The bells on the door jangled, and Duke charged the door, still a bit asleep, but sounding as ferocious as he could while still out of the customer’s sight. The unwitting intruder, otherwise known as a customer, could have turned and run, or shrieked; either way, for Duke, it’s “Game on!” — the high point of a canine customer service rep’s day. The disappointment of a chase gone bad was quickly replaced by excitement with a whiff of the chicken finger Sean was waving as a peace offering.
Sean had driven down to my shop from the county seat, Pryor, Oklahoma, where he’s a tattoo artist. After a few minutes, it was clear we both had similar interests in music, art, and motorcycles, and this meeting was just the first step in the journey that would become the motorcycle you see here. He’d done his homework, knew what he liked, and asked some good questions about designing a custom bike. He then pointed at Bo, my turbo-charged KZ custom sitting in the parking lot and said, “I want something like that.”
I knew right then we were gonna get along.
“Bo?” Sean asked. I explain that each machine I build has so much time, energy, and life in it that it earns a name, just like any other part of someone’s life. Turning away and lifting my shirt, I showed him the script tattooed across the span of my back that reads “Life in All Things.” They all grow their own unique identity, almost to a point that they no longer bear a resemblance to the bikes and parts they were culled from.
While so many bikes powered by vintage metric motors come to fruition because of coin constraints, this one came into being because Sean wanted to ride something radically different from the standard fare. When opportunities like these present themselves, I usually offer up something from my vault-o-vintage goodies: in this case, a ’73 Kawasaki Z1 dragster carrying a hotrod ’77 mill that I had been hoarding for a decade. Although about half of my business (and truly some of my best work) is based around the venerable Harley-Davidson drivetrain, I love, and ride, metric motorcycles.
A few things that Sean had asked for first were a low seat height, white wall tires, and a springer front suspension. I suggested wheels I had used once before in a different color combination on a bobbed EVO that had proven themselves bulletproof under the Samsonite Gorilla of a rider. I had an old Trumpy oil-in frame sitting that caught Sean’s eye; this led the conversation to dropping the neck from the maximum chassis height of an arched backbone. Now this project was starting to sound really good to me. An unusual frame demands a free-form fuel tank as well as a ton of one-off parts, which will showcase some of my fabrication chops. While our talk continued, Sean was thumbing through a copy of RoadBike that featured Slightly Blue, a custom of mine that uses the ARSE credit card ignition; we added that feature to the list, and the ingredients of a great motorcycle began pouring into my imagination.
It’s one thing to have a vision in your head and entirely another to introduce it to your hands. When I make a frame, it’s an analytical process. Ride height and neck angle are only the beginning; to get the eye-line flowing through the machine in my head, everything is dictated by a simple, single line. If a part’s shape or placement is outside this line, it must be redesigned and refined for this one singular machine. Factors to consider? Where the rider sits and where the wheels are in relation to this; when in motion, the location of the rider’s feet in relation to the hands and rotation of the rider’s hips. All of this and so much more dictate the work to come. Something that I notice that’s discounted by many of the Bar-&-Shield faithful is that when you start with a H-D-based drive train, you have a lot of the measurements already done for you through the efforts of a century of motorcycle engineers and hacks alike.
After we decided to make the scoot black and white with some chrome accents, I contacted Ride Wright and got the wheels on the way. As the wheels were being made, I reached out to DNA for one of its budget-priced springers in a shortened length. When it arrived, it was accompanied by handlebar controls, risers, drive sprocket/four-piston brake, and matching front brake setup. All of the DNA parts I’ve ever bought have been of solid quality and trouble-free.
To get the arched backbone and the dropped height in the steering head, I first had to create a pattern to make it actually work for a motorcycle, not a sculpture. Plywood was cut to shape and clamped to my frame table. A copious amount of heat was applied by Sean as I worked it around the buck. The gooseneck was another challenge entirely. You may notice when perusing custom choppers that gooseneck frames are usually at an angle sloping toward the ground. The nearly 90-degree downtube to a radius backbone looks to me like a fortune cookie — hence the name. I filled a piece of 1-1/2″ DOM tubing with sand and made myself a buck to form it over; after three failed attempts, each ending in a flattened bend, I got one to sit exactly where I needed it. Now that I had the major design pieces of the frame made, I could start using my manual tube bender and dyes to make the 1-1/8″ DOM rails of the frame.
Keeping the lines of the bike clean required making my own brake lines and running them through the frame and handle bars, joining the front and rear brakes to a central proportioning valve. With it, the other controllers and electrical components are squeezed into a box sitting on the lower frame rails. It took more than 20 access holes and tabs to get everything hidden and functional, from the tail/turn lights frenched into the rear of the frame beneath the hidden axle plates (engraved for me by Otto Carter in Texas) to the simple headlight on a custom mount made the morning these photos were taken.
The next check box on Sean’s list was a jockey shifter. I’m not a big fan of the foot-clutched, jockey-shifted chopper. To keep it a bit more user-friendly, I used a regular hand clutch and fabbed a slick shift linkage and bent some stainless tubing to lay in the lines of the fuel tank. Topping it off is a large die embossed with Atlantic City, New Jersey that I picked up at a garage sale in New Jersey about 15 years ago — yet another gem from my goodie pile.
Now that the controls were all worked out, the CV carburetors that I modified to fit the old KZ motor, the Sportster hand controls and the sprocket cover/clutch pusher assembly wais rushed out to Motion Pro (MP) for them to make the cables to connect the respective parts. I made the cables on my chopper, but they were a pita. For the surprisingly low cost of a custom black cable, the decision to have Preston in MP’s custom cables department is the smart way to get it done right.
While the cables were being made, I got started on the rear fender and sissybar. Sean wanted a small sissybar and passenger accommodations. I really liked the backbone of the frame, and went with a ribbed steel fender. I’ve only seen one advertised in the wider size and steel, so I bought it. I’m not gonna lie: I’ve had cheap import parts come up and bite me in the butt, and the rib on this fender was terribly crooked, forcing me to cut out half of the rib and reshape it. Next, I added copious amounts of heat to a length of rod and shaped the fender support/sissybar to my taste, offering support and a grabrail for a passenger.
With the motor in its place in the frame, I started cutting some poster paper to build the fuel tank. I love sexy, natural lines. A strong back and tapered waist is what this machine was asking from me. After way too many hours at the English wheel and hammer with sheet steel, I ended at a fuel tank that sits beneath the backbone, tapering and yielding to the demands of my hand, the rider, and the frame.
Starting with a white base, I added Crushed Pearl and black until I had painted every part that wasn’t already chrome. After I tore the motor down, our shop hand Travis, or “Puller” as he’s know here, detailed and painted all of the parts that I didn’t coat with white as I painted the rest of the bike. Buie, our rat-Triumph-riding friend who does great leather work, covered the antenna for the passcard switch and the seat pans in laced black leather. Another contributor to the team effort was Brandon, who, with Puller, duplicated the first side of the exhaust that I made, and installed the baffles before painting them black as well.
I couldn’t be more proud now that I can see this scoot freed from my imagination and rolling down the street: to see how neutral the steering is and how light it feels in my hands, how it leans against the grain when parked to clear space in a roadside lineup, how it’s brought to life with a trick modern passcard and flies with a bullet that’s three decades old. It is truly a unique custom motorcycle, and I’m plotting how to make the next one. RB
Words By Shannon “Shoe” Gower, Photos By Bob Feather
Story as published in the June 2011 issue of RoadBike