evolution now, as the cycle dictates. (This is a really great article about the Evolution. Ignore the wonky pictures and formatting; the words are on point.)  It explains why you'd hear the Evo described as "the last real Harley," in the heyday of the Twin Cam engine, as the Evo was the last single-cam Big Twin, the "final descendant of the Knuckle." (So much for that supposition, eh?)

This phenomenon of riders loving and trusting the previous iterations to the point of blind devotion is not exclusive to Harley, by the way. Ask a Honda VFR owner about gear drive. Talk to a die-hard MX fan about the switch to four-stroke. Ask a BMW nut if the ol’ Airhead was any good. Because, you see, the golden age is not a fixed period in time.

So fear not, my Dyna dearest. You are now part of the cycle. Embrace this new Softail-Dyna thing, because it’s the very bike that’s going to make your Twinkie untouchably cool in about a generation. If that doesn’t comfort you, there are three more facts that should help lower your blood pressure.

First, Dynas are still available. You can walk down to your local dealer and buy one. Note this isn’t going to be the case forever, but if you really and truly are bummed and your wallet is willing to cash the check your Instagram mouth wrote, you can go buy a Dyna still and ride the wheels off it or put it away so you can roll out a cherry Dyna when you’re tired of flying motorcycles or whatever the kids buy in the future. And if you really, truly loved the Dyna, yet still don’t go out and purchase one, then you surely can understand why it was time to sunset the line.

Well, at least we won't have to ask if it was a Softail Wide Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

Secondly, part of the reason you probably love your Harley is because the aftermarket for them is super strong. The MoCo will eventually stop making parts for Dynas and Twinkies, and dealers will auction what’s left off to the public. Even then, you’ll still be able to do whatever your heart desires because Harley made more Twin Cam bikes than any other Big Twin by a country mile. Dynas had a production run that spanned six presidential terms. If you like your Dyna, stick with it and stockpile them now.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a Harley Big Twin platform won’t be cool until it’s two generations old. As soon as it hits that point, it hits “classic” status. The first “barn-find” Twin Cams are around the corner, and that’s going to seal the (Big Twin) Evolution’s fate: they’re cool because you don’t see ‘em everywhere and the dealers don’t necessarily have someone on staff who knows them inside and out — many of those wrenches are retiring. A certain pride comes with riding a bike that most people simply do not know how to fix.

Now’s the point when I’d start covering that Shovel back up; maybe ask you if you wanted another can of suds. Perhaps your eyes would wander over to one of the older bikes, realizing that they, too, were part of this march of progress. The reason this change is painful for you is because you and your bike are becoming part of history. You’ll both become less relevant, until one day, all that’s left behind is your story — and maybe your Dyna.