Do It Yourself - Dick Allen Springer Build
As most readers probably already know
the Dick Allen Springer forks are, still today, considered to the be the best
handling, best engineered and best built forks that have ever appeared on the
market. Used fork sets, even in poor condition typically sell for over $1200
when they pop up at swap meets or appear on ebay.
Unfortunately Dick died in 1983 but
some of his friends picked up the slack and have continued to make similar
products based upon his design, with minor cosmetic changes, over the years.
These are all great forks since the basic engineering principals have remained
the same since day one.
Some of the makers over the years who
worked with Dick, many of which continue to make Dick's Springers, are as
The Noriega Brothers, Richard (fats) and Ramon. Richard has passed away, may he rest in peace. I think Ramon is continuing to produce them.
Lewis 'Levi Louie' Dulin
Phil Ross, Phil is also gone now.
Dick's daughter, Darcy Allen, is now
picking up where her father left off and is reintroducing these beautiful forks
back into the marketplace but for some of us on a tight budget they are just
Thankfully Darcy has given me
permission to write this short little article so that everybody can enjoy the
benefits of running a Dick Allen Springer regardless of their
We both think that Dick would have wanted it this way and his fork design is
the largest part of the legacy he left to all of us Bikers.
We both think that Dick would have wanted it this way and his fork design is the largest part of the legacy he left to all of us Bikers.
I can already hear some people saying
that "the forks can't possibly be a 'real' Allen Springer if I build it
myself" but even Dick's original forks were built by a lot of his friends
and several subcontractors. The 'Name' goes with the design and the
engineering and not with the fabricator who cut the parts, did the welding and
put the forks together. Many of Allen's friends built their own forks, based
upon Dick's design, for their OWN personal bikes but they still called them Dick
To stay legal all you have to understand is that you're building a 'Dick Allen Style' Springer and your building it for yourself and not commercially. Darcy Allen owns Dick Allen Products and is commercially making her Dad's forks and other parts so she has legal rights to the production version of these products.
Now to get down to business I suggest that you read up on Dick Allen at the main Chopper Builders site. There are several articles we've posted and listed in the navigation panel of the home page. This material covers a lot of the 'preliminary and historical' information about Dick in general and his Springers and custom frames.
The first thing you have to decide is which 'version' of Dick's forks you'd like to build as there are several variations which is fairly typical when you consider that even though he produced 'production' forks most of the 'orders' were built to specification. In fact back in those days you couldn't hit a 'button' and order a product. You had to call the shop and talk with Dick himself to order anything. If he didn't take a liking to you over the phone then he wouldn't build you anything. Needless to say there were a lot of people he didn't take a liking to over the phone so getting a Dick Allen Springer was akin to winning the lottery but that is a story for another time.
Dick's Springer's were extremely simple and part of the beauty of the engineering was in that very simplicity. The material costs for the steel used in the trees, bridge and perch if bought retail over the web will run around $87 including shipping. Tubing (or bar stock) will run another $102. You can buy the springs, rods and other parts used for less than $50.
Back to the point of this article notice that the top and bottom trees were identical with the exception of the sizes for the 'holes' and on some lowers he did drill holes for fork stops (sometimes).
The sketch above illustrates a typical Allen lower tree. The Upper is similar. Note that the trees have zero 'offset' so they are very easy to make from 2" wide material. Most of Dick's forks used 1.5" thick lowers and 1" thick uppers but there is really no reason to use such massive material. There is certainly no reason to use anything thicker than one-inch for anything. I use 3/4-inch thick stock for both upper and lower and have never had any problems. Material is standard 1018 Cold Rolled Steel.
Keep in mind that when Dick first made these forks there was no empirical information whatsoever as to the loads the forks needed to be designed for. Dick's Springer's were the first non-factory forks ever produced so he went with massive overkill on everything. Modern fabricators now have 50-years worth of empirical data to draw from so most of us are now using much thinner material specifications.
The steering stem is a standard 1-inch 'Big Twin' available from Paughco. It is welded into the lower tree. The originals were custom cut.
There are several variations on the Allen spring perches. I've just shown sketches of the three most commonly found versions below.
I usually use the pattern shown directly above (third down from the top) only because it uses slightly less material and is easy to cut with a reciprocal saw. The material thickness is .625 (1018 Cold Rolled steel). (You can download scaled 'patterns' for the various parts at the end of this article).
You don't need a milling machine or anything much fancier than a drill press, reciprocal saw and belt sander to make these parts. I just buy the steel from any of the various online suppliers and then print the 'patterns' on some thick printer paper. I cut out the pattern, tape it to the steel and then trace the outline with a felt-tip pen. Center punch the hole locations before you remove the pattern.
The photo above shows some of the patterns and parts in the early stages of being cut and drilled.
I typically like to drill the holes in all of the parts before cutting the profiles to shape. For the smaller holes of course you just use a regular drill bit but for the large holes you use a Bimetal 'hole-saw'.
This is a piece of 5/8" stock being hole-sawed for the Spring Perch. I got this segment for about $8 from a shop that threw it in their scrap bin so scrounge around for materials whenever possible.
I found out the hard way that not all hole saws are the same as they used to be several years ago. At one time when you bought almost any brand of saw they all made identically sized holes regardless of the brand. I used to routinely buy Lenox and Milwaukee brands. For some reason however the new Lenox saws cut a slightly 'oversized' hole while the Milwaukee saws cut a slightly 'undersized' hole. I prefer to be undersize on everything. The parts I drilled with the Lenox hole saws had to be junked because they were .05-inches to large for the 1.25-inch diameter rear leg tubes. Drill a test hole with whatever saws you buy on a scrap piece and measure the resulting hole before you drill into the 'real' piece of material.
The objective is to saw a slightly undersized hole and then 'ream' it to final size either using a real 'reamer' or a flapper wheel mounted in a die grinder.
I cut, drilled and sanded all of these parts in less than seven hours one Sunday afternoon and I work pretty slowly and drink a lot of beer so an industrious guy should be able to do this amount of work in a lot less time. These parts aren't really finished yet and I expect to spend another seven hours getting them finalized and ready for plating. It really doesn't make much difference how long it takes. The slower you go, the better quality you'll be able to achieve. With some good sanding and then polishing very few people will be able to tell that your parts weren't cut on a milling machine. I try to do all of the sanding and polishing prior to welding as it's a lot easier when the parts are still 'unconnected.
For some tips about cutting the parts by hand read my 'Old School Springer Build' article where I go into more detailed information. It's amazing easy and simple to cut these parts so lack of a milling machine or other fancy tools should not be an excuse for not building parts.
This is the way everybody had to do stuff back in the old days. None of us, every the famous guys, had any fancy equipment in our shops. There weren't any catalogs where we could buy stuff. If you needed something you just made it. Why pay a couple of hundred dollars for a P.O.S. DNA Springer when you could build something unique that's about a 1000% better for the same amount of money.
While we're on the subject of part cutting I'd like to say that I can make stuff that looks like it came out of Star Wars on my CNC mills but I still prefer to make Chopper parts by hand. This whole idea of hand making parts was reinforced for me a few days ago when I was talking with a builder who has 22 first place show trophies under his belt. Like me he has machine tools but does all of his Chopper parts the hard way. He thinks this single element of his designs is what gives him the awards over much fancier bikes that are almost exclusively 'built by machine'. The show judges aren't dummies and can spot the difference right off the bat.
The photo above is a shot of a Sugar Bear Springer taken from a low angle. You can see some irregularities in the tree and the perch indicating that they had a lot of hand work done to them. The welds are not perfectly precise nor have they been dressed down. This is a hand-made product and you can do just as nice of a job, perhaps even better.
The further we go in this article the more detailed we'll get. Right now we're just covering the 'basics' and 'generalities'
Dick Allen used a piece of 1.125-inch diameter 1018 round bar stock for the spring bridge on the front legs of his production forks. (Sugar Bear copied this particular element for his forks). Personally I've never liked the looks of this setup and prefer to use rectangular bar stock for the Bridge. Allen actually did use rectangular material on many of his 'custom' forks so if you elect to go this route you won't be going against his original designs.
For the guy working in a garage with average tools it's a lot easier to accurately drill the various holes in the Bridge if you're using 'flat' material.
This is the Bridge I'm building for this particular project. It's made from 1.25"x1.5" square 1018 bar stock. The sprung legs will be 3/4-inch diameter and the Spring Rods will be 1/2-inch diameter from Paughco. The holes for the Spring Rods are actually drilled to a #8 taper and we'll talk about doing that later. The holes for the 'legs' are drilled .75 diameter by .75" deep into the bar.
We'll go over the routine of building the traditional 'round bar' Spring Bridge later but for now the snapshot below illustrates what you'll start out with.
It's just a section of 1.125-inch diameter 1018 steel bar stock. The exact dimensions will be posted at the end of this article.
Going back to the trees for a moment I mentioned that the steering stem is a standard Paughco Big-Twin one-inch stem and it's welded into the lower tree as shown below.
This picture actually illustrates an Arlen Ness lower tree but it's the only unit I had that was welded up when I needed to be taking pictures. The Allen tree can be seen in the background. It's pretty easy to see how much larger the Allen tree is compared to the little lightweight Ness unit.
Here's what the assembly looks like from the top view.
The top tree sits down and centers on the 'indexing' collar of the bearing preload nut. This is true for almost all of the 'old' style springers.
This isn't the best photo but if you look closely you can see the 1.25-inch index 'boss', 'collar', 'sleeve', or 'shoulder', whatever you want to call it on the top side of the preload nut. There aren't any bearings in this 'dummy' neck I use for mockups which is why it looks a little strange.
When the upper tree is installed it is automatically held centered by the 'shoulder' on the preload nut. The stem cap nut (and a lock nut if you use one) keeps the tree from coming off. It's all pretty elementary and there are some minor variations. Forgot to add that the stem cap nut also has a 'shoulder' on it to center the stem.
For instance on some bikes I'll use a 'flat' preload nut and then install a second nut as shown in these pictures that way I can fine-tune both the preload and the trop tree height, if needed. Also I'll sometime install a very thin lock nut under the upper-most stem centering nut.
By the way all of the parts I use in the photographs on the site are of 'dummy' or 'mockup' parts that couldn't be used on a 'real' project since they got dinged, gouged, scratched or otherwise didn't come up to snuff. When I'm building on a real project I usually don't have time to stop and find the camera to take pictures. I know a lot of you builders out there understand and appreciate that fact.
I forgot to point out that even though all of these parts are basically hand-made you do have to be precise when you do your layout work and center punch for the drilling and boring. If the holes for the legs don't 'line-up' top to bottom you'll find out the hard way that you can't mount the trees and perch and still keep the rear legs perfectly parallel. Just go slow, be as accurate as possible, check fit all of your parts at various stages of the work and you won't have any problems. These are not hard parts to make. I think my 14-year grand daughter could build a set but she'd have to farm the welding out to somebody else.
To Be Continued ......................................................................
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