Wylie Chopper Parts

As some of you might already know I’ve teamed up with my buddy Duane Lansing of Hydro-Fabrication to start a new venture called Wylie Chopper Parts. The objective of this new endeavor is to provide bike builders all of the various parts, bits and pieces and even complete assemblies for the components that the Chopper Builders Handbook has so far only provided plans for.

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This was an opportunity I could not pass up. Duane is a lifelong rider, fabricator and all around Biker par excellence who understands what builders need to keep their project moving forward. He has been cutting custom parts for several of the so-called ‘name’ builders for years so he’s intimately familiar with the ‘Hollywood’ aspects of the industry but appreciates what we small-timers face on a day to day basis.

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This is a long-term venture and it may take us a year to get everything up and running so that we can make regular ‘production’ runs on some parts so right now we’re concentrating on doing custom work.

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Duane’s shop is equipped with one of the best dual-head precision water-jets I’ve ever had an opportunity to use plus we have a large bed 2500-watt laser cutter. To round things out there is an 80-ton Amada CNC press brake, mill, lathe, surface grinders, slip rollers, tubing roller and three CBH tubing benders not to mention a whole host of smaller tooling and welders. I don’t think there is anything that we can’t do in this shop.

To make things even better we’re fortunate in having one of the best welders I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Martine Sauceda is a key player in our entire operation. I’ve been welding and supervising welding crews for over 50 years and have never seen a man who posses the skill and knowledge that Martine exhibits.

Duane owns a variety of bikes but he did recently buy a ‘Shop Bike’ to use as a ‘Trial Horse’. It’s an old 1970 era Panhead Chopper and so far all we’ve done is to install one of the wide versions of the CBH Springer on it.

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Over time this old bike will get the full treatment and hopefully become a rolling display of the parts we intend on making available.

It’s actually a lot of fun to work on this old bike as it brings back memories of how it was all done back in the ‘old days’.

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Most of the younger people we see and meet at shows have a hard time understanding that ‘functionally’ this bike handles and performs about on par with the so-called ‘modern’ stuff they are familiar with. They can’t understand how the antiquated mechanical rear brake works as well as a ‘modern’ disk setup. They don’t seem to comprehend the concept of ‘swept-area’ at all and seem to think that disk’s are somehow ‘superior’ to the old drum contrivances. It doesn’t take much of a braking system at all to lock up a rear wheel on a chopper but this fact seems to be completely lost in the modern world of bikes.

We are going to put a front brake on this bike but are still waiting on parts when this photo was snapped.

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Big Town Bikers Christmas Swapmeet

Duane and I went down and set up a booth at the Big Town Christmas Swap Meet in Mesquite last week and had a lot of fun. It wasn’t a big event but it drew a pretty good crowd. Here’s a snap during set-up.

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Some of the vendors had some pretty big spaces and lots of stuff to sell. We actually bought more than we sold that day.

We took down five different sets of Springer Forks and they were well received by the visitors.

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Not the greatest picture but we were running late and rushing around to get stuff out of the truck and hauled over to our little booth. The Knuck belongs to Kirk Sharp of ‘Just Kickers’ and the Pan in the background belongs to Duane. We’ve got an Arlen Ness styled Springer on Kirks bike and one of my original CBH forks on the Panhead.

 

 

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The New CBH MK III Tube Bender

Most readers already know that I’ve been using a variety of tube benders for almost 50-years now. Over that time we’ve come out with several different designs that are affordable for the average builder to make at home but so far I’ve never been 100% satisfied with anything that I’ve bought or anything that I’ve built until now. I’m pretty sure that I’ve owned and used about every fab-shop type bender that’s ever been made and almost all of them have been great tools but never ‘perfect’ from my perspective as a Chopper Builder.

I knew that this new design was good but I’d didn’t really know how good until folks who saw the prototypes in action at the shop started asking me about getting a copy and the people who were asking already owned some pretty high-dollar benders.

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I’ve been working on this particular design, on and off, for about 5-years now. I’ve literally built about 18 versions of this particular bender and tweaked and modified each lash-up until there was little steel left to work with. It’s certainly not the ‘Ultimate Bender’ by any stretch of the imagination but in my opinion it’s a way better product than the Pro-Tools 105 or the JD-Squared model 3.

The unique thing is that this bender can be mounted either horizontally or vertically and operated either manually or with hydraulic ram assist. For certain specialized work it can be set up with a divider plate and run two dies at the same time so bends are guaranteed to be identical in two separate components.

Like all of my benders this uses the JD2 Model 3 dies which in my opinion are the best die sets on the market.

The bender can use the digital protractors and ram brackets made by Swag Offroad or the user can adapt a digital readout from other sources.

Haven’t come up with a price yet as I’m still doing some last minute tweaking on some details but we’ll have a product available shortly after the first of the year.

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California Ultra Narrow Springer Forks

Finally found the time to finish the first set of the Ness Styled California Ultra Narrow Springers. Duane and I had several variations of these forks on display at Cycle Daze and they were well received so we’ve decide to put them into production.

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This snapshot was taken by Kirk Sharp from ‘Just Kickers’ and shows the forks, still in the raw, right after initial assembly and trial fit to his Knucklehead.

Duane and I installing the forks. These babies are heavier than they look.

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The ‘sit’ test.

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Beautiful overall feel and Kirk reports after the test ride that they handle great, no pogo and no flop which is what I promised him.

They’ll go out for chrome and be ready for final installation later this week.

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Boutique Discussion Boards

I know everybody is tired of hearing me talk about what I call the ‘Boutique’ Discussion boards but now they seem to be everywhere and I can’t find a good board where the topic of the day isn’t about what Jean Jackets look cool or what helmet makes you look less like a nerd or what brand of boots you need to buy to be hip. The worse threads all start out like ‘Post your ride’ or ‘Post pictures of old Diggers’ and other weirdness. I never imagined that bike boards would become repositories for pictures that are already spread all over the Internet.

The other thing I’ve noticed is threads that look like something interesting at first glance and then become just a place for somebody to try and sell something.

Perhaps the worse of all are boards that pretend to be discussion boards but are really just ‘fronts’ for a larger commercial organization. Most folks know what I’m talking about here so I don’t need to mention any names. This is an old game that goes way back in time when part manufacturers used to start a chopper magazine just so they’d have a place to promote their goods and collect advertising revenue at the same time. It was a pretty sweet deal and a scam that’s still going on today in the digital world with respect to some of the online chopper sites and chopper boards.

Thankfully some of the old time boards are still around that cater to the more serious Biker like the ‘Horse’, the ‘Chopper Compendium’ and the ‘Jockey Journal’. I’m sure there are more good places to be but these were at the top of my list for folks who have serious questions that need to be answered. There are also some really good non-commercial blogs run by folks who do have a commercial interest but don’t shove it down your throat. I’m thinking here about the blog that Irish Rich runs but I can’t remember the name, I think it’s something like ‘Applied Machete’. I’ll dig it up.

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Cory Hebert – Main Drive Cycle

Another builder I meet this weekend was Cory Hebert who has become ‘famous’ for the mid-control hardware he designed and builds. I’ve always been a fan of Mid-Controls for folks who don’t like floor-boards on a Chopper or Bobber. He’s got some great parts and does some very nice bikes.

Cory owns and operates Main Drive Cycle here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex so check out his products.

I can’t find a good picture to post but I’ll add one later even if I have to take it myself.

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Jason Ferguson – Bike Builder

Had a chance to meet Jason Ferguson in person last weekend and we had an enjoyable chat about real bike building as opposed to commercial bike building and there is a big difference but most folks just don’t realize it.

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Jason already had the building bug in his blood when he was just a youngster, thanks to his father, and he pursued his dream to ends that most of us don’t have the dedication for and not only worked for a well know custom builder but became a certified motorcycle mechanic after he masteed the art of building frames and forks. He has a well rounded skill set very few of us possess.

Jason owns and operates Texas Bike Works and I encourage everybody to check out his work and his projects as I expect that we’ll all be hearing more about him as time goes on.

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Cycle Daze 2014

Set up a booth at Cycle Daze 2014 in Grand Prairie and even though the weather turned bitter cold and very windy it was a lot of fun.

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This photo was taken very early in the morning during the vendor setup and only a handful of us were there so early. Just to the right is the drag strip so we had better than grandstand seats for the bike drags. Johnny Cantu handles this event every year and all of us should support what he’s doing as it’s a grass roots type of thing for serious bikers and small independent builders.

I met a lot of very good folks and had a great time despite the weather but by two in the afternoon I no longer had any feeling in my feet or my hands so I went to the truck and drank some beer to warm up.

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Symbiosis and the Chopper Machine

The definition of ‘Symbiosis’ in the true sense was coined by biologists to refer to two or more organisms that existed by ‘living’ off of one another. In effect each individual depended for their life by the cooperation of the other party to continue their mutual existence. I’d like to extend this definition a little further and have it encompass what happens when a human and a machine are involved. Cyber-psychologists are already talking about this phenomena but I think that the relationship of men and machines is actually very old. There is probably some ‘new’ word to describe this relationship but I haven’t found it yet. Somebody told me that ‘Cybernetics’ was one new form of man/machine interface.

Since a prehistoric man or a woman first ‘made’ some kind of ‘object’ there was a symbolic link made between that object and it’s creator. At one time that link was considered to be ‘magic’. There was an invisible connection between the created and the creator. Moving ahead about a million years there is still a link made between any fabricator and the parts that he or she creates. Anybody involved in handcrafting almost anything can tell you that this invisible link exists. Part of the story involves the ‘handcrafted’ aspect of the work being undertaken.

With respect to what we do, building bikes, a hint about that old invisible link was first published in the old Chopper rags back in 1967 when Cliff Vaughs was quoted as saying that “The cycle is the one thing that you can build from virtually nothing, just a basket of junk, and make into something very beautiful, and really put yourself into it“.

Another builder once said that “A chopper starts out from nothing but a picture in somebody’s mind and with skill and daring they bring it into being by bending steel as it’s foundation“.

Many of us sincerely believe that building bikes is indeed an act of creation and each and every cycle we build contains part of our personal creative expression that goes beyond just an artistic endeavor and verges on a spiritual undertaking.

This link or connection between the human and the machine transfers some kind of ‘soul’ into the object or objects being created, whether it’s just a small handmade part or an entire cycle. It’s what brings ‘life’ to an inanimate object.

Even naysayers have to admit that some bikes do seem different than others but they can’t say why. There is just ‘something’ about certain scooters that ‘calls’ to a person and I’d like to think that ‘something’ is the spirit of the bikes fabricator/creator contained within the parts that they have made and assembled into a ‘working’ piece of art. That is exactly what these machines are. They ‘work’, mechanically, and they are utilitarian since they are a mode of transportation but they’re also rolling pieces of artistic expression. At least some are.

Unfortunately some bikes are just a collection of nuts and bolts and store bought parts assembled in an almost cookie-cutter fashion and the builder contributed nothing of his or her own ‘spirit’ into the construction of the cycle. The end result is just another motorcycle, no matter how ‘fancy’ or ‘custom’ it may appear from a visual standpoint it will never have a soul or personality of it’s own.

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Modern Technology and the Builder

 

One of the things that disturbs me the most is the number of people I run into at swap meets and other events who want to build a bike but can’t seem to get started because they don’t have the ‘TOOLS’.

This has been going on for decades and it’s one of the reasons I started the site to begin with. Folks need to understand that at one time none of us any had any fancy tools in our garages. A lot of us were lucky if we had some wrenches and a power drill. That’s about what I started with but I had something that’s absolutely vital to a potential bike builder and that’s a burning desire to build stuff. If you’ve got the fire in the belly then a lack of tools won’t be standing in your way. Without that ‘fire’ then all the tools in the world will never make you a builder.

When I started out I remember that the biggest problem I had was in not having a fancy drill press. No way could I afford one so I did the next best thing and scrounged up enough money for one of those ‘hand-drill press stands’.

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The one pictured here isn’t the same one I started with but’s it’s very similar. I buy these every time I find one at a garage sale and then ‘reconfigure’ them for specific things I need done in my routine building operations. I think I’ve got about eight different models right now. Each one is set up to do a particular function for the parts I make the most often.

In some situations these old fixtures are more versatile than a ‘modern’ drill press. They can be ‘shimmed’ and ‘jockeyed’ to give amazing accuracy so don’t laugh at em.

The next ‘big-ticket’ item was a belt sander so I just rigged up a cheap carpenters model much like I’ve shown in the snapshot below.

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This ‘system’ works just as well as some $200 bench model but of course it does take a lot longer to remove a lot of material.

Cutting parts is always a problem. I will admit than when I first started I did manged to buy a nice gas welding/cutting setup. I flame cut all of my parts and dressed them up on the sander and cheap little 6-inch bench grinder. Years later I learned the advantages of the reciprocal saw and this changed my whole approach for ‘garage-based’ fabrication.

I had worked in shops that had metal cutting band saws but I knew that there was no way in hell that I’d ever be able to afford one so the recip-saw became my substitute.

Most people think of the recip-saw as a carpenters tool. These saws didn’t even exist when I was a kid. I think I saw the first one around 1972 or so.

In several articles on the main site I’ve shown how a person can cut very complicated parts in steel plate up to one-inch thick with nothing more than a recip-saw and do it pretty quickly. I now have a metal cutting bandsaw but I still use the old techniques quite a bit for one-off parts.

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For thin material I use a regular old saber saw with a good blade for stock up to a quarter inch thick.

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By the way none of these shop tools need to bought ‘new’. I buy most of my tools at garage sales which is great since you can usually find some of the ‘good’ older tools made prior to the use of ‘plastic’.

In my personal opinion the best ‘invention’ since ‘sliced-bread’ was the so-called ‘mini-grinder’. Back in the old days all a person had with respect to hand-held grinders were huge, heavy 7 to 9-inch disk grinders intended for heavy industrial applications. I think Bosch was the first to come out with a 4-inch grinder. Makita didn’t yet exist as a tool company in the states, at least their products were yet imported. I’ve got at least 8 mini-grinders and they are used almost hourly in the type of work I do. Thankfully they are very affordable nowadays.

In a similar vein another extremely handy hand tool is a ‘die-grinder’. Today these are very reasonably priced either the pneumatic or electric versions. I use them constantly and like most stuff you can find them at garage sales on a regular basis.

The thing I get the most feedback about is on the subject of drill ‘large’ holes in thick materials. For the garage-based builder there really isn’t a cheap alternative to owning a milling machine unless you can ‘adapt’ your particular part to using ‘bi-metal hole saws’.

We have never made a single part that has been posted to the main site using a milling machine. Where large diameter holes are necessary we have used a standard ‘hole-saw’ in the drill press.

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There are limitations to be sure. The holes you need to bore have to be the same as the size of saw bits that are commercially available and the accuracy of the resulting holes have to be in the range of somewhere around .035-inch tolerance. For the average ‘Chopper’ project this is a ‘realistic’ objective. You can ‘drill’ holes in steel up to 1.5-inches thick relatively quickly using these ‘bits’ and they last a lot longer than you might imagine. I have saw bits that have probably drilled over two dozen holes and they are still as sharp as when new. (Milwaukee Brand).

Until you can afford a milling machine this is about the best that you can accomplish using a drill press. Of course for ‘small’ holes, anything less than around 1-inch diameter you just use standard ‘drill-bits’.

The next ‘big-ticket’ item is usually a tubing bender and we’ve posted at least three different sets of free plans for tube benders. The most popular has been the so-called ‘Bend-O-Matic’. This bender can be made from materials available at any building supply store for about $60 and be configured to bend almost any size of tubing up to 1.5-inch in diameter. It uses the dies available from JD-squared.

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Even if you build the ‘frame’ yourself you’ll still end up with about $300 invested in the bender once you get a set of dies. When I was first starting out finding money for a bender was a huge problem but I scrimped and saved and finally bought a ‘real’ JD2 model 3 with a set of dies for 1.25-inch tubing. I’m pretty sure this was around 1973-74 as the bender was new on the market. It was the best money I ever spent and I used this bender almost every day up until 2012 when I sold it to raise money to move to Texas.

I’ve said this about a thousand times, but a good tubing bender is one of the few tools that you can buy that will make you money day in and day out if you advertise that you have one. A good bender with a lot of dies and an old Lincoln Buzz Box will make you money no matter where you ever go. Those should be the last two things you ever let go of.

Anyway most of you readers can visit the main site and see a lot of stuff we’ve built over the years using some pretty elementary tools.

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A good set of Springer Forks is easily obtainable with common garage tools. Forks like these used to built by almost everybody who had a Chopper. They aren’t ‘rocket-science’ by any stretch of the imagination and used to be considered a ‘beginner’ project by most builders back in the old days. These forks were built using the same tools we’ve outlined so far.

Girder forks are even easier to fabricate.

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Sorry for the poor picture but this was all I had.

The point I’m trying to make is that anything is possible, even with fairly primitive tools if a person has the desire and the patience to put their efforts towards the task. Waiting until you have a whole shop full of expensive machine tools just to build a bike is completely unnecessary.

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This roller was put together for less than $1500 and the forks and frame for the 200mm tire, were made with the same tools we’ve described previously. All of the parts are swap meet bargains. The ‘motor’ is just one of those plastic mock-up versions I use for doing layout work when frame building.

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The Old Shop

 

When I moved back to Texas from Sunny California the first thing I did was rent a shop in the ‘bad’ part of town since I figured my ‘potential’ customers would feel more comfortable in that type of environment. Like most ‘bad’ parts of town the rent was about twice as high as you’d be paying to be in the ‘good’ part of town. I’m not into the whole real estate thing and didn’t realize that anybody who was ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ also wanted to be the bad part of town so the market was hot.

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Move-in day. You can see my feeble little banner in the window and my reflection as the proud father takes a picture of the new baby. Wow, a whole 300 square feet of space for only $750 dollars a month. What a bargain.

Dealing with the local agencies was fun. It was way different than opening a business in California. I actually has to ‘prove’ first of all who I was and that I was a legal citizen of the United States. Then I had to meet with the Fire Marshall for an inspection. I had to meet with the building inspector for a certificate of occupancy. I had to pay city and county ‘fees’. I had to pay the franchise tax board. I had to pay rent. I had to pay ‘fees’ to get the power hooked up and installing a telephone took about a month.

It was all worth it in the end as I had ‘customers’ lined up at the door and the great thing was that they brought their own beer.

shop12Unfortunately most of my customers were just like me and all they wanted to do was shoot the bull and drink beer and then a little more beer and maybe turn a wrench before drinking another beer but that’s exactly how Choppers get built. It’s an iterative process that involves give and take between the builders and the machines and the fabrication lubricant has always been beer.

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The back half of the space was a little cramped but it worked just fine for what I do. This photo was taken a few days after ‘move-in’ and I still wasn’t really completely ‘unpacked’.

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What’s in the truck and in the little trailer I built is what I moved out to Texas. As you can see it isn’t much. Actually this photo was taken from the balcony of a motel somewhere in Arizona early in the morning. Right after I took the snapshot I realized that my ‘pile’ on the trailer and the even bigger pile in the truck bed was about three feet shorter than it had been the previous morning.

Sure enough some swamp rats had taken about half of my stuff during the night and it was most of my ‘good’ stuff. That’s just life on the road. I should have slept in the truck. Karma baby, Karma. They’ll get it when they least expect it someday.

I was only in this shop for about 18-months and after the landlord raised the rent three times I figured that it was time for me to go. If I were rich and famous I would have stayed there since the place had a certain ‘thing’ about it that I liked. It was unvarnished and primitive. What you saw is what you got.

The neat thing about the setup was that the back of the shop opened up to a meadow behind a nursery and it was almost completely private. You could walk around in the morning drinking coffee naked and nobody saw you, or at least they didn’t care.

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This guy was my closets backyard neighbor. I’d give him a few drinks every now and then. We became soul buddies. I could tell that all he wanted to do was run around loose on the range and all I wanted to do was get into the wind and leave all of this shop and web site stuff behind me.

I occasionally had other ‘hanger-oners’. In the evening our large front parking lot attracted a lot of the ‘locals’, some bikers and some hot-rodders.

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I used to let the local girls use my air-conditioner as a seat in the afternoons on Friday while they waited for the greasy old fat and hairy biker guys to come down to the shop. I ‘m not sure why young teenage girls are attracted to fat old hairy greasy biker guys.

Notice my computer screen. I’m actually being productive and working a new frame plan while all of this is going on. I’m dedicated if nothing else.

Young girls, old guys, Friday night, maybe I’m starting to figure it out. I’m starting to suspect that those weren’t Girl Scouts selling cookies after all.

 

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Discussion Board Experts

Along the same vein as the ‘Pretend Choppers’ are what I call the ‘Discussion Board Experts’. Don’t get me wrong here there are some very good ‘real’ experts posting at the various boards but we’re talking about the guys who have to make a new post into each and every thread on the board. If you look at their ‘stats’ they pile up about a 900 post every year. That’s about 3 every day. Who has the time to sit in front of their computer every day and answer all of those threads?

I can guarantee you that it’s no ‘real’ expert. Those guys are to busy doing other more productive work. The snapshot below is me doing some ‘productive’ work about ten years ago trying to push my builder CD’s to the unsuspecting public.

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I used to feel like a ‘dope dealer’ since I knew that once somebody ‘bent some steel’ that they’d be ‘hooked’. Chopper building is addictive. There is no way to get around that fact. I imagine that someday the Feds will try to regulate the industry and lump us into the class of stuff that the BATF regulates.

Ooooh, give me that hot steel fix in the morning.

To be honest I spend about an hour every day while I’m drinking coffee in the morning just browsing the boards looking for something that’s interesting. I’ve been a member at most boards since at least 2009. At some boards I’ve made maybe 19 posts in five years.

At the Chopper Compendium board which is closely affiliated with our site and where I’m an administrator I’ve made around 150 posts since day one and I’m supposed to the local expert there. Hell the members post a lot better stuff than I do. I learn way more from those guys than I can ever give back.

Anyway it gets my goat when some chair-jockey is giving, what can be extremely technical information, to some guy who thinks that he’s talking to somebody who knows what he’s talking about. What’s incredibly ironic is that sometimes these ‘experts’ quote stuff from my own site as if it’s something they’ve come up with on their own.

You guys had better start vetting the ‘experts’ you chat with on the boards and try to find out their credentials before you take much stock in what they’re telling you. Some of these vultures don’t even have their ‘profile’ information filled out at the board’s they stalk.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about Choppers but at least you’ll never have a problem finding my email address or phone number.

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Pretend Choppers

This is the first post on my new Blog and the reason I decided to do a blog in the first place is so that I’ll have somewhere to jot down my thoughts before I’m to old to think clearly anymore.

Today’s subject came about after Mike Vils and I were talking about the apparent decline in the number of truly handcrafted and personalized Choppers that we’re seeing at meets and shows nowadays. ¬†Ironically there are more bikes on the road today than in any other point in time but we’re seeing a huge increase in what Vil’s called ‘Pretend Choppers’.

These are bikes that look like Choppers (or Bobbers) but they’re put together from a Chinese Menu of parts and components ordered from catalogs, mass-production accessories outfits and even mass-production ‘custom’ bike shops.

At one time the type of bikes shown below dominated the various Chopper oriented events around the country.

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But today these old hand built and custom-crafted scooters are being replaced by the new generation of Pretend Choppers like the ones shown below.

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The warehouse guy is going thru his check list. LowBrow ¬†air clearner, Check. Lowbrow fender, check. Biltwell seat check, Custom Chrome headlight, check. West Coasy Choppers key-fob, check. Nothing wrong with these bikes except that they have no ‘soul’, no ‘individuality’ and no’personality’. At first glance they all do appear to be different but on a closer inspection you see that they are all just cookie-cutter copies of one another glossed over with different paint colors and mix of off-the-shelf accessories.

What is sad about this situation is that many of the owners of such bikes don’t even bother to ‘make them their own’ by customizing them with personally made parts and components. They just continue to ‘bolt-on’ parts made by some mass-production, mass-market company pretending to be fabricators of ‘custom’ parts.

To me a ‘custom’ parts are exactly what the word implies. Something custom made, unique, a one of a kind type of deal.

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