This bike was built for Born Free 11 in 2019. My buddy, Don, and I had been talking about putting his Knucklehead together for a little while and when we got the news that I had been included in the list of invited Born Free builders, we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity. Don had already collected the 1947 motor, the ’46 transmission and a cherry ’40 frame (probably the nicest I’ve seen in person).
I have had the honor of being invited to two previous Born Free shows as a builder. The work that goes into the invited builder bikes is unlike any other builds I’ve done. When you are placed in an arena with some of the most talented and creative people around, it takes every ounce of creativity and craftsmanship for someone like me to even hang with the other builders. I knew I had to really go for it on this build, while still keeping the lines and overall style of an early ’60’s show bike.
We used an original VL springer that Jasin Phares extended six inches and rechromed. There’s a 21-inch Starhub laced to a high shoulder rim up front and a 19-inch star hub laced to a high shouldered rim in the rear. I picked up a NOS Hap Jones Wassell tank and a smooth Wassel rear fender, then made a Mastercraftstyle taillight housing and molded it into the rear fender.
Initially, for the show, I made my version of what looks like a mix between a mousetrap clutch and a police-style shifter. It pivoted on a bung on the frame and acted as the clutch, while the Leestyle pedal became the shifter. It was a pretty trick setup that I had been wanting to try for a while, inspired by Tom Fugle’s Panhead from a David Mann painting.
I made all the controls and mids from stainless; milled the ends down halfway through the round stock and crosshatched grooves for grip. Then I made a tall stainless sissybar and machined some Flanders risers to slip fit into the rear legs of the springer. I reached out to my friend, Dayten, who graciously pointed me in the right direction formaking the oil hard-lines and fittings. We also had him cast a bitchin’ Linkert bird deflector for the chrome M74B carburetor.
There’s a picture from the early 1960s of a Southern California Knucklehead with high and tight shotgun pipes that has always stuck out in my mind. So I took that concept and built this set of exhaust using NOS Superior mufflers that I blended into the high and tight exhaust headers. Due to the Morris magneto, I had to run the front exhaust header out around the frame and back inwards toward the bike which gave it a unique look.
We made a sprung cobra-style seat pan and enlisted Jeff from BNC to handle the upholstery. Jeff does all the seat upholstery for my builds and is not only a talented upholsterer, but a great fabricator. I used 7/16-inch stainless round stock, milled half of it down and sanded the ends to a peak, to utilize as molding detail throughout the entire bike. While the end product came out beautifully, at the time I didn’t realize how many hours I would put into that one detail.
During the ten days leading up to breaking the bike down for paint and chrome, I worked 16 hours each day. Half of those days were spent fighting what turned out to be a nasty case of pneumonia. Fortunately, my brother John (RIP) brought me some leftover antibiotics and I powered through.
The paint work was done by my good friend of 18 years, Joey Cano of SlabSide Cycles. I’ve never been one to come up with a specific paint scheme that I must have on a build. Having someone as knowledgeable as Joey, that has style and can tell you exactly what paint scheme would’ve been on a show bike in 1962, makes all the difference. So many hours went into little details in order to showcase our style and even try to compete on the level of the other invited builders.
I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of my employee at the time and good friend, Graham Ebner. I want to thank Don for the opportunity to build this bike and the endless support throughout the process. Unfortunately, we didn’t come away with any awards from the show, but I believe the results of the time and work put into this bike speaks for itself.