Bagger: The Family Business

A ’37 Ford in a Harley body

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

This hot-rodded 2004 Ultra Classic was masterminded by a 17-year-old named Robert Thompson. His father, Dan, owns and operates Hot Rods & Handlebars out in Michigan; hot rods run in their blood.

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

“Back when Robert was 17, we went to Daytona way back when,” Dan recalled. “That’s what started this bike. He talked me into it. Robert is all over the forums, so I let him design it. Basically, the whole thing was my son’s idea.”

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

Even though Dan’s a serious veteran when it comes to hot-rodding cars and bikes, he brought Native Custom Baggers into the project when it came to ordering parts. “I’ve been doing hot rods since I was 16,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of show cars, bikes, choppers. Me and Paul Richards started doing baggers years ago when baggers had 21-inch wheels. But basically this one was father, son, and painter.”

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

The two shops know each other really well, so when Dan went to them with the game plan, Native knew exactly what he needed and got it for the Thompsons on the quick.

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

“I like the low, sleek look of this bike,” Dan said. “We wanted it to look like a ’37 ford. That’s why we kept the beach bars on it. We started doing baggers with Native before touring Harleys got so popular. Not that many baggers back then that had this swooping look.”

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

Hot Rods & Handlebars has always built hot rods. Transferring that aesthetic to a bagger was totally up its alley.

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

Let’s not downplay the work, though. It’s not like the bagger fairy blinked in then went all Disney with her magic wand on the bike with some sappy musical number while turning it into a trailer queen. The transformation wasn’t easy, and you can blame Dan for that.

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

harley custom bagger

The Family Business

A stickler for detail? Yeah, you could say that. “The fit and finish. That was the hardest part,” he said. “I go the extra mile. You can tell it’s built for me—not to sell. We spent a lot of time on details no one will ever see. It takes a long time to do it right like that.”

Words: Mark Masker Photography: Shooters Images

Usually when you hear the words “bagger” and “teenager” in the same sentence, it’s about some guy returning to two wheels after his kid’s grown up. Not here.

No, this hot-rodded 2004 Ultra Classic was masterminded by a 17-year-old named Robert Thompson. His father, Dan, owns and operates Hot Rods & Handlebars out in Michigan; hot rods run in their blood. “Back when Robert was 17, we went to Daytona way back when,” Dan recalled. “That’s what started this bike. He talked me into it. Robert is all over the forums, so I let him design it. Basically, the whole thing was my son’s idea.”

Even though Dan’s a serious veteran when it comes to hot-rodding cars and bikes, he brought Native Custom Baggers into the project when it came to ordering parts. “I’ve been doing hot rods since I was 16,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of show cars, bikes, choppers. Me and Paul Richards started doing baggers years ago when baggers had 21-inch wheels. But basically this one was father, son, and painter.” The two shops know each other really well, so when Dan went to them with the game plan, Native knew exactly what he needed and got it for the Thompsons on the quick. “I like the low, sleek look of this bike,” Dan said. “We wanted it to look like a ’37 ford. That’s why we kept the beach bars on it. We started doing baggers with Native before touring Harleys got so popular. Not that many baggers back then that had this swooping look.” Hot Rods & Handlebars has always built hot rods. Transferring that aesthetic to a bagger was totally up its alley.

Let’s not downplay the work, though. It’s not like the bagger fairy blinked in then went all Disney with her magic wand on the bike with some sappy musical number while turning it into a trailer queen. The transformation wasn’t easy, and you can blame Dan for that. A stickler for detail? Yeah, you could say that. “The fit and finish. That was the hardest part,” he said. “I go the extra mile. You can tell it’s built for me—not to sell. We spent a lot of time on details no one will ever see. It takes a long time to do it right like that.”

It’s a level of detail that’s hidden and obvious at the same time. By keeping the paint and finish simple, Dan and Robert emphasized the quality workmanship in the metalwork (the obvious). All of those extra hours Hot Rods & Handlebars spent sanitizing the small details pull the whole machine together (the hidden). The end result? A beautiful example of the hot-rodder’s craft at its best. Painter Dave Nuelken shot the Ultra in PPG’s O-So-Orange so smoothly that the paint pulls you to the detail instead of hiding it.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a teenager surfing the Internet, I instantly think of a browser history that’d make a porn star blush. Robert Thompson apparently makes better use of his web time than I would have at his age. Between educating himself on bike forums and talking his dad into giving a modern bagger the classic car treatment on that trip to Daytona, he gave the stereotype of a self-absorbed adolescent wasting time online a gigantic middle finger. A well-groomed, swoopy middle finger clad in sweet orange paint. It also flies in the face of another stereotype. The bike screams, “Old man’s bike, my ass.”