Story: Scott Taylor Photos: Tony Rabbitte
The 1969 movie Easy Rider was where it all began: the tale of two wild men who refuse to conform to society’s ideals embarking on a crazy road trip across America astride customised choppers. The story doesn’t end well for the film’s anti-heroes, but the romanticised lure of freedom struck a chord with audiences worldwide and the custom chopper scene has been on an exponential rise ever since.
Michael (he doesn’t want his surname printed), who owns the beautiful chopper featured here, wasn’t even born when Easy Rider hit cinemas, but he knows the feeling of cruising the boulevard with a few motor-loving mates. When he was younger, he was a typical petrol head who was into fast cars and sporty road bikes.
“I just jumped on one of my mate’s bikes and took it for a ride,” Michael tells us. “I’d had road bikes when I was younger, but I’d never ridden a Harley before and enjoyed it.”
Forsaking all others for the legendary Harley Davidson, Michael went through a string of healthy hogs in just a few years and had his sights set on a new Softail Rocker before a friend introduced him to some cool chopper kits that were available from Southern Motorcycle Works in the USA.
“One of my mates saw the SMW website and told me about it,” explains Michael. “I’d already ordered a Rocker, but I changed my mind when I saw the ‘Godfather’ kit, so I ordered it through Mid-West Custom instead.”
Michael figured that with the kit available as a rolling chassis, it was a chance to build something unique without having to start from scratch.
“I wanted something that stood out, just something different, you know,” Michael says. “Instead of a high chopper, I wanted something pro street, something long and low.”
Slammed and sleek, with a 46-degree rake, the Godfather certainly fits the profile, and with a 300mm-wide tyre mounted on a 10.5-inch rim, there’s plenty of rubber up back. The kit came with a tank, fenders, wheels and a chrome-moly frame all ready to go. It was set up to accept a 113ci or 127-inch V-twin stroker, but Michael had a hankering for more horsepower. “I wanted it to thump,” he says.
So the order was made for a monster 140ci El Bruto from Ultima Products. For those who can’t fathom the mysteries of old-school cubic inches, 140 cubes roughly equals 2.3 litres. Yep, it’s a bloody big motor for a bike, and with 160hp and 230Nm of torque on tap, it’s a dead-set road rocket.
The long-stroke El Bruto sits about five-eighths of an inch taller than the average stroker, so it’s the Harley version of a big-block conversion. Michael got it in there, but it wasn’t a bolt-in fit.
“The engine brackets we made ourselves because certain things didn’t fit,” explains Michael. “The 140 cuber is a little bit higher than the 127, and a lot of the parts for the 140s weren’t available.”
To provide fuel and spark, Michael fitted a pair of Edelbrock carburettors and a Crane Hi-4 ignition, along with a pair of ultra-short pipes which end just forward of the six-speed gearbox. Most typical Harleys and choppers run the final drive, whether it be a chain or belt, down the left-hand side of the rear wheel. With the torque of the big donk, Michael reckoned that running a right-hand SMW belt drive was the way to go, so he ordered a right-side Ultima six-speed gearbox to transfer the power to that massive Avon rear hoop.
After dummy assembling the entire bike to check the fitment, Michael stripped the whole thing down again and handed it to Mark Walker at Queensland Paint & Panel. Mark performed a few metal mods, such as extending and moulding the tank around the John Moorhouse custom Ergo seat, before coating the metal parts in House Of Kolor paints.
HoK Candy Red covers the frame and most of the bike, with some tastefully applied black stripes running its full length with silver leaf and a hint of orange to break it up. There’s no hiding this machine and it’s always the centre of attention.
“Working out all the spacers and lining everything up was the hardest part because I had never done something like this before,” Michael admits. “I had to ask the boys how to do it because you want the bike to ride straight; you don’t want it crabbing down the road.”
With the long rake and low-slung seat, the softail chopper doesn’t appear to be the most comfortable of rides at first glance, but Michael disagrees: “It’s not too bad, actually. I thought it would have been a lot harder to ride, but it’s pretty good. It’s not a high-speed bike, it’s a nice cruiser.”
Michael did about 3000km on the bike, cruising the Brisbane scene, but he recently swapped the highly customised chopper for a wad of cool cash. When pressed on whether he’ll ever build another motorcycle, Michael doesn’t give much away, except to say, “Yeah, one day.”