Chopper Building

A while back I blogged about my plans to get back into custom building, specifically motorcycles this time. Well, it’s happening. I have two projects currently, a 1991 Sportster and a full custom shovelhead rigid chopper.

Shovelhead project

Sportster frame before chops

It started with the sportster project, I actually found it, a titled bike complete but torn apart, and a truckload of miscellaneous parts, all for a steal. I hauled that load home and so began my rapid accumulation of harley and chopper parts.

There’s a bike in there somewhere…

It’s therapeutic to re-accumulate tools, equipment and projects after having owned literally everything before and sadly letting it all go (in what I thought was the pursuit of obligation, but now I know better.) What is cool is that I am fulfilling some childhood dreams and building the bikes that I grew up around wishing I could own. I have a list of dream bikes I’d like to build:

Frisco Style Evo Sportster (in progress):

  • hardtail, 2″ up 2″ out stretch, 38 degrees rake, 2″ over, 6-7 degrees in trees
  • Dual disc dual piston front brakes, dual piston rear
  • drag bars, solo seat, low rear fender
  • 100+ horsepower
  • Pagan Gold with Kandy Brandywine Flames

Old School Shovelhead Chop (in progress):

  • old school rigid frame, 38 degree rake, 10″ over mid glide, 3 degrees in trees
  • S&S SuperStock shovelhead 80″
  • 4 or 5 spd (whatever I get a deal on)
  • old school king/queen step up seat
  • Kandy Brandywine with buried Pagan Gold flames (seeing a theme there?)

Show bike, 22″ over long fork:

  • HD Titled rigid 4″ up 4″ out stretch, 40 degree rake
  • Sugarbear 22″ over springer
  • HD Shovel with S&S internals
  • Baker 6 into 4 kicker
  • king/queen high back seat with way-the-fuck-up-there sissy bar
  • Invader wheels, 16″ rear, 21″ front both single disc

Evo softail chop:

  • Big Evo softail chopped and stretched, 15″ over springer
  • (a nice comfortable chop to ride long distance)

Legit Panhead (the king dream bike):

  • Real Harley titled, numbers matching panhead
  • Springer front, dual square headlights, spokes front and rear
  • Blue flake paint, everything old school except lights and brakes

I don’t really feel the need to flex on people for not knowing how to do things, but it is a shame that mechanic skills and fabrication skills are not so common anymore. I remember growing up, it would be common place to see a neighbor pulling a motor out of their car in the driveway, or something similar. Nowadays, you’re lucky to see someone working on their own shit in most places.

Theres an older Harley mechanic I really enjoy on YouTube, Tatro Machine. I love watching that guy, he’s old school and does shit that shocks people now. The way he handles parts and sometimes shows shoestring budget repairs, it’s an art that is dying off. People these days think things need only be perfect. Have they never been poor? Or is it that they just never tried to build anything because they wanted to wait to have the money to do it all “right”? I’m surprised much of the shit we built and raced as kids didn’t get us all killed, but we learned how to make something run when you didn’t have the money to do it “right”.

I’m not doing things on a shoestring for these bikes exactly, but I’m not rich enough to buy brand new parts and assemble a bike like a kit. For example, for the shovel project I have a few 21″ wheels from the sportster haul, and I picked up some used 41mm fork tubes on sliders, so all I have to buy is a triple tree with 3 degrees of rake to finish my front end the way I want it, and with correct trail for handling. I can build a nice mid-glide 10″ over front end with correct rake for probably $900 less than buying a front end ready to bolt on.

Sometimes you have to make parts. I can’t afford a custom fender built to my specs, so I will get a couple of used fenders, grab my tig welder and make one. This is the way. This is how it should be.

There may be some things I can’t do for lack of equipment or even knowledge, like balancing the flywheel assembly and bottom end. So I’ll drop that at a shop and pay to have it done right. But I damn sure want to minimize the amount of things I use a shop for, it gets really expensive really quick, and honestly I really don’t trust anyone with my bike. Trust on a bike is important. (What do motorcycles and airplanes have in common? At 100mph you ask yourself, “How well do you know the guy who tightened those bolts last??”)

In contrast though, I do have a bit of distaste for the new “chopper scene” culture. I dig that they want to build bikes in their backyards and on shoestring budgets, but come on guys, put some effort into it. Buying a fucking springer of unknown origin or quality and throwing it on your stock rake frame, jacking the front end way up in the air, and expecting that bike to not try to kill you in every curve is a bit careless. You wonder why the front end pogos at 55mph on an easy bend? Well, center of gravity, height of steering axis and rake and trail all matter. And raked trees are for correcting trail, not adding rake to a stock frame. But anyway…

I just love to customize things: cars, bikes, guitars, and even humans in my barbell and strength training programs. When I look at something, I don’t only see what it is, I see what it could be. And that’s exactly how I look at life as well, which is how I have come so far from the terrible beginnings I had. From a childhood ripped by drug addiction, alcoholism and violence, a young adulthood in prison, and finally to being a published author and respected coach, living this peaceful and productive life now 1000 miles away in beautiful Florida, I never accepted what life gave to me. I saw the potential and I worked my ass off to make it come to life, just like I am doing with these bikes. Every wrench I turn is as much a way to express my creativity in this world as it is to therapeutically deal with the pain of so much trauma.

Though my life is a paradise away from the hell it was for so many decades, I’m not stopping here. Everyday I am creating and weaving the fabric of my visions. Give it a try, start with something small and work your way up to yourself and your whole life. Make it what you want it to be, you don’t have to accept less.