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  1. #1
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    Default Buying shovelhead to chop: what to avoid?

    I have a little jap chop that Iím happy with but quickly outgrowing. Iíve finally given in and decided to get a shovelhead. My plans are pretty basic: weld-on hardtail, make my own sissy bar and fender, 12-ish over forks, rake the neck, kick only, minimal electronics, etc.

    Iíve decided I want a shovel, but when I begin my quest of looking for that perfect deal, what should I seek out/avoid? Iíve heard some models have a fugly frame?

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    I took a 4 speed swing arm frame and got it hard-tailed with repop rear axle plates. Certainly wasn't fugly. That's what most shovels come with, unless you are talking those with rubber mount engines (FXR,etc).

    Built a roller, then changed frames for a repop wishbone frame. Sold it to a friend who turned it into the below.


    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Hoghead; 09-05-2018 at 7:24 AM.

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    Start with something that runs and has a clear title.

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    Quote Originally Posted by metalheart28 View Post
    Start with something that runs and has a clear title.
    Oh God yes- avoid basket cases , and be careful about title , i'm in the UK and US laws are different.
    The bike I posted above is effectively a hard-tailed wide glide, but if you bought an Electraglide , FX/Superglide or Wideglide , running, with good title you could easily do the same.
    Saying that, i'm always saddened to see nice original bikes used. There must be plenty of choice in the US though.
    Last edited by Hoghead; 09-05-2018 at 10:49 AM.

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    I’ve decided I want a shovel,
    You will need to study your ass off for best results. Many used Shovels are worn the fuck out, suffered years of flogging and indifferent maintenance, and their wiring is usually trashed (throw it away and make your own harness, it's cheap and easy).

    Study Shovels online so thoroughly you know the answers to all but the most obscure questions. These are "mechanics" motorcycles and nothing like the appliance-like machines from Japan nor can them be made so. Get factory service manuals and parts books (Carl Salter site should have what you need for free download). Ignore aftermarket manuals.

    If it's a weekend bike, go ahead with the Shovel. Daily rider with that frame style? Go with an early four speed Evo Wide Glide (those also fit Shovel engines if desired). Those are mostly ignored for some odd reason which is good for the price.

    Of course unless it's gonna be kick only all stock 4-speed starter systems are utter garbage by design and cannot be made not utter garbage. That's why most got taken off. Fortunately Softail transmission and primary with the late Denso starter off a Softail can be made to fit if you want e-start.

    Get a runner with a clear title, but if you are already an experienced mechanic (including cars) and know your shit you could take a deal with a clear title and needing work. For example if someone is selling a properly hardtailed frame chop project you could take advantage of that since you'd be ditching a lot of parts anyway.

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    I was a professional mechanic for over a decade, can fab/weld, etc., so that’s pretty much covered. I am definitely getting one that runs and drives so I at least know it has a decent baseline to start off with.

    My main question is about what models to avoid. Are there certain ones I want to avoid because they have bastard parts or unpopular frames?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tippyman View Post
    My main question is about what models to avoid. Are there certain ones I want to avoid because they have bastard parts or unpopular frames?

    Anything FLT other than that you are golden......... But even with that said there are still some good parts on them to be had...

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    Since you wrench, you could exploit buying a Shovel the previous owner spent way too much money on. They are simple machines. Got a leakdown tester? You can use those to check the top end on a non-runner. Bring a compression tester and plug wrench if inspecting a runner.

    I have cash register eyes. Some deals are cheap. Other deals cost more but are cheap for what you get. Know more than the seller when you buy anything and don't go shopping hungry.

    When the weather looks like this photo, go shopping:
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Harley buying weather.jpg  

  9. #9

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    I don't know what your budget is for initial purchase price is but the shovel market here is slooooow.

    I would also look at bikes that look like they are better than you can afford. if the bike has been on the market for a long time a seller may be tempted by even a significantly lower offer.

    you could be way ahead by say passing up a 4k bike with a questionable motor/trans and investing in a 6.5k bike that has a recently rebuilt motor/trans.

    its not hard to get several thousands of buks into a motor does run but is nearing the end of its lifespan.

    also a better built bike may have more parts you want to use and or can be sold to ease a pinched budget.

    also get a vision of exactly what you want your bike to look like when its done. buy only those parts to make it what you want.

    over the years ive seen guys build bikes with no vision and end up with a pickup load of parts they purchased but never used.

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    over the years ive seen guys build bikes with no vision and end up with a pickup load of parts they purchased but never used.
    Yet another route to get deals when they dump it on Craigslist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by farmall View Post
    You will need to study your ass off for best results. Many used Shovels are worn the fuck out, suffered years of flogging and indifferent maintenance, and their wiring is usually trashed (throw it away and make your own harness, it's cheap and easy).

    Study Shovels online so thoroughly you know the answers to all but the most obscure questions. These are "mechanics" motorcycles and nothing like the appliance-like machines from Japan nor can them be made so. Get factory service manuals and parts books (Carl Salter site should have what you need for free download). Ignore aftermarket manuals.

    If it's a weekend bike, go ahead with the Shovel. Daily rider with that frame style? Go with an early four speed Evo Wide Glide (those also fit Shovel engines if desired). Those are mostly ignored for some odd reason which is good for the price.

    Of course unless it's gonna be kick only all stock 4-speed starter systems are utter garbage by design and cannot be made not utter garbage. That's why most got taken off. Fortunately Softail transmission and primary with the late Denso starter off a Softail can be made to fit if you want e-start.

    Get a runner with a clear title, but if you are already an experienced mechanic (including cars) and know your shit you could take a deal with a clear title and needing work. For example if someone is selling a properly hardtailed frame chop project you could take advantage of that since you'd be ditching a lot of parts anyway.
    x2 on this, study study study on shovelheads.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tippyman View Post
    I was a professional mechanic for over a decade, can fab/weld, etc., so thatís pretty much covered. I am definitely getting one that runs and drives so I at least know it has a decent baseline to start off with.

    My main question is about what models to avoid. Are there certain ones I want to avoid because they have bastard parts or unpopular frames?
    We appreciate that you were a professional mechanic but there are subtle diffrences about shovels that you'll need to know. like static timing a 74" versus an 80".... cone shovels had two models on the cam cover, one that oiled from the side and one that oiled from the end.. do you want a slab side or a cone shovel...

    my best advice is get a titled project, avoid the fxr shovelhead (if your hardtailing) ... dont chop up a cool anniversary bike if you come across a great deal..

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    You should get a factory manual first and give that a read.
    AMF retooled upon purchase of HD and in late '77 for the FXS/80" launch. My motor was produced during that transition LOOKS and is STAMPED 80" but the guts are 74"--I think that you can avoid the "trouble shovel" years and get a tighter motor by buying early or late AMF and early HD after the buyback. I'd also strongly consider early evo like farmall said, wide glide and softail (love those).
    BUY WHAT YOU WANT TO CHOP. Buy the bike with the parts all-ready on it to save some money. Want a bobber/fat style? FLH. Juice drum? Buy early shovel stock. FXS "tuff guy" 80's hotrod with mags? FXS. Ratchet top trans? Pre '78. Keep the stock parts until you finish the build.

    A little side note on my shovelhead experience--I bought mine five years ago as a quick build and I stole it--paid $2100 for a 20k mile fxs that was "flooding." Did a comp check, ran it, no knocks, OK bought it. Rode it up and down the block and tore it down because the owner was a tweaker, he used vice grips to adjust pushrods etc. but didn't have it long. Took it in to the full service indy shop (real good rep around here) to have a look at the bottom end. He blessed it, said it was better than 99% of the motors he's looked at. Come to find out 2 years later I had the cylinders bored at another indy shop, that the top end of the stroke was barely hitting the rebore. He told me to give it a good check and call him back.....

    I go down in the basement to the bench and check the top end of the stroke--the front rod was 40 THOUSANDTHS out--the bottom of the stroke was 2 thou out. You never know what will rear its ugly head, now I'm looking at a bottom end rebuild when I was just about ready to slap it back together.

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    Im in almost boat as the OP. Dont wanna highjack his thread but i have a bunch of questions to ask.
    and dont wanna get slammed for making almost the same thread as him hahaha

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    It's not hijacking if it's on topic.

    I'll hijack it for an evo vote--they look/sound putt like shovels but they're far less headache.

    Suspension IS nice, our potholed roads are a death warrant and with a few mods they look pretty damn good. If hardtailing they might need a little massaging in the axle plate dept--the sleeve outer diameter on oem plates are 1-1/8" and the frame tubing is 1-1/4" on shovels.
    I always liked this bike just because it'd make a hell of a good daily:

    Last edited by seaking; 09-06-2018 at 11:07 AM.

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    78 and down
    if you are planning to hard tail i'm assuming theres a good chance you wanna use a factory style horse shoe oil tank?
    if so the 79 and up rotary top is too tall and you'll be buying a ratchet top trans to make it work, so save your self money and time and get a ratchet top trans bike off the bat. ask me how i know

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    Quote Originally Posted by seaking View Post
    I'll hijack it for an evo vote--they look/sound putt like shovels but they're far less headache.
    I think Shovels look way better than an EVO...... Yes EVOs are great motors... I've never owned an EVO but I have worked on many...

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    Quote Originally Posted by metalheart28 View Post
    Start with something that runs and has a clear title.
    100 times yes

    Look for sloppy factory welds and buggered up exhaust flange threads
    Last edited by Fetch; 09-06-2018 at 9:52 PM.

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    The Gen Years are the cream of the crop ... 66 to 69 ...
    69 is the best year of all being it has the later Timken bearing ....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tattooo View Post
    I think Shovels look way better than an EVO...... Yes EVOs are great motors... I've never owned an EVO but I have worked on many...
    CAD is a bummer everything starts to look like a big blockhead air compressor pump. But so what he trades a little cool factor for a freeway stomping cheater chop that can stop. And it's not a full teardown that requires machining, just a quick parts swap and accessory rewire--if he decides to go further it can be hardtailed. Just a quick backyard build. Tired of it? Sell it and get a shovel when he's more familiar with HD.

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