Kickstart Classic 2017 Set For This Weekend

We were thrilled with last year’s turnout. This year, we decided to hold the event a little earlier: we don’t need anyone suffering heat stroke! Join us for a weekend of pure, old-school fun

Start stretching your hamstrings, topping up your oil, and packing the extra tape for those loose parts—it’s time for the Kickstart Classic once again! This coming weekend, May 18-20, marks the 6th annual meet-up and ride at the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Each year, we try to pick a unique, interesting destination for the Kickstart to conclude, and this year we settled on the AMCA meet in Denton, North Carolina.

We just saw Buzz off today, the boss man packed and ready to head south to get to WTT museum sometime between what we can only surmise as today and the ride on Friday. (Keep your eyes peeled for the American Iron truck with an auld Harley in the back!)

Rolling out from the Wheels Through Time museum, you’ll score a chance to get a sweet riding shot and possible be seen in the magazine!

Thursday evening will be the meet and greet at on the museum’s grounds, where you can either sign in and pick up your stuff if you preregistered, or you can register for the ride on site. Food will be served, and the museum will be open for all of your gazing and drooling leisure (admission is included with your registration).

Friday morning, we ride. As most of you know, the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains provide some of the most beautiful roads for cruising this side of the Mississippi. We’re going to take our time, snaking through the region as we make our way to Salisbury, North Carolina, for an overnight stay.  There will be an entire day’s worth of riding.


Gorgeous roads await. Make this the trip for your riding season.

Saturday, we roll into Denton in the late morning, and there will be a parade, vendors, a show, and more awaiting our arrival.

The Kickstart Classic is open to all makes and models of motorcycles, though the newer bikes will have to ride behind the old lugs, just in case a thing or three goes bouncing backward. This is a purists dream, deep in the valley of the mountains where time feels as though it stands still, and for a weekend it truly does, as Dale Walksler’s invaluable collection of old iron serves as the appropriate setting for the rumble of motorcycles from the teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s reverberating through the mountains from the small town of Maggie Valley, and suddenly we’re in a different decade—heck, we’re transported to a different century.


Rock, Rumble & Rebellion Chronicles: Kuryakyn Crusher and Hypercharger ES

Crazy John Street Drags at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip.

The Sturgis Buffalo Chip loves power so much it holds drag races right down the middle of its amphitheater! (Courtesy of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip) 

Power. Bikers can never get enough. That’s why the first thing many riders do is swap out their stock air intakes and exhaust. It’s one of the easiest, quickest ways to boost horsepower and torque.

The Sturgis Buffalo Chip loves power. Why else would it hold drag races right down the middle of its amphitheater headed up by a guy named “Crazy John!”

The Chip’s love of power can also be seen in the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger Kuryakyn built for them. This custom 2017 Harley Street Glide isn’t meant for simply cruising. It’s definitely got a performance bend to it.

For one, it’s already equipped with the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 claimed to put out 114 ft-lb. of torque at 3250 rpm. So what’d Kuryakyn do to squeeze even more power out of Harley’s new V-Twin? It followed the tried-and-true formula of swapping out its intake and exhaust.

Kuryakyn Hypercharger ES on Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger

The Kuryakyn Hypercharger ES got a fresh new look and a few performance tweaks. 

To get the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger breathing deeper Kuryakyn threw on its new Hypercharger ES intake. While the Hypercharger has been a staple in the Kuryakyn repertoire for about 20 years, they’ve revamped the ES with a modern, edgy look. On the performance side, Kuryakyn states “An integrated electronic servo motor delivers precise RPM-based butterfly engagement. The all-new custom Kuryakyn-designed high-flow K&N filter delivers approximately 10% more airflow than previous models for improved CFM rating, and a new internal ‘stinger’ design on the end cap maximizes airflow to the throttle body.” Kuryakyn’s Hypercharger ES is scheduled to be available for Twin Cam/XL models this month followed by the Milwaukee-Eight in late June.

Providing even more punch is a set of Kuryakyn Crusher Maverick 4” Slip-Ons for the Milwaukee-Eight in black. You think this thing barked before, you should hear it now. And while the Maverick Slip-Ons are available to the general public, you’ll only find the Crusher One-Off Custom Headers on the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion Street Glide. To ensure that the new air/fuel ratios are dialed in just right and the bike’s running at peak performance, the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger has been outfitted with a Vance & Hines Fuelpak FP3.

Kuryakyn Speedform Saddlebag Extensions on RRR bagger

The Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger runs a set of Kuryakyn Crusher Maverick 4” Slip-Ons for the Milwaukee-Eight. In black, of course!

While we’re excited to be running a full feature on it in American Iron Magazine Issue #352, the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger would have fit right in with our American Iron Power issue that’s just about to hit newsstands. From a turbo-boosted Sportster to Pete Hill’s Bonneville Racer to STAR Power’s Twin Cam upgrade, this special issue lives up to its name – American Iron Power! Even though it doesn’t hit newsstands until May 16 you can get your copy now at

Easy Rollers – Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 Tire Review

Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 Tire Review (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 Tire Review (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

By Tyler Greenblatt – No matter how much money we may like to spend on our bikes, there might be no expense as important as that spent on the handful of square inches that actually makes contact with the ground. Not only do your tires allow for your motorcycle to actually roll down the road, but they provide an excellent opportunity to extend and enhance your ride.

I recently had the opportunity to test Bridgestone’s new Battlecruise H50 tire designed specifically for American V-twins. While some tire companies brag about extreme mileage capabilities or sticky canyon carving performance, the Battlecruise does both exceptionally well in its attempt to simply be the ultimate American cruiser tire.

Creating the Battlecruise H50 started back at Bridgestone headquarters using the Ultimate-EYE (U-EYE), a high-tech testing facility that’s part of the Bridgestone Research and Development Group. The Battlecruise is only Bridgetstone’s second tire to go through the advanced U-EYE process, meaning we’ll probably see more and more from Bridgestone down the road. U-EYE essentially measures all sorts of real-world figures that matter not only to the engineers but to the riders actually running the tire. Developers can better understand a variety of features to see how a tire tread reacts to various speeds and conditions, and they can also better target the optimal combination of compound, tread design, construction, and tire profile. U-EYE can also track contact patch pressure distribution at various speeds, loads, and slip angles to ensure the greatest amount of contact as often as possible.

When it comes to a tire’s performance, either on the highway or on the track, one of the biggest factors is the contact patch and how the motorcycle’s weight is distributed. Since American V-twins tend to have a greater weight distribution between front and rear tires (among other differences) than most other types of motorcycles, Bridgestone developed specific front and rear tires. The Battlecruise rear tire has a larger crown profile which increases the size of the contact patch and improves load distribution, while a newly developed compound extends mileage drastically. The front tire was built in similar fashion, with the emphasis on cornering and handling ability and reducing force required to maneuver.

Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 Tire Review

AIM Garage Editor Tyler Greenblatt said his biggest takeaway from testing the Battlecruise on a Softail Slim was that it provides a noticeably smooth ride.

Bridgestone claims that its front tires require 40 percent less operating force than its “main competitor.” Especially when it comes to stock Harleys, a set of tires can play a big role in shock absorption and vibration damping, and Bridgestone had that in mind when developing the Battlecruise. By placing strategic reinforcement on the carcass and envelope of the tire, developers targeted the appropriate balance of heavyweight, long-lasting rigidity and comfortable shock absorption. The goal is to make a long ride that much more comfortable, because for some people being able to go an extra 50-100 miles is the difference between camping for the night on the side of the road or at the Buffalo Chip.

Okay, but how does the Battlecruise perform in real-world riding, far from the high-tech laboratory? Even on a short ride, the Battlecruise advantage is clear. Low rolling resistance, light turn-in, and confident outer tread grip are the hallmarks of the H50 and some of the most important aspects of a heavyweight cruiser tire. Additionally, wet grip performance remains a key factor, and although Bridgestone has the science to back it up, our group wasn’t able to test this function in sunny Orlando, Florida.

My biggest takeaway from testing the Battlecruise on a Softail Slim was that it provides a noticeably smooth ride. Tiny pebbles and imperfections in the road had no repercussions through the bike, and low-speed maneuverability was also noticeably easy. And while each potential customer gets to decide if the looks of the tire work on his bike, I was pretty pleased with the appearance on my open-tire Slim test bike.

Bridgestone has released a bunch of front and rear tire sizes for a variety of Harley, Indian, and Victory cruisers and plans to release even more to cover baggers next year. AIM





Like what you see? Find this article in American Iron Magazine Issue # 347 along with features on Blings’ Custom Indian, Team American Iron’s 1915 Harley Daytona Racer and a review on the 2017 Sportster Low! To order a back issue of this or any other issue of American Iron Magazine, please visit
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Rock, Rumble & Rebellion Chronicles: Kuryakyn & Sturgis Buffalo Chip’s Bad to the Bone Bagger

Kuryakyn and The Sturgis Buffalo Chip once again collaborated to bring you the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger.

Kuryakyn and The Sturgis Buffalo Chip once again collaborated to bring you the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger.

It’s called the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger for a reason. The Sturgis Buffalo Chip, home to “The Largest Music Festival in Motorcycling,” has been providing the “Rock” to Sturgis rally goers for over 35 years. The tradition continues this year as Ozzy Osbourne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Shinedown and Blink 182 will amp up energy levels on the Wolfman Jack Stage this summer.

The “Rumble” is twofold. It starts with Kuryakyn taking a stock 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide and injecting it with an attitude and stance that’d be right at home at the Crazy John Street Drags that run right through the heart of the Chip’s amphitheater. From the hot rod design of its Kuryakyn Hypercharger ES Air Cleaner to its stout Crusher Maverick Slip-Ons to the sick FMB drag bars to that sweet custom seat from Mustang, the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger looks primed to grip and rip. The stripes Gilby’s Street Department artistically applied are the perfect complement to the Glide’s sporty new look.

Part two of the “Rumble” will come from the racing action taking place at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip come August. Racing roots run deep at the rally, and The Chip is doing its damnedest to keep those roots alive with its Moto Stampede. They’ve gone as far as knocking buildings down so they could build a new TT track in the middle of the amphitheater in order to host the best flat track racers in the world when American Flat Track rolls in to rip at The Chip August 6. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the Street Drag Invitational with Crazy John we already mentioned to go along with RSD Super Hooligans, AMA Supermoto, and the Dirt Riot Off-Road Racing. To say it’s going to be nuts at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip this summer is an understatement.

Kuryakyn Hypercharger ES Air Cleaner on Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger

We don’t know about you, but we’re really digging Kuryakyn’s new Hypercharger ES Air Cleaner.

And the “Rebellion?” Kuryakyn’s been displaying a little rebellious nature lately by upping its game in the aftermarket arena with products that reflect what’s current in the industry. The Chip? The Chip’s always been a rebel, one of the few remaining bastions of unbridled biker fun. The Chip’s never been afraid to do its own thing.

American Iron is proud to be a media partner with this rebellious duo as we feature this year’s Rock, Rumble & Rebellion bagger in Issue #352 of our magazine. We’re also going to be taking an intimate look at the pieces of the puzzle that make up the whole in a series of articles online as the bike features parts that just hit the market as well as some that haven’t even been officially launched yet! We’ll also bring you conversations with people who made this project happen. Additionally we’ll let you know where you can check it out in person as it makes the rounds at rallies and various events this summer. In July it’s slated to be at Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City before it heads to The Chip for another promotional stint. And you’ll want to get an up-close-and-personal look at this bike because ultimately it’s going up for sale to the highest bidder.

Until then, we leave you with this gallery of photos to whet your appetite! Keep an eye out for the next installment of the Rock, Rumble & Rebellion Chronicles coming soon.

S&S 89″ EVO Stroker Build Part One

S&S 89" EVO Stroker Build

(Step 1) Here’s the right half of our 1998 EVO-powered Road King’s crankcases. Note the area that the crew at S&S machined out of the inner face of the crankcase. This was done so the new stroker flywheel assembly has the room it needs.

By Chris Maida/ Photos Courtesy of S&S Cycle

Though it doesn’t say so in the headline, this two-issue engine build is part of our ongoing series on rebuilding a 1998 Road King from front to back. The reason for this series is simple: some of our readers prefer a motorcycle without all the electronics of a modern bike, which means they’re looking to buy and rebuild one of the Evo-powered Harleys of the late 1990s. To that end, we’ve been slowly rebuilding and upgrading a 1998 Road King over the last several months. In this two-part series, we’re going to rework the bike’s engine.

Though a stock or worked 80″ Evolution is a good engine, we wanted to kick it up a few notches while still keeping the engine dependable. In fact, this engine was just that: a worked but tired 80″ with a hot cam, SE heads, and a S&S billet oil pump. The bike’s owner requested more cubic inches so he would have no problem keeping up with his Twin Cam-powered buddies. Having used S&S Cycle parts in my high-performance bikes for over 40 years, S&S was my go-to company for an 89″ stroker kit with a matched set of supporting performance components. When making a major modification like a stroker kit, the engine’s other performance components need to complement the upgrade, so that you end up with a strong running and trouble-free engine. Let’s talk about those flywheels first.

S&S 89" EVO Stroker Build

(Step 5) Once the new connecting rod bearings have been fitted to the new S&S crankpin, the flywheels, connecting rods, crankpin and all the bearings and their cages are assembled.

The flywheel kit we stuffed into our stock H-D crankcases is one of S&S’s 89″ Stock Bore Stroker Kits for 1984-99 Carbureted Big Twins (#32-2230/$1,134.95). What all that means is we reused the stock H-D cylinders, but we swapped out the stock 4-1/4″ stroke flywheels for a set of S&S 4-5/8″ stroker flywheels. Increasing the engine’s stroke, which is how far the pistons move up and down in the cylinders, increases the engine’s displacement. With these 4-5/8″ stroke flywheels, the pistons move 3/16″ farther up and 3/16″ farther down the cylinder’s bore, which increases the engine’s total size by about 9 cubic inches! In any engine that will result in a nice power boost! And though this setup requires some minor crankcase and cylinder modifications (mods that can easily be done with hand tools), just swapping out the flywheels for longer stroke versions is an economical way to increase the displacement of your engine. This flywheel kit also comes with a set of S&S heavy duty connecting rods, as well as S&S sprocket and pinion shafts, all assembled, balanced, trued, and ready to be installed into a set of cases. Since the pistons will be moving deeper and higher in the cylinders, special pistons, which must be ordered separately, are required but we’ll talk about those in the next issue.

As for the cam we decided to roll with, an S&S 561 (#33-5076/$189.95) was a perfect match for what the owner wanted from his new motor. This cam fits 1984-99 Big Twins and is designed for 88″-96″ engines with a 9.5:1-10.5:1 compression ratio. We wanted the 561 because it produces strong power right in the 3000-5500 rpm range. This is a Road King, not a racing bike. With the cam kicking in at 3000 rpm, the owner can cruise all day long below 3000, which is where cruising is done, without gobbling fuel. But when he wants to pass a truck, get on a highway, etc., a simple twist of the wrist brings the cam in with the resulting boost in power. The 561 requires hydraulic tappets and valve spring spacing, which we’ll also cover in the next issue when we install them.

S&S 89" EVO Stroker Build

(Step 10) The stock left case is then positioned onto the flywheel assembly, so the outer Timken bearing can be pressed onto the shaft. The bearing endplay is then checked using a special fixture and a new shaft seal installed.

As for who would build our engine, we went right to the source: S&S Cycle! The S&S Service & Speed Center will install any product S&S sells onto your engine, as well as rebuild all S&S engines and other products (carbs, etc.). However, they’ll also rebuild 1966 and later Harley Big Twin engines, and 1948-99 H-D Big Twin and 1957-85 Sportster flywheel assemblies, and a whole lot more. We shipped the S&S Service & Speed Center the engine components they requested and what we got back was an engine ready to be bolted into the frame. The accompanying photos and captions show many of the steps S&S takes to install one of its stroker kits into a set of stock Harley-Davidson crankcases. In the next issue, we’ll show you how the top end was overhauled and assembled. – AIM

S&S 89" EVO Stroker Build

(Step 14) Both stock crankcase mating surfaces are coated with ThreeBond 1104 sealant before they’re bolted together.



S&S Cycle Inc.

Like what you see? The full article with all 22 steps, Tips & Tricks, and tools needed, is in American Iron Magazine Issue # 343! To order a back issue of this or any other issue of American Iron Magazine, visit
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S&S 89" EVO Stroker Build

(Step 20) The new S&S steel breather gear (note the slotted evacuation hole) gets coated with assembly lube. The engine is then rotated to bring the timing mark on the pinion gear into position.

The Curious Case of Harley’s Tilting Three-Wheeler the “Penster”

Clyde Fessler on the first generation Harley Penster

Clyde Fessler sits on the first generation Harley Penster. “That was my project. I called it Project 21.” (Photo courtesy of Clyde Fessler)

The Harley-Davidson Museum calls it “Collection X: Never-before-seen Harley-Davidson prototype bikes created as concepts but never manufactured or sold.” Among those prototypes is an unconventional three-wheeler dubbed the “Penster.” We say unconventional because not only does it have two wheels in front and one in back ala Can-Am’s Spyder, but the front wheels tilt into turns. According to an article by The Kneeslider, the first version was built in 1998, while a final rendition was completed in 2006.

While information about Harley’s prototype is scant, we were privy to a little more of its history courtesy of Clyde Fessler. Fessler was employed by Harley-Davidson for 25 years, working his way up to Harley’s Vice-President of Development. He also served on its product planning committee for 12 years and has written a book about his time with The Motor Company called Rebuilding the Brand: How Harley-Davidson Became King of the Road.

Fessler said that Harley purchased a company called Trihawk back in the early ‘80s. The company made vehicles with two-front and one-rear wheel. They were powered by a 1299cc flat-four Citroen engine, had front wheel drive, and side-by-side seating. Fessler said he was V-P of marketing at the time and claimed “Citicorp killed it for financial reasons.

Trihawk was purchased by Harley-Davidson in the mid-80s

Harley purchased a company called Trihawk which made two-front, one-rear wheeled vehicles, back in the early ‘80s. (Photo courtesy of Clyde Fessler)

“Harley was in straights and we were looking to diversify but they said consolidate and the project was killed. But I fell in love with three-wheelers and always believed in two-ones,” said Fessler.

“So I hired a guy by the name of Johnny Buttera.”

Buttera, aka “Little John,” cut his teeth as a customizer in the hot rod scene before his career evolved into building front-engine dragsters, funny cars and Pro stocks. Known as a chassis master, “Little John’s” clients included Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Don “Stardust” Schumacher.

“He built race cars for Rick Mears for Indy and he built beautiful Softails. All his stuff looked like jewelry. He did the prototype for the project Penster. That was my project. I called it Project 21,” said Fessler.

Harley Penster first generation prototype was designed by John Buttera.

The Harley Penster first generation prototype was designed by hot rod legend John Buttera. (Photo courtesy of Clyde Fessler)

Fessler believed a titling three-wheeler was something the Baby Boom generation would want going forward.

“The mistake we made when designing the Penster was it was from an automotive standpoint. In other words, castor and camber, just like the Can-Am. We’d roll around corners like a truck. The problem with the Penster is that it leaned, but when you wanted to switch lanes, it didn’t react the right way. And even Delphi couldn’t get it. So if you were taking a right hand turn and all of a sudden you had to switch lanes to the left like you can do on a two-wheeler, well it wouldn’t respond but the wheels were still leaning and then you wanted to turn the handlebars they wouldn’t crank over.”

Harley Penster first generation

You can definitely see hot rodder Buttera’s influence on the first rendition of Harley’s Penster prototype. (Harley-Davidson Museum photo)

Still holding onto his love of three-wheelers and belief in two-ones, Fessler later served on the Board of Directors for Lehman Trikes where he was introduced to Bob Mighell. Turns out Mighell owns Tilting Motor Works, a company that has developed a bolt-on, two-wheeled tilting front end kit for Harley Tourers, Dynas and Softails.

“And I took one look at the product and got on it and rode around the block and said this is the magic answer. This is the design that really gives you the feeling of a two-wheeler with counter-steering and has all of the action of a two-wheeler but it’s a three-wheeler,” said Fessler.

He believes in Tilting Motor Works so much Fessler’s invested in the company and was helping out with marketing at the 2016 Sturgis Rally, which is where we first met him.

Harley-Davidson Penster Prototype

The second generation Harley Penster prototype was reportedly completed in 2006. (Harley-Davidson Museum photo)

“I think there’s a place in the marketplace for it. I predict, my gut feeling is Harley’s going to be launching one within the next two to three years, their own two-one,” stated Fessler.

He believes this in part because Fessler claims Harley sent an engineer out to spent five days with Mighell. Later, Fessler tried to make an appointment in Milwaukee with Harley CEO Matt Levatich when Mighell was making a promotional swing through the Midwest, but “they didn’t want to look at it.

“The fact that they didn’t even want to look at it and they had an engineer out there tells me that they got their own project going and they don’t want anything to do with potential legal action later on down the line,” surmised Fessler.

While this is purely conjecture, a three-wheeler that counter-steers like a motorcycle and provides a comparable riding experience would most likely appeal to Harley’s aging demographic. It’s a concept foreign competitors have embraced as well, from Yamaha’s LMW 08H concept to Hoonda’s NEOWING.

Time will tell how this plays out. Erstwhile, we’ve hitched a leg over a Harley equipped with Mighell’s bolt-on conversion. But that’s another story for a later date. Stay tuned.

Harley-Davidson Penster Prototype

The Penster, a three-wheeler with two front wheels that tilt into turns, is in the Harley-Davidson Museum’s “Collection X.” (Harley-Davidson Museum photo)

Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team: Brandon Robinson Interview

With four Grand National wins on his resume including a couple on the heralded Springfield Mile in 2013 and a victory in Lima last year aboard the Kennedy Racing Harley-Davidson XR750, Brandon Robinson earned a spot on Harley-Davidson’s Factory Flat Track Racing Team in 2017. While landing a factory seat is a dream come true, it doesn’t come without its challenges. For starters is the development of a new bike. After a 44-year-run, Harley-Davidson switched from the highly successful XR750 to the liquid-cooled XG750R for the 2017 American Flat Track season. The 2017 season sees plenty of changes itself, from a new knockout race format to new venues to the switch to Twins on all tracks this season. There’s also a new TV contract on the table as tape-delayed broadcasts of the races will air on NBCSN this year, adding another layer of complexity and pressure to the 2017 season.

We caught up to Robinson the day before the Daytona TT to get his early impressions of the XG750R, to talk about the switch from the XR750 and about this year’s American Flat Track season.

H-D Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson

Harley Factory Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson puts in test laps aboard the XG750R.

American Iron: How’s it feel to have a seat on the coveted Harley factory team?

Brandon Robinson: It’s kind of a dream come true. I think that’s one of the things everyone looks to get to is a factory ride at some point in their career. To finally get there is rewarding, to know that I’ve put in all this hard work and finally get to that point is surreal.

AIM: How’d that all come about, did you get a call out of the blue?

B-Rob: Yeah, pretty much. I was having a pretty strong season last year and right in my peak I ended up getting a call from Terry Vance and we started discussing possibly working together for the following year. Things just kind of shaped up and worked out and here we are.

(Robinson competed primarily on the XR750 in the Twins class last year but also raced a Kawasaki on a couple of tracks).

Harley Flat Track Racing Daytona TT 2017

The Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team is glued to the screen during the inaugural Daytona TT.

AIM: What do you think about this year’s schedule and the move to Twins on all tracks including TTs?

B-Rob: It makes things a helluva lot more interesting. My big word I’ve been using for Daytona is it’s “unpredictable” right now. You don’t know where everyone really stacks up. No one in this generation has really ridden a Twin on a TT in a national race so between that and everyone switching bikes, you know pretty much the top six-seven guys are all on new equipment, throws out a whole new element to it. We’re not really going to know what to expect until we race tomorrow so it’s going to be kind of crazy.

AIM: Have you been getting in some TT practice on the XG750R?

B-Rob: Yeah, we’ve been getting some TT practice in and testing so it’s been pretty good. I learned a lot in a short amount of time and it’s not near as bad as I thought it was going to be. I thought I was going to have to go out there and muscle this thing around to flick it back and forth. It’s just a little bit slower transitioning back and forth, left to right. Other than that it feels like just a normal motorcycle.

AIM: Is that primarily because it’s heavier?

B-Rob: Yeah I think it’s like a 100 pounds heavier than a 450 so you can feel that, but overall it’s not near as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m getting more comfortable with it and confident and think it’ll be a good show.

I think it helps me out in some aspects because I was never one of those super aggressive riders on the 450 for like the TT stuff so a Twin kind of plays in my favor. I’ve always been more of a Twin rider so I’ll just have to be smooth and smart.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

Harley-Davidson switched to the XG750R for the 2017 American Flat Track season.

AIM: What do you think about the move from the XR750 to the XG750R?

B-Rob: It’s a little different but we’ve been putting in a lot of testing in and the guys at Vance & Hines and Harley have given us one helluva bike so they did their homework this winter. It’s definitely leaps and bounds ahead of where it was last year. I’m sure with any new bike there’s going to be ups and downs but I think we’ve got quite a few things ironed out and I’m just looking forward to getting on them.

From what we’ve ridden, we rode last year’s stuff and now we have some next generation stuff and it’s definitely a little different so I’m pretty excited about it.

AIM: What are the major differences you’re noticing between the two?

B-Rob: The main difference between the XR and the XG is the power delivery. The XR’s such a smooth power delivery it’s almost like you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere but you’re hauling ass at the same time where the XG, it’s got like the XR bottom and then accelerates to a point more like a Japanese bike or a Kawasaki where it just keeps going. It has a rev limiter and it’s just different. The XR doesn’t have that, where you really have to be critical on your gearing with that bike.

Harley Factory Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson

We got a chance to chat with Harley Factory Flat Track racer Brandon Robinson the day before the Daytona TT.

AIM: Does it wind out farther?

B-Rob: Yes we have a lot longer RPM range on the XG and the cool thing with the electronics is we can play with that and make it shorter or higher or whatever we want to do. We’ve got some more options than we had in the past which is nice.

AIM: Is it a different frame?

B-Rob: As far as what, from last year? Yeah we went to work and developed a little bit different chassis than what they had last year so I think that’s probably the biggest change overall is the chassis and trying to get a better handling on the motorcycle.

AIM: Do all three of you (fellow Harley factory riders Jake Johnson and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr.) run the same suspension?

B-Rob: Same brand stuff but we’re all just a little different on how we like our stuff. Kenny and Jake like their stuff a little stiffer where I’m more on the soft side. Just rider preference, that’s all that really is.

2017 Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team

Brandon Robinson (Center) joins Jake Johnson (L) and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. (R) on the 2017 Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team. 

AIM: What do you like best about the XG?

B-Rob: The thing I like about it the most is the fact that we have so much more options than we had with the XR with the fuel injection and the mappings and we can change a lot with the electronics. So I think that’s an added benefit where we were pretty limited with the XRs, you know, had the carburetors and you pretty much just tuned them in for wherever you were.

AIM: What types of tracks do you like best?

B-Rob: It’s weird, it’s changed over the years. I’ve always been kind of a typical blue groove, little skinny notch groove rider. And then I don’t know, Lima was kind of a weird one for me because I’ve never been known as a cushion rider but we were just on fire that night and after winning I guess I consider myself kind of a cushion rider, I don’t know (laughs). Pretty much any half-miles and miles, the bigger tracks is what I like to ride. The faster you go the more fun I have.

H-D Flat Track racer Brandon Robinson

Brandon Robinson calls landing a seat on the Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team “surreal.”

AIM: In that regard, do you have a favorite track?

B-Rob: There’s a couple tracks I like going to. Charlotte’s one of my favorite tracks over the last couple of years. For some reason it reminds me of a track back home and I just really enjoy it. Sacramento. Springfield obviously has to be a favorite. I guess Lima now.

AIM: What do you think about the renewed rivalry between Harley and Indian?

B-Rob: It’s pretty cool. It adds a whole new dynamic to the sport so it gives the fans something else to look forward to, it gives us riders something else to look forward to. It’s bragging rights, you know, we want to beat them and they want to beat us.

But it’s not just Harley vs Indian. There’s privateers on a lot of good stuff so you can’t rule out anybody at this point. The more brands going at it the better in my opinion. It makes for better racing and makes for more interest. It’s not just a one horse show anymore.

  • It’s been a challenging start to the season so far for Robinson. After placing third in his heat race at Daytona, he finished near the back of the pack in 14th in his semi and failed to make it to the Main. At the Atlanta Short Track, Robinson cracked the Top 10 with a 10th place finish, then did one better by finishing 9th in the Charlotte Half-Mile. Now his team’s got a five-week break before the next race in Arizona, a perfect opportunity to dial in Harley’s XG750R even more in addition to providing Robinson more seat time. 

And the Winner of the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week 2017 Is…

Rick Claar of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is the winner of the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week 2017

Rick Claar of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is the winner of the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week 2017, a customized 2010 Harley-Davidson Ultra. (Photos provided by Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce)

Rick Claar was having a late breakfast when the phone rang. Since he had both hands full at the time and didn’t recognize the caller, he let it go to voicemail. Once he got a free moment, he checked the message and returned the call.

“Do you have any idea why I’m calling?” said Janet Kersey, Executive Vice-President and COO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“The only reason I can think of anybody’s calling from Daytona is that I won something, but that’s kind of hard to believe,” said Claar.

Kersey said “You did win something.”

That something was the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week 2017, a beautiful customized Harley-Davidson Ultra featured on the cover of American Iron Magazine Issue #347. We’ve chronicled every step of its customization in our pages and online and are beyond happy that a life-long rider won this wonderful machine.

Official Bike Week Motorcycle 2017 Winner Rick Claar

Rick Claar works with the guys at Lonestar Motorcycles to dial in the Arlen Ness Modular Handlebars to his liking.

“It’s unbelievable. Like I told her, over the years I’ve bought a lot of raffle tickets. But I usually only get one. I don’t know what, something made me buy two and she said it’s a good thing you did because it was the second one that won,” he said.

Claar traveled down to Daytona Beach last week to pick up his new bike and broke it in properly by riding it back to his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“It’s got about 850 miles on it already,” Claar said. “Best weather I’ve ever had coming home from Daytona.” He said it ran nice and smooth and he easily did 10 hours the second day.

“Everybody that’s seen the bike loves it. The first rest area I stopped at this young woman comes up and wanted to know if it’d be all right if she got her picture taken with the bike. I went on in to the rest area and when I came back, it turned out she was with a traveling soccer team and they all got their picture taken with it,” he said.

While winning the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week is incredible in and of itself, it’s extra special for Claar. The first and only time he ever got to ride with his dad was at Daytona. Last year, quite a few of his family members went down there for the 75th.

“My bike, I took parts from a bike I rode down there for the 50th and put it on the bike I rode to the 75th (an Ultra Classic) so I had parts on it that had been going down there for 25 years.” The winning ticket also happened to be drawn on his sister’s birthday. Destiny, maybe?

Rick Claar gets ready to ride his prize home.

Rick Claar gets ready to take his prize home, riding the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week 2017 from Daytona Beach, FLA, to his home in Virginia Beach, VA.

American Iron sends a huge “Congratulations” to Rick. We hope the motorcycle provides many happy miles in its saddle.

We’d also like to say thank you to the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce for letting us once again be a part of the Official Motorcycle of Bike Week. We can’t thank Street Stuff Cycles enough for all the hard work they put into it as well as our long list of sponsors who made the project happen.

Arlen Ness Enterprises, ASA Electronics, Badazz Creative Coatings, Coastal Moto, Cobra USA, Dakota Digital, Harley-Davidson Genuine Accessories, Headwinds, Hill Country Customs, Hog Tunes, House of Kolor, J.W. Speaker, K&N Filters, KlockWerks, Kuryakyn, Lindy Bar, Metzeler, Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation, Prokop Signs, and Spectro Oil.

Dream Ride Editor’s Choice Winner: The Red Mosquito 2004 Night Train

2016 Dream Ride Editor's Choice Winner

This sweet customized Harley Night Train earned our Editor’s Choice Award at the 2016 Dream Ride & Show.

  • Photos by Mark Velazquez 

Beneath the massive tent that houses the show bikes at the 2016 Dream Ride, one man stands out from the rest. His salt-and-pepper beard, trimmed yet full, his overalls cuffed to just below his calves, and his flip-flops exposing his toes to the subtle summer breeze set him apart from most other attendees, myself included, in boots with worn left toes and protection-less jeans. Yes, on this warm August afternoon, Chris Donaldson’s outfit truly belied the voracious young builder’s latest accomplishment. His craftsmanship on Bert Marinaro’s 2004 Night Train led to the bike’s designation as the Editor’s Choice winner, and yet, amid photos, trophies, and an interview, he is inundated with humility, true to form for a man in cuffed overalls.

Chris patiently and meticulously walks me around the bike, excitedly pointing out the multitude of pieces that required extra attention and dedicated work. Every piece of this drastically reworked motorcycle has Chris’ fingerprints fossilized into it, with this build essentially taking three years to finally be a complete, fully functioning, everyday rider. Owner Bert even rode to the Dream Show in Farmington, Connecticut, the day of the event, a fact made all the more refreshing while standing next to the builder amid a sea of trailers and hitches.

Bert Marinaro with his custom 2004 Harley Night Train built by Chris Donaldson of Donaldson Fabrication, LLC.

Bert Marinaro with his custom 2004 Harley Night Train built by Chris Donaldson of Donaldson Fabrication, LLC.

“This bike was built to be ridden,” Chris says. “There were several instances when the owner found it difficult to appreciate some of the one-off creations until they were visually appealing, but first we had to conquer functionality.” That helps explain the lengthy build time. But so does the meticulous eye with which Chris turned his attention to the foot controls, hand controls, front end, motor, gas tank, frame, oil reservoir, seat…you get the picture.

Let’s start up top, where the bike sports a supremely minimalist design. Chris opted for a set of highbars from Exile Cycles with risers from Roland Sands Design, which include an internal throttle assembly that helps set the stage for the ultimately clean system. Aiding in the effort to remove all the hubbub around the bars, Chris designed and manufactured a one-off remote master cylinder, which is operated by a modified clutch cable, and a bell crank system supplied by a remote reservoir. It’s a fresh design, and one that only entices the eye to look even closer at the minute details sprinkled throughout the body of work.

Red metal flake, gold leaf, silver leaf by Robert Pradke

This king tank received the Donaldson touch before being coated in red metal flake paint and both gold and silver leafing by Robert Pradke.

The gas tank is a modified king tank (note the crown gas cap) designed for Sportsters. Chris cut and lowered the tunnel to mount the tank higher on the backbone. The fuel petcock was relocated to the rear. The oil tank is also a custom-made piece, a mild steel cylinder with integrated battery box, ignition switch, and high-beam switch, the latter two components complementing the clean look on the handlebars. We’ll revisit the oil tank soon, as the paint and decal remain pertinent to the build. One of owner Bert’s favorite pieces of Chris’ work is the beehive oil filter located on the left side, just behind the BDL primary. Made from a single piece of 6061 aluminum, this is a fully functional oil filter with an integrated Harley filter, and the addition of copper supply and return lines accentuate the retro styling.

Bert wanted the bike to remain relatively modern, while achieving the appearance on an old school bobber. The springer front end was handled by Thompson Choppers from Ozark, Missouri, a well-chosen piece in the appeal to elder aesthetics. The chassis rolls on two Performance Machine (PM) Gasser Contrast wheels, 21″ up front and 18″ behind, wrapped in Metzler rubber, a tastefully modern look that meshes with the springer and other vintage-esque pieces scattered about. But Chris and Bert had to compromise on a few other parts, including the West Coast Choppers Jesse James rear fender, which Chris did not want hugging the tire nor too far forward. But Bert remained adamant about both this and having baffles in the exhaust, which was another Donaldson original made from .125″ stainless steel. The seat is custom-made, a steel pan with a support bracket and rear fastening system that allows for quick access to the battery. Bert did meet Chris in the middle, however, especially when it came to including the sissybar that not only adds another visually pleasing aspect (this was Chris’ take), but functionality, too. Now, both men can attest to the bar adding necessary support, especially “when the rider launches from a stoplight with 105 hp.”

Bert Marinaro's Red Mosquito

The “Red Mosquito” theme was influenced by the Pearl Jam song.

Speaking of those 105 ponies, Chris beefed up the motor as well, as he worked with supreme autonomy from Bert. “When it came to the motor and mechanical aspects, Chris had free reign,” Bert says. With room to maneuver, Chris punched the 88″ Twin Cam up to 95″, and opted for S&S Cycle 570 gear-driven cam, Screamin’ Eagle (SE) pushrods with .569″ of lift (“a perfect fit”), SE 10-1/2:1 forged pistons, and S&S Super E carburetor. The transmission remained untouched, but he did go with a BDL primary and clutch. The foot controls come from PM, but those presented another challenge for Chris. They had to be greatly modified in order to be pulled back to compensate for Bert’s limited leg reach.

And how about that paint? Both Bert and Chris came to a consensus on who would handle it: Robert Pradke of Eastford, Connecticut. A quick glance through Robert’s Instagram is all the evidence you need to understand why the two went with his tightly controlled vision, but you needn’t log online to figure this one out. Pradke laid down a base of red metal flake and hand-painted the gold and silver leaf flames flowing along the tank and fender. The Red Mosquito was influenced by the Pearl Jam track of the same name, which happened to be rocking across the airwaves when Bert was in Pradke’s shop. The caricature painted on the oil tank is curled in such a way that it almost mimics the aggressive style with which one would ride, buzzing through the wind at breakneck speed, riding the high.

After walking around the bike several times, round-trips filled with crouching, leaning in, stepping back, Chris’ wife, Carolyn, comes to collect him from the Dream Show tent. “She really runs the business,” Chris says with a hearty chuckle. “She flicks the lights in the workshop on and off to let me know it’s dinner time.” Donaldson Fabrication is as grassroots as it gets, as Chris works closely with his father on most projects they take in, and it’s not Chris’ full-time job, either. “We are a small shop focusing on the quality and individuality of each and every bike. Our goal is to fit the motorcycle to the owner while maintaining his or her original vision and to create a functional work of art,” Chris says. After taking home the Editor’s Choice award, Bert says, “Yes, it took the better half of three years to complete, but it worked out for the best.”

And so Chris heads off, and I make a few more rounds, snapping some photos and picturing myself in the leather-bound saddle. When I first arrived at the show tent, the glistening red custom was my personal choice for the award, yet I thought it stood little chance of actually being chosen given some of the other bikes that were entered in the contest. I kept returning to it, and after speaking with Chris, he puts into words the reason I felt drawn to it. “The beauty of this bike is found beyond the initial walk-by, and it isn’t really recognized until one takes the time to slowly examine each of the custom pieces as an individual element. It’s then that the bike really comes to life,” says the man in the cuffed overalls. This bike truly is one to be celebrated. AIM

If you like this story, there’s plenty more good stuff in American Iron Magazine Issue # 346 including a feature on Arlen Ness’s 1970 MagnaCycle, Rick Petko’s Racer X Boardtracker, and PDX Speed Shop’s cool XL Surfster!  To order a back issue of this or any other issue of American Iron Magazine, visit
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American Iron’s Editor Steve Lita Featured on Motorcycle Men Podcast

Steve Lita American Iron Magazine Editor

American Iron Magazine Editor Steve Lita dishes on the state of the industry in Motorcycle Men’s podcast Episode 85

Podcast alert!

American Iron Magazine Editor Steve Lita joins the Motorcycle Men Podcast to dish on the industry, American V-twins, and our Daytona Bike Week giveaway bike!

Check out what Lita had to say by listening to Episode 85! Check it out at now at Motorcycle Men