Keeping it real - ish

Published: 15 February 2007

I’ve been in therapy. Spent a couple of days last week ripping bits off my ’91 Harley Sportster. Evenings had my head stuck inside the fabulous W&W Cycles catalogue compiling a wish list of bits. Went to see Dave Barringer at Northants V-Twin to pick up a new tail-light on Friday. Dropped by a local custom bike show at the weekend. 

I really can’t think of a better was to spend my free time.  It’s the sort of stuff I used to do years ago when life was a lot simpler and I rode a shitty old Triumph Bonneville.  I guess things haven’t changed that much, just got a shittier Harley!

Last week was so far removed from my day job of covering BSB for MCN. Not complaining about my job, because it’s the coolest way to earn a living imaginable, but it’s good to do something different to recharge the batteries. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, it’s still bikes. But in very different way.

My Sportster project has been on-going for some time. Two years actually since I bought the thing from NVT. But it’s not been so much work in progress, more a figment of my imagination. 

I bought this particular bike because it was clean. Pretty much stock apart from the slash-cut pipes and a few bits of Live-to-Ride tat bolted on.  But my ambition was always to ‘personalise’ it a little – and get rid of the tat.

But I’m not talking full-on chopper job here. I kinda’ like the minimalist approach to custom bikes. Not that ‘hang as much chrome or billet metal on the thing that you can find’ that seems to be the way these days. I like Old Skool: bobbers with stock front ends, hardtail rears, simple paint jobs and as little chrome as possible - just like the original choppers when the battle-weary  guys came back from the WWII, hacked all the excess tinware off their ex-WD 45s and rode off in search of freedom. Can’t do the bobber thing thanks to a long-term back injury. But I can still work a hacksaw.

If, like me, you’re keen on the idea of owning and running a chopped streetbike but need some inspiration, watch Choppertown. It’s quite simply the best motorcycle documentary ever. It’s about building a chop ands features a bunch of bikers from California called the Sinners.  It’s definitely not American Chopper or OCC – but very real people building very real bikes. 

Anyway, inspired I might be but I’m still absolutely crap with spanners. Luckily a mate of mine called Mike Harley was keen to pitch in with the spanners. He’s actually a scientist specialising in the effects of climate change but likes to tinker with old bikes. Not surprising since he grew up riding things like Panther singles and B44 BSB singles. Kinda’ bikes that needs lots of work. This project is therapy for him too. You can only bang your head for so long against the wall trying to advise the Government on climate change. The suckers never listen anyway. The sort of changes we need to save the planet is not vote-grabbing stuff is it? Besides, saving my Harley is far more important.

Tuesday and Wednesday we ripped into all the stuff that I want to change. The most difficult job was jacking the bike up enough to get the front wheel off the deck. Mike brought a car jack the lift the bike but I had to scour the building site that passes for the new estate I rent a place on for some concrete blocks and bits of wooden fence panel to use as a stand.

Once that was sorted out came the front wheel and off came the brake caliper. I had Brembo stuff fitted as a quick fix when I first bought the bike. But it was a bit of a bodge with the back of the caliper ground off to clear the spokes. But you could see faint burnish marks on the back caliper where the job wasn’t quite right. Didn’t like that.

Harrison Billet do a great range of aftermarket bolt-on brake parts for Harleys so I’ve now got a replacement disc and six-pot caliper. The disc went straight on but the caliper didn’t because of the previous bodge. It took ages to hook out the helicoils in the forks for the Brembo bracket and I had to ring Harrison’s to order a 3/8th UNF banjo bolt to attach the braided steel brake line.

We ripped off the front fender. Don’t want that.  We hacked the rear fender mounts in half, because we’re going to cut the fender right down. Sounds simple, but it’s time consuming cutting, filing, rubbing down with wet and dry and then polishing. So we’ve not cut the fender yet…. But once we do we won’t be able to use the existing taillight. 

I called Northants V-twin one day to order the part. Drove over to pick up the next - but it was also an excuse to look over Dave’s new place in Stenson Street, St James. New as in different, not new as in spangly and sparkling. But that’s not criticism. 

It’s one of them thar old skool bike shops. No pretentious glass frontage with tons of pristine uniformed dudes wandering around trying to sell you glistening chrome-laden new ‘specials’ with £25,000 price tags. It’s much more down to earth with a good dose of old-time welcoming hospitality. 

There’s still tons of really cool bikes too, either in the shop or parked outside and the workshop is full of projects from a Softail Sportster to a fifty-grand Fat Boy custom bike and everything between.   It’s just a bit earthier than the modern motorcycle showroom.

Saturday went over to the local ‘official’ dealership for a custom show. It was a little thin on bikes, which wasn’t surprising considering considerable snowfall the night before. But what bikes there were looked new and shiny with lots of expensive bolt-on goodies. Not really my thing, apart from a very cool old Pan chop which had been imported from the States and a couple of classy 45s.

If we were looking for any inspiration Mike and I agreed it wasn’t going to be found here. So it was back to the garage working on my shitty little Sportster project.  A whole load of work to be done.

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  • Gary Pinchin with his 1991 Harley Sportster