Johnny The Baptist

Article And Photos By: Mark Velazquez

Originally Published In The February 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Steve Bates better known as “Choppa” is a garage builder from the Saginaw section of Texas. An area that has become very rich in the underground chopper scene. In a place where you can pretty much build and ride 12 months out of the year, your bike and what you do around it can keep you sane and at times truly help you find your inner self. Having been a builder for almost 15 years now, Steven once worked on building fat tire show bikes with his dad and brother back in the day, only to discover one day that his true calling was to cut ‘em up and build them chopper style. With a new calling, Steven took to his garage to build for himself and with friends, his circle had grown from this sharing of knowledge. Going back to the way they did things back in the day garage life was his escape from the modern world. With loud blues blasting and old school handtools taking the place of the more modern-day tools was how Steven would get things done. And when not chopping things up, the local scene was a welcome spot to just be another builder where he could chill with no stress.

I was lucky enough to meet Steven through a mutual friend, Robert Clague, who is quite the builder himself and has been featured in this lovely rag. Rob had first called to tell me about a new show, Boogie East, that would be going down in Daytona this past year. It was being put together by himself & Scott Hoepker of Chemical Candy and would be held over at Annie Oakley’s. Just those two names alone told me that this would be a can’t miss event… I wasn’t wrong. When I get to the show the boss here tells me that that I have to check out this sick chop out of Texas and hell yeah shoot it. As I walk toward the bike, not knowing Steven at all, the first thing that popped to me is the tank, sporting the head of John the Baptist on a plate. “WTF, I thought, “was I going to shoot this guy’s bike and then have him toss me in a dumpster? This would be interesting for sure.” And then I meet Steven, who happens to be the coolest laidback Texan I have ever met! Chillin’ in his brimmed hat and just laying low, he let me do my thing. As I spoke to him during the shoot I could understand why he ran with the likes of Scott and Rob, a builder that totally gets it and doesn’t care if you do.

Wondering about this bike and the journey to build it? Well, here is the story as told to me. What you see in front of you is a killer 1956 Panhead. A bare bone, ground up build. The engine was rebuilt by East Bay with a displacement of 74cu, stock heads, and S&S Super E carb topped off with a 4 speed RevTech tranny. As for that killer custom exhaust, made by Steven himself is one of my favorites that I have seen. Speaking of fabrications, those handle bars, controls, and gas tank are all works of Bate as well. And the frame, well let’s just say, chopped, chopped, chopped. Now, of course I can’t wrap this story up without talking about this tank. With everything that is cool and so perfect on this bike sometimes you have that one element that brings everything together with meaning. This bike is called Johnny, after our good friend John the Baptist. John was not the first choice for this tank of controversy. The paint on this bike was done by Jakes Custom paint which is based out of the Chicago area and a friend of Stevens. The original image was slated to be an afro-punk chick to give it that throwback look but one night Jake and Steven were on the phone going over the paint scheme whe Steven told Jake he found this off the wall killer image of John the Baptist’s head on a platter. After taking a look that was all that was needed and off with his head and on to the bike it went! A true head turner and one of a kind.

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is truly what pulled this bike together. Steven set out to push the mainstream aside. Showing that garage building is truly where it’s at. There are a thousand ways to skin a cat but that can also be said about chopping a bike, however the roots will never change, and we sometimes need people like Steven to remind of just where it all came from. With the good comes the bad so let this be my final thought. After this build Steven loss his Mother in a terrible car accident and 5 days later fell into a divorce which is pretty much coming to its end. He wanted these moments shared because from dark times come better days and since then he has been blessed to be asked to attend the next Michael Lichter show out in Sturgis as well as Fuel Cleveland with a new build. Without the motorcycle world around him and the builds that keep him busy, those days may have led to an unknown path which we just don’t know or care to know. A true example, the bikes define us just as much as we define them.

Johnny Tech Sheet
Owner: Steven “Choppa” Bates
City/State: Saginaw, TX
Fabrication By: Steven “Choppa” Bates
Year: 1956
Model: Panhead
Time: 6 Months
Value: 20 Bucks & Your Mom
Year: 1956
Model: Panhead
Builder: East Bay
Displacement: 74”
Heads: Stock
Carb: S&S Super E
Cam: Stock
Air Cleaner: BCM
Exhaust: Choppa
Primary: Choppa/RKB
Make: RevTech
Shifting: 4 Speed
Year: 196
Make: Harley-Davidson
Rake: Stock
Stretch: None
Front end
Type: 41mm
Triple trees:
Front Wheel:
Size: ”
Front tire:
Front brake:
Rear Wheel:
Size: 16”
Rear tire: Firestone
Rear brake: Cheapo
Mainter: Jake’s Custom Paint
Color: White & Weird
Graphics: Custom
Molding: Jake’s Custom Paint
Chroming: Some Guy
Bars: Choppa
Risers: Choppa
Hand Controls:
Foot controls: Choppa
Fuel tank: Choppa
Oil tank: Choppa/Harley
Front Fender: None
Rear Fender: Cheap-o/ Choppa
Seat: Choppa
Headlight: Cheap-o
Taillight: Yep
Speedo: None
Photographer: Mark Velazquez

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