Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Well, the weather here in Central California is perfect for ridin’, an’ I feel sorry for the rest of this beautiful country that happens to be buried under 20 feet of snow. I was gonna do some more customizin’ on my ol’ Softail before ridin’ season, but ridin’ season snuck up an’ kicked me dead in the ass already! I’ve been ridin’ the hell outta my Shovelhead chopper, an’ the more I ride it, the more I love it. She’s a sweet little scoot!
Anyway, the customizin’ brings me to an important part of any customizin’ job: concept an’ parts. The concept part is a matter of personal taste, an’ sometimes it can leave me scratchin’ my head at how someone could do such a thing to an innocent motorcycle, but I guess everybody’s vision of the perfect ride is different. I’ve seen beautiful, smooth-flowin’ bikes with tall “apes” that just stop your eyes in mid-travel like a flagpole on a Ferrari. Maybe they wanted to do somethin’ nobody else has done, but there may be a reason nobody else had done it in the first place!
When I build a bike I never draw it up before I start like a lot of builders. I have a picture in my mind of what it will look like, but that picture always evolves an’ changes from one day to the next as the project rolls along. I fabricate a lot of my own parts, an’ makin’ them fit the original picture would be curbin’ my creativity at any given moment. As most of ya know, I love the old ’70s-style chops so that’s what I usually build, but now an’ then I wander off into the deep, black backwaters of obscurity in search of somethin’ different. One of my main sources of goodies for this kind of project is my local scrapyard. I was out there the other day lookin’ for some thin aluminum diamond plate for a bathroom remodel (yeah, Reggie has me doin’ the Holmes on Homes thing, makin’ a Harley-themed bathroom) when I ran across a brass Chinese vase that looks kinda like a burial urn. Most people just see junk, but I see motorcycle parts, an’ I thought what a great headlight housing it would make. A trip through a local antique mall while waitin’ for Reggie to shop yielded a nearly matchin’ vase for the taillight that was a tad smaller. Since a lot of the top show honors have been goin’ to small metric customs lately, I have a project on the back burner usin’ a little Kawasaki 500 (yeah, I know, but it was free) that’s gonna be really “out there, ” so I’m usin’ the vases on that project.
Fortunately, we have several of the biggest car swap meets in the world right here in California, an’ that’s also a great place to find parts. Not only is a lot of stuff interchangeable between cars and motorcycles, but most hot rodders also either have, or once had, bikes, as well, so even though the swaps are primarily for cars, bike parts are everywhere. I’ve found some incredible deals at these swap meets, but like most places, a lot of sellers seem to think that rust is gold an’ price their stuff accordingly. A while back I picked up a battered old Sportster gas tank from a table an’ asked what the owner wanted for it. When he told me he wanted a hundred bucks for it, I just chuckled and set it down, not even botherin’ to make him an offer. I’m not sure where he was from, but it sure wasn’t anywhere on this planet!
On the other hand, I bought a brand-new chrome, round oil tank/battery box for a measly 25 bucks, an’ a pair of Shovel heads with perfect fins for a 50-dollar bill. The deals are out there if you want to go look. I’m also buildin’ a hot rod 1943 Ford pickup, so sometimes I get “package deals” when someone has bike and hot rod parts I need.
Another great place to look for deals is the “scratch and dent” section of Internet parts dealers like J&P Cycles, JC Whitney an’ others. A while back they had brand-new 4″-over fork tubes on clearance for 15 bucks a pair! I bought a half-dozen pairs, and I’ve been usin’, tradin’ and sellin’ ’em for the past year. I also bought Evolution rocker arms for five bucks each from the same place, so keep your eyes open!
When I was a kid my dad was what folks would call a horse trader, an’ I grew up the same way. I always have a stockpile of “tradin’ material” in the shop, an’ I’m the first place my buddies head to when they need a part. I love doin’ it, an’ it’s been good to me over the years so I’ll snag a good deal on most anythin’, whether I need it or not, just because I may need it later or be able to trade it for somethin’ I need—kinda like those picker guys on TV, only I’ve been doin’ it since the early ’60s.
Even if you’re not startin’ a project right now, keep your eyes open for goodies… ’cause you may find somethin’ I need! See ya at the swap meet!