Article By: J. Ken Conte
Photos By: Chris Callen
Originally Published In The April 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
I need to come clean about this right from the start: in general, from a performance perspective, I am not a fan of big wheel baggers. They can look cool, but I haven’t been on too many that ride well. I will say that I’ve tried to chase down Paul Yaffe while he was on a 26-inch big wheel Road King through the mountains of Colorado, and I couldn’t keep up, so I’m sure some of it has to do with the operator. When Paul first started telling me about the SRT bike (short for Steam Roller Touring) he was building, it intrigued me from a performance perspective. Paul partnered with Shinko to create a whole new tire and wheel size (20” x 5”) that would have the same radius as a 23-inch but provide much more contact area, thereby creating a much more stable ride. I was skeptical. It seemed like it could be heavy, and the potential for tire flop appeared high.
The journey to the SRT for Paul started years ago. He wanted to do something new and innovative. If you’ve never spoken to Paul about what he’s working on at a given time, it’s a great way to break the ice. He has so many projects that push the envelope of what’s being done in terms of parts and performance that I’m amazed he sleeps at all. The SRT was born out of necessity, though. He wanted a great riding bagger with a big wheel to make a true performance sport touring bike. This could not be accomplished with what was available, so he partnered with Shinko to make a true front tire, called the 777 SRT HD, with a heavy-duty load rating. But you can’t just slap on a 20- inch wheel and think it will handle well. Paul conducted tests for hours and found the perfect rake and triple-tree setup to make it handle like a dream. He put together the SRT kit so any builder with a latemodel Harley bagger can customize their bike into an SRT, leaving out any guesswork. For $1999 the SRT kit comes complete with a Shinko 20-inch SRT 777 tire, Bagger Nation– forged 20” x 5” wheel blank, Bagger Nation 7-degree wide-rake tree kit, Bagger Nation 7-degree-raked neck block, Bagger Nation wide Yaxle and a wide Bagger Nation Thicky front fender. If you have the aptitude, it is well worth the money to make your bagger truly unique and rideable.
I have quite a bit of experience riding expensive one-off motorcycles. I typically don’t get nervous—it’s just a bike. But this was Paul Yaffe’s personal ride that he’d spent hundreds of hours perfecting, so I was a little apprehensive when I first threw my leg over it. What I discovered immediately was that at slower speeds it rode like a dream. It felt light and maneuvered as well—if not better—than a stock Road Glide. Yes, you just read that right: better then a stock Road Glide. As I got it up to speed, the throaty Cult Forty-Five collector started to sing, and I started to relax. The footing of the bike didn’t waver—it stuck as solidly to the asphalt at 5 mph as it did at 90 mph. This bike was the cure for the big wheel bagger, and I had it for two days. Everywhere I went people asked about it, and I happily obliged with my opinion: it is the solution to performance problems in big wheel baggers that some people have experienced. Couple that with the Bagger Nation Monkey Sport Bars, a ton of Bagger Nation Speed Freak accessories and a Bagger Nation Wail Tail tour pack, and you not only have a bike that rides great, you’ve got a fully custom machine that can win any show it enters.
Shortly after riding the SRT, I got a Road Glide Special long-term loaner from Harley-Davidson, and I put thousands of miles on it. I liked the Road Glide platform, but I found that the front tire just seemed inadequate. It wasn’t bad—heck, it was better then most touring bikes, and it looked great— but riding that low, stretched beefy SRT has become the high bar to which I will always compare any bagger. I know it isn’t fair, because the SRT is meant to be a performance bagger, but the factory should take note: instead of just adding chrome to their CVOs, they might talk to Paul about augmenting performance with his SRT modifications, because the SRT really is the standard by which all performance baggers should be measured.