Brandon Cooper is not your typical biker. Clean shaven, devoid of earring, Mohawk or tattoos, Brandon would appear at first glance to be a professional, a salesman or possibly someone in the medical field. And while Brandon Cooper is a professional, thankfully he chose neither of those careers. Brandon Cooper is a mechanical engineer. And Brandon loves to tinker.
I met Cooper at the Editor’s Choice Bike Show in Daytona this March where he had several bikes entered in the competition. He ended up walking away with two trophies that day, one from THUNDER PRESS for this 1959 Panhead and another for his handcrafted 1959 45 c.i. flattie from a second magazine. Taking two wins in any show is impressive. What was more impressive was to find out that not only was this the first time Brandon had ever entered a build in any bike show, this was also his first time to ever attend Daytona Bike Week. But don’t think Mr. Cooper is a rookie builder experiencing rookie success—by no means. He’s been tinkering with and cobbling together all manner of two-wheeled contraptions most of his life, as he explained.
“It all started with a 5-horsepower Tecumseh engine a friend and I found on a rototiller in a junk yard. We were about 11 years old so it was only natural to mount it on a Stingray bicycle with one of those banana seats. We also found a real big pulley that we managed to lock onto the bike’s rear wheel. No clutch, no brakes, had to run alongside to get going and drag your feet to stop. Got yelled at a lot about wearing out my shoes.”
Brandon Cooper seems to specialize in taking on projects that repurpose items, using the old or mundane and breathing new life into them—when completed, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This build took the better part of one winter and utilizes a 1959 Panhead engine coupled with a 1965 frame (originally a swingarm but remodeled into a hardtail by Cooper). The transmission is a stock 4-speed Harley unit. Both the engine and tranny were rebuilt by Brandon with no major performance upgrades. As he elaborated, “A bike this light, it has plenty of power stock,” The bike receives fuel via a S&S Super E that sits behind a modified air filter assembly because… “Well, everyone runs those dang teardrop covers,” answered Cooper.
One of the most unique features is the off-the-wall oil tank, a monstrous 8-quart wedge-shaped vessel that incorporates five 1” diameter through-holes that serve as a natural cooler. The tank houses an Anti-Gravity battery and utilizes an external oil filter mounted up front that was totally reengineered by Cooper (he is a mechanical engineer with a filter company in Michigan). Despite its size, the oil tank fits the bike’s aesthetics perfectly and is quite elegant. The Sporty-style gas tank was modified to accept a one-off gas cap assembly produced by his good friend Kirk Brown with Crafty-B, a manufacturer renowned for producing the finest hand-cast, master-crafted hot rod gas caps in the industry.
Although Cooper is a fully qualified machinist, the mid-controls are hand forged—as in a furnace of angry-red coals, a big-ass hammer and stout anvil hand forged—totally mastering his blacksmithing passion and creating one-of-a-kind braking and shifting linkages (the rear brake master cylinder near the oil pump was repurposed from a Suzuki while part of the shifter mechanism began life as an antique sewing machine). The front end is a slightly modified DNA unit that Brandon felt needed twin disc brakes. So he also forged the left-side front caliper support since DNA only offers a right-side bracket. Final stopping power is supplied by Brembo Brakes. Cooper also crafted the unique handlebars along with the bulletproof, double-bolt exhaust system.
Fully chromed wheels were bought off of eBay and once again repurposed, eliminating most of the flash except for a beauty ring on each side rim along with a single orange-appropriate H-D colored stripe offset by black connecting ribs all finished by Brandon’s personal touch. And Brandon Cooper wouldn’t be a true Renaissance man unless he did his own wiring, and paint, and… pinstriping. That’s all his work.
Working independently without a business shingle per se, Cooper turns out about one bike per year and then, “I’m on to something else. The fun was in building it.”
When asked why he had never entered any of his bikes in a show before he responded, “I do it for myself—the satisfaction of taking an idea through to completion. Plus we have long winters up here.”
But make no mistake, Brandon enjoys riding as much as building and is active with a group of area riders who have tagged him King B (he would not elaborate). He normally keeps a bike build for about a year after completion, riding it and putting it through its paces before selling it and going on to the next project.
He never starts with anything new, preferring vintage models as a starting platform. After removing the engine from the donor bike and placing it on a stand in his shop, he mentally builds a frame and a general design around it. As the work progresses it often dictates the style and direction of the end product. But he has no particular brand allegiance and currently has a Triumph Triple in the process of a serious makeover. While in Daytona this spring with this Panhead and the earlier-mentioned Harley 45, he also had a 1972 Triumph Bonneville 750 bobber that he entered in several shows. Shortly after returning to Michigan, he traded the Bonnie for a ’79 Police Special Shovelhead along with some cash. The Shovel soon found a new home in the shop waiting its turn on the surgery table.
When asked his opinion about Daytona and the entire bike show scene, he replied that he was already planning to return next year. He said, “It was fun. I’ve been doing this a very long time and it was so great to see all these young guys building some really cool bikes. And solving the problems that come up along the way; as a builder, it’s amazing to watch.”