“ToughLinks” Carbon Fiber Shift Rod

Billet Tough Engineering


The new series of made-in-the-USA ToughLinks shift rods from Billet Tough Engineering may just be the perfect wedding between rock-solid dependability and rugged good looks in an aftermarket flourish for your bike.

Offered in a trio of styles to replace the stock shift linkage on a variety of Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycle models (custom lengths, too), ToughLinks combines the durability and strength of carbon fiber tubing and aluminum billet with a unique design signature. Together with the chrome fittings included in the kit, the end result is a component that both looks and performs in a manner that is, well, pretty damn tough.

The dynamic duo behind Billet Tough is Mike Sommer and Jon Anderson, two NorCal dudes who are, according to Sommer, “lifelong friends with a similar background in prototype machining, a shared passion for motorcycles and an eye for industrial design.” Both grew up racing bicycles and motorcycles. Modifying their bikes and fabricating parts for them just came naturally. The end result was an interest “in all things mechanical and a passion for things that go fast.”

Mike maintains that he has been riding motorcycles since age seven and spent a decade racing motocross. He still rides on both the street and the dirt. The idea for the ToughLinks shift rods came after he and his partner attended an Easyriders bike show in Sacramento.

“We were inspired to design a product with a slightly different twist,” he recalled. “We’ve always liked the idea of billet, but wanted to “think outside the chromed box.” So, using our flair for industrial design and engineering, we came up with what we believe is a truly unique idea: a composite construction design that blends billet aluminum and carbon fiber tubing.”

While changing out the shift rod does not have the sex appeal of, say, adding an NOS boost bottle or a half-yard-wide rear tire to your ride, this much taken-for-granted item is important. We discovered that a few years ago when, as we were frolicking in a dirt and gravel campground parking lot, we had a slip down. While everything else was fine with rider and ride, the shift rod snapped in two. We limped home with a barbecue fork wired and duct taped between the shift levers, but that we don’t recommend. The point is, that might not have happened with ToughLink because carbon fiber has a very high strength-to-weight ratio. In other words, it is hella-strong. That’s why it’s used in applications like aerospace, motorsports, the military and now motorcycle shift rods.

The Softail gets tough
As luck would have it, over this winter the NorCal Thunder Press team will be giving the old “Lucky” 2000 Softail Standard a little sprucing up (more to follow in later editions). To get started, we took a look at ToughLink options on the company’s website. Included were the Megaphone, Areo, and Bullet styles that can be purchased with end pieces that are either bead-blasted or polished, fluted or not (rods with polished ends are $139, with the machined ends $10 more).

We selected the polished and fluted Megaphone style ToughLink and headed over to see “Burnout” Bobby T, a Harley-Davidson trained mechanic and well-known local stunt rider. Although Billet Tough includes an easy-to-understand and well-illustrated set of instructions for installing its shift rod, we wanted Bobby T’s professional feedback on the ease or difficulty of the install procedure.

With the old link removed, Bobby T measured the rod distance, taking into account the bike’s forward controls, and made the slight adjustments using the jam nuts in front of the heim joint at the end of the rod (up to 1/2-inch on either end). For the Softail, he was careful to then mount the shift rod on the inside of the front shift arm and the outside of the rear arm (for baggers, use the outside on both shift arms). The directions advise the use of removable (i.e. blue) thread locker.

Insofar as ease of installation, Bobby T said the average driveway do-it-yourselfer shouldn’t have much difficulty putting a ToughLink shift rod on his or her scoot. The only tools involved were a 3/16 Allen wrench, a 1/2-inch open-end wrench and a 1/2-inch socket and ratchet. The whole job should take a maximum of 20 minutes. The end result is a shift rod with the “precision, toughness, and usability” promised by Billet Tough.

After test riding the Softail following the install, we see that—as the instructions say—we may want to reposition the foot shift lever on the splined shift shaft for slightly better shift arm placement because it’s currently a bit low. But, because future changes include adding a set of driver floorboards to the Softie, we’ll wait until that operation to make our final shift lever adjustments. Meanwhile, the black-with-silver highlights of the ToughLinks carbon fiber and aluminum shift rod are helping give the old FXST a little tougher attitude.


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