RKB Kustom Speed’s Shovelhead Chopper
Article By: Jimmy Frizzel Photos By: Missi Shoemaker
Published May 2020
Sometimes if you listen carefully, opportunity will lightly tap at your door…..But inspiration, true unfiltered passion doesn’t knock it’s just there inside you; it takes over and consumes you. True inspiration will either fuel a fire or simply destroy you. It’s how you decide to deal with it and how you utilize the skills you have that separates the men from the boys. With five weeks to build a bike, you just can’t afford to crack under pressure.
Rick Bray is no stranger to pressure, and some may say he invites it. His livelihood is founded in building weapons of speed. He just knows no other way. RKB Kustom Speed is where he calls home, and in his domain, he pumps out the finest quality one-off race cars and chassis’ not to mention amazingly beautiful two-wheeled works of art. Talking to Rick for even a minute, you know he puts every ounce of what he has into everything he builds.
Lately, the racing side of RKB has taken precedent, and motorcycles have had to step to the back of the spotlight. A fire destroyed his two personal bikes, and putting another motorcycle together fell short of more pressing obligations. One-off custom parts still flowed out of the shop on a regular basis, and choppers were never far from Ricks mind, and luckily for him, the inspiration for a fresh build was just around the corner.
With only a five-week window, an invitation to the Golden Bolt in LA was all Bray needed to leap face-first into the fire of a ground-up build. Rick is a man that faces a deadline with full intentions of seeing the mission through. The rock-solid drive train of a previous build was the first piece to the puzzle. The 1981 Frankenstein shovel with a 74” top end mated to an 80” bottom had proven a rock-solid combination when mated to a mid-50s Panhead tranny. Some years earlier Kirk Taylor had put the motor together. Rick tore it down in order to clean it up for the show bike.
The frame was built from scratch in three days by Rick’s lonesome self. The tank was then completed and sent off to paint before the rest of the pieces were even started. Rick figured he had heard enough paint horror stories and wanted to leave enough time for his good friend Kool Hand Luke to make it perfect. All the parts were then fabricated in house using only manual machines. Rick prides himself on staying analog; you won’t find him typing his parts into a CNC.
Rick admits it seemed like a logistical nightmare, but he kept everything in check and sent the parts, as they were finished, out for paint and to Morris Blanco for the nickel plating. All the brass accents were also done in house. Just check out his custom foot and hand controls. He wanted this bike to be as much of him as any other piece that comes out of his shop.
Bray usually runs his own wheels on almost every build he does. But for this show, things went a little different. A friend of his was also invited to The Golden Bolt, and that bike was already running a set of RKB wheels. Rick chose the honorable path and let those wheels speak for themselves and pieced another set together. He used a dirt bike hoop on the front and a RKB Beadlock mated with Black Bike Wheels for the back. Without exception, the wishbone springer was also made in house along with the exhaust. The seat was accented with an insert made by Mugroso leather.
Five weeks later, the show was set to start at high noon on a Thursday. At five o’clock that very morning as the sun started to lift from behind the horizon, Rick Bray’s King Solomon was fired up for its maiden voyage. A quick rip for gas followed with some attention to a minor oil leak, and the bike was loaded up for the show. Part of the show included a thirty-mile trek through the streets of LA in 115 degree rush hour heat. Midway at a hotel check stop, the bike chipped a starter tooth and gave up a small fight, but then she fired and ran flawlessly. Rick will never look at thirty miles in the same way again. The trip took over an hour in heat that would destroy most untested fresh builds. The security in the bulletproof drivetrain was the key. Later on at the In Motion show, Rick would have the bike drop-shipped to a buddy’s house thirty miles away; the bike once again performed flawlessly.
Building bikes under pressure is a labor of love. The long hours can make a man hate his creation with a passion. But that’s how the relationship of man and machine is built. In the end, when the bike finds it’s new owner, a piece of the builder leaves with it but not this time. Rick Bray isn’t letting go that easy, and with four bikes in the works at the shop King Solomon is here to stay.