Gunmetal Harley-Davidson Chopper

His dad had taught him to love bikes. Initially, their tastes were different, but eventually the custom bug would bite. Rama would have to build a chopper!

IT WAS A hot summer’s day for Victoria. We were up in the upper Yarra Valley. I was two years old. My dad, Dutchie, had rigged up a seatbelt and strapped me to his back, and off we went on his chopped 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA he had just finished. It had an eight-inch-over springer front-end, 14-inch apehangers, four-foot sissy bay, and no front brakes. It had a home-brew cooler bag hanging under the headlight.

With the sun beating down and the wind in my hair, I was at home. We rode for hours. I was so at peace I slept most of the time, only held there by the seatbelt that strapped us together. Then going down Worry Hill, the back brakes failed and my old man wore off the soles of his boots trying to slow us down before the corner at the bottom. We made it but the boots were ruined and Dutchie’s feet were red and blistering.

I come home late that night, freezing cold, sunburnt, dehydrated, and a smile from ear to ear. My mum was ropable at my old man.

All I ever wanted after that was to be on a motorbike. I was doubled every chance I had, until I was old enough for my first bike, a Honda Z50. I was only five years old but I rode it day and night. It kept me out of my old man’s hair, I guess, as he just kept filling the tank whenever I pushed it back empty.

The years passed, my motorbikes got bigger and faster till I got a licence. I went through dozens of bikes from big single, 600 cc, dirt squirters to 1000 cc sports bikes.

By this time my old man rode a ’96 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail and he was content. I’d ride with him and his mates when they would put up with me. I thought I was clever because I would race ahead on my Jappa, then be a smart arse and wait on the side of the roads drawing circles in the sand. He would just purr past shaking his head. I just didn’t get it.

We’d often work together in construction doing anything from steel erection to bridges and high rises, and we would ride to work side by side as we lived around the corner from each other. We have very different tastes in bikes but we had the same love for two wheels, and would ride our bikes every chance we could; any excuse would do.

Then life gave us a kick in the guts. We were at work one day at Suncorp Stadium when my old man slipped in the mud carrying some steel and broke his back. Much to his despair, he had to sell his Heritage to simplify life as we all know WorkCover doesn’t give a shit; he was only a number.

Then about two years later, I had some drop-kick lean a six metre extension ladder against a wall next to where I was nailing a deck, and as he walked away, the ladder fell and hit the back of my head; cleaned me right up, breaking my neck. My turn for the WorkCover harassment. I sold my bike too. The things we both loved were taken away from us.

Dutchie sold up and brought five acres out at Kilkivan, Queensland, as he couldn’t work any more. He finally got his compo pay-out. It was just enough to take his wife Lynn for a weekend away to Harvey Bay, and to buy a new water-tank and a 1986 Harley-Davidson Road King. He’d gotten another Harley out of it but it wasn’t his dream bike, that’s for sure.

A year later he lost his right leg due to his bad health catching up to him from years on the piss. He was doing it hard and tried selling the Road King. At about the same time, I received my pittance of compo pay-out. It wasn’t much but enough to buy Dutchie’s bike to help him out.

So now I had a Harley-Davidson. What was I going to do with it? It’s slow, doesn’t corner, won’t handle jumps. So I did what you do on a Road King. I cruised. And something happened. I really enjoyed it. For the first time I was happy to hold a bike at quarter-throttle and let the torque pull me along and enjoy the view.

Then the bug bit! The ‘have to modify it’ fucking bug. I suffer from it bad.

The base gaskets were leaking and that turned into a rebuild. The exhaust was leaking so, yep, new pipes. I wanted a bit more power so in went a cam, electronic ignition and Mikuni carb. There, now it goes well. Next to get the frame looked at. Let’s stretch it, rake it, fat tyre, yeah, yeah, let’s chop it… then I came to a screeching holt. A Road King isn’t where you start building a chopper.

I was planning on building a diesel-powered trike for my dad to ride so we could ride together again, so I wanted a chopper he would be proud to ride next to. But I didn’t want something that was all bling, something that if it had a stone chip on it, it would ruin the whole look. I wanted something that if you knew bikes, you would know that it was unique. I found a budget-built bike that was at the right price. It broke down on the way home! And caught fire twice! I pulled it down, rewired it, replaced the running gear, then reconstructed it to what you see here. 

It’s an Aussie-made Dunrite frame with a wide arse swingarm, with Burley T-bars, six gallon tanks, four-inch-over FL forks, 38-degree rake, fibreglass guards, 18-inch wheels both ends. It’s a Sputhe engine running an EV3 cam, Crane Fireball race series ignition, and a Mikuni carb. It’s balanced with ported heads, over-size valves, etc. Exhaust is dumped by a modified set of Vance & Haynes Big Radius pipes. It’s stopped by a twin-disc front with four-pot calipers each side; and a four-pot caliper on the rear disc. It’s painted in gunmetal and industrial grey.

In the short time I have finished the bike, I became Dutchie’s full time career as sadly his wife Lynn died from lung cancer; and with my dad getting worse, building that diesel trike never happened; and finally, he passed away. Rest in peace, the flying Dutch man.

I want to honour the memory and build a diesel bike, not a trike, but a cruiser similar in style to what I have here. Keep your eyes out for it. I have it all planned out. The Dutchie’s Donkey Diesel will be its name.

Photos by Jules @ Top Gun; words by Rama

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