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What is a Softail&Reg;?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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A Softail® is a type of motorcycle suspension. Designed to imitate the appearance of a hardtail motorcycle that contains no rear suspension, the Softail® uses shock absorbers and a swing-arm type frame to cushion the ride. Unlike the typical swing-arm type rear motorcycle suspension that includes shock absorbers and springs mounted outside of the frame, the Softail® uses hidden springs and shock absorbers that are mounted underneath the frame. The entire swing-arm is designed to fade into the surrounding frame.

Many motorcycle manufacturers use a version of the simulated hardtail-type suspension; however, the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle company holds the patent on the Softail® and is the only brand that uses this terminology in its product line. Borrowing against its early heritage lineup, the Harley-Davidson company aided in the popularization of the chopper-type motorcycle as well as the nostalgia influence with the inclusion of the Softail® frame. The popular frame allows riders to simulate the nostalgic appearance while enjoying the advantages that a modern sprung suspension provides. Long trips are made much less harsh by the inclusion of a spring and shock absorber-style suspension.

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The first motorcycle designs did not include a rear suspension. The motorcycle frame was very similar to that of a bicycle frame. The rider was placed on a spring-mounted seat that served to absorb the bumps of the road. The seats, while minimally cushioned, did nothing to eliminate the rough riding characteristics of a rigidly-mounted rear tire. The rider often lost control of the motorcycle as the rear tire bounced off of the road when a rough spot in the road was encountered.

As the motorcycle operator learned to use his knees as a type of suspension, allowing the motorcycle to rock and pivot beneath his body, motorcycle designers began to imagine the possibilities of a sprung suspension. The front suspension was the first attempt of the manufacturers to design a more rider-friendly machine. Following the sprung front forks, the Softail® frame placed a movable rear suspension beneath the rider. Eventually, the rear suspension evolved into the modern swing-arm type suspension with its outwardly-mounted shock absorbers.

This type of rear suspension was used on most motorcycle designs worldwide until the Harley-Davidson company reinvented itself and offered nostalgia-type motorcycles in its lineup. Leading the new designs was the famous Softail® suspension styling that offered the appeal of an early design with the comforts of a modern motorcycle. The Softail® was reintroduced to the world, and it was quickly adapted to many manufacturers' line-ups.

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