The Story Behind the 1997 Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer Softail

In 1997 we looked into what inspired the '97 Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer Softail

The 1997 Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer Softail's front suspension was inspired by the 1948 Panhead.Photo Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

One of the Heritage Springer Softail's most prominent features is its "new" Springer front end, but the concept behind this chromed bit of eye candy is a half-century old. Looking much like the front suspension on the 1948 Panhead that inspired it, this modern Springer iteration has been around since 1988. Evolutionary refinements since then have kept this antiquated-but-viable system competitive with the telescopic forks in Harley-Davidson's line.

The Springer’s front-end function is immediately clear once you’ve had a chance to bounce on one and watch it work. The rearmost legs of the Springer are rigid and transmit cornering and braking loads into the motorcycle’s chassis through a conventional steering head. The bottom ends of these rigid rear legs (one on each side) have pivots that carry short swinging arms with the axle mounted at the front ends. To handle suspension loads, a second fork (positioned forward of the rigid one) mounts to the swing­arms via more pivots, and transfers suspension loads up to an array of springs and a single damper mounted in front of the steering head.

The Springer design requires unique mounting for the front brake caliper and fender. The caliper carrier pivots on the wheel axle, and feeds its braking torque into the rear, rigid part of the fork with a short-reaction link. According to Harley-Davidson, a small amount of anti-dive geometry designed into the system reduces the amount of suspension used by weight transfer under braking. The fender is carried on links too, and the FLSTS has reworked geometry to allow for closer, more-consistent fender clearance than on bikes with 21-inch wheels. The new bike also has revised rebound damping, aimed at refining ride quality.

Other changes made to the Springer design adapts it to the FLSTS’s 16-inch front wheel, instead of the 21-inch front wheel it’s been paired with on other modern H-Ds. The angle of the legs has been made more vertical to net an increase in trail of just over an inch. The brake reaction-link mount was beefed up to deal with the greater traction of the new 16-inch wheel, and the moving fork legs were widened to make room for the fat new tire.

The Springer front end is well-suited for duty on a cruiser. On the positive side, its freely moving pivots don’t suffer from stiction, it can have a competitively low amount of unsprung weight, and in this version, it offers a distinctively high chrome quotient. On the downside, it’s a bit heavier overall than the comparable fork in Harley-Davidson’s line, and at 4.2 inches, offers almost an inch less travel. Neither negative is much of a factor in the low-energy riding most Springers are likely to be subjected to. Its combination of supple ride and retro look is an ideal fit for the FLSTS.

This article was originally published in the June 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.