I’ve heard people say that it takes fifteen years of hard work and dedication to become an overnight success, and for Gary Irving and his meticulously built shovelhead chopper, this statement couldn’t be truer. Although the bike only took a fraction of that time to build, the story begins much earlier.
Gary came to the U.S. from the United Kingdom in 1994, with only his clothes on his back and enough money to buy a 600cc Honda Shadow motorcycle that he rode all over the country for about three weeks. Eventually he ran out of money and decided to hunker down in a town called Santa Cruz, California, where he worked custom painting surfboards for local shapers. Eventually, Gary landed a job using his artistic abilities and became a painter and muralist for a local custom motorcycle manufacturer. During that time, he began to collect parts to build his own chopper including a 1949 Panhead motor. His vision was a masterpiece, a bike adorned with murals, engraving and the imagery of his favorite band, Motörhead.
But, as many people know, when you work at doing a job that was once a fun and enjoyable hobby, it can become frustrating having to use your talents to create someone else’s vision of what they think is cool. As it turns out, Gary was not immune to this curse and told himself, “If I have to paint one more stupid wide tire chopper with a flame paint job, I’m fucking quitting.” He was asked to do another flame paint job, so guess what? He fucking quit! The paint guns and airbrush equipment were tossed in the trash and the Panhead project found a new owner. The dream was dead.
Fast forward eighteen years to 2018 when a friend, Jim The Chin, comes by my shop and tells me that he has this friend who’s looking to build a chopper. His name is Gary. Jim makes the introduction and plans are made to build a really simple daily rider chopper. Something that would be a budget type of build and nothing really over the top… something that also immediately kind of went out the window, due to that whole “snowball effect” thing. But first we would need to find a bike to build as a decent foundation. Through a series of phone calls, Jim had located a bike that was for sale from a friend of his named John, who lived in Modesto. The bike was a 1979 Shovelhead that had already been hardtailed and had some neat parts on it, including a Motörhead points cover John had made out of a belt buckle that is still on the bike.
A deal was struck and Gary’s dream became a few steps closer to reality. The day the bike was purchased, it landed in the shop and a game plan was formulated. Although the bike had a good look, it didn’t reflect Gary or my taste, so the bike came apart and that’s where the fun began.
We decided on straying from convention and opted for a 19-inch dual flange wheel in the rear to keep the bike slim. A phone call was placed to Jasin Phares of Phares Cycle Parts to order one of his narrowed, extended Harley-style springer front ends. This one was special because it was the first one he built using his custom hub that allows the use of a disc brake. A rear trailer-style rear fender was acquired and narrowed to closely fit the profile of the skinny 19-inch rear wheel. A custom sissybar was made that includes an ornamental mount for a modified “Warpig” belt buckle and a sectioned 1932 Ford taillight.
A seat pan was fabbed up and sent to Pascal of “Hollywood Riff Raff” in Southern California to be hand-tooled with a custom oak leaf like what’s on Lemmy’s Bass guitar, surrounding the Motörhead logo. The reason we chose him is because he tooled Lemmy’s boots among other leather items. Lemmy, who once wrote to Pascal, “Pascal is to my feet what Racquel Welch is to my dick.” Charming. He also handled all of the engraving on the engine. After all of the welding and fabrication was completed and the bike was in a rolling form, it was disassembled and all of the parts were sent off to be chrome plated, polished, painted, and to have the drivetrain gone through by Duncan Kelleher of San Jose, California. Morris at Imperial Chrome Plating and Polishing in Fresno, quickly handled the shiny stuff.
Robert Kraft of Santa Cruz did the body work and beautiful black paint. The tank was then sent out to Stephen Gibson of Atlantic City, New Jersey, who airbrushed the murals of Lemmy on the tank and it’s so perfect that it looks just like a photograph. Once all of the parts were back in hand, the bike was reassembled, plumbed, wired and brought to completion. There are many custom touches including the 1940’s automotive fog lamp as the headlight, polished stainless fasteners, copper oil lines, vintage-style braided wiring, and touches of polished brass components.
So nearly 20 years after dreaming of building a chopper his way that would be a tip of the hat to a band that has fueled many of our lifestyles, Gary Irving’s dream is now a reality.
Story by Mike Galli
Photos by Gary Irving