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Originally Published In The June 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
The problem with the cold weather is you begin to forget that there may in fact still be an outside world. You get self-absorbed with your own reality and get caught up with the projects you have going on and sometimes lose track of your own timeline. Cheap Thrills in Asbury Park is usually the first time the seasonal alarm goes off, and if I don’t hit the snooze button, I can usually get a jumpstart on everything I’ve put off since the thermometer dropped. I’ve cleaned house of all the dormant bikes and made room for new and with any luck by the time the salt is washed off the roads and the trees start to green I’ll be carving pavement right on time. My passion has always fallen on art. I have a certain disdain for artsy people and people who want to talk about artsy shit. I’m a working class bastard that only keeps his love of art alive by not making it my bread and butter. It leaves me the benefit of not taking requests and doing whatever I want. If I get commissioned, it’s under the condition you get my best but I sure as shit don’t know what it’s going to be until it is what it is. Parts and helmets come in, and parts and helmets leave. I don’t need to deal with people and bullshit and everyone’s happy.
Sunday night the phone lit up with a message from a buddy needing some work done on the oil tank of a Panhead he had just finished up, the only issue being that it was already on the bike and it needed to be done for the App Moto Jam on Saturday. It’s a rarity, but for the opportunity to leave a piece of myself on this bike I packed up and made plans to head over the following day. I allowed work to beat the shit out of me for the good part of ten hours; it never fails that if you have someplace to be life ain’t gonna let you be there. But as I put work behind me and laid the hammer down I gorilla gripped a cream and sugar slapped on the Minor Threat discography and decompressed enough to get to painting.
Steve Kelly knows how to build a bike and he should, he slings wrenches for Harley all day, and his family falls to a devout Panhead religion 365 days a year. His 51FL laid in wait at his Father-in-laws garage cradled in the walls of motorcycle history. A wood-burning stove created an oasis from the night air as it warmed the cold steel of the thousands of parts hanging from the rafters. The walls of the garage were layered with photos, and artwork ripped from decades of chopper magazines, this was more than a garage, this was a shrine. Slink has lived in this house for well over 60 years. At every turn, there was motorcycle history. This was a place to be inspired and a place where a man could learn about the history and respect that this culture was based on. Steve’s Pan sat perched on the lift, clean and regal. The frame had been freshly Parkerized, and the parts were original without the screaming attention of the new age patina craze. My attention fell to the oil tank, the finish was gone and replaced with a dull oxidation, and it nested firmly into the frame. It was almost a crime to add paint to it, yet it was also an honor. I tend to design pieces that become part of the overall, but I also try to take them to the edge of what the norm would be. I have a deep respect for old tradition, but I believe there is always a place for evolution. But in the case of this FL, I wanted whatever I did to slowly fade into the bike and age well. This was no place to try to grab attention. Less absolutely would be everything.
I fully expected Steve to have a lot of input on what needed to go on the tank, with a bike like this it was almost understood, but that just wasn’t the case. I explained my thoughts, and he cracked a beer and gave me free rein. I could listen to Steve and Slink shoot the shit forever, and as I laid down the 1shot, I realized that the radio was playing kid songs for probably the past hour, Slink knew but he also didn’t seem to care. Both Steve and Slink refused to catch a sneak peek at what was happening on my end, I was honored by their blind faith, but if I was going the wrong way, it was too late now. About three quarters through my project Sarah, Steve’s wife, and Slink’s daughter showed up and gave me her approval. She was dropping off her 46 Knuckle frame she’d had repaired at 47 Industries. She aims to have a Flathead in it and ready to race by 2019’s Race of Gentlemen. This, by all definitions is a motorcycle family. With Sarah’s stamp of approval, I allowed myself to finish up with without lingering doubt, at this point if Steve didn’t approve I could just throw his wife under the bus with me (yeah, I’m that guy). There were no worries, in the end, Steve was either overjoyed, drunk or a phenomenal liar. I set out to not stand out, and the bike kept its class. I think it is absolutely necessary to spend time breathing in the dust of a garage, taking in stories, and creating. Maybe I just forgot being caught up in my own little world. Steve said that he couldn’t thank me enough, but in the end, I should be thanking them.