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Thread: Swapping shifter from right to left side on 439

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    Default Swapping shifter from right to left side on 439

    I'm seriously thinking of swapping the throttle and spark to the opposite sides to be similar to the rest of my bikes. Yes, I realize I am probably talking sacrilege to hard core Indian enthusiasts, but a man has to recognize his limitations. With bikes having left and right side foot shifts as well as standard and GP shift patterns, having to deal with a foot clutch, hand shift and throttle on the left at the same time, just might be the straw that breaks Rob's back.

    I've looked at the parts manual and see there options that put the shift on the right or left. I've also seen Indians with the shift on the left. I suspect that taking my hand off the throttle to shift is not a big deal so it could stay on the right, where it is now. My question is, is it worth it to move it to the left side? I'm looking for the voice of experience here since I have zero with hand shift bikes. I hope to be getting my '47 61EL back together soon which has the shift on the left and a clutch that operates opposite that of the 439. I may go buy myself a one of those bomb disposal suits when I start to ride the knuck along with all the other bikes. I suspect that no amount of Geritol is gonna help, .

    Thanks,
    Rob
    Rob Sigond
    AMCA # 1811

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
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    479

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    Quote Originally Posted by Snakeoil View Post
    I'm seriously thinking of swapping the throttle and spark to the opposite sides to be similar to the rest of my bikes. Yes, I realize I am probably talking sacrilege to hard core Indian enthusiasts, but a man has to recognize his limitations. With bikes having left and right side foot shifts as well as standard and GP shift patterns, having to deal with a foot clutch, hand shift and throttle on the left at the same time, just might be the straw that breaks Rob's back.

    I've looked at the parts manual and see there options that put the shift on the right or left. I've also seen Indians with the shift on the left. I suspect that taking my hand off the throttle to shift is not a big deal so it could stay on the right, where it is now. My question is, is it worth it to move it to the left side? I'm looking for the voice of experience here since I have zero with hand shift bikes. I hope to be getting my '47 61EL back together soon which has the shift on the left and a clutch that operates opposite that of the 439. I may go buy myself a one of those bomb disposal suits when I start to ride the knuck along with all the other bikes. I suspect that no amount of Geritol is gonna help, .

    Thanks,
    Rob
    The throttle and shifter are, as far as I know always, on opposite sides.But it can get confusing with a left trottle and right shift.I cant imagine riding with shift ands gas on the same side.Tom

  3. #3
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    Default

    If you look at Herbert Wagner's books such as "At the Beginning" and "Harley Indian Wars" (I am truncating titles here)... the companies would both provide bikes with shifts on the "opposite" sides, mainly for police contracts.

    Having shifters and throttle on opposite sides was a great way to ensure brand loyalty. But it could also inhibit sales to Law Enforcement which did not want to have to re-train officers and deal with switching a fleet. So if HD was asked for left throttle, right shift... the answer was: "Why yes, procurement officer McGruff, we can handle that." Indian was the same.

    Probably did not happen a lot... but enough that there are right shift Harley's and Left shift Indians out there that are 'authentic.'

    May be sacrilige to some, but I am seriously thinking about swapping controls on my '38 Chief. I have ridden HD products since I was in my early '20s and hand-shift HD bikes almost as long. Muscle memory being what it is, I don't want to Auger my (first) Indian into a wall because I am riding it like a Harley. Changing the controls would make if much safer for me to ride on the road and the conversion is anything but difficult. More importantly, it's easy to change back for purists. It's not like anything gets destroyed in the conversion.

    So don't feel bad. And, if you do the conversion, please document it here because I'd rather copy someone than invent the wheel myself!

    And post some pix of your project, please!

    Cheers,

    Sirhr

  4. #4

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    Well then it's a good thing ya'll are building Indians later than 1936! The right shift is actually very natural feeling, as you have been shifting gears with your right hand on 4 wheelers all your lives! Please, try it first as Indian intended. Indians are Very light and agile. When I teach someone to ride an Indian I always tell them the same thing. KEEP your right hand on the shifter till you get the hang of it. That Eliminates any confusion about what to do with which hand. The tricky part is not the shifter or the throttle, that comes Very Quickly. The confusing part is the clutch pedal. I ride HD and Indian, for many years and sometimes at the light It can be confusing as to whether you are in gear with the clutch disengaged, or in neutral with the clutch engaged! Again...try it first! You will like it and it is just part of the experience. You would not change a Belt Drive HD to a footclutch would you?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
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    TN
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    I have recently purchased an Indian with the left throttle, right shift, and reversed foot clutch from HD. I have been riding my 33 Harley for years and thought I would switch my Indian to be like my Harley. After about 50 miles of practice on back roads with no traffic I have decided I can leave it as is. I think I will be comfortable with a few more miles under my belt if it ever gets warm and quits raining. Try it first before changing, you will amaze riders of modern bikes when you tell them how you operate it!
    Bob Selph
    1933VC/1934LT Sidecar
    1940 Sport Scout
    AMCA#15215

  6. #6
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    I hear you about the car shift always being on the right. I have read all the historic info on the subject. Also remember the war stories from my Dad's friends talking about swapping bikes when bar hopping back in the day and his friend saying that every time a guy with and HD swapped with him for his Indian, the Indian got dumped.

    Getting used to it is not my primary concern. It is when the is an emergency situation and I need to react instinctively. For that reason the front brake on my EL will go on the right when I put it back together.

    I will definitely give is a try if I can. Both throttle and spark cables are binding so I have to pull them out and fix that before I do any riding. If it is too much of a pain to swap them I may choose to only do it once.

    I appreciate the input. Hope there is more to come. Cannot wait to ride this bike.

    Regards,
    Rob
    Rob Sigond
    AMCA # 1811

  7. #7
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    Ok... you guys make a good case.

    I switch between British cars and American cars all the time. And have driven on roads all over the world... left side, right side... down the middle (in Egypt the horn is called the Egyptian Brake Pedal). So I can try and learn to shift a Chief 'honestly' before I make a decision to make a change over.

    I go back to a wonderful Triumph Tiger 650 I owned when I lived in Oh. I found it in a barn, original and gorgeous. 750 miles from new, but not run for 30 years at the time. I cleaned it, recommissioned and on my first ride (shift/brake on *wrong* sides) just about killed myself several times on the inaugural run. Rode it home the 2.5 miles and called a Triumph enthusiast friend of mine and said "come and get it." He was over the moon and got a great deal. I was happy to be alive. But I'm 20 years older and more aware of how to 'train' myself. I think.

    So, Selph and IndiaNut... you have my buy-in. I'll work on it. But if I do end up making the conversion: No crap from you guys, ok?

    Cheers,

    Sirhr

  8. #8
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    I think indianut has offered some good advice. Just another 2 cents here Sirhr. I've got a good friend that hops between his H-D's and Indians all the time. He doesn't seem to miss a beat. I've got a feeling that if you give that Chief a chance you'll really get into the groove of how it functions and not feel the need to change it. Having said that, I'll keep my trap shut if you do end up converting it....

    Rob, give yourself some traffic free space and get the feel for the hand shifting. When folks (usually at gas stations) ask me how I can possibly manage a handshift bike, I ask them if they've ever driven an old pickup truck???? I tell 'em it's no big deal... I would think that your 439 is going to be a little closer to feeling like an old truck ( in the shift department) than your Knucklehead. Best of luck to you!
    Cory Othen
    Membership#10953

  9. #9
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    I hop between left and right throttle and opposite clutch and hand brake operations sometimes a few times a day. Foot shifts on the Harleys, sprung clutch on the four and opposite rockers and hand brakes on my Chief and Scout. It WAS a bit of a problem in the beginning but after a couple tries it was second nature. I can understand you wanting to keep things working the same tho especially after seeing a pic of your four. Whatever makes YOU comfortable is what you should do. Left hand operation will prevent someone riding off on your bike maybe. A bit of theft protection.
    Last edited by D.A.Bagin; 02-26-2013 at 08:31 AM.
    D. A. Bagin #3166 AKA Panheadzz 440 48chief W/sidecar 57fl 57flh 58fl 66m-50 68flh 70xlh

  10. #10
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    My career took me down the wrong side of the road driving experience as well. It's not bad if you are in a wrong-sided car. But if your are in a US spec car and have to drive on the wrong side (Bahamas rental cars), it's a brain challenge, especially at intersections. Sometimes you don't even need a car to be dangerous. I nearly killed a rider in London once when I was on foot. We were walking back from a meeting and I had a huge case full of tech papers. The kind of case you seen airline pilot carry. Probably weighed 40 lbs. We came up to an intersection and out of instinct, I looked to my left and started to step off the curb. I heard a voice scream to my right as my friend Andy grabbed my coat and yanked me back. The inertia of the case in my right hand caused it to continue forward and it swung high into the air as a thoroughly pissed rider (the screaming voice) on a K-bike ducked under the case as he rounded the corner. If the case had been a little lower, it probably would have cleaned him off the bike. If Andy had not grabbed me, I probably would have been seriosly hurt.

    This is the type of scenario that concerns me. That point were you are complacent and comfy and are either fall into old habits or are met with a sudden crisis. Fortunately, I live in the country so finding empty roads to practice is going to be easy. Also have a school parking lot that is pretty empty in the summer in which to practice. From experience switching between right and left foot shifts I know that most of the anxiety is in the mind. I can get off a right shift bike and climb on a left shift and vice versa pretty easily. But clutch and front brake are the same on those bikes so it's not a real safety issue. I just need to pay attention and shifting is fine. But until I get a feel for it, I'm not sure my brain will automatically tell me to shut down the throttle on the left side when Dwanny in her '68 Buick LeSabre pulls out in front of me.

    As a side note, I happened to pull out a copy of the AMA mag from 2012 and in there was a short article about a Chief that was a Concours de Elegance winner. Shifter was on the left.

    regards,
    Rob
    Rob Sigond
    AMCA # 1811

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