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Choose the height, Choose the ride

By Bill Hayes

Shotgun Shocks


This lifestyle has always been about originality and individuality. Sure, if you’re at an event and someone yells, “Hey you, the guy with the beard and the leather jacket!” every head in the place will turn, but beneath the external surface similarities we’re definitely not penguin-like drones. A lot of powerful personalities make up the rank and file of bikers and much of that power is based in a strong lust for self-expression—a lust that is satisfied, in part, as we continually add personal touches to our bikes.

Walk along the main drag or parking area at any major event. There can be thousands of bikes but few will be identical. This way of life is about freedom, and with freedom comes the sacred right to choose how to express ourselves. J.D. Braun from Golden State Custom Cycles understands this desire. He’s a veteran biker who has developed a product that not only adds a mechanical “lift” to any Softail, but which also helps satisfy our lust for individuality and freedom of choice.

Harley-Davidson’s Softail debuted in 1984, with the classic appearance of a vintage rigid frame but with the “modern creature comfort” of suspension hidden beneath the swingarm. Twenty-three years later it remains a cool and clever innovation; J.D.’s Shotgun Shocks makes the design just that much cooler and even more clever.

The essence of the Shotgun air shock is the ability to immediately control both the height of the bike and the degree of suspension with the simple flick of a toggle switch. Both adjustments can be made while the bike is in motion. That in itself is worth the price of admission, but the quality of the product, the attention to custom aesthetics, and the safety elements that are built in truly put Shotgun Shocks in the big leagues of the motorcycle aftermarket.

“With our air shock system, there is no chance of a catastrophic failure,” says J.D. proudly. “The key to the reliability and performance is our unique ability to seal air pressure inside the body of the shock. This is the only air suspension available that does not depend on outside air lines and fittings to hold air. We have a one-way valve that makes it so there is no outside air line holding pressure. The outside line never gets fatigued and the fittings are not critical to the operation of the shocks. If they were to eventually leak or bleed off, it wouldn’t effect the ride height. And if there’s an outside line holding pressure, there’s always the chance of a line blowing, which could lead to serious problems while the bike is in motion; that can’t happen with Shotgun Shocks.

“And also with the Shotgun Shocks the bike will actually go higher even than stock height. That can be advantageous in some situations where you need a lot of ground clearance, like mountain riding or times like in the old days at places like the Buffalo Chip with all the dirt roads and all; it might be kind of nice to be up high for awhile!”

I was genuinely captivated by these shocks. I have a Softail. It’s one of the best and most comfortable bikes I’ve ever owned, but it’s essentially slammed to the ground. I love the look, but there are definitely times when I’d like a bit more travel in the suspension; times when I’d like to keep some of the fillings in my teeth. These shocks give you the best of all possible springy worlds along with that wonderfully human feeling of immediate gratification when you trip that toggle.

Shotgun Shocks weren’t developed overnight. “I’ve been in the motorcycle business for about 30 years,” J.D. explained, “and I had a shop in Montebello… We were like five miles east of downtown L.A. so everybody came to us to put lowering kits in their bikes… it made the rides terrible. Ten years ago we started messing around with different air systems. We tried all of them but none were to our liking. About five years ago we started developing our own and that’s how the bleed-feed system came into being. Last year at Laughlin we introduced this current system; a one-piece system where the valving is integrated. It’s safe, there’s no line flex, it’s easy to mount, it’s a compact system.”

It is indeed compact. The shocks can be mounted on any Softail, either stock H-D or custom Softail-style frames. While I was at J.D.’s shop I watched an installer put a set on an older Harley.

“With a qualified mechanic,” says J.D., “the installation shouldn’t take longer than two-and-a-half or three hours…and these shocks are made to last. We hard-anodize the whole inside bore so the seals will never wear and the solenoids on the inside are also hard-anodized so they’ll never corrode. The shafts and eyelets are all made out of stainless steel.”

The system consists of the shock assembly, a small compressor, and all the associated hardware; each piece being neatly fitted into the area where the stock suspension would be mounted. For those of us who are concerned with looks, the system couldn’t be more impressive. The compressor is chrome and the shock assembly is made from highly polished quarter-inch thick 6061T6 billet aluminum (a black body for the shock assembly is also available). The name “Shotgun Shock” comes from an obvious source: The unit has the serious look of a massive shotgun barrel. All the components are made and assembled in the U.S.A.

Actually getting out on the road on the test bike showed just how functional and fun these shocks can be. Once you get over the novelty of being able to do what the hip-hoppers do in their ’64 Chevies, you realize just how practical it is to be able to adjust your bike’s height and (probably more importantly) your bike’s suspension, at will; like when a passenger climbs on the back or the surface of the road begins to go south. And then there is that ultimate not-so-practical but oh-so-cool look when you park in front of your favorite hangout and drop all the air out. Damn, that looks sweet—and it is a definitely a theft deterrent as well.

The fact that it has a separate control for height and suspension strength is such a plus. Last week I was talking with a guy at a bar who had another brand of air shock assembly installed on his bike. I noticed just one toggle switch. That was because this particular unit adjusted the bike’s height but not the degree of suspension stiffness/softness. I thought to myself: That’s like having a bun with no hot dog, a serious lack in the satisfaction department.

And as far as the toggle switches go, J.D. mentioned that most people like to have them installed on the side of the dash console, but—they are mountable essentially wherever you want them.

For those of you who don’t have a Softail, J.D. is developing Shotgun Shocks for most every model. He showed me the prototype for a system on a Road King. It’s nearly ready and more variations are on the way.

Shotgun Shocks’ combinations of settings for height and suspension travel are virtually limitless—a great tribute to a lifestyle that takes pride in expressing itself in virtually limitless ways.

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