Raw Iron Choppers' Jesse Srpan started building choppers back in 2003. Since then, he's built his operation into a very professional outfit that can handle everything from servicing a bike to full fabrication and ground-up custom builds. He's one of this year's invited builders for the Hot Bike Tour and we can't wait to see what he's cooked up for event.
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Describe yourself in three words?
Motivated, independent, unpredictable…
What are you currently building?
I’m currently building a typical “non-trending” Raw Iron style chopper with a way over built evo 124” in the hopes of 150-180hp at the rear wheel (we’ll find that out when we get it on the road and dyno). We’ve really done our homework to pull as much power out of this commonly used EVO from S&S as we could. It’s been an interesting journey because we seriously have more time between my engine buddy Mike Brettrager and I, than I do on the whole fabrication of the bike. The bike’s stance is a 37 degree rake, 3up/3out stance, with a narrow 41mm dual 4 piston caliper front end, sitting on top Lyndall’s B52 wheels with a 180mm rear tire. The theme of it was hot rod inspired, to have that basic custom chopper look, but with full functionality and tons power…No trailer queen/show bike bull shit! I wanted a tough looking bike that wasn’t filled up with a typical knuck, pan, or shovel; but more of a motor that’s hard to make look cool cause its plain/generic looking.
My last few build’s I’ve ran pans/knucks/shovels and I love them to death, but I wanted a change of pace especially with a motor that everyone is throwing a super charger or turbo on…just a hauling ass naturally aspirated engine pushed to max potential. Since I built it with the idea of a 90’s theme, I did a ton of ball milling on it that my good friend Joe Tomko of Tomko Machining in Cortland, Ohio was happy to knock out for me, along with many other miscellaneous parts. From the frame tubes, lower legs and miscellaneous parts it has that over used cheap manual machining look that many Harley parts had so much of in the late 80’s/90’s…but it does accent the whole bike very well, because they don’t scream out at you, just enough to notice and compliment the bike. If you follow my builds and work, I try to produce something unique and not in style with the trends at the current times. So, this bike is based off of my last two builds I did, also with new concepts I’ve wanted to do for years and that’s basically what this bike is you see now. Most of all it’s gotta take a lot of abuse and hard riding, my bikes aren’t babied and I put them to the test. It’s a good display for the public and my clients that we don’t build cheap bikes…
What was your first bike?
My first bike was a 2004 softail, ended up chopping it up into a pretty slick bobber when I got out of high school. I rode dirt bikes like any other kid. But I started learning how to ride street bikes on my dad’s old ’50 panhead that was over raked/had horrible trail flop on slow turns, and mouse trap clutch…if you’re going to learn how to ride Harley’s, that’s how it should be.
What is your all-time favorite bike?
I’d have to say it’s a split between WCC’s Chongo Blanco & the Death Dealer bike. Now they’re considered simple built bikes, but in all honesty they were awesome bikes for their time when wide tire bikes ruled the world then. Basically in today’s standards, cut/paste bikes that looked super cool and we’re built for the streets. They’re probably the most inspiring bikes for me personally since I got into this industry in 2003.
Why did you choose to work in the motorcycle industry?
I got into building and modifying bikes since the age of 13, but was exposed to the lifestyle for as long as I can remember. From watching my dad work on bikes to racing motocross, I always had a passion for welding and fabricating. When motorcycle mania and monster garage came out, I was hooked on this new love of melting metal and hammering metal into these unique pieces of functional art. During most of my young life, I was employed in the summers by my father at his construction company. I saved enough money so that by the time I was 13, I told my parents that I wanted to buy a mig welder in late summer of 2003. So I did just that, and off I went with this vision of being a welder one day…even if it was just a serious hobby! I then decided to take an old, rusted mini-bike from the 70’s out of the garage and rebuild it. From there I built a custom mini-bike of my own style and liking. I continued on to create another custom mini chopper in 2005 which would start up my career in the motorcycle industry and lead to the start of my company, Raw Iron Choppers. I pursued welding with an intense drive to be very successful at it, in 2007 I took vocational classes for welding at Auburn career center. In 2009 I began taking welding classes at Lakeland Community college with instructor and close friend, Ryan Eubank to further my welding knowledge. I have had the opportunity to work and learn from some of the most respected and educated welders/fabricators/motorcycle enthusiasts in the country, which has been an honor.
What do you think the future of the motorcycle industry is?
Solely my opinion…I think the future of the industry will continue creating a great interest in motorcycles and the overall design evolution of them. I will say in my opinion and what I’ve seen, it’s hard to stay fresh with builds when there’s so much out there and with technology everyone wants the next best thing after they’ve just seen the next best thing. Haha! We’re in a throwaway society that everyone wants more and more, but at the same time I think that’s what keeps the ball rolling with creativity. Back in the day with our parents and grandparents with the industry it was uncharted territory throughout the scene that was never seen or heard of with choppers, bobbers, & the lifestyle…especially when motorcycles and motorcyclist were looked down upon at the time by society with slim and few seen on the road as compared to current times. Kinda like how tattoos used to be, now everyone has one…haha! But now a lot of stuff is overdone or regurgitated, but in all honestly the last 100 years there’s been so many variations of motorcycles that it’s a struggle to be unique. I think the future of the industry will just build whatever they want, but still follow a trend at the time of whatever is “hot” to their peers. We constantly are changing, but still have this infatuation with old/timeless pieces of history, some for the good and the bad…there’s those of us who have motorcycles as a lifestyle throughout our veins so we’ll keep pushing the limit and keep having that burning desire to get to the next level.”
What is your greatest life achievement so far?
Most people always state things that are related to their business successes or personal interests. I’ve won plenty of awards, done the TV bs deal and won it, and many other successful wins in my 14 year career…a lot of that stuff is an unquenchable thirst which you want more and more of, but really are never satisfied from the last win/achievement. To be honest, I think the greatest life achievement I’ve had is learning a skill that I can take to the grave, which would be welding. If I didn’t learn the craft of welding, I wouldn’t have met the people I have and probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I have without doing it. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most influential people, work on some of the coolest vehicles and jobs from aerospace, nuclear, ironwork, pipe welding, and of course motorcycles. Lastly if it wasn’t for welding, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become a welding instructor five years ago at Lakeland Community College. It’s an honor to help others learn the same craft that I love as well, it’s that pay it forward mentality that gives me an achievement feeling greater than winning or my personal successes.
What has been your biggest regret to date?
This is a typical question I get asked a lot from customers and my welding students at the college I teach at, because a lot of people perceive I live this wonderful/perfect no problem world…which couldn’t be farther from the truth if you walked a typical day in my shoes haha! It’s outside of motorcycles, but it would be not spending time with those I love around me as much as I should. We all know this business will consume your time and life for better or worse and that’s just how the lifestyle goes. But in April of ’16 I lost my best friend to a car wreck that took his life and from that day on I’ve regretted not spending more time with those around me I care about. On the daily, I’m teaching myself to take more breaks and enjoy life more, cause you never know when shit will turn in a blink of an eye. Don’t take the simple things in life for granted…
What inspires you?
I have to say anything and everything with creativity, highly motivated individuals, and moments to reflect on my next big moves. I’m a simple guy, so even down to a part that I have tons of hours in making or cruising down the road to get a coffee on a bike I built. It’s always been inspiring that you can build stuff with your own two hands and brain, then boom you work your ass off and have this fire breathing, cool looking ball of fun to ride for a temporary moment of enjoyment.
Who are your three all-time favorite bike builders?
Jesse James, Indian Larry, and the “unknown” guy who works in his garage that does it for fun and has a ton of knowledge/skill that no one knows about outside of his neighborhood…yes, those types of guys are out there and are a hell of an inspiration to guys like myself.
Any last words?
Like to thank my friends/family (you know who you are) for always supporting my insane motorcycle endeavors and being there as a support team as well, cause that’s what we do for each other is help each other out when in need.