Article and Photos By: Chris Callen
he man behind this old girl needs little introduction by the likes of me. Donny Loos has been turning old scrap iron into show beauties for twenty- five years this summer and the funniest thing about it is, today he finds himself right back where he started.
You see, when Don started working on bikes, the only thing people really did on average was dress them up, put some paint and chrome on them and ride. The neighborhood parts’ store could stock most everything a custom bike builder needed. After all, there were only two choices in exhausts, mufflers or drags, and other than different types of hardware, the parts were either chrome or polished. That was a time when bikes like this FL Shovel were pretty common and decently tricked out too.
This one was far from the condition you see here. As a matter of fact, the two bikes that it was conceived from were nothing compared to this. It all started right after the V-Twin show. A guy Don met had called with an ’82 Low Rider motor, tranny, frame and title for sale. He kept the carb but Don got the rest. He had it a month or two while he tried to figure out what to do with it when he ran across another old guy on e-Bay who was selling four tables worth of a ’79 FLH. It was listed for $3,500 and was pick-up only. As the auction ended the reserve wasn’t even close so Don made a call. He told the man that if he’d be willing to ship the parts, he’d take them. The guy told Don that he knew someone at UPS, could get some boxes and figure it out. When the parts arrived, they were in seven boxes plus the frame and the old guy, much to Don’s chagrin, had done just what he said. He packed all the parts into the boxes, no packing, and shipped them out. Everything except the chrome parts were banged all to hell and back. Some of the fins had been broke off the cylinders; it was a mess.
Apparently the chrome was key here and the man he bought these parts from must have known a chrome platter pretty well because everything was chromed. The parts were all there but it was completely disassembled for plating and even the bottom end had been torn down so the cases could be polished. At the same time, the ’82 was in equally bad condition. Although it was a complete oily mess on the outside, the internals were in great shape. Don decided the only way to handle this case was to take the best of both bikes and make the swingarm Shovel you see here. In the end, he would have a bike just like everyone was doing back when he started: banana calipers, FLH headlight cowl, floorboards and a hub cap. Now this might not sound like a list of custom parts in today’s crazed world of far out choppers, but as for how it was in the eighties, this was so badass, and so it is again. The hot rod red base and gold flame job does a lot to rekindle that old love as well. Still, swingarm bikes have been underrated for the past decade or so and it figures that it would take a builder like Don who’s been there and done it to remind us how cool they still are. Let me explain a little more.
Over the years, Don would follow the trends, as his customers’ demands did at least. He quickly found himself growing out of the original space that he borrowed in his dad’s old paint booth, and moved to his own shop with an apartment above it. In the beginning, he was wrenching on the Candies and Hughes’ funny car but was tired of being on the road so much. Since there were only two Harley dealers and one aftermarket shop in the entire Cincinnati area, he felt he could do a nice little business on his own. Don set about the task of rebuilding motors and became known for his skills in that area of the bike. At the same time, he was doing some cool stuff to customize bikes as well. He did some paint and chroming, found some of the tripped out parts of the day, but still never really showed anything so it was more of a hometown thing. That was until his first complete showed up on the cover of American Rider in 1995. He had met the publisher, Buzz Kanter, on a plane ride back form Daytona. Don’s Santee swingarm frame based custom that featured an Arlen Ness dual rail swingarm and a candy purple/neon orange paint scheme earned him props on the national level.
In 1999, Don rolled into an Easyrider’s show with a Pat Kennedy based chopper and blew the roof off the place. He met Michael Lichter, Dave Nichols and the whole crew as they snatched his bike up for a feature; Don was on his way to the big time. He stuck through all the long and low bikes, the choppers and bobbers and along the way, built some of the most beautiful creations of the times. One in particular sticks in my mind as his best work and that was the S&S 50th anniversary bike. It was a seventies style drag bike that was just flawless. Don was into the bobber thing for quite a while; in his mind it was the longest trend and with good reason. The bobber, from his perspective, covered both ends. You could spend a little money on building one or you could spend a lot and get great results either way.
With all the SuckerPunch Sally stuff behind him now, Don finds himself back in the place he started as far as his business goes. He now owns Don’s Custom Cycle where he’s back to doing his thing of building killer motors and great bikes. Ya know, maybe this build is just a natural way for him to recognize that place he has arrived at. Twenty-five years later, about three miles down the road, and yet a world away from where it all began. Kinda puts you in mind of Sid Hartha, huh?
still swingin’ tech sheet
Owner: Donny Loos
city: Miamitown, OH
Fabrication By: HD Year: 1982
Time: 6 Weeks
Builder: Donny Loos
Year: 1979 Make: HD shifting: Foot
Rake: 30 Degrees
triple trees: HD
Front wheel: HD
Rear wheel: HD
size: 16” tire: Avon
Painter: Brandon Armstrong
color: Candy Apple Red
chroming: Brown’s Plating
Bars: Khrome Werks Risers: Drag Specialties hand controls: HD gas tank(s): NOS HD Front Fender: ‘08 HD Rear Fender: NOS HD seat: LePera
Foot controls: HD Oil tank: HD headlight: HD taillight: HD
Photographer: Chris Callen