® The Italian connection (The popular Harbor Freight lift)

Bike lifts, or tables as some say, are extremely useful. With some amusement I observe people on the Internet talking about them as if they are some exotic, next-level thing. However, in the mechanic profession, they are hugely taken for granted. No one wants to work on the floor for very long. One of the earliest and most well-known bike lifts worldwide was the Grazia (pr: “grawzeea”). This lightweight, Italian-made, foot-pump hydraulic lift was very popular in Europe, but was much less well known in the U.S. At this time not that many above-ground lifts existed stateside. Column lifts were not yet banned. However, one American-made above-ground lift was the Handy Industries, produced in Iowa. This heavy-duty, air-powered unit was the industry mainstay for dozens of years, and even today, despite many copy-cats, is still regarded as the de-facto item, although the most coveted lift on the market among professionals is the extremely high quality (and high cost) air-over-oil K&L.

In the early 2000s, Chinese manufacturers began producing Grazia knock-offs, the Italians having ceased manufacture. I got one of the earliest examples sold on ebay for a pittance. And pitiful it was. It turned out to have been extremely poorly made. All the pivots were out of alignment causing the table to lurch and tilt and more than once I thought it was going to throw my bike onto the garage floor. I ended up junking it after just a couple years’ use. By that time Harbor Freight had contracted with one of the many Chinese companies making these, and finally there emerged a copy of the Grazia that was worthy of its predecessor. The Harbor Freight item was reasonably well made and so uncanily close to the Grazia as to be a veritable time machine. But it had two flaws. The first was its lowering valving which resulted in the table dropping like a stone when descending. Like a rock. No slowing it down. A major-league mechanics school actually suffered a legal suit when a student was injured, and the school had to replace all of its Harbor Freight lifts with Handy lifts. The second shortcoming was the lift’s very cheap, short-lived hydraulic pump. Harbor Freight fixed both of these complaints in later production—the current crop of lifts lower very sedately, and the newer pumps are much better than the old. But the new pumps continue to be not very long-lasting, and their low-quality causes them to leak and to occasionally develop air pockets which results in the lifts seizing and therefore becoming impossible to operate, particularly in reference to lowering from maximum height. Not so good when a customer wants his bike back and you can’t get it back onto the floor.

All the same, I like the Harbor Freight lift. I am not picking on it. However, you do need to remember it is at the bottom of the price scale for a reason. And, replacement parts for Harbor Freight products are not known as easy to get. In addition, I regard this lift’s 1000-pound capacity rating as very optimistic. Recall that the original design was created in an era in which a “big” motorcycle weighed 500 pounds. Most bikes of that era were much lighter than those of today. I have had many big 70s Hondas on my four Harbor Freight lifts, but I would not put a modern full-dress touring bike on one. Such a scenario is not inspiring. If your machine is over 600 pounds you should get a Handy or a K&L.

This is the Chinese-made Harbor Freight Grazia-copy lift.

This is the original, Italian-made Grazia. Note the resemblance. Click on an image to enlarge.

Last updated October 2023
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