Virtually anyone can customize a motorcycle to one extent or another; chop it apart and put it back together again, hop it up, paint it-or simply bolt on some parts. But few can refocus the disparate ingredients of a mainstream motorcycle into a singular vision; go beyond imitation to invention and create something truly unique. Builders abound but artists are rare. Tom Zimberoff knows who they are.
Because it's hard to say what makes one creation a work of art and another less special, Tom has taken on the role of critic to help people see the differences between motorcycles of soaring originality and knock-offs. "By integrating an imaginative visual concept with an aptitude for mechanical elegance," Tom said, "an artist learns to break the rules and come up with something never seen before. What makes it cool is getting something wrong just right."
Tom wrote and illustrated two trend-setting books about choppers: Art of the Chopper and Art of the Chopper II. More recently, he curated an exhibition at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas consisting of 30 seminal choppers accompanied by his own photographs of the artists who created them. A similar exhibition was installed at the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida, (October 10, 2009 through January 10, 2010).
"If I haven't ridden it, I've pushed it," Tom said, referring to the hundreds of famous bikes he has photographed. With that in mind, he wanted one of his own that could turn heads as well as turn corners. But it had to be easy to register and insure. That ruled out a chopper. He further demanded that it should appeal as much to the man on the street for its timeless good looks as it would to industry insiders for its technological flair. That meant customizing a new Harley or, as he calls them affectionately, "the world's most expensive leaf blowers." He bought a 2008 Cross Bones, won over by its anachronistic black jugs and classic bobber styling cues. He gave it a complete makeover, while keeping its Harley-Davidson provenance unmistakable.
When sourcing parts and services, one looks for a good deal, not an ordeal; but Tom ran into trouble right off the bat. The Motor Company made minute but stupefying changes to what seems like every mechanical and electrical aspect of its 2008 Softail models. Nothing fit off the shelf. Who knew!
The Paul Yaffe High Roller wheels feature a nice contrasting finish, perfect for this project. The rear roller fits perfectly in the Heartland USA rear fender.
The Paul Yaffe High Roller wheels feature a nice contrasting finish, perfect for this proj
"This bike is a symphony of good looks and performance," Tom said about the harmony it achieves with parts from various designers. "I was lucky to put the right instruments together with the right players," he continued, "and I got to conduct!" For the first movement of his symphony, redundant mounting brackets were removed from the frame, which allowed the rear brakes and exhaust pipes to be relocated, giving the chassis a cleaner profile. For instance, by hiding the Performance Machine rear caliper and rotor behind the Paul Yaffe pulley on the left side of the swingarm, he can showcase Yaffe's low-profile High Roller wheel on the right. However, by not modifying the frame geometry to accommodate Yaffe's taller and narrower front wheel, the bike is not as nimble as its stock version. A springer lowering kit from Burly Brand helps somewhat; but it is more conducive to good looks than better handling. This bike will keep pace with the pack but demands deliberate riding skill.