Work In Progress


Like every other dumb ass with a 99-piece tool set and basic cable, I’ve watched more episodes of “American Chopper” than I’m proud to admit. I find the combination of the Teutuls’ disfunctional family feuding and coontail choppers predictable yet mesmerizing. Because the cameras spend more time on Senior’s tanned guns than they do on his planishing hammer, I naively assumed that building a backyard bike was easy. Cody and Vinnie sure make it look that way.
In addition to shows like “American Chopper,” “Monster Garage” and “Biker Build-Off,” I watch my fair share of NFL football. Not because I like watching dudes playing grab ass—I suspect that’s Mikey Teutul’s bag—I like betting on the games. Usually outlandish eight-pick parlays, where correctly guessing the winners and beating the spreads among 16 teams pays in the neighborhood of 120-to-1—odds nearly as improbable as Paul Sr. trimming his cock broom mustache. On one particularly lucky weekend last October, I played a seventy-five buck parlay and won 8,100 dollars.

With eight large burning a hole in my PayPal account, I had to do something with that money, and fast. Since I’ve never been in a real fight, I decided to book a room in South Dakota the second weekend of August. If you don’t own a bike and you’re not a good drinker, what better place to get your ass kicked than Sturgis? I immediately got online and dropped a grand on a vacant college dorm in Rapid City that sleeps six and features a private bath. I can drink ‘til I’m blind and sleep on a meat hook, but I’ll be damned if I’ll squat in a public shitter. When I told my friend Sully about my accommodations, I expected the salty motocross vet to be as fired up as I was. Not the case. Instead, my pessimistic pal called me a fag for not getting a bike. Why the fuck would I need a bike just to drink gin and stare at titties? I reminded Sully I’d ridden tarmac maybe three miles my entire life, and those miles were clocked on a borrowed Sportster. No, Sully was right—maybe I am gay.

A couple days after the brutal truth had sunken in, I got an email from my friend Chris Collins. Chris was a few weeks shy of graduating from the Motorcycle Mechanic’s Institute and needed help with his resumé. I told Chris about my football winnings and the room at Sturgis. Chris knew I didn’t have a bike, but that didn’t make him question my sexual orientation. Instead, he told me about Flyrite, a little chopper shop in the Lone Star State. Flyrite was having a holiday blowout on rolling bobber chassis—twenty-seven-hundred bucks delivered. Three weeks before Christmas I had a rusty roller sitting in my garage and a little over four grand left in my build fund for incidentals like a motor, tranny and everything else I would need to get her running.

Through my friends Sully and Drew at Universal Motocross, I’ve been emersed in the dirt-bike scene for a long time. I’ve rebuilt a couple 125’s, and after spending most of my life riding bicycles, I know my ass from an Allen wrench. American iron, on the other hand, is foreign soil. the last time I rode a four-stroke, the chick left me for dead on our second date. To make sure whatever bike I built would actually run when I pushed the starter button (no kicker for this guy—I don’t want to scuff up my Puma sneakers), I ponied up for an Evo crate motor and five-speed tranny through Coziahr Harley-Davidson in Illinois. Sully’s friend Shiela at Coziahr swung that deal wholesale, but even then my build fund was nearly exhausted. I considered plunking down another hundred on a football longshot, but instead I subscribed to The Horse and Walneck’s Cycle Trader. A little research, I reckoned, might do me some good.
From The Horse I learned that only doctors and douche bags ride bikes with bone-stock motors. So much for my theory on the importance of reliability. In Walneck’s I saw an ad for a motorcycle swap meet in Long Beach. The Long Beach Swap Meet is held in the same parking lot where Jesse James wrings out monsters like his nitro-burning colon irrigator and ’74 Dodge Volaré snow cone machine. Thanks to my supportive friends and the editors of this magazine, I had begun to realize a Wonder Woman theme bike was probably more my style. Undeterred, I drove to Long Beach to find the parts and inspiration that would give my bike some soul.

Greeting Sully and me at the Long Beach Municipal Stadium parking lot was a sea of chromed-out Fat Boys, Heritage Softtails, Big Dogs, Big Bears and Arlen NessCafé racers. Not the backstreet bobbers I was hoping to find. Frankly, I expected better machinery from the SoCal crowd. California pizza chefs and gay-rights activists may be creative and open-minded, but their bike-riding peers are about as original as billet tits on a boar hog.
Although I’ve hung my hat in California for 23 years, The Sunshine State is my spiritual home. Initially, civic pride compelled me to consider emulating the style of fellow Floridians like Billy Lane, but the more I learned about home-built bikes, the more I gravitated toward the clean, stripped-down style of guys like Russell Mitchell at Exile Cycles. Compared to bikes like the Martin brothers’ skull-print Bondo barges, Mitchell’s barhoppers stand out like wrecking bars at a tampon factory. In that desolate parking lot, I committed myself to building a poor man’s Exile. From a practical perspective, Mitchell’s blacked-out powdercoat look is both cheaper and more durable than unicorn murals or ghost flames. Visually speaking, ScotchBrite hides a multitude of sins. Body putty belongs on Pinto fenders, not a motorcycle. My bike’s sole homage to the Sunshine State would be its seat: a beatifully tanned aligator pelt with black baseball mitt stitching. I scored this jewel at the swap meet from a leather crafter named Jose Vidal. Gracias, amigo. Since most of my friends think I’m a jack-off, naming my bike was easy: the Master Gator.

Next, I took my sheetmetal and Paughco springer fork to High Tech Powdercoating in Santa Ana. In the two weeks it took Dan to strip and refinish my fork, fender, gas tank and oil bag, I created my parts by cruising every catalog, cycle trader and website under the sun. By cashing in a favor with one of his motocross accounts, Sully scored most of my parts at dealer cost. As it turned out, Kissing Layne’s ass at Big Valley Honda was a much smarter bet than the one I placed on the Eagles Superbowl Sunday. Down but not out, I grabbed my credit card and continued ordering. With each UPS delivery, another visit to the industrial hardware store followed. During the rainy month of February, everything I needed was delivered. Step 3: starting the mock-up.

During pre-assembly, my complete lack of experience in the fields of wiring and welding chewed on my stomach the way Senior chews Paulie’s ass. Fabrication, drivetrain assembly and carburetion, on the other hand, was straightforward and easy. Lesson learned: always scour the Internet, pore through books and look at magazines. The Horse prints tech stories for a reason. Read a couple of them and you will be enlightened. Another good tip: make friends with the dudes at your local big-twin repair shop. In my case, Red and Bob at Temecula Motorycle Repair. Bring them a case of beer and be willing to pay retail for their parts and services. After dropping about 500 dollars on big stuff where precision and compatibility was critical, the free advice and 10-percent discount these guys gave me saved my ass at least a dozen times. I should also say something about the two visits I paid to my local H-D dealer for tech advice: if it isn’t in their computer, they can’t help you. Thanks for nothing, Quaid Harley-Davidson.
With every part now bolted into place, it was time to do final fab work on my stripped-down frame. Remember my friend Chris from MMI? Two weeks after graduation, he landed his dream job: office manager and personal protegé to Chica at Chica Custom Cycles. Chris agreed to do the welding I needed, but asked me to wait a week. Apparently, Chica and Chris needed to wrap up production on a show bike for the S&S booth at Daytona Bike Week. If Chica needed my friend’s help to hard line a fifty-thousand-dollar poster bike for the Discovery Channel, my roach could wait.

As Horse readers have known for years, OCC is the intestinal tract of the custom motorcycle industry. The bikes they churn out might be technically correct, but every one of them looks like shit. On the other hand, guys like Chica are the heart of the bike-building art. From the compact office space to the OSHA inspector’s wet dream of a workshop, every thing and everyone at Chica’s had soul. Donor bikes, employee projects and TV showstoppers occupied every square foot of Chica San’s cramped headquarters. SoCal bro’s and Japanese artisans worked in harmony on everything from rusty Triumphs to commissioned bikes for bank presidents. The whole scene made me and my mailorder rigid seem stupid and small. Mercifully, none of Chris’s seasoned co-workers cast a condescending eye in my direction. Instead, they enjoyed the Japanese beer I brought for the project and lended a hand. Chica wingman Jun was super helpful, welding some tricky fender brackets personally and agreeing to keep the shop open till 10:00 p.m. while Chris and his brother Mike did the rest. Domo arigato.

As anyone but Helen Keller can tell you, Senior’s tantrums and Paulie’s slacking is TV drama mongering at its very worst. I’d never assembled a chopper in my life and I managed to put the Master Gator together with help from my friend Beercan Billie in under 12 hours. By following a crystal-clear wiring diagram I downloaded from the Internet, I had the bike’s electrical system sussed and soldered before dinner. Red at Temecula Motorcycle Repair buttoned down everything that required an air wrench or a brake bleeder in a couple hours. What I’m saying is this: anyone with a gram of dirt under his fingernails and a few thousand bucks on his credit card can build a backstreet chopper. I’m a 43-year-old metrosexual and I did it in under four months. In the process, I met real dudes like Jun and Red, showed some sac to friends and learned lessons about myself and motorcycles that will last a lifetime. Most importantly, I turned off my TV and went for a ride. Granted, it took me two tries to pass the California motorcycle test—my girlfriend aced it in one visit—but it was worth it.

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