Article and photos by Twila Knight, published July 2019
You might remember the late 60’s, early 70’s, or were there but don’t exactly remember much of it, or perhaps you are a youngin like me, no matter what, I bet you know the long, skinny style of an old chopper: Denver’s Choppers, Sugar Bear’s front ends, the ones in David Mann’s paintings. You know the kind, when you see that front wheel coming around the corner long before you see the rider. That was all Steve and Kyle could picture when they were ready to start this project. They must have built it 30 times before cutting any metal.
Paughco is a household name, and Ron Paugh started it all fifty years ago. They started in the San Fernando Valley, where the riding season never ends. Fifty years ago, there wasn’t a road where you wouldn’t see a 10-foot long motorcycle rolling down it. So, the team decided the best way to celebrate the companies historic 50th Anniversary was to build a commemorative bike using Paughco catalog parts, ensuring that it would be fully reminiscent of the days when Paughco got its start.
First things had to come first; the Heart. And that was a 1971 Sportster motor they had on hand. This was a great motor to build around. Because they knew they were building a chopper but were starting with a Sporty motor, they dubbed the bike “The Chopster”. It was half chopper, half Sportster. Fitting, Right? The motor needed a divorce from the transmission, so they chopped it off and replaced it with a Panhead 4 speed tranny. They say it took a year to build, but they admitted that it sat on the kickstand for at least four months, so really it was more like a half a year. Either way, in that year-ish, The Chopster evolved.
Next up… The Body. The frame was of course made by Kyle since he heads up the frame department with the company. He started with a Paughco # 140 Swedish rigid frame with its 8 up, 4 out, and 40-degree rake, but then chose smaller diameter 1- 1/8 inch down tubes, for a more period correct look. He also built the custom narrowed gas tank, the handlebars, rear fender, and sissy bar. And the list goes on. That 21 over, narrow, tapered leg springer, pulls that bike from stock Sporty to full-blown chopper, and was made by Rufino, who manages the springer department for Paughco.
Trying to keep everything vintage, some parts went directly from the catalog to the bike, but others had to be customized for this beast to become exactly what they had in mind. The chain guard was modified, fully custom exhaust pipes and forward control brackets were built along with the six bend pull back bars, as well as custom fuel valves.
If you are familiar with 1969, 70, 71 eras of bikes, you will certainly know that brakes have come a long way. But none of that modern disc crap was going on this build. They kept it vintage with a rear mechanical drum brake, and no front brake at all. They utilized a brake straight from their catalog, as well as all the linkage for it and moved it from the rear brake, up to the clean lines up on those custom bars. The throttle, being internal of course, was taken from an early Sportster they cut and spliced into the bars. As you can see, there is also no clutch lever, not even a mirror up front to muck things up. They used a foot clutch and a hand shift, which was customized to hold that infamous Paughco crest. Since this bike is a reflection of the 50 years of the company, they made sure to include the Paughco crest where they could, including the motor mount, and neck gusset.
The guys at Paughco made the seat pan itself, ensuring that it had a perfect flow. To finish it up it was sent it off to Le Para to really make it shine. Le Pera was started in 1967 by Bob Le Para Sr. Bob Sr. and Ron Paugh have been friends for so many years, it was a no brainer that Le Para was part of this project. They went with a two-piece design, that beautifully showcases the Paughco logo in the stitch pattern. It was stitched flawlessly buy Bob Jr. Of course, he used the team colors of black and orange.
Steve and Kyle enlisted the help of a couple of other industry greats. BDL helped with the custom belt drive. Steve, the owner of BDL, and Scott the “tech guy” made sure rolling forward was as smooth and flawless as the bike itself. The paint was done by none other than Old School Jim. Jim is out of Reno, NV, and has been around for, well, let’s just say a long time. The guys wanted that 60’s and 70’s metal flake, but not the overwhelming beast of a flake, just a soft, pearlescent if you will. With those parameters, Old School Jim did just that, a touch of flake and pearl in Paughco orange. He pulled it off in just three short weeks.
Although this is truly a show bike in many ways, its main purpose is to show this entire motorcycle community just what you can do with Paughco parts. All of us here at Cycle Source think they did a tremendous job. The unveiling was at Born-Free 10; it was used as a display in the Paughco booth, and the next time it hits the circuit will most likely be Born-Free 11.
At the very beginning, Ron gave the guys carte blanche to handle this 50th Anniversary bike. He supported them 100% and left them entirely up to their own devices to showcase what they thought the company was made of. Ron loved it, and for these two hard working, part building guys, that meant the world. To have their esteemed boss, someone so influential in this industry, give them full accolades for a job well done, on something that represents the company he personally built, was priceless. They both told me they feel truly lucky to work for him. Steve said it best, “Ron spent 49 years building the company; we only spent a year building this bike.” And what a trophy it is to display.