Harley-Davidson Twin Cam Bagger Blues

The people from parts company Zodiac have radically customised a bagger. Dutch freelancer and chopper-freak Grizzly was given the honours to test it.

CUSTOMISING BAGGERS is not a new trend. What is a bagger exactly? Well, it’s plain and simple, a bike with hard cases. Eighty percent of bikers do not ride choppers anymore and a lot prefer the bagger above the hand-built chopper. Why? Because we are getting old! 

Now I understand that people want to ride a more comfortable bike because of old age, health problems or just for convenience sake, but I have a hard time understanding people who have dedicated their life to building and riding choppers, suddenly making the decision to buy a bone stock factory bagger. The urge to turn a stock bike into something of your own can never be totally wiped out from your system. Well, for those people who have bought a stock bagger but still have a bit of that customising spirit left, one has now invented the ‘custom bagger’.

In America it is happening on a large scale. Baggers are being totally rebuilt without losing the touring characteristics and without sacrificing the comfort. Big names who used to build only choppers have now discovered the potential to start customising baggers. Companies like Paul Yaffe, Covington, Arlen Ness, and many others. Zodiac also noticed this development and they see this new trend as a big challenge to develop a new breed of parts. For this purpose, they gave an Electra Glide Standard a complete makeover and now I have the doubtful honour to test it.

It is nice and sunny weather when I pull my bike out of the shed. In less than a hour I arrive in Mijdrecht where Vincent Pels from Zodiac welcomes me. Vincent tells me it is on this bike they have developed their 200 Wide Tyre Kit. This kit comes with a wider rear fender, an offset for the primary, saddlebag support kits and much more. 

They had already put a technically better front fork on the market with the same length as the front end of a Softail: a beautiful state-of-the-art Öhlins upside-down. To mount this front end it was necessary to change the weird stock neck of the Electra. Their solution was to rake the chassis themselves. Rather radical for the company from The Netherlands, especially if you realise that most other parts of this company are bolt-on parts. And because not all of their customers are frame builders, they quickly added the ‘Get Raked’ kit in their product range. With this kit you get a template that shows you how to cut the stock neck. When you have done that, the new neck with more rake can be welded onto the frame. It is possible to do all this without a frame-jig and without having to dismount the motor. It is not much work and the result is stunning.

Vincent shows me that they came up with the idea of a bolt-on forward control set that replaces the stock floorboards. He also tells me what other parts were used to make this bagger a real custom. Vincent knows what he is talking about and the list of parts is long and impressive! I let it all sink in, hop on the bagger and start with the actual test-ride. 

The first thing I notice is how light it handles in the corners. We are talking about a neck with 34 degrees rake now and zero degrees in the trees. Steering appears to be effortless; they have turned this bagger into a real sports bike. Stability on a straight road has even improved. 

What I do notice is the fact that the Bob Dron custom fairing catches wind from the sides. It makes the bikes wobble a little bit when behind a truck for instance. It is not unsafe to ride with that fairing, the bike feels like it is glued to the road, but it just feels strange and awkward. So I would throw that one in a corner or mount it differently.

I take the small roads home to have some lunch with the wife. After finishing my scrambled eggs, I ask my 15-year-old daughter to go for a ride with me. There is less height difference thanks to the Zodiac/Mustang seat and she can hide behind my back. She loves that particular fact, she tells me later. 

Time to study the Zodiac bagger more closely. I must admit that I like the looks of it. The bright gold coloured Öhlins front end sticks out and the builders at Zodiac have returned the colour stylishly into the grips, pegs and risers. The handlebars have a wider diameter which fits in with the massive appearance of the bike. The gas tank looks better thanks to the tidy dash panel from Paul Yaffe.

The hard bags are extended giving the bagger the looks of a led sled. Because of the Wide Tyre Kit the bike looks bigger from the rear, almost like that of a classic car. The gaps between the cases and the frame are filled with good looking panels from Küryakyn.

Exhausts are Supertrapps with edged end-caps again from Yaffe’s Bagger Nation, and thanks to the bag extensions, it looks like the Supertrapps run through the bags. 

The motor is cosmetically upgraded thanks to Roland Sands Design valve covers and ribbed timing cover. This ribbed design subtly returns in other parts, like the handlebar controls and latch covers from Arlen Ness.

The Super Steve front wheel from Ricks is a small one. A 19-incher given more body using a beautiful custom full fender. I think the Zodiac bagger has too much ground clearance to achieve that real led sled look most bagger customisers are after. Knowing less clearance negatively influences the riding style, the men from The Netherlands have decided to keep the bike high off the ground. Maybe an adjustable air-ride system can solve this issue.

Altogether, this bike looks fresh and sporty. I love the paint job by Sam’s from Purmerend, especially the fact that the silver-grey panels flow from the hard cases into the Ness side covers.

As a primary drive, a Primo two-inch-belt drive has been used with not too obvious covers. The pulleys and clutch cover are neatly chromed.

The two front discs with Beringer calipers combined with the round Arlen Ness brake handles work perfectly. I can not think of anything negative about the hydraulic clutch either.

The seating position is okay although the handlebars could have been a little bit higher from me personally.

Next day, I look outside from my bedroom window. Guess what? It is raining! What else is new in Holland. Still, I decide to bring the bike back to Mijdrecht. 

I am taking the highway this time. the Twin Cam, supported by a Zodiac Top Fuel injection tuner, goes like hell, and with an average speed of 140 km/h, I pass most of the cars. Thanks to the fairing, the full rear fender and the front fender, I hardly get wet from the rain. What a big difference with my chopper.

I take the exit at Vinkeveen and arrive at Zodiac’s headquarters with a big smile on my face.

“Convinced?” Vincent Pels asks. “Are you going to customise a bagger now?”

“No, Vincent, a bagger is not for me. Choppers for Life! I even have it tattooed on my arm!”

However, many other bikers will embrace this new trend with open arms. Using the Zodiac Bagger as a source of inspiration, we might as well welcome a whole new generation of custom bikes in Europe.

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