Harley-Davidson’s Superglide of 1971 was an ingenious combination of the company’s existing parts. Willie G. Davidson was the brains behind the idea, and borrowed significantly from the choppers that became fashionable on the heels of the movie “Easy Rider”. After AMF bought Harley-Davidson, the company and was looking for a niche that the Japanese and European manufacturers couldn’t touch.
Willie G. Davidson combined the frame from the FL Big Twin with the 74 cubic inch Shovelhead engine and gearbox, minus the electric start and large battery. The short forks and fat front end of the FL were replaced by the Sportster’s lighter and longer forks, with the signature small headlight but with the dual 3.5 gallon gas tanks of the FLH. The seat and fender, meanwhile were a combination fiberglass items offered as an option on the 1970 Sportster.
Officially dubbed the FX Superglide by Harley, it quickly earned the nickname “Night Train” and combined a kicked out front end and laid back seat. Cycle World tested it at 108 mph, with a quarter mile time of 14.43 seconds and fuel economy of 47 mpg. The unpopular combination seat was dropped in 1972 for a more conventional steel fender and separate seat. In 1973, a single 3.5-gallon tank was fitted, as was a front disc brake.
Electric start was offered on the FXE in 1974 and outsold the kick start version two-to-one. The kick-start version was eventually dropped. The original Night Train featured two low pipes with one muffler, then two separate pipes were offered with a balance pipe below the air cleaner. In 1978, the FXS Low Rider was launched with the seat scooped out, shorter rear shocks, and the front forks angled out still further. The short drag bars were mounted on uprights, the paint was silver and the cases, heads and barrels finished in black crackle paint. The pipes joined in one megaphone muffler, and the seat featured a rear “sissy bar.”
For 1979 the FXEF Fat Bob was introduced. It was a Low Rider fitted with dual tanks that totaled five gallons and had higher bars. The Fat Bob was available either with cast wheels or wire wheels, still 19 inches up front and 16 inches in the rear. Electronic ignition was fitted and the 80 cubic inch engine was an optional extra. The FXWG Wide Glide of 1980 was a Fat Bob with wider triple clamps and a 21-inch front wheel, trimmed front fender and ducktail rear. Foot controls moved forward to become highway pegs and the black factory finish included flames.
1980 saw the black and gold FXB Sturgis, named after the famous Harley-Davidson rally held in South Dakota. It featured extra padding on the seat, optional electric start was optional and the “B” in FXB stood for belt final drive, although the primary drive was still by chain. The 1981 FXE, FXS, FXWG and FXB models all had four speed gearboxes and electric start. Engines were rigidly mounted, but that changed in 1983 when Harley-Davidson bought itself back from the AMF conglomerate.
There is a wide array of options and small differences with these Superglides, so documented history and originality are key to determining value and desirability and more extensive research is recommended when shopping for a true collector bike. For a casual classic cruiser for weekend rides, however, the Superglide makes a great choice with affordability, reliability and comfort as some of its main virtues.