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Shovelheads are the New Pans

Our Tech Advisor Rich Burgess took a break from nuts and bolts and brought us to BC’s Kootenay region where Shovel Fest had the locals getting down and grungy.  

“Lots of Shovels in the Valley,” one of the participants at Kootenay Shovel Fest 2017 in Creston, British Columbia said to me. I was surprised at the turnout for this September 3rd event celebrating motorcycles powered by Harley-Davidson’s Shovelheads. Some were parked in this Kootenay region community of southeastern BC, while others were coming and going. Not bad for a small town. The event supports the local hospice so it’s a great cause.


Shovelheads are “the new Panheads” it would seem. There was a time not long ago when the Pan absolutely dominated the chopper world.  Let’s face it—nobody was cooler than Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper who famously rode Panhead customs into cinematic history in Easyrider. Even if you somehow never saw the movie those big chrome rocker covers were impossible to ignore. 

While there are still Panheads around and even a few Knuckleheads if you look real hard, deep pockets are required to acquire them. The Shovel has been an engine that was a lot easier to obtain. As you can see from the photos they are most definitely cool!

Well documented is that the Knucklehead was the groundbreaking OHV bike that saved Harley and is generally regarded as one of the greatest engines ever. It ran from 1936 to 1947 and was replaced by the Pan, which went from 1948 to 1965. The Pan had a cleaner appearance with some internal oil lines; and with the alloy head there were fewer overheating issues. Progress! People still talk of Pan Power—I saw it first hand in a dirt drag. The Pan run by Tim Maas from Sideline Cycle in Lethbridge, Alberta left me and my Evo literally in the dust at one rodeo.

The Shovel came out in 1966 and ushered in the age of the electric start (I know the ‘65 Electra Glide had the button but there are not many of them around). Later Shovels also went to the alternator; few would argue that the generator system was better. They went back to a more mechanical look and maybe a bit better lubricating. Power-wise there was not much to choose from. 

My buddy Pete rode his beautiful purple Shovel out from Lethbridge to Creston. I know he owns a Pan as well and mentioned to him that the Shovels sure seem to be getting popular. I think his reply summed it up nicely: “Shovels have the Whoopee Button.” 

Pete is a long way from old but it’s true many owners are getting to the age where kicking is no longer much fun– been there done that and my knee is sore. If it’s a beautiful bagger like Pete’s bike it also has rear suspension.

On the other side of the coin there were some young guys with shovelheads that looked very much like they came in a time machine from the 1960s: mile-high exhaust, King and Queen Seat, chain bars, a little grunge. The circle goes round. 

At the Fest there were diggers, choppers, sidecar rigs, dressed to the nine baggers, and even a Shovester (Shovelhead Sportster). Everything. If you like the 1966 to 1984 Harleys check out this event out next September long weekend. 

by Rich Burgess Canadian Biker Issue #334


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