Monthly Archives: April 2013

Random Cool

an 800 horsepower all carbon fiber race plane…

800 hp all composit race plane


A gorgeous Mazda engine of some kind….

mazda engine


And a Britten. If anyone hasn’t seen “One Mans Dream”, buy it and watch. It is a lesson in humility for bike builders




Another Mission in South Dakota

I recently returned from another trip to the legendary Carls Cycle Supply, home of Matt, Miss Brittney, And OG Carl.

(pictures are all from my dirty I phone, so they aren’t great)

matts shop outside

I had previously helped Matt on his Born Free  4 winning knucklehead, so I was honored he asked me once again to come help with some fabrication on a new project. This project, unlike the knucklehead, is a type of bike I was not previously very familiar with- a 1923 Harley race bike. Though it has a similar motor to the bike Matt raced in the 2012 “Cannonball”, every other part is completely different.

The bike is for his wife, the lovely Brittney, who plans to race it in a series of vintage dirt track exhibitions, along with many other period bike enthusiasts. What makes this bike especially unique is the fact that it has no transmission, and no brakes! It doesn’t have a starter either, or any clutch. It is about as “chopper” as it gets really. This is the style of bike that would have been ridden on either wooden tracks (aka board track), or later in the 1920’s, oval dirt tracks.

After a series of delays and layovers thanks to Delta, I made it there. First thing to make: a seat…

seat pan flat


Now, keep something in mind here; Matts shop is a restoration shop. He and his dad have been building 10 point perfect (and I mean perfect) knuckleheads and panheads for many years. However, it is not a shop set up for heavy fabrication. This means that the tools I am used to using are not available. This includes brake, shear, bandsaw, plasmacutter, plannishing hammer, fixed dollies, and sander.

That doesnt mean I can’t work, but it does mean I have to get a bit creative with my methods.

seat done off bike


With a sandbag and some hand dollies, it is possible to make most basic sheetmetal shapes. This is also a good reminder to new chopper builders that you don’t have to have a ton of expensive tools to make bikes, just some patience and ingenuity.

They do, however, have an awesome mill. Here I am using it to rough out a seat pivot from a block of aluminum I found..

seat pivot rough 1

matts seat pivot rough 2


Here is one of the inner tank panels- the easy part…

matts tank inner panel bent

tanks 2nd stage tacked


The tank design is 2 piece, hanging over the backbone of the bike on piggybacked strips, bolted directly into the tube.

tanks rough sanded off bike


The design for the tanks is very mailbox looking; square and boxy but with radiused edges. This immediately made me nervous because trying to keep thin sheetmetal panels dead flat (while curving the edges) is almost impossible! You see, flat sheetmetal is very weak and becomes warped as soon as any part of it is welded.  When sheetmetal is formed into a curved shape, it gains body and becomes stronger. This time I had to keep about 80 percent of the tank panels flat, while curving and welding some areas. Did I mention This thing is going to be polished raw metal? ughh

tank paint scheme


They didn’t go for my paint scheme.

Here they are welded and hand sanded to about a 100 grit level.

matts tank front corner sanded


Now they are down to about 600 grit..

matts tank sanded mounted 2

matts tank sanded mounted



We decided, partly due to time restrictions, to paint the top and side panels of the tank the same color as the frame, and only expose the polished sides of the tank. This was a relief because it meant I could rely on a small amount of bondo to smooth the welds around the gas caps and mounting strips.

matts bike complete


The tanks will be sealed before the final side polishing occurs. I left that in Matts capable hands.

I also made a basic sissybar out of steel round stock, and made a little oil tank, which Matt later finish welded and added fitting to.

Then I was back on a plane, headed home after another great trip!

leaving sd plane





Fender Progress

I have been committed to a trailer fender for this bike since the gestation. I have never used one, but always thought they were cool on the right bikes. I like that before there was a huge chopper aftermarket, this was one of only a handful of options for the home builder.


I stuck with stainless steel throughout the process, polishing it as I went. Fender, struts, bolts, etc. Many people ask why I use stainless steel instead of chrome, a good question. For me, the main reason is durability. Chrome is only a paper thin coating of metal, bonded to the surface of the base metal. While extremely hard, chrome has a tendency to flake off, especially “show chrome”, the type used for cars and bikes.  Stainless is not a coating, so it cant flake off.

The second reason is that chrome interferes with part fitment. When two parts have to interact (bolted together), I like metal-on metal contact, which means two perfectly flat surfaces against each other. I try to never have chrome, paint, or powder-coating between two parts. The reason is obvious; as the bike flexes and vibrates, the weaker material will break down and compress, leaving you with a loose connection.

Third is because chromers are, frankly, a pain in the ass. It costs a fortune to get a bikes worth of parts plated- far more than the cost of the raw material in stainless. It is not unusual to have a frame plated for $3000, and within a year all the welded areas are rusted. And the time factor too, weeks and weeks waiting, can be very frustrating. Its another sub-contractor, and another variable, that I don’t need to deal with. There are good ones out there, but they are hard to find. I’m sticking with stainless.

What I decided to do was mount the fender using a flange at the back of the toptube, and two struts per side. The fender itself is 13 gauge stainless, and combined with the 6 mounting points, should be quite secure. Here is the flange, about halfway through the process of machining. Prior to this pic I was in the lathe. This part started out as a 6″ long by 4″ round solid chuck of steel.


The surface you see here is slightly concave, which matches the surface of the fender perfectly.



For the fender itself, my usual routine is to make bungs or tabs that the struts can attach to. These are usually welded to the sides of the fender. I thought that if they were actually one solid piece of round stock inserted through the fender, they would be far stronger, as well as perfectly symmetrical. This bike afforded me that possibility because I wanted the fender to be mounted high above the tire. This gave me the clearance I needed. Here is one protruding out through the fender side. I have tack welded it, and will do the final weld later.


The rods were milled out for the portion under the fender to increase tire clearance and save some weight.


What is the downside to stainless? It is hard as hell to work with! It is extremely hard on tools, warps like crazy when welded, is expensive, and hates to be formed in any way. If you want it shiny, or even a consistent matte finish, I spend hours prepping it. This can involve hand sanding, bench sanding with an orbital sander, using the Burr King heavy sander, or abrasive cutting compounds on the buffing machine.

Here are a few pics of the strut making process. They have been sanded to about 500 grit in this pic, and will be sanded more, then buffed:


030 (2)

Vinnie prepping


torch bent



This part was a bitch to get symmetrical- the top section of the front struts.




Here she is now. The fender isn’t fully polished, because I still have to do the final weld around the rods. The strut sections have been polished piece by piece, because there will be no way to hold the entire assembly up to the buffer. The back of the seat will be attached to the front strut assembly.


strut to frame mounting


Next post- seat pan making….

Some Randoms

An awesome twin turbo setup..

turbo setup


A retro touch on a Bugatti Veyron, I love it! No reason they couldn’t have built it that way in the first place..



Dont know much about this, but I like it

cool bike


An amazing custom bike- tastefully done and honest. By Bar Hodgson

bar hodgson vincent