Editor's note: Of the artists I've come across, a handful of them seem to have so much artistic energy, one medium isn't enough to release all their creativity. Chris Flechtner is one such artist. When he's not punching the clock as a furnuiture designer or caf-fiending in his hideaway, Speed Shop Design, crafting the Slayer Esspreso Machine, Chris can be found mixing form and function into two wheels-well, at least for the last three years.
I purchased a total basket case 1978 Sportster about four years ago. It was the classic long distance eBay deal where the guy was like "oh yeah, everything is there, all you need to do is put it back together," but come to find out it was missing so much crap I should have started with a couple of old tires.
Rather than finding the missing clutch parts, replacing the numerous zip ties and tape with proper fasteners, and replacing the leaking brake lines that had been crudely sealed with silicone caulking, I decided to strip it down and just keep the engine and hubs. I never seem to do things the easy way, or at least that's what people that know me would say.
The build started with some basic pencil sketches which then became drawings in AutoCAD since that is a tool I know well. I was able to decide the key points such as engine placement, wheel base, steering angle, seat height, foot placement, and handlebar height. I knew I wanted a single underslung downtube design because I like the simplicity of that style. I went to the local boiler works with a template and a length of tube from which they bent me a nice "S" shaped downtube. With the engine and downtube in hand I started laying out lines on my fabrication table and with the help of numerous one-two-three blocks, a few large precision right angle blocks, and some simple hold downs I was able to tack up a fairly uncomplicated frame from an assortment of DOM tubing. I guess you could say I made this frame the old fashioned way. While in college I worked for a couple of bicycle frame builders. One of them was this old school English builder who made perfectly crafted frames with nothing more than a hack saw, numerous hand files, and an oxy-acetelene torch. He showed me that you don't need much to create a well crafted frame that's straight and strong. I figured if he could build a bicylcle frame without a jig, why can't I build a motorcycle frame the same way. Granted a motorcycle frame needs to be much more robust than a thin walled chrome moly bicycle frame, but the same fabrication rules apply. Tight well dressed miters, good weld penetration, proper weldment sequence and numerous allignment checks.
I have always been drawn to the simplicity and elegance of early Honda Dream forks and with this inspiration in mind I put pencil to paper and came up with this beauty of a frontend. The entire fork is fabricated from sheet steel and chunks of stainless steel. The body is comprised of various laser cut steel patterns as well as numerous hand-rolled boxing plates. All internals have been machined from stainless and incorporate precision bronze bushings. The springs are die springs which I had nickel plated for apearance as well as corosion resistance. Using die springs allowed me to fine tune the ride much more than you can a traditional springer. One aspect of the design I was not entirely happy with was the slight pogo action you get at certain speeds. To resolve this undesirable trait I designed and fabricated a simple friction damper and mounted it between the wheel hub and the right fork blade, opposite the single brake disc. The fork works better than I ever imagined and in my opinion is the coolest part of the entire bike.
The seat was hammered out of a single sheet of 16-gauge stainless steel in a shot bag then planished over a number of dollies with plannishing hammers. The drilled arms pivot on the top tube which allows the old Girvin shock to work. shock is down low and out of sight and has been extended by a stainless rod basically turning it into a strut which attaches and pivots under the rider. I fabricated the oil tank from a couple of hemispheres and turned a knurled cap with a built-in site glass. I mounted the oil tank on the right side to help better weight the bike; having it hang out there also helps cool the oil a little
The exhaust is simple mandrel bent tubing which has been TIG welded and sanded smooth. The finish is simple Action Auto rattle can exhaust paint which has worn off here and there. The more the bike is ridden the better it looks; more and more heat-stained, smeared with oil and grease and the occasional rubber sole.
The majority of the bits on this bike are made from either stainless steel or aluminum. By sticking to these materials I could bypass any sort of plating or painting. I maintain the majority of the bikes' details with Pledge furniture polish. Another benefit of using stainless steel is the ability to silver braze connections to create clean sharp joints when the fillet of a TIG weld is undesirable.
Since the bike retains most of its original electrical system the wires were hidden in the downtube. The headlight houses the majority of the wiring connections like a Japanese style bike of the '70s. There are so many details to this bike I am sure I have forgotten to mention.