Something To Die For

Article By: Paul Wideman –

Photos By: Anthony Hall –

Originally Published In The May 2013 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

May 2013 Feature 1a Kerri final

Richmond, VA has long been a hot bed for the motorcycle world. Shops like Lee Clemens’ Departure Bike Works have been in the custom chopper arena for decades, and the drag racing tradition in Richmond runs deep as well. John Dodson from Gangster Choppers has built innumerable show and award winning bikes from his Richmond shop. But the former CSA capital has also given birth to many notable musicians and bands over the years. Acts such as GWAR, Alabama Thunderpussy, Municipal Waste, and Steve Earle are just some of the noteworthy groups to emerge from RVA . But there is one Richmond band that rises above all the others: Lamb of God. John Campbell, Lamb of God bassist, has been into bikes for a while now. A few years ago his Shovelhead was the focus of a photo shoot, and he bumped into Clay Rathburn. Clay was in the middle of moving his shop, Atom Bomb Customs, to Richmond. As the two talked, a friendship began, and soon John was dropping by Clay’s shop between practice sessions.

Atom Bomb Customs specializes in Triumph customs and bobbertype bikes. Clay had never worked on anything H-D before. John had a 2001 Sporty that he had done the typical bolt-on bobber job to, and he was less than happy with the outcome. An imported Springer actually broke on him (cue the Buy American or Die music), and he asked Clay if he would be into the idea of building him a one-off frontend for his XL. Clay said sure, and thought it would be a great project. John left and waited for Clay to get back with him on a price and idea for the project, but he just couldn’t wait long enough. While thinking about the bike, and after seeing Clay’s amazing work around the shop, John just couldn’t help himself; he had to have the entire bike “Atom Bombed,” in his words.

May 2013 Feature 1b Kerri Final

As soon as the bike hit Clay’s table, he sawed off the back half and began installing a new rear section. Clay always builds his own hardtails for his Triumphs, but for time’s sake he ordered this one. As soon as the hardtail was completed, mock-up moved on to the rolling chassis end of business. A 39mm narrow glide was chosen, completely nixing the initial idea of a custom built front suspension. The idea the two had for the bike simply called for the simple lines and superior performance of the narrow glide. A narrow 21” front wheel was used and mated to a single rotor and stock H-D brake, after some cosmetic enhancements and a very liberal polishing treatment. Clay went with the same basic idea in the rear, with a stock 16” hoop and dual flange hub, using a shaved and polished H-D caliper. The 5.00 Avon looks perfect under the highly modified fender Clay mounted. Speaking of mounts, check out the slick, and very detailed mounts Clay used all over the bike, especially on the fender and pipes.

John tells me that he and Clay work very well together; their ideas seem to jive almost flawlessly. Of course Clay’s vision is a lot more detailed and focused, but hey, they’re on the same page. Well, they were until it came time for controls. John was stuck on forwards and Clay was hell bent on mid controls. As you can see, it was Clay that won this tiny battle, but not necessarily at his own hands. It was actually John’s brother, Jeff, which convinced him to run mids on this tight little package. Clay did a little extra work to the set to improve performance and comfort-ability, and John is happy the two directed him this way. The narrowed set of bars and killer hand controls round out the operation of the sickle. Clay really set this bike off with his metal working. The tank was sourced from a friend of John’s before being handed over to Clay. The stock 883 tank was sectioned and narrowed, and the front half was rounded out to eliminate the flat spot around the filler. The result is a clean and timeless tank that does not carry any of the awkwardness that simply mounting an untouched tank might present. Moving to the oil tank, Clay started with nothing more than sheet aluminum. Starting from scratch, he was able to match the tank to the lines of the frame and space allowed. The convex panels are gorgeous in my eyes, and might be the understated highlight of the entire bike. Of course both tanks use utilitarian but aesthetically dreamy mounts, again handcrafted by Clay. Without touching the stock Sportster pulley and gear covers, this bike would not look the part, but Clay did not want to do the same as everyone else. Clay used a more “swoopy” cut when he trimmed the covers, but he then added a rolled edge using aluminum round stock. A feat Clay maybe underestimated at first, but one that certainly makes a statement; very well done.

All was broken down and sent out for paint and plating. The seat was sent to Redtail Leather for a classic brown saddle job. The incredible paint was knocked out by Fred Pinckard of Fulton Paint Works, about which Clay and John have nothing but the best to say. I would agree. Fighting the typical last minute issues and delays, Clay began reassembly, adding his own subtle touches here and there. Wiring and plumbing was handled in the cleanest of manners, and well, what else can I say? It’s damn near perfect. In the end, John’s High Life is a foolproof daily rider that is understated to say the least. (You know it’s funny. This is probably the only time I’ve seen ‘Lamb of God’ and ‘understated’ on the same page!) The bike is truly a sleeper. To the untrained, uneducated eye, this bike could easily be passed over as another mild custom, but detail after detail tells us otherwise. Clay admits his first, and possibly only, foray into the H-D world was a tiny bit challenging, only because sourcing parts was a bit different. Fabrication is fabrication, and Clay has that locked down. But Clay does not take all the credit. He wants to thank Biltwell, Kim at Boyle Custom Moto, Fred at Fulton Paint Works , and his photographer, Tony Hall. Without their collective help, the bike would not have happened. Clay and John, keep up the unparalleled work!

May 2013 Feature 1c Kerri Final

High Life Tech Sheet

Owner: John Campbell

City: Richmond, VA

Fabrication By: Clay Rathburn-Atom Bomb MC

Year: 2001

Model: 1200 Sportster

Time: Couple Months Off and On

value: One Million Dollars


Year: 2001

Model: 1200 Sportster

Builder: Stock Bottom / Top End – Clay

Ignition: Dyna S

Displacement: 1200

Pistons: Stock

Heads: Stock – Cleaned Up Ports

Cam(s): Stock

Carb: Mikuni HSR

Air Cleaner: Boyle Custom Moto

Exhaust: Fabbed by Clay

Primary: Stock


Year: 2001

Make: Stock Sporty

Shifting: It Does That


Year: 2001

Make: Various-Front Stock/Rigid Rear

Rake: Stock

Stretch: 4” Rear


Type: Shaved HD 39mm Narrow Glide

Builder: Modified by Clay

Extension: 2” Under

Triple Trees: Stock


Front Wheel: Stock

Size: 21”

Tire: Avon Speedmaster

Brakes: Late Sporty Caliper-Generic Rotor

Rear Wheel: Stock

Size: 16”

Tire: Avon

Brakes: Stock / Modified Caliper


Painter: Fred Pinckard- Fulton Paint Works

Color: Black – Pagan Gold – Root Beer

Type: House of Kolor


Chroming: Hanlon Plating – Richmond, VA


Bars: Narrowed Biltwell

Risers: Biltwell

Hand Controls: Kustom Tech

Gas Tank(s): Narrowed-Sectioned Sporty

Front Fender: None

Rear Fender: Led Sled Blank – Atom Bomb

Seat: Redtail Leather

Foot Controls: Biltwell Pegs – Atom Bomb Knurled Toe Pegs

Oil Tank: Fab. Aluminum by Clay

Taillight: Stainless “34 Ford Re-Pop

Headlight: Aftermarket

Photographer: Anthony Hall

One thought on “Something To Die For

  1. Sweet – Atom Bomb is no more. Gave this fucker thousands to build many years ago, and the bitch took my money and ran.

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