Ryan Coligan’s mind-bending ‘Turbo Chop’ took on J and P Cycle’s Ultimate Builder competition and went all the way to the finale in Chicago (and we dare you to find the gas tank)
Words by Joy Burgess Photos by Ryan Coligan
As people walked around the striking blue bike build sitting on the floor of the J&P Cycle’s Ultimate Builder competition in New York City – part of the International Motorcycle Shows tour – the most common comment was this: “Why’s the air filter sticking out from the gas tank?” It’s not a bike you can look at once and then meander on by; it’s one that had people scratching their heads trying to figure it out. And that’s exactly what the bike’s builder, 26-year-old Ryan Coligan from East Windsor, Connecticut, intended.
“I’ve been to tons of Bike Weeks with my job,” Coligan said, “and I’ve seen so many custom bikes and bikes crafted by many famous builders. After a while I felt almost bored of seeing the same type of bikes – they all kinda started looking the same. My goal was to make something that when people looked at it, they would have to look again, and then again, to see what’s actually going on instead of just walking by and saying, ‘That’s a cool bike.’”
Although Coligan’s ‘Turbo Chop’ is his first foray into V-twin builds, he’s no newbie in the bike industry. He works full-time at Toce Performance, a performance shop that’s revolutionized the Sport Bike industry and recently started delving into the V-twin performance market with a focus on Indian FTR1200s.
“I’m the lead welder, mandrel tube bender and dyno tuner,” Coligan told us. “We manufacturer performance motorcycle exhausts and I’ve been doing this for about seven years, although previously I worked as a welder in the aerospace industry building high-end tubes for jet engines. Most of my background in the motorcycle industry is in sport bikes. I’ve helped my boss with several custom sport bikes and even built a custom Yamaha R1, but I’ve always wanted to do a crazy V-twin build.”
Crazy V-twin build? We’d say mission accomplished! But the finished bike you see today didn’t come easy. It took four years of work building it from the ground up, including the frame, all the bodywork, turbo system, and virtually everything else except the motor, transmission and wheels.
“I wanted a bike that was completely different from anything else ever done,” Coligan said. “I got a lot of my inspiration from big-time bike builders like Billy Lane, Aaron Greene and Indian Larry, so I wanted to create something that played off what I love about all of their very different styles. Starting out I knew I wanted the seat to be really low, long and rigid, and I wanted a 26-inch front wheel. From there I started fabricating.”
“With the help of my boss and mentor Dan Toce,” he continued, “we came up with our own frame geometry, and that really got the ball rolling. We wanted it to be strong and light, so we chose 4130 chromoly for the frame. I found a guy in Jersey selling off some old 15-inch 100-spoke Dayton wheels off a lowrider car, so I bought those and painted one black to match the 26-inch spoked front wheel that I had. We even machined a special hub to be able to use that car wheel on my motorcycle frame – I’ve never seen it done that way before.”
Going all-out unique, Coligan found a Merch Performance Fatso 100ci motor on Craigslist for the build. “To me it’s a pretty special motor. You don’t see them around very often, and they’re supposed to be the best of both worlds. They have the bulletproof Evo bottom end mated to a done-up Twin Cam top end.”
Originally Coligan wanted a raw, ‘rat rod’ look, going with a naturally rusty frame and a “thrown together” look. “I literally threw the bike together,” he said, “chopping up a Sportster tank we had kicking around the shop and whipping up some straight pipes on our mandrel bender. I had almost zero sheet metal forming experience at the time, but attempted to make my own aluminum seat, which didn’t really look that great. I thought the bike was as good as it gets, put gas in it, and rode it around for a month until I realize that 100hp Merch motor wasn’t enough.”
“With my Dyno tuning and tube fabrication experience coming out of the aerospace industry,” Coligan continued, “I thought, ‘why not turbo this thing?’ I took some inspiration from Aaron Greene who built an amazing supercharged bike named ‘White Knuckles’ that I thought was the coolest thing ever. I jumped on the internet, figured out how turbocharging with a carburetor works, and then shortly after that figured out what doesn’t work [laughs].”
“I spent about two months converting my Mikuni HSR42 carb, three different fuel pumps, and two different fuel pressure regulators to figure out what would make this thing work the way it needed to. [My boss] Dan gave me an old turbo he had sitting on a shelf from an Alpha Romeo he was working on years ago, I bent up some more stuff and made a turbo manifold, and then plumbed it to the carburetor through a classic aerocharger plenum I picked up off a guy on the forums.”
After spending a week on the Dyno every day after work trying to get it running right, it was game on. “I rode it and tested it and tweaked my turbo setup for another couple months until I had some electrical issues and got stranded about 20 miles from my house. I was so bummed that I got it home, tucked it into the corner of my garage for about two years, and lost interest and hope.”
Despite the build being tucked away in the garage, Coligan continued traveling to bike events with Toce Performance promoting the brand, seeing new styles and different bikes, and figuring out what he did and didn’t like. Along the way, his fabrication skills and capabilities continued to grow.
It was the Sons of Speed vintage board tracker race that finally rekindled Coligan’s inspiration. “During practice for that race,” he said, “Josh Owens from the TV show Moonshiners had the oil tank crack on his 1920s Harley and Dan’s 1916 Indian had ignition issues. Wouldn’t you know it, my idol and inspiration Billy Lane was in charge of the event and was out there working on all those bikes. I had the opportunity to go down to his Choppers, Inc. shop and weld and repair Josh’s oil tank! While I was there I officially met Billy again in a private setting, as well as Steve Broyles of Stevenson’s Cycle. Billy gave me a private tour of his shop and told me about the bikes he was working on.”
“I left his shop that night feeling incredibly inspired,” Coligan continued, “and I couldn’t wait to get back and completely overhaul my chopper. I got back home, pulled that bike out, brought it to work, and got to work stripping the whole thing down until it was just an engine and wheels. I scrapped the old turbo setup, this time mounting the turbo on the backbone of the frame where the gas tank is supposed to go, and then plumbed the exhaust up to it around the motor to really highlight how big the engine is with the twin cam cylinders and heads on it.”
With a lot more practice in fabrication and metal forming, he started annealing aluminum sheet metal, rolling it in the English wheel to create beautiful contours in the material, and then tacking pieces together. With some help from his boss Dan when he got stuck, he ended up with the smooth, narrow turbo shield you see today that looks just like a well-crafted, aluminum gas tank. Next was the seat and fender, built to flow into the turbo shield nicely while highlighting his choice of an extremely low seat height for the frame.
So where’s the fuel tank? “I built a fuel cell,” Coligan told us, “that filled every space and void under the seat and used my fuel pump to pump the gas upward to my newly remounted fuel pressure regulator and into the carb.”
“At this point I’d decided I’d debut the bike at the Tennessee Motorcycle and Music Revival event, so I had just three weeks to get the bike done. I had my friend and trusted painter, Mark Lewis, paint a simple blue and silver paint job, coated the frame silver, and the rush to finish was on. Once I got the body back from paint, my father and I spent nearly three days straight assembling the bike with little sleep to get it done. Somehow we did it, and I couldn’t be more proud of my first, 100-percent handmade bike build.”
After the bike debuted, it gained attention from many bike builders along the way. Then it made a splash at the Daytona Biketoberfest before it ever hit the floor at the New York IMS Show. Bob Kay, creator of the Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show, told us, “That was a pretty cool build, very clean, and Ryan was cool, too.” High praise from the custom ‘Godfather!’
And Kay isn’t the only one in the custom bike world to appreciate Coligan’s unique build. After taking second in the Freestyle class in the New York Ultimate Builder show, it went on to the finale round in Chicago. And since then, Coligan’s been invited to renowned bike shows like the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Texas and The Chill bike show in Kansas.
Four years in the making and done on a tight budget, Coligan calls his experience building the ‘Turbo Chop’ fun. “I got the chance to meet a lot of talented guys, make new friends and compete alongside guys who actually do this for a living. I just did it for fun, and on a tight budget.”
“Getting to have my wife and kids along with me at both New York and Chicago,” he continued, “was a totally incredible experience. To see how excited they were when we got second place in New York was a memory I will have forever. The Chicago show actually fell right on my daughter’s first birthday, and my wife just said, ‘Well, looks like we’re celebrating in Chicago at your show.’ Not all guys have a wife who truly supports their motorcycle hobby, so I’m really proud to say I do!”
What’s next for Coligan? “I’d definitely like to do another build,” he said. “Life happens, and it’s not always easy to make the time with small children. But I have to stop and thank my wife for being so supportive the entire time. Without her encouraging me to get in the shop on the weekends and watching the kids, I could have never done this. It might take me a bit, but for my next bike – I want to do something special with an Indian drivetrain.”
And we can’t wait to see that!