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Chris Malo’s Indian Chief Buffalo Chip Challenger

Custom Motorcycle Feature

Chris Malo’s Indian Chief Buffalo Chip Challenger

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Photos by Kevin Eilbeck

Forget reality shows and other vicarious thrill-and-adventure specials you might see on television these days. This bagger, which began life as a 2015 Indian Chief Classic, is about real life. It’s part of the Buffalo Chip Challenge, a build-off that for the past six years has featured custom bikes built by high school students from South Dakota’s Black Hills area. This is one of the two baggers that the students created for this year’s challenge and, as you can see, it’s the kind of bagger that you’d be proud to own.

Now here’s another dose of reality: you can own this Indian bagger – if you attend the annual Legends Ride at this year’s Black Hills Motorcycle Classic, where you can submit the highest bid when the Indian and its stable mate, a comparably customized Victory Cross Country 8-Ball (featured in #338), are auctioned off prior to the afternoon ride. Simply, the highest bidder gets his or her choice of bikes, and second-highest bid nabs the remaining bike. Auction proceeds go towards the Black Hills Special Olympics and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. Most recently, this rolling charity financed the purchase of a much-needed bus for the Special Olympics athletes, and there will be plenty more goodness to come, thanks to all the players involved in the annual Chip Challenge.

As we pointed out in last issue’s Victory Chip Challenge bike feature, the two baggers are part of a program that embraces students from local high schools to be part of the hands-on build from start to finish. The program is sponsored by the Buffalo Chip, and the big chief for the actual bike builds is Keith Terry, who coordinates between Chip owner Rod “Woody” Woodruff and the two bike-team leaders, Chris Malo (of Baggsters, in charge of the Indian build) and Randy Cramer (Dakota V-Twin, in charge of the Victory build), to complete the job.

Before the builds get underway, one more element is added to the equation – part vendors that supply some of the coolest custom bike parts in the business. It starts with each team enlisting a signature builder whose parts constitute a bulk of what you see on the respective bikes, although the sum total of the parts may include other players as well. In the case of this Indian, the signature pro name is John Shope and his Dirty Bird Concepts line of bagger products.

But the real stars of the show are the Black Hills high school students themselves, because they are entrusted with turning the wrenches, swapping all the parts, sanding the body panels for new paint, and making sure that every new custom bike component that’s tacked onto the bikes remain tacked on.

“We had a great bunch of kids, as usual,” says team leader Chris Malo about the completion of this year’s Indian Classic. Chris pointed out, too, that his team had help from another industry insider, Matt Beckdolt of Carl Brouhard Designs. “Matt was as enthusiastic as the kids!” Chris adds. “He helped out pretty much every day.”

Obviously, the nine students who stuck around during the three months to complete the build (students met at Chris’ shop in Spearfish three times a week) benefited the most. As Keith Terry is quick to say, “This project is intended to teach the high school students some skills to use with their hands, so when they graduate from school they’ll be in a better position to get jobs.”

They also learn about responsibility and accountability, because at the end of the project each year three students are awarded scholarships. Those scholarships amount to more than just peanuts, too. The top scholarship recipient is presented $5,000, and second and third receives $2,500 and $1,000, respectively. That’s nice seed money for continuing an education into, say, a trade-tech school or local college program.

For the most part, the Indian’s build went smoothly. The RC Components wheels – a new 26″ Exile wheel resides up front, while the concealed rear is RC’s generic 16″ full-dish, and both hoops received fresh Vee Rubber skins – went on smoothly. Dirty Bird Concepts goodies include fenders, saddlebags, side covers, taillight assembly, stiffer fork springs, a custom dash, and hand controls, all familiar components that have become staples among bagger builders worldwide.

We’ll drop a few more names you might be familiar with, too: Carl Brouhard Designs supplied the foot controls and floorboards, and Jeff Kreun of Kreun Kustoms provided the stylish seat that some lucky auction bidder will perch himself atop during long rides toward the horizon. Rusty Jones Customs got into the act with an air ride rear shock to help shore up the suspension, and Chris reports that the team learned a thing or two about chassis and steering geometry when they tacked on the Kewl Metal rake and stretch kit to the steering head so that the big 26″ RC wheel and Vee Rubber tire have some wiggle room.

The team tinkered with the 111″ engine, too. Tom Keith from Indian of Sturgis helped them install a trio of Indian’s aftermarket cams that, we’re told, were developed with assistance from ace cam-grinder Lloydz. Cams always work best when the engine breathes freely, and to that end the team tacked on a Dirty Bird air cleaner to the intake side and a Trask Performance/ Dirty Bird Concepts exhaust system at the big motor’s south side.

Finally, it was time for paint, and that’s where some drama played out in this build. “We had to switch painters,” Chris told us, and any bike builder who has been in that predicament knows how difficult it can be to find another painter ready to drop other jobs to take on another. So, after the kids prepped the body panels they searched for someone to hose on the shiny stuff. Jamie’s Repair in nearby Rapid City answered the call before handing over all body panels to Tim Peterson at Flat Earth Graphics for striping and gold leaf.

By chance, Rapid City also happened to be the place where the new Indian and Victory baggers rolled out into the public’s view for the first time. It was show time at the local bike show where both baggers bagged first-place awards. Then it was on to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Donnie Smith Car and Bike Show.

Fifteen of the students were able to make the trip to St. Paul where they took turns working the booth at the show, fielding questions and generally explaining how the Buffalo Chip Challenge works. Oh, and the two teams also scored firsts in their respective classes again, going two for two.

You could call it a fairytale ending if you want but, in truth, the story doesn’t end there. We’ve still got that bidding war to settle at the Legends Ride, where the bikes will be displayed at the Franklin Hotel prior to the auctioneer sounding the bell to get the bidding underway. Let’s hope that the prices go really high! The museum can always use additional funding, the Special Olympics kids deserve all the money that can be raised, and, most of all, auction money earned is a tribute to the kids who worked so hard to convert the stock Indian and Victory tourers into cool baggers. Real life doesn’t get any more dramatic than this, folks. AIM 339

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