View Full Version : Ironhead Iron Head VS Shovel Head

Iron Joker
27th April 2010, 19:09
Iron Head were supposed to be the sport bikes of their day but if they were put side by side & all things equal (no excess baggage, mods, etc) could an Iron Head really take on a shovel?

CC VS CC how do they hold up to a twin cam or evo power wise? I know at higher RPMS they're lost.

27th April 2010, 19:57
by "all things being equal", are you talking bike weights ? or hp to weight ratio?

or just a stripper shovel and a stripper sporty?

as its been from the begining of time (1957 ;) ) the sporty will spank a bt in the 1/4 but the bt will out run a sporty in the long run.

Ivan RoachCoach
27th April 2010, 20:04
road, the garbage wagons will eventually catch up. :D :D :D

Stephen Lowry
27th April 2010, 20:15
Way back in the day ( 1974 ) I could never beat my brothers 73 XLCH with my 73 FX 1200cc Superglide. Top end was around 112 - 114 mph for the sportster and maybe 105- 107 mph on the Superglide. The FX was way easier to kickstart though, haha..............

27th April 2010, 21:43
It also depends on the year and type of each bike to some extent. A '57 XL vs. '84 FXR would be a different outcome than a '70 vs. '70. Early XL's were 900's and early shovels were 1200's later they went to 1000's and 1340's respectively.

Stephen Lowry
27th April 2010, 21:52
Agreed, the years of each bike would make a huge difference. On another note: Way back then I had another friend with a 750 Norton Combat, he'd kill both my brothers 73 XLCH, my 73 SuperGlide and anothers friends 73 Triumph Bonneville, the Norton with it's skinny tire would just walk away and leave us, I think that thing would go a over 120mph, which was way fast for a stock bike back then. And then the Z-1 903 appeared............That was all she wrote...

27th April 2010, 23:51
Not sure what sort of magic moxi your friends Commando had going for it but no way a stock Norton Commando will do 120. Not even a Combat which by the way puts out only 5 HP more than a standard 750. The 850 had lowered compression and was not a bit faster. Even with European gearing the Commando was only rated at max 115 MPH and that was with a flyweight rider and the bike tweaked to tip-top tune by the factory gurus. My own Commando with US gearing would only pull 104 MPH with 5,000 miles on the clock and running beautifully. But it would spank a Sportster due to the huge weight difference. Only 420 LBS wet for the Commando as I recall. BTY, in 1972 the Commando was the quickest production vehicle sold in the US. And that included all the usual exotic and muscle cars of the era. Back than I used to fun race against a factory dual-quad Hemi Roadrunner my friend owned and it was pretty much even money. Didn't last long though. Some guy in Japan invented a 4 cylinder 750 that changed all that.

Stephen Lowry
28th April 2010, 00:13
We were all skinny back then, 17 years old and going as fast as we could. The speeds I quote were all referenced off those awful bouncing HD speedometers back then. Chris the Norton rider was the smallest of us all, he was probably 5'6" and weighed maybe 120 lbs. It was funny to watch him kick start the Combat. And you are right. once the Honda 750 came out it was basicly all over for the Harleys and Brit bikes in the speed wars, we tried alot of things back then, drag pipes, Sifton cams and old Mikuini carbs but there wasn't much you could do to catch those Honda 750's. Then the Z-1 showed up.

However one good thing came about from the Jap bikes, it made other manufacturers make better bikes eventually. We used to have to carry tools and oil with us even on fairly short trips. Don't miss that part of it.......

28th April 2010, 00:18
All too true Stephen

28th April 2010, 00:24
My own 74 Commando can easily pull to the 115 mph number but I do have the larger front gear. The transmissions were all a bit fragile and I wouldn't run it real hard due to the cost of parts. My 72 sportster now pulls just as hard as the norton and parts are more readily available. I feel they are pretty even except in the handling dept. As far as stock shovels are concerned they were all kinda piggy if you know what I mean. ;)

28th April 2010, 00:43
Okay, here's my take on the subject:
I built both these bikes from pieces over 30 years ago.
Neither were stock very long after I owned them.
The Superglide was not as fast as the stroker Sporty.
However, after a little work and still to this day, the "stroker" Superglide is much faster than the "stroker" Sporty.

28th April 2010, 00:56
I know I have no problem running side by side on my '77 1000cc XLCH next to my dads '82 1340cc Superglide. Both bikes are stock with the addition of S&S carbs.

28th April 2010, 00:58
Hey Meanmechanic,

What did you do to the Sportster to make it pull as hard as the Commando? Oops. Don't mean to hijack this thread.

Iron Joker
28th April 2010, 02:23
I was under the impression that an Ironhead would smoke a foriegn bike, untill the jap bikes came along. I guess I was wrong.

28th April 2010, 02:37
Iron Joker

No way man. I grew up with Brit' bikes and they were always more than a match for any Harley. Lighter, faster, much better handling machines. Unfortunately the British rested on their laurels too long and zap, Honda pretty much wiped them out, and quickly too since they had no "plan B". Sort of a "why change it if it ain't broke" attitude that was death to the British bike industry which was really a very big industry at the time. If it weren't for the Harley mystique, they would have died too. Go figure.

28th April 2010, 02:47
Hey Meanmechanic,

What did you do to the Sportster to make it pull as hard as the Commando? Oops. Don't mean to hijack this thread.

Sent a PM.

Moon Wolf
28th April 2010, 03:45
Well, I'm sure this will be debated until the end of time, but I'll put in my two cents anyway. Any of my 60s Sportsters are faster than my 70 Shovel, period. The shovel has an S&S carb and a mild cam and pulls as hard as any big twin I've owned. The Sportsters, though, would be a lot faster in the quarter mile, and will go as fast, if not faster, (top speed) than the shovel. On the other hand, if we were in a thousand mile race, the Shovel would probably win handily, as you can ride it longer and more comfortably.

As for a Norton Commando being able to "smoke" a Sportster, I wouldn't go quite that far. I think my Commando might have been a little faster than my Sportster, but I never raced them side by side so I can't say for sure. My impression, though, was that the acceleration was close. The Commando was quicker through the corners. The BSA Rocket Three was faster and would out handle both.

I believe the Commando was introduced in 67 (correct me if I'm wrong). Until that time the Sportster was probably the quickest bike on the street, although the Bonneville was close. For the next couple years, the top quarter time for a stocker bounced around quite a bit, but I'm pretty sure the first year Kawasaki 500 Mach III Blue Streak would beat any of them, if it didn't kill the rider first. The later models were slowed down a bit, but in our town those first bikes killed about a sailor a week for year or two (FOB price less than a grand).

28th April 2010, 04:47
BSA Rocket III and Triumph Trident could have been the savior(s) of the British motorcycle industry. Unfortunately the timing was wrong. Too little (for the rapidly evolving market), and especially too late. Would love to own one. Not sure why handling would be any better than a Commando given the wider engine but then again I never rode one. I know that many fast side-hack racers were based on these bikes.

28th April 2010, 05:15
No mention of the 1969 Kawasaki H-1? 12sec. 1/4mi off the showroom floor for less than a grand? There wasn't much that could touch it in the 1/4mi showroom stock.

As far as Shovel vs Ironhead, the 1st Shovels were only available as dressers/touring bikes, so they were no match for a Sporty. The 1st Superglide wasn't marketed a performance machine, it was marketed as a factory "custom". Stripped down and hopped up though, a Shovel would generally beat a Sporty in the 1/4. Many of the big name/top level drag racers (Joe Smith, Marion Owens, Elmer Trett, etc.) that ran H-D's back then ran Shovel based engines. Pete hill was the exception, he ran a Knucklehead, blown Top-Fueler.

Moon Wolf
28th April 2010, 05:29
Handling, of course, will always have a subjective element, but unlike, say, the 750 Honda or 900 Kawasakis, which felt as if you were riding a couch, the Rocket Three felt narrow and sleek, the handling characteristics outstanding. With the possible exception of the Yamaha SR500, I could throw the BSA harder into the corners with more confidence than any of the other bikes I rode. The Norton, perhaps because of the "isolastic" frame, never seemed as solid and the ride certainly not as smooth.

Incidentally, of all the bikes I've owned, I liked the Kawasaki Z-1 900 the least. That thing was an embarrassment on the mountain twisties--an absolute pig.

Moon Wolf
28th April 2010, 05:32
"No mention of the 1969 Kawasaki H-1? 12sec. 1/4mi off the showroom floor for less than a grand? There wasn't much that could touch it in the 1/4mi showroom stock."

But I did mention it, in the post right above yours. We didn't call the H-1 at the time, though. Around here, guys called it the Mach lll.

28th April 2010, 05:51
Norton "Isolastic suspension" was a great leap forward in comfort, the vibration isolation really worked well. But it was a nasty thing if left unattended and could give the rider a real scare if thrown hard into a corner. Overall, I am sure the previous "Featherbed" was a better frame but not as pleasant to ride because of the horrendous vibration the Norton twin developed. I always thought it was cool the way my Commando forks pumped up and down when stopped at a traffic light at idle. 750cc of thumper. Some similarities exist between the Norton and Ironhead for sure. Sort of distant cousins in a very real way.

28th April 2010, 07:29
But I did mention it, in the post right above yours. We didn't call the H-1 at the time, though. Around here, guys called it the Mach lll.
My bad. It's late and my brain ain't workin' at full speed.:D:D:D

Ferrous Head
28th April 2010, 14:23
Back in about 1971 "Cycle World" tested 7 bikes head to head. This included the Sporty, Commando, Honda 4 mach III etc.
1/4 mile results:
Norton 12.69
Triumph Trident 12.78
Kawasaki Mach III 12.80
Sportster 12.97
Honda 4 12.98
BSA Rocket 3 13.14
Now a couple of caveats. They mention the Sporty might have been a "cheater" having the big valves heads that hadn't quite got into full production when the did the test. Neither here nor there I reckon.
And although most people remember Mach III's as being ungodly fast, in fact they weren't that quick - it just seemed like it becuase of the power delivery. Too narrow power band.
Intresting thing here is the Sporty doing the Honda 4.

As an aside I had a Z1B with a 1015 Morawaki kit and a Yoshi 4 into 1. Quick yes, but it had a hinge in the middle, believe me.

Things were probably different in the States but in Oz a Sportster cost just about twice what a Honda 4 did, that's why they sold more. Plain and simple. They weren't better bikes and everyone knew that but people bought what they could afford.

We killed a lot of kids on Honda 4's.

Stephen Lowry
28th April 2010, 15:19
I remember that Cycle World test. Even though I'm a Harley guy, I always liked the Norton and the Triumph/ BSA triples..........

On another note: One other friend briefly had a Kawasaki Mach IV 750, I think the frame was made of wet spaghetti.

And now 36 years later I'd like to have a stock 69- 72 Honda CB 750 with the 4-4 stock exhaust system. Funny how time changes things.

Right now I have my 1424cc XL "old blue", a 2003 95" stage II RoadGlide with 47,000 miles on it and a new, sit down for this, Victory Vision with the 106" engine.....

28th April 2010, 16:49
Something else to think about in the Ironhead vs. Shovelhead discussion. In a head-to-head, apples-to-apples comparison, Shovelheads outflow Ironheads. Stock Shovelheads outflow stock Ironheads, ported Shovelheads outflow ported Ironheads.

Moon Wolf
28th April 2010, 17:15
I don't know about the Mach lll being not that quick--remember it has at least a third less displacement than the other bikes and it's right in the middle of the argument, based on your test. They did have a hinge in the middle (the 750s handled a lot better, and they were horrible, as Stephen states), and an ungodly power band. It came on suddenly, and I'm certain a lot of inexperienced riders were ill-prepared.

You're right about the Z-1, too, Ferrous Head. The handling on that thing was plain spooky.

28th April 2010, 17:19
a sporty is NOT "faster" than a shovel.... no way....

a sporty is QUICKER than a shovel, not faster. a shovel will out run a sporty in the long run

same thing as a mustang ver. Cadillac, the mustang will run circles around a caddy in the 1/4, but the caddy will with its long legs out run a mustang in a cannonball run

again, the thing to remember here is "dead stock".... if one bike gets higher grade gasoline then its all bets off, cause its no longer "fair"

Moon Wolf
28th April 2010, 17:29
I don't know about that, Flatty. I have both out in the garage, and I think the Sporty is at least as fast as the Shovel if we're talking top speed, and it's a great running shovel. If by "outrun" you mean you can ride it faster longer, then I agree. But if you mean mph, I'll bet you a dime to a dollar my 900s are a wee bit faster than a stock shovel. In fact, my Sporty was as fast as my friends my Heritage Softail when he first bought it new in '90. Of course, he could ride at a hundred all day and no way could you cruise at those speeds on the Sporty, so again, it depends on what you mean by "outrun."

Now, if you're talking about a shovel motor in a light frame with, say, a Baker tranny, well, that's a horse of a different color.

28th April 2010, 17:36
Now, if you're talking about a shovel motor in a light frame with, say, a Baker tranny, well, that's a horse of a different color.
but that would be changing the playing field.

not all shovels were "dressers" they had lowriders and dyna's and I'll guarantee that a dyna will out run a sporty.

remember, when the sporty was a 900 the shovel was only 74. when the sporty went 61" the shovel went 80"