In today's high-tech world, computers play a large role in the design and development of cutting-edge motorcycle components. Computer-aided animations can bench-test parts while looking at, among other things, the interaction, clearance and wear of the parts. That's all good and no doubt contributes to better-working mousetraps, but the silicon world is much different than the ever-variable carbon realm we live in. When the mad engineers at Baker Drivetrain build something new, the part goes from computer to prototype to motorcycle. There's no better way to prove marketing claims than by real-world testing.
When Baker was ready to unleash two new transmissions and their Plus One oil pan, they grabbed a spare '07 FLHT from their shop and got to wrenching. Aside from being a home to the new parts, the scoot would be a main player in the 2008 Baker calendar. To appeal to the masses and a looming deadline, the Baker boys (read Bert) decided to keep customization to the bolt-on variety with a little paint thrown in. No hacking, chopping, cutting or major amputation was allowed. Design was left up to the Baker brand vandal, Scout, deep within his dark, art school dormitory-looking office. After perusing the latest issue of Hot Bike Baggers, Scout came up with a wish list for the R&D guys. Scout was in somewhat foreign territory, as he's usually seen on ratty, old leakers, sweating from trying to kick them over. For the color scheme, he handed a computer mouse to Nate the Painter (and in-house salesman), telling him to match the three shades of gray. Appropriate to the theme, crash-test symbols were incorporated as well as Trish's (Scout's equally artsy protg) Baker pinup girls who promote Baker products.
Following the one-month teardown and resurrection, the bike rolled out of Baker's Michigan shop and into a truck destined for a Colorado photo shoot. This first iteration of the Electra Glide featured Baker's new reverse-capable F6F transmission. Get a copy of the latest Baker calendar (on their website) showing a rather attractive lass doing a reverse-gear burnout. Just like this bike, she is a real rider, doing a real tire shredder.
Without much hoopla, the Crash Test bike made its way to Daytona for Bike Week. Sitting outside under the gorgeous Florida sun, the bike jumped out at me. It's the opposite of many of the customized baggers we run across--no chrome or extraneous clutter. Even this may be a bike that the usual kick-starting Scout might be seen riding. It has a nostalgic hot-rod look while being dressed in the highest-tech components.
It turns out the bike's primary purpose for being in Daytona was to put the new Direct Drive 7-Speed (DD7) transmission through its paces. Between trips crisscrossing the state, I met up with lead DD7 engineer Andy Friar. Because the weather in Michigan wasn't the most riding-friendly, he was given the task of racking up miles on the new bike. Leaving Daytona under sunny skies, he soon ran into a cold front and torrential rain--without gear--but trudged on to South Beach. He had an overnight trip planned to Miami and back to make it in time to Baker's 10-year anniversary celebration. The following day, almost on cue, a drenched Andy pulled the Crash Test bike up to the Broken Spoke stage. That's dedication.
Going into the DD7 project, Andy's goal was to address some main issues identified with the current H-D tranny. As many riders are well aware, the first gear ratio is too tall (numerically small). In the real world of riding, this comes across as lugging the bike off the line. A heavy, touring bike would do well with a "torquier" first gear. The DD7 has a shorter (numerically larger) first gear for easier launches. Shift clunk is that malady your dealer always says is "normal." Well, not for the Baker boys. The hard shift clunk in the factory six-speed is caused by the heavy forged mainshaft and resultant high inertia of moving said mass. In addition, the H-D mainshaft is integrated with first through fourth gears. The DD7 mainshaft is lighter and only includes the small first gear as an integral part. Although the Cruise Drive trans is arguably the smoothest ever for the Factory, Baker wanted theirs to be better. The DD7 utilizes a new linear roller ball detent as part of the billet top cover. This detent mechanism is similar to the type first used on their bulletproof Torquebox transmissions. Factory six-speeds tend to exhibit gear noise, particularly noticeable in fifth gear. This is due to the mixing of a straight-cut fifth (and first) gear intermixed with helical gears. For an aurally pleasing riding experience, Baker incorporated all helical gears into the DD7. For you gearheads out there, here are the tranny ratios for the Cruise Drive and the DD7 respectively: first, 3.34/3.76; second, 2.30/2.75; third, 1.71/2.06; fourth, 1.41/1.55; fifth, 1.18/1.27; sixth, 1.00/1.10; seventh, n/a/1.00. So not only does the DD7 deliver smoother, quieter performance, but it also will get your scoot moving more efficiently due to a lower first gear and close ratio gearset.
While the transmission was being assembled, the rest of the bike was torn down for upgrades and paint. The rear fender was replaced with a stretched Klock Werks unit along with panels to fill in the space between the fender and saddlebags. A Street Glide fender was used up front for its simple lines devoid of frills and badges. Instead of going with blacked-out wheels, two-tone PM Wrath wheels were used. The polished and black five-spoke design complements the silver on the motor and transmission. Dual four-piston calipers clamp down on wheel-matching rotors to slow down the Metzeler rolling stock. Although the stock H-D frontend was used, it was blacked out and lowered 2 inches with a Harley lowering kit. On the rear, a set of Alloy Art shocks was used to keep the ride plush while also adjusting the ride height. PM was tapped again for their bagger mirrors, clutch and brake master cylinders and sleek button controls. All in black, of course. Louvered speaker covers match the dash, gas cap, cam and primary cover, saddlebag latches and fork covers, yielding a nicely consistent aesthetic. Floorboards were pitched in favor of a set of blacked-out Jaybrake forward controls.
At first glance, the understated message this bike delivers belies how advanced and functional it really is. A quick glance grabs your attention, taking the viewer into realms of trickness and never-ending miles. Welcome to the new world of rideable customs. We get it, and so does Baker.