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TANKS FOREVER, FOREVER TANKS

In More Ways than One

By Bandit with photos by the Magnificent Markus Cuff
11/4/2022


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This mess started with a ride to a tribute concert in Hollywood, one of the rare times the whole staff of ER rode together. A brother, Lee Selwin, was run down on the streets near Sunset Boulevard, and we rode to the rock concert at the Palace Theater. Turned into a nostalgic night club, I stepped back stage where I met Markus Cuff who photographed the event.

With the encouragement of artist, Robert Kalafut, I started to work with Markus on tech articles and ultimately bike features. Hell, I’m still working with Markus who also became one of our main tattoo photographers.




Markus was forced into retirement over medical issues and issues with the magazine trade. He can’t cover tech articles and bike feature photography, but I continue to dive into his vast archives in search of motorcycle gems.

Since he has a library of 35 years of related photography we dug into his shots of antique and custom motorcycle tanks. We started to kick around a story line, which led us to the design and engineering team at Harley-Davidson, specifically Brad Richards and Jeremy Nesthus. Brad is the Vice President of Design and Creative Director of Motorcycles at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. 
 


Jeremy is the System Groups Manager for Fuel and Styled Systems at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. He has been with H-D for 20 years working in Parts & Accessories, Systems Integration, NVH and as a Technical Platform Lead.

In this first chapter we delved into very nature of the gas tank, construction, shapes, sizes, manufacturing processes, mounting and materials. We also spoke with motorcycle restorers, bike builders and antique curators.



At one time a gas tank was just a fuel cell with a petcock mounted over a Briggs and Stratton engine. Remember?

Hell, tanks have gone from being soldered fuel cells, sometimes with lead, silver and or brass, to MiG and TIG welded, manual welding all the way to robotics.



Tanks were originally tin pounded over bucks or wooden forms and then pressed with solid steel molds and now hydraulically deep-drawn metal shapes.

The magnificent ARCH motorcycle gas tank was precision machined out of highest quality billet aluminum. It was also designed to have the fuel pump installed inside.
The magnificent ARCH motorcycle gas tank was precision machined out of highest quality billet aluminum. It was also designed to have the fuel pump installed inside.






As tank shapes slipped from utilitarian to lifestyle driven components, they became the “Cherry on top of the magnificent V-twin engine configuration,” said Brad. Prior to joining Harley-Davidson in February 2015, Richards was Chief Designer at Ford Motor Company and also responsible for managing the design of F-Series Truck products including the aluminum 2015 F-150 and the 2018 Ford Raptor.



With technological advances and more lifestyle demands tanks forced manufacturers to up their stylistic game with hidden welds. “We make the difficult, look simple,” said Brad.

I asked the factory guys about the two iconic tank shapes, Fatbob tanks and Sportster tanks.



“I was recently challenged to evolve Harley-Davidson’s product experience and to deliver a consistent Look, Sound and Feel of our motorcycles,” Brad added. He expanded his responsibilities in August 2022 to deliver an authentic Harley-Davidson user experience that builds a strong emotional connection between rider and machine that many of our customers desire in our products. Let’s see how his mission plays out in the future. It’s a tough one.


Brad pointed out that the new Sportster Nightster tank is not a tank at all but an air cleaner cover. The fuel tank is once again utilitarian fuel tank stashed under the seat.



One of Jeremy’s most proud work projects included the Technical Lead delivering Sportster S to production. “Collaborating with world class H-D employees and using world class tools to enable the visuals on the Sportster S was exhilarating,” said Jeremy.

Jeremy focused on another motorcycle design topic. Form grappling with function. The tank under the seat like oil tanks under transmissions lower the center of gravity and improves handling. Hell, all the tanks on EVs are fake, to make the bikes like we expect them to look.



There’s the on-going challenge of what we expect a bike to look like verses the physical experience,” said Brad. “With the tank under the seat the bike feels 60 pounds lighter.”

Jeremy added another major benefit to the new Revolution Max powertrain. “It afforded us a powerplant for numerous models,” including the new Pan America, all terrain Harley.



Back to tanks, Brad pointed out that each new model has a new tank logo design unlike many other brands. Harley-Davidson endeavors to watch the market and events like Born Free for new, trick and innovative tank art.

We also spoke to Don Whalen, motorcycle curator and founder of Sierra Madre Motorcycle Company, who pointed out that some early manufacturers positioned the fuel cells or gas tanks in pipes manufactured into the frames. Oil supplies also found themselves in frame tubing. He reminded me of repairs to vintage motorcycle tanks at radiator shops. The pressure tested tanks had seams or cracks sealed with lead.



It’s a constant challenge to manufacture a motorcycle in vast quantities and meet multiple criteria. But Jeremy, who has been riding since his uncle hoisted him onto an H-D gas tank for his first motorcycle ride, hit the nail on the head. “I’m drawn to winning,” he said. “Harley-Davidson designs, engineers the most desirable motorcycles in the world, and I just had to be a part of that.”




Hang on. With the next batch of tanks, we will cover the paint designs and materials from metal flake, flames, panels and candies with masterminds in the field like Dave Perewitz, the Emperor of House of Kolors, John Kosmoski, and helmet artist Atomic Bob. Hell, I toured the new factory paint facility back in the ‘90s.

--Bandit




Sources:

Harley-Davidson



Markus Cuff
The famous Markus Cuff
The famous Markus Cuff


 
ARCH Motorcycles

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Sierra Madre Motorcycle Company

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