Flat Tracker – Paying Homage To The Past

Featured in the October 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Article & Photos By: Chris Callen & Amelia Rose

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Why are Ironheads always so damn cool? This is a question I have pondered many times. Finally now, after staring at Rob Lations retro flat track inspired bike, I think that I may have found the answer. When the Ironhead hit the scene in ’57 it changed the face of flat track racing and put Harley Davidson at the top of the leader board. As this bike became more popular outside the race tracks, many people found use for them as “work trucks” in areas where the ability to go from street to rough terrain proved advantageous; as it would on a farm or back country cabin. Tearing a stock Ironhead down to the bare essentials revealed a bike that could simply go anywhere. But in today’s sea of shiny baggers and V-Twin monsters, the nostalgia and functionality of the Ironhead has been forgotten by all but those few who have a vision for the true vintage history of our industry. Often passed down a generation, Ironheads are seldom worth the money it would take to restore and are found left out in the rain or hidden in the back of a barn in nowhere USA. Luckily some of these bikes wind up in the hands of a talented builder who has a love for old iron and a willingness to put in the unappreciated hours to build something personal to ride. Anytime a passionate builder has a blank slate to dive into, and is left to his or her own devices, something really special is going to emerge. This is certainly the case with Rob Lations’ 1981 Flat Tracker Ironhead. Rob began a life of customization at the mere age of 8 when he acquired his first mini bike and decided it would look cooler if he just changed this, this, and this. His desires never wavered as he found himself modifying and working on every bike he owned. With a love for the past and the look of vintage bikes, Rob’s passion and vision eventually grew into a business and Ol’ School Custom Fabrication was born. Growing up in the heavily wooded region of Massachusetts, Rob developed two skill sets and turned them both into successful businesses: chopping trees and chopping bikes. So while running an entire tree service company, Lations still manages to find time to design and build some killer bikes at his shop. Like so many great Ironhead stories this machine was found in pieces outside a house in Rob’s home town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The initial call from a friend, regarding a bike for sale, did not excite Lations as he wasn’t interested in buying another motorcycle at the time; but when his friend said “Ironhead,” Rob turned the car around and headed to the resting place of this bike. After a bit of negotiating, Rob made the deal, thus saving this basket case from a slow and painful demise at the hand of Mother Nature. Once the old girl was back in his shop, Lations went about the laborious task of redesigning and resurrecting this bike. His vision was to create a truly functional motorcycle while capturing the look of a vintage flat track racing bike. In essence, he was striving to pay tribute to the history of the Ironhead Sportster.

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After rebuilding the motor and cutting away excess baggage to achieve a tight dependable drive line, Rob set up a rolling chassis that could handle any terrain. Aiming for total performance on and off the road he used extra-long progressive shocks in the rear to raise the ride height and rebuilt the front-end to match. The rear wheel was replaced with an 18” rim to compliment and balance the bike to the existing 19” front wheel. Staying true to the full purpose design of this bike, both wheels were fitted with aggressive Kenda on/off road wheels and the gearing remained stock. The flat track handlebars are held tight with motocross style risers, while the quick release headlight and taillight make this a bike you can literally ride to the races, and hit the track. The dirt bike inspired paint job was shot in house by Rob using Hot Rod Black and Pearl White. The graphics were done in vinyl, again to stay true to the era. When I first saw this bike, I was blown away by the retro style and “cool” factor, but I wondered how I would relate to it as a writer and how I would present this story to our readers. But, after talking to Rob, I realized that the true heart of this bike lies in the history of the Ironhead and in Rob’s ability to pay homage to all those who owned, modified, and rode the hell out of these bikes. Why are Ironheads so cool? Because they have a unique place in history and only passion and vision can bring them back to life.

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Flat Tracker’s Tech Sheet
Owner: Rob Lations
City: Manchester, MA
Fabrication By: Ol’ School Custom Fabrications
Year: 1981
Model: Harley Ironhead
Value: Indescribable
Time: One Month
Year: 1981
Model: Ironhead
Builder: Rob Lations
Ignition: Electronic
Displacement: 1000cc
Pistons: Stock
Heads: Stock
Cam(s): Andrews Y Cam. 425
Carb: Stock, Re-Jetted
Air Cleaner: Custom Foam Element
Exhaust: Spitfire, nickel-plated
Primary: Stock
Year: 1981
Make: HD
Shifting: 5 speed
Year: 1981
Make: HD
Rake: Stock
Type: Telescopic
Builder: Shoa, modified by O.S.C.F.
Front Wheel: Stainless Laces
Size: 19”
Tire: Kenda On/Off Road
Front Brake: Stock
Rear Wheel: Stainless Laced
Size: 18”
Tire: Kenda On/Off Road
Brakes: GMA Rear
Painter: Don Thompson, Ken McTague
Color: Hot Rod Black over Bone white
Type: House of Color, SEM
Graphics: Dirt Track Style
Bars: Flat Tracker
Risers: Motocross style 1”
Hand controls: Stock Housing w/ New Switches
Fuel Tanks: HD Super Glide
Rear Fender: Fiberglass Flat Tracker
Seat: Flat Track style w/ Mustang
Oil Tank: Paughco
Headlight: Bates w/ Reversed Stock Bracket
Taillight: Cat Eye w/ Custom Stainless Plate Bracket
Speedo: Mini Mechanical
Photographer: Chris Callen and Amelia Rose

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