Panheads stuck with the Knucklehead bottom-end. There had not been any complaints about the previous versions to merit changes, so engineering had concentrated on the continuing problems.One year into the model, in 1949, telescopic forks were introduced. These allowed greater front wheel travel, softening the ride because the tall enclosed towers could accommodate longer, softer springs. These forks were oil-filled, and this technology prompted Harley-Davidson to invent the name Hydra-Glide.The Hydra-Glide offered tourers a level of ride comfort never-before possible. And Harley-Davidson, which had long sold its own accessories, had a catalog full of objects to enhance long rides.
Windshields and wide soft seats had been available for years as had saddlebags, first in leather and then in plastic for 1954 and later. Optional luggage racks, driving lights, rear view mirrors, fender skirts, and reflectors dressed up the big Panheads. Owners began covering every inch of their big bikes with options and pieces so that a new name was born just to describe these machines: "dressers."At the other end of the scale, riders emotionally and financially distant from the dressers began removing pieces, to lighten up both the weight and look of their bikes. In fact, fenders were literally chopped off the bikes using hack saws. Shifter linkages were shortened and simplified, removing them from the tank and using only short levers right out of the transmission. Big tanks were exchanged for the tiny "peanut" tanks of other models. Anything that could be removed without affecting performance was removed.
This kind of modification was frowned upon by Harley-Davidson and its dealers. What's more, the customers who sought this kind of work met with distrust and dislike because of their resemblance to recent film portrayals. The work they wanted done--some riders even removed front brakes in order to save weight; going fast was the main objective, stopping was merely an afterthought--made the bikes potentially dangerous or unsafe. So independent shops that had done tuning and speed modification in the past, now took on these new tasks as well. As specialists to this special trade, these outsiders became known as "chopper" shops.
At the end of the 1952 season, Harley-Davidson discontinued production of the Sixty-one and at the same time introduced a significant change, adopted from the Model Ks. The company reversed the shift and clutch, operating the cluth by the left hand and the gearshift by the left foot. The hand-operated clutch got help from a strong spring to manage the pressure that had been provided by stronger leg muscles. Hand shift and foot shift were offered in tandem through the end of the Panhead line.
The Panhead era was one marked by continuing change and improvement. The FL engines got new main bearings and cases for the 1955 model year. This improved reliability by increasing the strength of the individual parts. For 1958, a rear suspension with a swingarm and dual shock absorbers was introduced. This version was called the Duo-Glide to signify working suspension at both ends of the bike.The ongoing upgrading continued behind the scenes in Milwaukee until 1965 when Harley introduced twelve-volt electric starting to their Big Twin (the feature had been introduced on the Servi-Car the previous year). It added a considerable weight penalty to the bikes, but the convenience was worth it to many first-time buyers. And Harley-Davidson, happy with its new winner, was not about to change any of the elements that had brought success to the Panheads. Yes, the usual combination of alphabet codes still persisted.
The FLHB was born. But a name was clearer, and it had more appeal to the same new-comers attracted to electric start. Harley called it the Electra-Glide.By 1965, Harley-Davidson had achieved with absolute certainty the goal the founders set forth sixty-two years earlier. They wanted to produce reliable transportation. In the years between founding and electric-start, they had attempted and experimented and achieved and accomplished. But the kick starter required the rider to understand all the variables required to make engines combust for the first time. Gas. Air. Spark. Timing. Engine cold? Engine hot? It could vex even an experienced rider.