This article was originally published in the December-January 1998 issue of Cycle World's Big Twin magazine.
There comes a point in almost every riding career when you outgrow bar-hopping and stoplight-gunslinging. Ever so slowly, the rage to roar around town is replaced by the subtle longing to pack up your gear, lock the house and go see what’s on the other side of the country. To travel at any great length, however, you have to take along your stuff. You may not need all of your stuff, but the ability to take along some of it is nice. The solution is a Bagger (a term that, somewhere during the Reagan administration, replaced “Dresser” as a description of a bike with long-distance riding intentions).
But that solution sometimes creates yet another problem: What if you want a Bagger for carrying your boots, shirts, pants, oil, camera and other road stuff, but still want to ride something that will turn heads? Most motorcycle saddlebags will carry your stuff quite efficiently, but they’re a prime example of function giving the fits to form. They can be ungainly and fat, and usually make the bike they’re on look the same way.
Unless they’re an integrated part of a Custom Bagger, that is. These bikes, which combine the best of the Custom and Dresser worlds, are quickly gaining in popularity, because they offer precisely what the fashion-conscious peripatetic rider craves: storage space and style. Custom motorcycle shows these days are replete with Baggers, and Bagger accessories fill countless pages in aftermarket catalogs. And the phenomenal success of the Road King and Electra Glide series has further stimulated the popularity of Custom Baggers. After people own their stockish FLs for a year or two, they often want to freshen up the bikes’ unremarkable appearance.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the gradual turn to Bikes That Pack is the age of the riding public. Tom Motzko—Director of Purchasing for Drag Specialties, and the proud owner of one of the Baggers on these pages—claims that baby boomers nowadays simply want to get out and tour. Jim Betlach—another of Drag Specialties’ movers-and-shakers and whose bike also is pictured here—is amazed that he didn’t discover the joys of Custom Baggers a lot sooner. “I hate to sound naive,” says Betlach, “but I’ve been riding for a lot of years, and after I rode a Bagger for a half-hour, I thought, ‘what in the hell have my wife and I been doing all this time and why have we allowed ourselves to be so uncomfortable?’ My FXR is just too small, and there was never enough suspension or anything for the two of us. The sheer comfort and practicality of Baggers is why I now own one. I just put in four straight 12-hour days on my bike, and I love it. You just put your rainsuit in the bag, turn on the radio and go for it.”
For your inspection, then, we present eight really cool and creative Custom Baggers. The bikes you see on these pages represent pretty much the entire range of the genre, from the magnificent “Cross Dresser” of Harold Mutter (Harold still uses the word “Dresser” because he’s is from Canada, and the term “Bagger” apparently hasn’t yet made it across the Northern border), to the real-world attainability of Darcy Betlach’s gorgeous, flamed Electra Glide. Taking it with you needn’t be boring anymore.
When Harold Mutter of ProMotion Motorcycle Systems in Ontario, Canada, set out to create a Bagger, he wanted a bike that would be as comfortable as it is beautiful. He wanted the smoothness of a rubber-mount for those long hours on the highway, with the good looks of a Softail. After four years of engineering, Mutter finished his Bagger, aptly named “Cross Dresser.” In the process, he built his own frame, called the Badtoyz Storm, and designed and built a modified transmission based on an H-D Dyna case. The transmission has a billet extended tail stock that serves as the pivot point for the Softail-style swingarm.
Cross Dresser’s high-zoot bags also are Badtoyz items that Mutter says will soon be available for all Harleys. The front fender is made of carbon fiber, and the MotoPsycho Spirit rear fender is molded in fiberglass. The gas tank is a Katz stretched aluminum unit and the mufflers are Badtoyz Zidwinders from ProMotion. After completing the meticulous metalwork of Cross Dresser, Mutter handed the bike over to George “Wizard” Hodgson, who applied the House of Kolor Neon Honey paint over an orange base coat.
Mutter doesn’t just stand back and admire his work; he rides it daily. Indeed, when we first saw this Bagger in Sturgis, it was heading east on I-90. We couldn’t miss it; Cross Dresser is a stunning motorcycle that’s on the cutting edge of just how good a bike with saddlebags can look.
“I want you to know that I made this bike myself,” says Tom Motzko of Shorewood, Minnesota. “I’m proud that I did the whole bike. And I did it on a budget. That’s why the whole thing is painted black Deltron; there’s no black powdercoating or anything. I did it all at home in the garage, and I taught myself how to do everything, including the molding. If anyone out there thinks this is a $40,000 custom, it’s not. I’ll bet I don’t have twenty grand in it, including the original cost of the bike.”
Motzko’s creation started life as a 1990 FXRP police bike from California. The fairing is from an ’87 FXRT and is unique for the radio Motzko installed in it. “People told me I couldn’t put a radio in it and make it look right,” he says, “but I did. I bought a plastic welder and just kind of moved the ABS fairing around. I filled it in, put the scoops in it and lowered the fairing about three inches.”
The leather bags were made by Kevin Lehan, but Motzko actually designed them. He first made cardboard templates, then Lehan fabricated the bags of leather with ABS plastic on the back so they would retain their shape. But as far as everything else on the bike is concerned, Motzko did it himself.
It’s hard to believe that Kim Suter’s motorcycle contains as many stock parts as it does. Suter, owner of K-C Creations in Kansas City, started with a 1991 FLT frame that he raked 3/4 inch, then he bolted up an FLST front end fitted with a headlight housing from an antique Harley sidecar machine. The gas tank is from a stock Dyna Wide Glide, and the bags are FLHT units that have been custom-fitted to Suter’s very red Bagger.
There are no traditional sidecovers on this Kansas City flash; instead, those areas are fitted with sheetmetal covers contouring into fins that flow into the saddlebags. It’s what Suter calls “kind of a Testa Rossa thing.” The 80-inch motor uses S&S cases, with an Andrews EV-46 cam, milled heads and dual QwikSilver carbs. The wheels are Fat Boy units that have been laser-cut to match the brake rotors. To keep the lines of the bike as uncluttered as possible, all plumbing and wiring were hidden under the seat. The Viper red paint was applied by Don Kelzer of Wet Paint in Kansas City, and the body fabrication was done by Craig Dening.
“I wanted to change the image of the store,” says Herb Aston, part owner of Pike’s Peak Harley-Davidson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “So, I figured the best way to do that was to build a real standout, grabber motorcycle. I call it the Ice Scream Road King.”
Aston started with a 1995 Road King, and famed street-rodder Dave Arnold hand-formed from steel the spoiler, the fenders, and the metal separators between the bags and the rear fender. In a nod to street rodding, Arnold used the third brake lights from a Plymouth Neon as taillights and directionals. To give the Screamer some extra class, the Pikes Peak guys replaced the stock headlight with a Head-inds bezel, light bar and hooded passing lamps. The multi-gauge instrument setup is by 50’s Boy.
True to its name, the yellow-and-white Road King is a screamer, thanks primarily to Aston’s use of an Aerojet turbocharger pumping through a Mikuni HS42 carb. The heads also were polished and given a three-angle valve job.
We don’t know what sort of image Pike’s Peak Harley-Davidson had before; but if Aston’s Bagger has had the desired effect, the shop now should be thought of as one very cool dealership.
Jim Betlach knows Custom Baggers; this is his second. That’s why he chose to start with the most pure and traditional FL model in the H-D lineup, the FLHTC Electra Glide. He decided to leave the fairing mostly stock except for a lowered windshield and the carbon-fiber trim on the rider’s side of the fairing.
You need to remember that Betlach is from Garrison Keillor country to understand what he means when he says that the gas tank is “one of those Don Hotop deals,” and that “the glove box is a handmade deal.” Many of the other parts that create the beauty of Betlach’s Bagger are right out of the Drag Specialties catalog, pieces designed by the aforementioned Hotop. These include the exhaust system, fenders, air cleaner, floorboards, fork lowering kit and more.
“Actually, Big Twin is responsible for this bike costing me so much,” laughs Betlach. “When I saw the Bagger that Bob Dron was making for you guys last year (Big Twin project bike, Fall, 1996 issue), I said, okay, split the cases and polish it up, let’s go all-out.”
It all turned out nice, Mr. Betlach, very nice, indeed.
Take a close look at that logo—make that crest—on this bike’s fairing. That’s the seal of the Cavalieri di San Marco, which in English means the Knights of San Marco, of Venice, Italy. Juris Bunkis, a world-famous plastic surgeon and the owner of this snazzed-out 1996 Road King, was knighted by the Cavalieri for his pro bono work with children in underdeveloped countries who were in need of reconstructive facial surgery.
When he’s not in the operating room, Bunkis is a barnstorming biker who rides to Sturgis every year from his home in Blackhawk, California. This year he rode in comfort on his Arlen Ness-prepared Bagger. “We lowered it a bit,” says Ness, “and used one of our new covering kits for the back. We’ve got a fender cover for the rear, and bag extensions for the bottom of the bags. We also installed our mufflers and front fender. The fairing replaces the stock windshield on Road Kings, and is one of our new products, as well. In fact, most of the accessories on the bike are our pieces.”
Steve Faraone painted the intricate, old-world-style graphics on Dr. Bunkis’s beautiful Bagger.
Of all the motorcycles you see here, Darcy Betlach’s sweet, 1997 Electra Glide Classic is the most attainable for the average rider. “I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on customizing,” says Betlach, who hails from Wayzata, Minnesota, “so I had to spend my $5000 very carefully.”
Even though Betlach has some very heavy motorcycle-industry connections (she works for Carmichael Lynch, Harley-Davidson’s advertising agency, and her father, Jim, whose bike also appears in this article, is an officer of Drag Specialties), she wanted to pay for her bike on her own. Which explains why there are fewer custom parts on her bike than she’d ideally like.
But that doesn’t mean her Bagger is plain. As any customizer will tell you, a motorcycle’s paint is its crowning glory, and for that, Betlach the younger chose Brian Gail of Let’s Get Graphic in Fridley, Minnesota, to paint her Bagger. The result is distinctive and striking.
Ernie Dourham of Scottsdale, Arizona, wanted a motorcycle he could use to ride with his buddies. Something big and strong, yet cool and classy. He got it with his customized 1997 Road King.
“I chose the bike for the comfort of its ride,” says Dourham proudly. “Then, after I rode it a while, I decided I needed to add some beauty to it.”
For that task, he took the Road King to Surgical Steeds, a custom builder in nearby Scottsdale. “We stretched the tank here in the shop,” says John Covington, owner of Steeds. “Dillon Pogue does real good metalwork for us. And Chuck Pate, who does a lot of great painting for us, did an exceptionally good job on this one.”
Dourham and Covington liked the stocky look of the Road King, so they stayed with the original headlight nacelle. But for an even stronger and chunkier look, they replaced the King’s front fender with a fatter, Ness fiberglass fender. White Brothers lowering components are mounted on the back, and Progressive Suspension springs are at work in the fork. The wheels, forward controls and various covers are by Surgical Steeds.
Dourham still rides with his buddies, but now he has the best-looking Bagger of the bunch.