Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Tobin Jansenberger-why have I never heard that name before?" That's because Tobin doesn't have a custom bike show on TV, and he doesn't have a booth at all the major rallies; nor does he have some 10,000-square-foot shop filled with T-shirts and coffee mugs. Hell, he'd never even owned a Harley before he bought his Road King. Tobin was just a guy who wanted a good-looking and reliable custom that he and his wife could cruise the country on. The only problem was he didn't have the cash to have one professionally built. So he decided to try and build one himself.
"New to the whole bike scene, I quickly became impressed with the trademark look of builders such as Jim Nasi and Ron Simms. I knew the low, fat look was what I wanted, but I didn't have the dough for a one-off bike from scratch," said Tobin. "I stared at my RK classic and thought, 'It's a retro bike, so I'm going to hot-rod it, much like today where classic cars are given a sleeker, more modernized look.' I decided to do the same thing, classic to hot rod, but with a factory-built Harley."
After doing some research, Tobin quickly found there weren't any production parts available to achieve the look he was after, so he figured he was going to have to modify or fabricate most of the parts himself. The only problem was that he didn't have any welding or fabricating experience. "Considering all of the fabrication on this project, I had to learn a lot about metalwork, welding, machining, electrical, and V-Twins in general," said Tobin. "There was a lot of trial and error. I either bought and modified or fabricated from scratch many versions of parts, trying to get it just right. But if the part didn't work into the overall theme, then it went on Ebay. Simple as that."
As even the most experienced bike builders will tell you, very rarely will a part fit exactly like it's supposed to. This was a lesson Tobin learned very early on. "The hardest part about this project was getting all of the parts to fit together. Many of them were made for bikes other than a Road King, and they had to be modified to work together," says Tobin. "For example, the frontend has a custom-machined hub, custom bearings, spacer, and so on. Many of the manufacturers I tried didn't have these parts available at the time for a 21-inch wheel to fit a Road King, so I had to learn how everything worked first, then figure out how to modify it so it was better than what came from the factory."
Tobin fabricated a swingarm to accept a 18x180 rear tire and a 1.5-inch belt. He wanted this setup to ensure durability while having a custom look with improved handling, rather than hurt it. To cover the 180, he took a West Coast Choppers rear fender, split it down the middle, and rewelded it with an integrated brake/taillight, ensuring the tire had lots of clearance, especially for the Legends adjustable air-ride kit to slam the rear as low as possible. To match the low hot-rod look of the rear end, Tobin modified a Perse front-end so it would sit about 2 inches lower.
When it came to the gas tank, Tobin wanted to keep the reliability of the fuel injection, but at that time no one made stretched tanks that would house the fuel pump. "I ended up stretching the stock tank myself," Tobin said. "The original coating inside the tank was already peeling, so I recoated the entire inside with POR-15. I didn't want to build something that would clog my system in the middle of nowhere-or worse, rust after all of that hard work!" Tobin didn't like the look of the original Road King floorboards and wanted something more aggressive-looking, so he made custom plates for the foot controls.
To ensure reliability for all the long trips he planned to take with his wife, Tobin stuck with the original Harley drivetrain. However, he did bump up to a more powerful 95ci, utilizing a set of Keith Black pistons and Andrew 37G gear-drive cams. He also had the heads and the EFI throttle body ported and polished for better flow. To finish off the motor, Tobin went with a Wimmer Machine air cleaner and a set of BUB true duals with White Bros. E-Series slip-on mufflers.
Tobin finished the bike off by following the advice of his wife and went with a solid black paint scheme rather than adding airbrush work, which she felt would detract from all the details. So he stripped off all the extra factory chrome and had it either powdercoated or painted black so as to create a flowing line, with no overkill. Last, a custom seat was made to fit the new tank and fender, while being shaped for the rider with additional piping and custom stitching.
"The project took me a very long time, since I had many other things going on personally, including switching jobs, getting married, having a kid-the list goes on. (Note: never undertake something large like this without having a spare bike to ride)," said Tobin. "Many evenings and weekends were spent away from my family working on the project, but my wife was very supportive in allowing me to see it through. I owe her a lot. I also owe my good friend Steve Grundahl a big thanks. He oversaw much of the fabrication work, and with his professional race-car fabrication experience, his advice for everything to be 'over-built' for durability and safety really made sense and paid off.
All of us here at HOT BIKE were very impressed with the bike Tobin created. It's awesome to see a Harley of this caliber, where the entire bike just flows from end to end. All the parts fit together as though they were supposed to be there from the beginning. And the fact that this is his first attempt at building a custom Harley is even more impressive.
Tobin says he named the bike "Big Nuts" since he often felt nuts for taking on so much more work than he realized it would be. He says the name also refers to the feeling you get when you roar down the road on something this low and sleek (it makes you feel like you have a huge pair). "Even with as much time and money as I spent, I am considering putting the bike up for sale in the spring. I think I've discovered I enjoy building as much as owning the finished project," said Tobin. "I am very proud of my efforts and that it turned out nicer than I originally envisioned. Built for me, that's all. Not a custom builder, not a wannabe. Just a guy with a hobby."