Custom Ironhead Roadster Built in the Netherlands
By Steven Blackburn / Photos by Jeroen Hoebe
The fact that Sjaak Laan utilized the available space on his company logo to relate his utter disdain for stock using not one, but two expletives probably means he doesn’t like stock bikes all that much. It’s a pretty good thing then that Sjaak owns a custom bike shop where he can put an end to all that—Netherlands-based L&L Choppers.
And as a builder who customizes bikes in “every different style imaginable” and proudly proclaims “the customer is king,” Sjaak’s shop can assuredly be found on many motorcyclists’ radar across Europe (and it can, because it is).
But the number of radars with L&L blipping on their display screens rises exponentially when you consider the sheer amount of people who make purchases from Sjaak’s parts catalog (it’s a global demand).
Sjaak has a larger parts clientele in part because he began his business 30 years ago by exclusively selling—not building with— so-called chopper parts in response to the Swedish chopper craze, a frenzy that, Sjaak admits, he and his buddies also succumbed to. “There was a big love for all chopper stuff that came out of Sweden,” he remembers. As a result, L&L was “a big hit” almost immediately. “We sold parts all over Holland and Belgium.”
Sjaak later added bike builder to L&L’s list of services due to customer demand. It made sense. As a parts manufacturer, Sjaak had already fabbed years’ worth of components for other people to install on their customs, so the only thing that really changed when becoming a bike builder was that he had years’ worth of components for his team to install on other people’s customs. Luckily, Sjaak prefers building with what he fabs, so it worked out pretty well.
“We love to make things by hand,” he says. “Big things like pipes and small things like all the brackets on this bike.” By “this bike,” Sjaak was referring to this 1971 Ironhead Roadster owned by a guy named Jan who traveled all the way up from his home in Belgium to Sjaak’s shop in the Netherlands. (That’s almost like someone traveling from Boston to New York City.)
“This bike” now features many of L&L’s handmade parts. In fact, the entire build revolves around one in particular. “Jan wanted a stock front end but a frame that would give the bike a big custom look,” says Sjaak. However, by “big” and “custom,” Jan didn’t mean “raked” and “stretched.” Jan wanted all that kept to a minimum—which didn’t really leave Sjaak with many options. But Sjaak eventually decided on making a frame with a single front downtube. “It fits well with that slim Sporty motor,” he adds.
After dropping off his donor bike, Jan’s XL soon began accumulating a host of other L&L parts. But that doesn’t mean every add-on was forged there. And that doesn’t mean every alternative didn’t come from Sjaak’s parts catalog. Because many did. As Sjaak reveals, he also “sells mostly sought-after products that are normally hard to get,” many of which he usually tries to install on his builds, including Jan’s Ironhead. For example, Sjaak matched one of his oil bags with a rare Goodson air filter. However, many people reading this magazine wouldn’t consider that part even a tad bit uncommon, since it’s made in the US. But for people living in Europe, that makes it very hard to come by. “As far as I know, we are the only dealer in Europe that has them,” Sjaak says. “It’s the kind of product that’s not made for the masses. You gotta know people, like a friend of a friend.”
Much like how Sjaak’s bikes generally feature both L&L and rare components, they now tend to have more engine work done on them, such as split valve covers and bent oil lines. And on this build, Sjaak’s favorite mod just so happens to be that kind of job: the split heads. “You can’t buy them like that,” he explains. “It needs some expertise to make them, an expertise not every shop has.”
But Sjaak couldn’t just split or install parts willy-nilly (well, he could have, but it probably wouldn’t have ended happily). Like the chassis, Jan had a vague idea of what he wanted: “a cool chop with a classic feel and racy appearance.” A combination of certain parts—including the bars, brakes, and Cole Foster gas tank—contribute to the racebike aesthetic. Meanwhile, “things like our vintage tires, special wiring and sparkplug cables make you think the bike was built long ago,” Sjaak says.
Once Sjaak had installed everything, he finally took the Ironhead out for a test drive—and then tore it all down. But not because it didn’t ride smoothly (if you can even say that anything involving a hardtail is smooth). He explains: “We first build our bikes without paint and then ride them to see if everything is okay and then take it all apart to send it to the painter, chrome, or powdercoater.”
In this case, Sjaak sent the pieces to Patrick Customworks. What Patrick came up with—those orange blocks of ripples, sporadic lines, and leaf-like images broken up with stark streaks of blue—is based off a photo that Jan brought in.
Once Sjaak got the orange and blue pieces back, he rebuilt the bike to how you see it now. But he still had one more thing to do. “We ride at least 150 miles on every bike a second time to check if everything is okay before it goes to the customer,” he says.
The ride must have gone well because Jan has been riding it ever since. It’s also pretty great that Jan got to have his bike customized by L&L since he has “always been crazy about L&L Choppers.” So Jan finally got to have his favorite shop build him a bike. Or maybe we should say that Jan got to have his favorite shop build him what is now undoubtedly his favorite bike. AIM 379