Just a taste of trouble
Tripping on a time-warp rigid
Roanoke, Texas, Feb. 20—The oversized, fenderless front tire hummed against the wet pavement, casting a ribbon of water ahead of me that shimmered briefly in the glow of the headlight before reversing direction and pelting my face. But I was well prepared and my split-lens goggles and leather aviator cap served me well. And although my ancient bomber jacket was literally bursting at the seams (I could actually hear threads breaking over the sound of the V-Twin), the zippers held and the cowhide kept me dry. Looking like a recently discharged World War II vet, I pulled up at a stoplight next to a passenger car. The auto’s occupants stared through the rain-streaked windows at the antique visage I presented with a look of wonder that questioned what past year had I just time-teleported from. I offered a grinning reply that only crazed riders who challenge the rain understand—every day is a great day for riding.
I had accepted an invitation from Biker Pros to spend the day riding some Brass Balls Bobbers in North Texas. Biker Pros is the publicity and marketing agency for Brass Balls, and had arranged an all-day event based at A Bikers Garage in Roanoke. When I stepped through the doors I was surprised to see an old acquaintance behind the counter, Bob Kay. Bob has been a fixture in the motorcycle industry for over 30 years, his name associated with Bikers Choice, American IronHorse, Hardbikes and Tucker Rocky, among others. This new endeavor was started just over two years ago with Bob’s partner “Red” Redenbaugh. A second shop bearing the same name is located in nearby Plano, Texas. Following today’s test ride media event, a shop party with food, drinks and live music was to be held that evening and would be open to the public.
Brass Balls Bobbers and Choppers are produced by Darwin Motorcycles out of Oklahoma City. They presently offer five production bikes with a sixth model in the lineup due out later this year. The one that I gravitated to was the company’s Classic Bobber. With its simplistic styling, modest frame design coupled to a short springer and a 16-inch front wheel, the bike hearkens to yesteryear, truly befitting its name. But one of the most unique aspects of Brass Balls bikes is the customer’s input in deciding the final product. As an example, while the frame on the Classic Bobber only comes with a 36-degree rake and zero inches of stretch either up or out (to maintain the model’s “classic” lines), anyone wishing to opt out on the hardtail can specify a softail-style rear suspension in its place. But those options do include an upcharge.
The bike I was testing had the company’s standard rigid frame but the motor had been upgraded to the optional 100″ Crazy Horse (a la Indian Motorcycles “Bottle-Cap” design with polished fins) that carried $1,998 in additional expense. (A Harley-Davidson 80 c.i. EVO crate engine is the BB OEM of choice.) An S&S Super E carb was mounted in true “Indian” fashion off the left side of the motor. And while the standard transmission offering is a 5-speed Baker, this particular bike was sporting the luxury of a 6-speed Baker Drivetrain. Linking the Bottle-Cap to the Baker is a 3-inch wide Tauer Renegade belt drive, while the exhaust gases bark through a 2-into-1 collector topped off by a ceramic canister by Performance Exhaust (also an upgrade). Up front the springer is a DNA model that’s two inches under stock length. While black with chrome springs is standard, an all-chrome unit is also available, as is a 41 mm conventional hydraulic front end. The Classic Bobber spins on 16-inch, 40-spoke wheels front and rear. Metzler ME 880s wrap both rims, with a 130 mm up front followed by a 140 in the back. A variety of wheel choices range from 5-spoke mags to 52 Fat Spoke. My test ride came with black powdercoat rims and chrome spokes—the perfect accent. Polished Wilwood Performance 4-piston brakes perform the stoppage duties but can be upgraded to Hawg Halters. With the Classic Bobber having a dry weight of only 550 pounds, the Wilwood units were more than adequate to bring it to halt. A sanitary tubular oil tank above the transmission also houses the battery and electronics.
The Paughco Mustang tank won’t get you too far with its 3.1-gallon capacity, but probably plenty far enough if you insist on the rigid frame option. It sure does look good perched on the top rail with the engine spilling out each side underneath. Excel billet forward controls are well placed to function with the shaker-style floorboards. A Wire Plus black face digital console is used in conjunction with a set of semi-beach bars sitting atop a pair of 4-inch chrome risers. The instrument package offers a speedo, tach, odometer and turn signal indicators. The seat is what one expects on a traditional bobber: a piece of leather stretched across a metal pan with only a minimal amount of padding. It is highlighted with an embossed Brass Balls logo (twin skulls and crossbones) and a riveted perimeter for added industrial edginess. A slight flip on the seat’s rear profile aids in maintaining butt placement during playtime with the throttle. On my test model, twin Chopper Shox (+$189) took the place of the factory coil springs on the seat, eliminating that uneasy side-to-side, wallowing effect that is inherent with traditional barrel springs. Surprisingly, Chopper Shox are not adjustable. Instead spring rates are matched according to a rider’s weight. Now I don’t know who this particular bike was set up for, but the rider is either a lot heavier than me, and the Shox were too stiff, or the rider is a lot lighter than me and I bottomed them out. Whatever the case, it was a rough ride for a sprung saddle. I hope the only damage done was to my spine. The versatility of the Brass Balls pick-and-choose system even extends itself to the addition of a passenger seat and pegs. The rear end is capped with an abbreviated fender, dual rocket mini taillights and a vertical tag mount. The Classic Bobber comes standard in a single color of the customer’s choice but custom paint is an easily obtainable option only limited by your imagination and pocketbook.
The bike is what it is—a barebones rigid with a springer and everything that Spartan combination offers. It’s an honest machine with no pretense that handles properly with no surprises. The big front tire tracks well and, when combined with the bike’s low center of gravity, adds to the bike’s balance and cornering stability. The semi-beach bars were a good reach for my 6-foot frame but they are a bit wider than what I’m accustomed to. And while the Crazy Horse powerplant would not be my motor of choice (leaning instead toward the 93″ S&S Shovel option, a $3,899 price tag increase—ouch), it easily propelled the Classic and its lithe weight with a snappy response.
Darwin Motorcycles is owned and operated by Dar Holdsworth, who has a desire to provide a solid bike at a reasonable cost using as many American-made parts as possible (the foreign DNA springer being the obvious exception). The Classic Bobber carries a base price of $18,650. With all the mentioned upgrades, the model as tested totaled $23,567, which isn’t too bad considering the majority of that increase was due to the Bottle-Cap engine. A former Air Force and Desert Storm veteran, Dar’s patriotism is demonstrated by the $500 discount offered on all bikes bought by any active duty member of the military, police officer, firefighter or schoolteacher. And although my saddle time was limited, I stepped away from the Classic Bobber with nothing but favorable comments—its blending of modern mechanics with post-World War II styling providing an ideal transport to a simpler time.