American Iron Garage: Garage Built


Therapy Build

Evolution and survival through craft

by Stephen Long

Merriam-Webster defines evolution as “a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state.” For George Holland, the process of evolution has been a pertinent and sustained element of survival. “Evolution,” he says, “I like that word.” And in his ever changing circumstances, George, otherwise known as Dutch (see: Holland, George), embraces his own evolution with resounding resiliency, as the ever-unforgiving, unpredictable universe hurled an all-too familiar fate in his direction: cancer.

From the very first time Dutch straddled the saddle, he strived unapologetically to be the baddest, most domineering rider amongst his friends and peers. Although starting out on a small displacement Japanese bike, he immediately felt the urge to go bigger, if for nothing else but to one-up his buddies, first by upgrading to a Suzuki 250, then to a Norton 750. His commitment to foreign brands remained until 1971, when he had a run-in with the law. No, not that kind of run-in. “In Downingtown, Pennsylvania, I bought my first Harley from a police officer. A 1971 Shovelhead FX,” Dutch remembers. Not that his American epiphany would stop there.

Dutch's flask serves another, darker liquid these days.

Dutch’s flask serves another, darker liquid these days.

“In 1979, I sold the ’71 Shovel and bought my very first new Harley-Davidson, a red and black Shovelhead FXEF. Rode that bike for 26 years.” At that time, Dutch was living in Atlanta, building his metal fabrication business, specifically constructing billboard structures. A long way south of Pennsylvania, he felt himself getting closer and closer to his final goal: Florida.

While building a motorcycle from scratch had always been a lifelong dream of George’s, he often found himself too wrapped up in other projects such as completely restoring a dilapidated marina that he purchased in Nokomis, Florida. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it,’” he says. The restoration and subsequent success of the marina turned into his passion (well, second to, you know, riding). He repaired and dredged all boat slips and developed a tiki bar that was renowned for being the only tiki bar to host a recurring bike night. Enter Tammy.

Tammy frequented the bike nights George’s marina hosted, with her attendance eventually leading to their introduction. As their affections began to materialize in a very real way, George found himself facing a decision that seems as though it wasn’t as tough as it sounds. “I wanted to get Tammy a diamond,” he says. “That red Shovelhead? It sold very quickly, for three times as much as I bought it for. And I’ve never regretted selling it.” Their meeting and eventual marrying is an important aspect in the development of George’s dreams. “In 2006, we bought the new Softail Deluxe and modified it with a Stage II kit, bringing the Twin Cam up to approximately 1500cc.” He notes this as one of the many stages in his own evolution, as he moved into a new phase of his life, with his new wife and his new motorcycle (they still ride the Softail), he now had a pairing of the two loves at the forefront of his life.

In 2012, Dutch retired and needed a way to keep busy. He credits his friend Hank for giving him the scoop on a 1967 Shovel that he owned and would sell to George at a reasonable price. George completely restored the bike, turning it into his “bar-hopper bobber,” complete with a suicide shift and foot clutch that he fabricated himself. It was during this time, however, that George began to feel his voice fade into a raspy shell of itself. “It was the first signs of cancer growing in my throat. Then I was down, on and off radiation and operations for a couple of years.”

Undergoing daily treatment for seven weeks, George remained steadfast in his approach to riding and to living. “During the treatment I was still able to ride my bike to the appointments, at least until the last couple of weeks,” he recalls. “Then, it simply became too sore.” As the radiation therapy came to an end, his doctor brought the news George wanted to hear. They beat the cancer to a pulp. And, as an apparent silver lining, the doctor told him that he’d come out “sounding like a rock star.” As time went by, however, his throat remained sore and, as cool as it was supposed to be, the raspy voice never alleviated. During an unscheduled return to the doctor, all signs pointed to the cancer’s return, wracking George’s throat with a vindictive vengeance in the form of Stage Four larynx and vocal cancer.

George flies black sails into the storm.

George flies black sails into the storm.

Operating was imperative, and George was on the surgical table almost immediately. Doctors performed a total laryngectomy, an operation that includes removing the larynx, vocal chords, lymph nodes, and partial thyroid gland. Post-op, he spent the following week in a self-reflective stupor, with resounding sympathy washing over him as he saw the suffering of those worse off than he. Not lost in the turmoil of the disease is George’s attitude; he never delved into self-pity, refusing to say, “Why me?” In speaking with George, a sense of overwhelming humility seeps forth from his micro-philosophies.

George clearly has a knack for taking things that are seemingly hopeless and turning them into something powerful. And his wherewithal was certainly being tested. He admits that he began to feel seriously depressed during and after his two-year bout, as he and Tammy had to come terms with his new circumstances. “Tammy never left me during my entire stay [at Moffit Cancer Center]. We both learned how to care for and get along with my new configuration and feeding tubes,” he remembers. “For me, the worst part was the unknown. At home, the healing process was more painful, and I had to create ways to get things done.” Tammy arrived home one day with a check for $1,200 and a note saying, “Go buy a frame and get started on that chopper you’ve been saying you always wanted to build.”

To continue reading this story and about other home-builds like it, pick up a copy of American Iron Garage Spring, available at Greaserag.comAmerican Iron Garage Summer is available on newsstands 5/31.

A Budget Motorcycle Bobber From Springers Custom Cycles

Looking for a fun, around-town blaster? Then this little bobber may be just the bike for you! Selling for about $19,000 as you see it, the Apollo is a nice-handling, dependable machine that won’t break your wallet.

Let’s start with my favorite part of a bike, the powertrain. An 88″ RevTech engine (three-year warranty) moved my test Apollo down the road easily, since the bike is so light. Other engine options include various S&S Cycle and TP Engineering offerings, as well as a Crazy Horse Bottlecap 100″ motor. My RevTech was fitted with a Mikuni carb that worked great. The engine fired on first spin when hot, two spins when cold with just one primer twist of throttle. Being easy on said throttle got me 72 miles down the road on 2.4 gallons of gas, which is when I hit reserve on the 2.5-gallon tank.

My bike was also fitted with a RevTech five-speed transmission (five-year warranty). Tranny options are either a BAKER or JIMS, five- or six-speed. As for the RevTech in my test bike, it didn’t always go into gear right away when downshifting. It was also impossible to get the tranny into neutral with the bike stopped and the motor running, even using my hand. The only way I could get into neutral — other than stopping the engine — was when downshifting from second as I was rolling to a stop. And, no, it wasn’t a clutch adjustment; we tried that. The RevTech five-speed cruised okay at 70 in fifth, but the comfortable maximum was 75, since the engine was revving at about 3000 or so rpm at that speed. The bike didn’t have a tach, so that’s my best guess.

Connecting engine to transmission was a 3″ BDL belt drive system, which is a nice setup. The BDL clutch’s action was smooth and predictable, but the clutch pull was a bit too stiff with nine springs in the pressure plate. When I mentioned this to the builder, he agreed and said he would be using only six springs from now on. This would eliminate the pull issue and still provide plenty of clamping force for this size engine.

As for the exhaust, it sounded great, but it’s definitely not EPA approved! The system in my test bike was a set of Big Growl Short Shooters, but all new bikes of this model will have Snub Nose pipes. They are the same setup except for the ends, which are straight instead of turned down as on this set. Regarding right side turning clearance, the turned down end of the lower pipe hits the ground about the same time a Heritage Softail floorboard would in a right turn. Going to the straight-end pipes will definitely fix this issue.

Moving on to the chassis, the Apollo’s Kraft Tech frame geometry is right on, and the bike handles well. In fact, it’s easy to maneuver at both highway and parking lot speeds. The turning radius is small but adequate. The DNA springer front end feels light, but not too light, and is a little bouncy on big bumps, as you would expect with a springer. With a 29″ inseam, my legs were about 1″ too short to reach the Excel forward control’s footpegs fully, but I still had no problem keeping my feet on the pegs or working any of the foot controls. While we’re on the subject of my short stalks, the Apollo is low to the ground, so being flat-footed at stops was never an issue. However, the leather-covered seat does start punishing your butt after 100 or so miles. This is definitely a blast-around-town seat.

The chrome 40-spoke wheels, both front and rear, are DNA units. Both are wrapped with Metzeler ME 880 rubber, a 90/90-21″ up front and a 150/70-18″ out back. My test bike’s brakes were chrome, four-piston Ultima units that worked fine. Disc and brake pad material, as well as master cylinder sizes, were perfectly matched. However, all future bikes will have chrome, four-piston JayBrake calipers front and rear, which are excellent units. The chrome hand control switches are standard for H-Ds, and they worked well, as usual. The smooth, chrome DNA handgrips added a nice touch to the Flanders handlebars. The chrome Drag Specialties speedo is located on top of the rear rocker box, right by the right side of the seat. It’s easy to read the speed when moving, but you can’t read the mileage unless you’re stopped. Lastly, the paint work was flawlessly done by Nub Grafix in New York. I’ve seen quite a bit of Nub’s work, and it’s always excellent!

Bottom line: the Apollo is a lot of bike for the money, but I would definitely go for the extra bucks and get a BAKER or JIMS six-speed tranny. Let the blasting begin! AIM


Springers Custom Cycles
1432 Rte. 179, Dept. AIM
Lambertville, NJ 08530

Steve “Street Rod” builds a chopper to rival the pros

Before I go on and on about this being Nutmegger Steve Van Blarcom’s first bike build, which it is, you should know that he’s a successful and well-respected builder of hot rods and classic automobiles. To say that he’s mechanically inclined just wouldn’t do his skills justice.

Having built countless custom hot rods and performed many nut and bolt restorations, there were still a few things that Steve wanted to do. The first was to set some land speed records. In 2006, he hit 198.43 mph in his Thacker and Shine 1929 Roadster at the Maxton Mile. He’s currently the record holder, and since the Mile closed down in 2010, he always will be. In 2009, he trucked out to Bonneville where he claimed a world land speed record in the roadster, taking it to 216.979 mph.

There was still something that Steve had not done. While he had worked on motorcycles and customized several of his prior bikes, he had never actually built one from the ground up. At the time, bike builder shows were becoming very popular on television. “I used to look at the bikes that they built and thought, I can build one like that,” Steve says. “I wanted it to be a theme bike like I was watching the bike builders on TV do.”

Steve’s life revolves around his family and hot rods. Both are displayed prominently on this bike. “When I thought about what I should use for a theme, because I’m such a street rodder I came up with the idea to make what we now call the Hot Rod Chopper.”

The stunning paint job has a House of Kolor Candy Blue and Silver laid down by Shane Salisbury of Wetcoats. Those colors are broken up with a painted chrome strip and ’57 Chevy aluminum fins on the back fender. “It went on from there and started to involve my whole family,” Steve says. The names of all the members of his family are featured on the bike, including Judy, his wife of over 40 years; his grandsons Derek and Drew, and his daughter Laura. The ignition cover on the left side of the bike is engraved Sandy, in memory of his other daughter. To make the family complete, there’s also a Steve painted on the bike.

Take a look at the other airbrush work that Shane did, like the moon eyes on the left side of the oil tank and “Mr. Horsepower” Woody Woodpecker on the right. To come full circle on Steve’s chopper, the paint features six of Steve’s actual cars right on the gas tank. The diner the cars are parked in front of is the famous Olympia Diner on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, Connecticut. That was the popular strip back in the day where hot rodders used to cruise and show off their rides. The wide tires on his Bad Coupe painted on the fender almost make even the 300-class rear tire look pitiful.

Delivering power to that hunk of rubber is a 131″ V-twin built by H&L Performance in Wallingford, Connecticut, which uses S&S Cycle cases and produces 150 hp. The custom pipes, and the rest of the metalwork, were built by Jamie Miller of Miller Racing. That giant Weber IDF carb from Terry Components not only feeds tons of air and fuel to the beastly engine, but it also adds to the bike’s hot rod theme. A BAKER Drivetrain RSD six-speed backs up the 131, and the two are mated via a BDS 3″ primary.

For added cleanliness, Steve wired everything through the big blue frame. The frame itself sports 40 degrees of rake and is stretched 8″ up and 5″ out. It’s also tough to overlook those one-off wheels made by Chuck Wendt of Rowe Machine and modeled after the old Radir wheels that graced hot rods in the ’50s. That big beautiful front end is a 14″-over Mean Street Stiletto model, which Steve internally wired the brake lines through. Doing the actual braking at both ends are Performance Machine calipers. Steering is accomplished with a classy Custom Cycle Control Systems handlebar with built-in controls, and, of course, internal wiring.

With that clean look and killer power, it might be difficult to believe that the hot rod chopper is streetlegal. It is, as part of Steve’s original goal was to ensure the bike would be 50-state legal as any stock Harley-Davidson would be. Even the one-off exhaust has the proper amount of baffling to keep this chopper out of the impound.

While Steve has the technical skills and tools required to build a pro-level bike, no one can take away that this is indeed his first bike build. While many would-be builders out there tried to copy the pros they saw on television, Steve succeeded and gave “as seen on TV” a whole new meaning. AIM

READER’S RIDE By Tyler Greenblatt

Story as published in the July 2012 issue of American Iron Magazine.

Dirico Pro-Street Roadster Motorcycle Review

The name Steven Tyler is synonymous with the band Aerosmith and, for many, he is considered rock and roll royalty. To add to that, since season 10 of the hit television show American Idol, the man’s legacy and brand has only grown thanks to the millions of viewers who now see him, along with Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, as part of the three-person judging team that holds the fate of aspiring young music hopefuls in their hands. Die-hard readers of this publication should already know that on top of all that, Mr. Tyler has been an integral part of another three-man team, one that has been manufacturing high-end motorcycles since 2007.

The core team at Dirico Motorcycles USA is comprised of the rock star extraordinaire, who provides the artistic vision and design influence for the bikes; expert businessman and head honcho of AC Customs Stephen Talarico, who provides the manufacturing capabilities; and master engineer Marc Dirico, who provides the brains to make all the bikes work properly. This dynamic trio, along with the craftsmen who hand-assemble each bike, is the reason this small outfit in Manchester, New Hampshire, has been producing high-quality motorcycles like the Pro-Street Roadster you see here for almost five years running.

Having already ridden the Pro-Street and two other Dirico models on previous occasions, I decided I’d cruise up to Manchester and get some seat time on the new PS Roadster. I was told that the idea behind this new model was to make subtle-but-effective changes to the company’s Pro-Street model in an attempt to create a more versatile version of it. That explains the PS designator. In doing this, the Dirico trio have successfully created a new model that is more comfortable and rider friendly. When I look at the two models side by side, it’s easy to see that the Roadster comes with floorboards versus footpegs, has its own distinct sheet metal, and has different handlebars. Early into my initial ride, I found this combination of changes gave me more wiggle room while riding, making it a more comfortable ride for me than the Pro-Street. After skimming the spec sheet, I found more differences like the fact that this model comes with a Screamin’ Eagle 110B Twin Cam engine, a rock-solid BAKER RSD six-speed transmission with a hydraulic clutch, and a totally new Dirico right-side-drive softail-style frame.

Upon closer inspection at our lunch stop, I wasn’t surprised that the solid handling and effective stopping I felt was thanks to a 55mm Ceriani inverted front end and always reliable Performance Machine brakes and discs all around. Adding to the positive feel of the bike was the fact that the whole package rolls on 3.50-21″ front and 8.50-18″ rear Performance Machine Contrast-Cut wheels wrapped in Metzeler ME880 Marathon (120 front and 240 rear). If all that wasn’t enough to make the Roadster more rider friendly than its PS sibling, I was repeatedly told that potential buyers can get an optional, removable windshield and saddlebags to make this bike road-trip worthy.

If you look at Dirico’s brochures and marketing material, it’s hard not to miss its tag line: “Engineered to Ride, Built to Last.” More important to me is its statement that all its bikes are “Seamless, Practical, Functional, and Balanced.” I did my best to get Stephen Tyler on the phone so he could elaborate on these company convictions and find out what Dirico Motorcycles means to him. As you can imagine, I couldn’t get the front man. I’m not sure if it was simply because of American Idol red tape. I initially took it personally and wondered if it was simply the fact his people or even Tyler himself just didn’t want to talk to me, the lowly managing editor of the number one Harley-oriented magazine on the newsstand. As a side note, my mother made me feel better when she suggested that he was probably busy riding a motorcycle, enjoying the wind blowing through his feather-clad hair. My mom is an avid follower of celebrity gossip so she also added that he might be out riding JLo … or maybe Randy Jackson. I’ll never know the truth, but I like to think that if some secret Dirico American Idol model comes to market or some spy photos of a Dirico bike and JLo get published, my mom would be right once again.

The flip side of not getting a pull quote from rock royalty is that after spending a crisp autumn day riding the Roadster around New Hampshire, I did have the good fortune of sitting down for a full-access, one-on-one conversation with Marc Dirico (remember him? he’s the brains of the trio). It was during this time that it became painfully obvious to me that lots of engineering goes into each and every Dirico model. At one point, he told me (not to mention showed me) that there are CAD drawings made of each part on every model before he ever thinks about manufacturing them. A practical example of this is the Roadster you see here; it’s made up of about 160 parts, of which roughly 64 are proprietary (note that most of the other parts are right out of the good old H-D P&A catalog). Pretty amazing when you consider this bike is based on a Dirico model already in production.

After I left, Marc (he passed on joining me and the rest of the boys from the day’s ride at the bar) said two main things that resonated in my head. First, he wants to go above and beyond to make sure each bike he engineers is “dynamically balanced.” Translation: every bike he puts his name on has to be in line from the center of the engine straight through. And the second is a belief that “We just want to do a good job and build the best bikes we can, period.”

To me that explains it all. Over the years I’ve watched this company continuously tweak its models in an attempt to make things better. The beauty is that it’s a small operation, which makes putting its belief into practice relatively simple. A perfect example of this is that when I mentioned that the front end of the Roadster felt a bit heavy in slow parking lot maneuvers, Marc, without missing a beat, told me that the bike I was riding had a 36-degree rake, all of which is in the frame. He then added that he was already looking to switch it to 34 degrees in the frame and two or three in the triple trees. Miraculously, he already had a prototype frame in the fire so he could get some real world R&D on how the change would work.

At this point I should add that these guys are so confident about their product that every Dirico comes with a two-year, unlimited-mileage warranty just like what you get when you buy a new Harley. And for the record, any H-D dealership should be able to service a Dirico. But that doesn’t mean it will honor the warranty. The time I’ve spent on this and every Dirico model I’ve ridden has led me to believe these bikes are on par with any production H-D, so I don’t foresee owners having many problems. I feel that all Diricos are solidly built, reliable bikes that can be ridden all day long and live up to the company’s tag line. That said, I hope to get my hands on a few models to take on a tour this summer.

For the time being, Dirico motorcycles are only 49-state compliant and probably will remain so until they become fuel-injected. I’ve been told that the company’s goal from the start has been to manufacture 400-500 bikes a year, but lately it wonders if it might have come to market too late for such a lofty goal. Last I heard, there are some deals pending in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar that might change things, so keep your eye on this company. Regardless of those deals, I’m watching these guys closely because you never know what Steven Tyler might come up with next. And, besides, I don’t wanna miss a thing. Okay, sorry, I’ll stop. AIM


Story as published in the July issue of American Iron Magazine.

Home-Built Custom Motorcycle Bobber For Under $10,000

Sure, we all see gorgeous, high-end motorcycles in magazines, on television, and at shows and rallies. Many times, these machines are given the cold shoulder for their supposed high cost and low ridability. Before you turn the page on this custom bobber, though, know this: owner Mark Rosenberger of Pennsylvania, with the help of a couple of friends, built this one-off custom for under that magic number of 10 grand.

As a third generation used car dealer, his license allows him to troll government and bank auctions. He and his good buddy (and mechanical guru) Chuck turn great deals into winter projects, which are then sold the following spring. It’s not about the money, Mark says, most of the time he breaks even or makes very little. It’s all about having something fun to do over the winter that doesn’t cost a dime in the end. Last winter, though, Mark’s system failed.

At the 2010 Sturgis Rally, he came across three different bikes that he liked at an auction, all of which were at the right price, so he placed bids and walked away. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next, although Mark probably couldn’t at the time. “I had made three different offers and ended up with all three bikes!” he says. The bobber featured here actually mostly came from the Federal Marshall’s Service, even though a lot of its parts are takeoffs from the other bikes.

When it got cold out, and it came time to dive into all three bikes, guru Chuck sorted out the best parts from the three to put into what would be Mark’s bobber. “If you print any of this, you’ve got to make sure that everybody knows this wasn’t going to happen without Chuck,” Mark points out. “We took the parts out and whatever we wanted to keep for my bike, then put the other two together and sold them.” At the heart of the hardtail bobber is a 113″ S&S Cycle engine that just happened to be lurking in one of the other bikes. The other one sported a five-speed in good condition along with a 3″ BDL belt drive setup. Mark then ordered a stock-length DNA springer and DNA brakes for the front.

“As a matter of fact, the only Harley part on it to my knowledge is the front wheel,” Mark says. “The gas tank might be original, but I’m not sure. It was pretty old and crusty when I got ahold of it.” They moved the petcock to the back corner to take advantage of every drop of gas in the peanut tank, which, as you can see, is no longer crusty. An S&S Cycle carb rounds out the fuel system.

Guru Chuck was then faced with the task of creating a handful of one-off custom parts for the low-dollar build. Certainly the big rig mechanics in the audience have already noticed the handshifter, which is actually the pushrod from a Cummins diesel engine. Chuck also fabricated the struts, chain guard, clutch cable, and foot clutch bracket, which, along with the handshifter, were all sent out for chroming. The chromed internal throttle and JayBrake rear brake make Mark’s bobber “a hoot to ride.”

But how about that paint? That came courtesy of another of Mark’s friends, Dano. Dano had previously done a great job painting Mark’s Road King, so naturally he was a shoo- in for this job as well. The best part about Dano’s shop is that he doesn’t have one. “He’s an Irish guy who paints,” Mark says of his friend. “He doesn’t have a shop or anything; he painted this bike in his basement.”

This was a completely different take on a build for Mark. With his regular projects he basically puts them back together so that they’re safe, reliable, look good, and can sell for a reasonable price. “Back in ’08 when the market crashed, all this $30,000 stuff started getting to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are you going to do with that?’” he says. “I try to build bikes for 10 grand, something that every working guy can afford. I’ve got right around that in this one probably.” Mark was into the bikes at a little over $3,000 at the auction and was able to sell many of the unneeded parts on eBay. “This one was for me, this one was a keeper.”

This sure doesn’t look like a $10,000 build does it? And don’t think that Mark leaves this beauty in the garage to save for bike shows. No sir, he packs heavy mileage on this thing! “The foot clutch is a little hard to get used to,” he says. “It’s got everything you need and nothing you don’t, and that’s about the end of it.” AIM

READER’S RIDE By Tyler Greenblatt

Story as published in the January 2012 issue of American Iron Magazine.

Problem Child, Custom 2002 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

Have you ever known somebody who always seemed to be down on his luck, some-one who lives under a perpetual gray cloud? When I was in high school, we had a guy like that. If he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Fittingly, we nicknamed him Chief Gray Cloud. Another friend owned a car that might as well have had bull’s-eye targets painted on its hood, trunk, and doors. It was constantly picking up dings, dents, and scratches in the parking lot when it wasn’t ground zero for minor fender benders. We dubbed that cage Bumper Car, and it gave true meaning to the phrase joy ride.

Motorcycles are prone to the same demonic possession, too. Case in point is — or, hopefully, was — Jay Bartz’s 2002 Fat Boy. The demonic episodes began shortly after Jay, who calls Fridley, Minnesota, home, bought the bike new back in ’02. One night, after enjoying the camaraderie of his friends and fellow bikers at The Joint, one of the Twin Cities’ favorite biker hangouts, he concluded it was time to shove off and head for home. “I went out to the parking lot, and there were five other Fat Boys besides mine parked in a cluster,” recalls Jay. “They were all stock and looked the same, I didn’t know which one was mine.” A brief bout of playing musical keys narrowed the choices until he finally located the right bike. “That’s when I decided it was time to do a little customizing,” Jay said. The most obvious fix was to replace the big Boy’s iconic disc wheels with a set of custom rims, so that his FLSTF wouldn’t blend in with the other Fatties in the parking lot.

“I took the bike to a guy who had just opened a new shop in the area,” Jay said. His prices were right, so Jay elected to do more than just mount new custom wheels. They tore the Fat Boy down for a major rebuild and makeover. That’s when the demons returned. “The bike just sat in his shop with no progress being made,” Jay recalled. The easy part — disassembly — had been taken care of. The hard part — finishing the custom work — was yet to be tackled.

But that was only the beginning of Jay’s woes. “I went to the shop one day, and it was closed — for good. I had to call the cops to get my parts, and when I finally got them, about half were missing,” he said. Other casualties included a bad job of powdercoating to the engine cases. “It started flaking off,” laments Jay. The gray cloud just got grayer.

But, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and here’s where Jay’s story takes a turn for the better. “I took the bike to Donnie Smith’s,” Jay said. “Something I should have done in the first place.” Jay confesses that he’s always been a Donnie Smith fan, but he figured at the time that he couldn’t afford the seasoned builder’s prices. “I was wrong,” Jay continued. “The moment I walked into his shop, he treated me like I was a really special customer.”

So the exorcism of Jay’s Fat Boy began with Father Smith, in effect, splashing holy water on the bike. “They went right to work,” Jay said. “[Don]Tima [who works for Donnie Smith] and everyone started chroming parts that I would have never considered. They gave the bike a really
special look.”

Yet that powdercoated engine remained a major concern for Jay. But Donnie had a solution, and he knew just the shop to make it right. So, S&E in nearby St. Paul, got the call for fresh powdercoating. Donnie used the downtime to build up the engine’s internals, too. Head Quarters heads now sit atop Screamin’ Eagle 95″ cylinders, and a S&S Cycle gear-drive cam assembly was installed, along with S&S pushrods, rockers, and lifters. A Feuling high-performance oil pump found its way into the engine as well. Donnie’s crew crafted the swoopy exhaust system, and a conical D&M air cleaner fits onto the Mikuni 45mm slide carburetor. Additionally, the stock five-speed transmission was disassembled so that a set of BAKER’s smooth-shifting cogs could be inserted.

Those various parts that Tima and the crew had earmarked for chroming were sent to Pat Obinger’s shop in Blaine, Minnesota, and Mike Bailey in nearby Coon Rapids got the call to splash on the deep black paint job. It was just the touch to complement the engine’s orange powdercoated cases.

But, for the most part, the custom fabrication and assembly took place at Donnie Smith’s Custom Cycle in Blaine. The Softail frame received the typical lowering treatment, and Donnie applied his signature extended fenders front and rear; the rear sheet metal was based on a modified B’Cool fender while the front is from Donnie’s fabrication shop.

You won’t mistake that stylish gas tank for a typical Fat Boy’s fuel jug, either. Ditto for the headlight assembly that combines a Harley-Davidson Night Stalker nacelle with some subtle changes by Donnie Smith. Indeed, a who’s who of custom component suppliers highlights the parts manifest bolted to the 2″-under stock front end. The mirrors hail from Paul Yaffe’s catalog, and Performance Machine supplied the hand controls that mount to the Carlini handlebar. Keeping with the high-tech theme, the familiar, tank-mounted speedometer was nixed in favor of a cleaner-looking Dakota Digital gauge.

About a year after Jay first rolled his Fat Boy into Donnie’s shop, the bike was nearing completion. Which brings us full circle to the custom wheels that Jay had decided to put on his bike in the first place to help distinguish it from any other Fat Boy that happened to be in the parking lot or on the road. His final choice: a set of Performance Machine’s Wicked Image hoops, both 18-inchers. Metzeler rubber was wrapped around the shiny wheels, at which point the bike was deemed ready to roll.

But Jay wasn’t. “I had some health issues at about the time the bike was finished, and I really didn’t have enough money to pay Donnie,” Jay said. Now here’s where the gray cloud’s silver lining might as well have turned to gold. “Donnie worked with me on that, too,” he said. And so our tale of woe has a happy ending. AIM


Words by Dain Gingerelli, photos by Bob Feather

Story as published in the November 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine. To order a copy, visit

Kurt’s Led Sled Custom Sportster Bobber Bites Him Back

Blame it on the Wapatui punch, a glorious blend of gut-wrenching, largely grain spirits, Red Bull, and cheap fruit slung together, shaken, and stirred, in a trash can. Legend has it that this elegant cocktail made its debut at a frat house somewhere in Minneapolis, but it has apparently gained a popular legion around the banks of Lake Erie and Cleveland in particular. Its magical qualities can make your day and ruin your night. Or make your night and ruin your day. In other words, Wapatui is beautiful. And heinous. Beautifully heinous. However, enough about that distinguished elixir for the moment.

Not to sound like an elementary school grammar lesson, but this bike is cool. I know that. You know that. We know that. But cool can only take you so far, and there’s often a lesson in humility to be found at the end of the trail. Such was the case with Kurt Epprecht last summer during the Sturgis rally. Kurt had picked up a mildly wrecked 1998 Sportster Sport about a year before the hoedown in the Black Hills. The XL wasn’t so demolished that our Wapatui warrior couldn’t ride it from Cleveland down to Pat Patterson and his Led Sled crew in Dayton. Kurt told the boys what he had in mind — and the posture he and his slight inseam so desired — and then let Pat go nuts as only Pat and the Led Sledders can.
One thing Kurt, a track racer and genuine all-around motorcycle fiend, supposedly specified were pipes that wouldn’t easily scrape and turn into scrap metal. Maybe Pat didn’t hear that request or perhaps he just had his own ideas. No matter. Kurt picked up the stunner you see before you (well, not quite) on Memorial Day 2010, blasted off with mad aggression, quickly turning the bike’s initially low-slung dual exhaust into a pair of sparking cheese graters. Clearly something had to be done.

Pat and his henchmen had already tossed everything from Kurt’s wrecked Sporty. In case you’ve never had the honor, Pat and his pals, true XL wunderkinds, take great pride in tossing pretty much everything you hand them with the exception of your motor. They might even toss you if you hang around too long. It’s what they do, and they do it best. (Full disclosure: I have been honored and tossed in such splendor, and I have a sick Led Sled to prove it.)

As you can see, nothing on Kurt’s scoot is stock, save the H-D 1200 mill. From the frame to the bars, fender, struts, floorboards, oil bag, gas tank, battery cradle, seat, paint, fender … The boys really went to town on this one, not that they can otherwise control themselves when handed a lucky victim. They have a disease, which should not be diagnosed.

Of particular note is the front end, a Led Sled first. That’s right,  yet again, another groundbreaking American Iron exclusive. The National Enquirer has nothing on us! “Kurt’s bike is the first springer we built from scratch,” says Pat. “It’s our design, and we’re really proud of how it looks. In the back legs, you might notice a raised part that comes to a point. We’re trying to pay attention to detail and still make it a killer ride. Given the rake and the fat front tire, you can still throw that thing into corners and it’s awesome. You might feel a crack or two in the road, but you can whack it and give it hell just like anything else.”

Although I’d known Pat for awhile before he decimated and then beautifully resurrected my XL, Kurt had never met Pat prior to his Led Sled odyssey. “It’s always kind of strange when you’re building a bike for a dude that you don’t know,” Pat concedes. “But what’s so cool is that he trusts you. And you have to respect that insane trust. Ideally, it becomes a bond.”

Bond, trust, honor, detail … It all comes back to the finished product, with which Kurt was thrilled. Except for those damn low-slung pipes. And now we come to the lesson in humility. Having shredded his exhaust, bada$$ that he is, Kurt went back to the swami and requested that Pat give him the upswept pipes he’d originally asked for. And so Pat did, setting those suckers above the floorboards and angling them, as you can see, over the fender, pointing to the moon, the sun, your deceased relatives, or whatever else you believe in. How gorgeous. Kurt was a happy man.

Then it all went to s#!%.

“It was Sunday night at the [Buffalo] Chip,” recalls Kurt. He was drinking Wapatui (remember that?) with his buddies, and they were just happy to have enjoyed a great day riding Spearfish Canyon, eating Indian tacos, and generally being the distinguished gentlemen that frequent the annual gathering in the Black Hills. Kurt and company were hanging on top of their RV perched above the Chip’s stage hill camp area, perfectly situated to take in the evening’s music. And, of course, soaking themselves in the trash  can glory that is Wapatui.
When the sun sank, the band cranked, and things got really dark. To show his appreciation of the whole spectacle, Kurt zeroed in on the one thing he thought was lacking — a personal “rev check,” whatever that is. (I’ve knelt at the knees of some old school authorities, and nobody has ever heard the term, but, apparently it’s a sportbike ritual referring to revving the hell out of your bike at a standstill — always an honorable practice.)

Kurt’s rev check found him, perhaps a bit sloshed, with his Led Sled bobber in a dim section of grass. “I went to fire it up,” Kurt remembers. “Damn those pipes sounded so good. I had some trouble locating the switches to start the thing, but I worked it out. Then I slung my right leg over and my boot lace caught on the slash-cut, upswept pipes. I tried to pull it off, but things were going and my curled leg and body position would not allow me to free my boot from the pipe. I ended up falling over the bike while my foot was still stuck on the pipe and then the bike fell on top of me. I woke the next morning, and I had a huge gash on my thigh where the petcock had torn through my jeans, and my knee was the size of a pumpkin.”

Kurt spent that day at the Rapid City Emergency Room where he was diagnosed as having a severely sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament) and a shanked quadriceps muscle. “It kind of screwed up my Sturgis vacation,” admits Kurt. “But you can still have fun at the Chip, even if you are crippled.”

For the record, Kurt and his ailments are now healed, his bike is as ratty and marvelous as ever, his treasured (and dubious) high pipes remain, and his arm is frozen from constantly stirring a trash can full of Wapatui.
Fear the juice. AIM

Story as published in the September Issue of American Iron Magazine.