Readers Ride: Mikko’s 1972 Custom Shovelhead
A couple of years ago, when we met Mikko Kautto, he rode a neat café-style Honda 500 and told us, “I’ll never get a Harley!” But after totaling the Honda in a bad crash, he built a whole new bike in the same unique style, but this time with a Shovelhead motor.
Mikko Kautto is 41 years old and one of those artistic guys, which is hardly unusual among bikers. He works as a multimedia teacher at an art school and also moonlights as a graphic designer and sometime tattoo artist. He’s also a family man and lives a happy and agreeable life in the countryside. But that life could easily have ended about a year ago when he was out riding his Honda café racer.
“A 93-year-old driver pulled out right in front of me. The old guy was practically blind! I was badly hurt but fortunately nothing permanent, and the bike was totally smashed to pieces beyond repair,” Mikko says. As if Mikko didn’t have enough problems mending his broken bones, the insurance company offered a ridiculously low amount of cash for the bike.
“They went by their standard charts saying how much a stock old Honda 500 would be worth, but I put up a bit of a fight and found an expert at the insurance company who understood it had been a customized piece of rolling art with a lot of special parts. So, finally, they gave me a decent sum of money,” the biker says.
After receiving the cash, Mikko shocked all his friends (and us) by spending it on a half-finished Harley Shovelhead project. Now this was the guy who always said he would never build one of those Milwaukee tractors. So what happened? “Well, I did love my Honda, but it did have one drawback. A 500cc engine is simply too small. Not that it wasn’t fast, but at speed on fast roads that little motor revs so high that it just screams and sounds like it will explode any second. Not that it ever would, of course, but I still wanted a bike with lower rpm at cruising speed. So I figured I’d try a Harley after all.”
The last time I interviewed Mikko, he said why he didn’t want a Harley: “When you’re building, let’s say, a Panhead bobber, there are a lot of traditional rules you simply have to follow. You can’t just go crazy because it won’t look good. With a bike like my Honda I had a lot more artistic freedom to try out strange new ideas!” Guess he’s changed his mind since then.
“The truth is I never had enough money for a Harley until I got the insurance cash for the Honda. And, sure, I couldn’t go as wild with this bike, but I decided to give it a try anyway. My Shovel is a completely different bike but still has some similarities: the lightness, a racer feel, head- and hands-forward riding position, and, of course, the black, gold, and polished aluminum color scheme. I guess I have pretty much followed those classic bobber rules even though I may have decoded them a bit!”
The basic recipe is nothing fancy—a stock frame and a 1340cc motor. With this bike it’s all in the details, as you can see. The gas tank from a 1970s Zündapp moped sets the tone and reminds us of Mikko’s former bike that had a Husqvarna motocross tank. Another detail that Mikko is very strict about is the mid-controls. The guy is very much against forward controls and the typical laid-back riding position. “Forward controls just don’t make any sense!” Mikko says. “You are stuck sitting with all your weight on your ass and don’t have a lot of control of your bike. With mid-controls you can ride halfway standing up with your weight on your knees and hands and have great balance, which is necessary if you want to have some fun on gravel roads.”
Then he kicks the bike to life and demonstrates what he means by spraying some gravel in front of our cameras. A lot of bikers talk about going sideways and making “roostertails” but not so many actually do it. This guy obviously has a very active riding style.”But I have become a lot more safety conscious in traffic since my crash!”
There are plenty of little details here and there, like the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery medal in the steering column and the silver coin with former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen on the front brake caliper. “I’m not an alcoholic, but it seems like I’m always recovering from some injury or something so that AA medal made sense. The Kekkonen coin is from the year I was born, and I got it as a present. Mr. Kekkonen was the dictator of Finland when I was young—oops! I mean president, of course. But he was a good dictator.”
The shiny paint job may look like it was sprayed on, but Mikko did it with brushes and no clearcoat, exactly matching that of his former Honda. And the fact is, he’s got another Honda project coming up—a minimalist CB750 pure café racer. This Harley will remain unchanged except for a newer, slightly longer springer front end because he happened to shorten the present telescopic forks a bit too much for that 23″ front tire.
So, what else does Mikko Kautto wish for in his future? “Well, I’m one of those guys who likes to just live for today.” AIM Back Issues