Tree Sized Knuck

Article And Photos By: Twila Knight

Originally Published In The February 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Suderno and Tree, or Howard Slayton if you will, have been friends for 45 years. They both grew up in East Los Angeles, and went to rival high schools. However, when you put these two together they were anything but rivals. They met at a party in the early 70’s when Tree was riding a 650 Yamaha, and Ross was on his Shovel. The first bike they worked on together at Ross’ shop, RJS Welding, was Tree’s Yamaha. They customized it with a springer front end, a frisco’d sporty tank, and painted it white Murano pearl. As Ross puts it, “It was a trip, a big black dude on a little white chopper, and a little white dude on a big black Shovelhead.” That Yamaha build also gave them their first magazine spread. They redid the Yami once more: This time Tree showed up with a ‘58 Panhead engine and trans. They matched it to an old knuckle frame and decided to build a bike that would actually “fit” Tree.

Ross say that when you see 6’4” Tree riding around on a stock r rigid frame it’s like looking at a cartoon. The second bike they fabricated was a little more suited to Tree. They did all the fab work back when all they had to work with were giant 9” angle grinders, oxyacetylene torches and stick welders. There were no jigs, frame tables, fixtures, just a measuring tape, soapstone and a flat concrete floor. That bike, with its “Tree, sized frame,” 27” extended Harley Springer front end and its 21” front wheel was slammed. It was only 2 inches off the ground, with four inches in the downtube. They were lucky to have had it featured in a magazine twice and each time they restyled it more radically. That was the first time a magazine had featured the same bike twice. It was during that build, however, that they came up with the idea for the midmount suicide shifter they called the “Treeiside,” which inspired the one on his current bike.

Eventually, Ross ended up with a “real job” as a Welder/ Fabricator with the state of California and moved up to Ventura County. He went straight and found religion, which meant Tree and Ross went separate ways. But a friendship like theirs stood the test of time and held up to all sorts of challenges. After a time Tree called Ross, both were clean and sober now, and asked him to build another bike. Tree said he didn’t want to build a bike with anyone but him. Ross lived in a condo at the beach, had just a two car garage, and Tree lived eighty miles away in LA, but being brothers for so many years, all Ross could say was ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s when the parade of UPS trucks starting coming to my pad.” They started on the project back on 8/8/08, and it took a year and a half to build. Tree would come up almost every weekend, mostly Saturday’s some Sundays. This was the first bike they built while entirely sober, and they weren’t sure it was going to work. They thought all of their creativity came from being loaded and admitted it was entirely different working without the weed breaks.

One day, UPS showed up with a Santee hardtail frame, oil tank, gas tank, rear fender, Denver’s springer, Revtech Xotic 100” 1947 Knuckle replica motor and trans with a 3” belt drive. Tree bought a bike lift, and the build began. They took their time hand fabricating the exhaust pipes, that Treeiside shifter that was inspired from their previous build, the rear brake system, the seat, plus some brackets and such. But, hey, at least this time Ross had a Mig welder and some 4” grinders to work with. They started with the Denver’s springer they bought originally, it was a 21” over, but that just wasn’t “it.” They moved on to a 35” over Sugar Bear springer, but it still wasn’t perfect. They had to do a little “re-raking and ended up with the 41” over Sugar Bear springer that you see here. They also had to modify the bike lift they bought just so the build would completely fit on the lift. When’s the last time you had to extend a bike lift? I didn’t think so. They finished it off with a Kick Start and an SU carburetor, a 250 rear tire, and a 21” front: this thing truly is a beast.

This bike has been to show after show, but she is NO trailer queen; Tree rides it to every show he enters. With 40 awards won, it was time this bike found its place on some magazine pages. As you can see, this isn’t so much a story of a bike, as it is a story of two friends who have defied the odds and came out ahead. Proof of their lasting friendship can be found on the license plate on the bike. It may not make sense to you as you read it rolling down the street;” HBS RJS” stands for Howard Bruce Slayton and Ross Joseph Suderno. When Ross found out about the plate sporting both of their initials he had this to say, “Needless to say I was blown away by this gesture and I am honored to have my initials on the bike.” Tree is still riding his 11-foot chopper, and Ross now rolls around in his Model A hot rod and is working on building a ‘49 Chevy coupe. And these days they have way more fun AVOIDING jail time and hangovers.


Owner: Tree
City/State: Los Angeles, CA
Builder: Tree & RJS Welding & Fab
Year: 1947
Model: Knucklehead Replica
Value: $40,000
Time: 18 Months, Weekends Only
Year: 1947
Model: Knucklehead Replica
Builder: Revtech
Ignition: Dinatek
Displacement: 105”
Pistons: SU Primo
Heads: SU Primo
Carb: SU Primo
Cam: SU Primo
Air Cleaner: TSU
Exhaust: RJS Up Sweeps
Primary: Rivera Primo
Year: 2008
Make: Revtech
Shifting: 6 Speed
Make: Santee
Model: Rigid
Rake: Unsure
Stretch: 10”
Front end
Type: Springer
Builder: Sugar Bear
Extension: 40 Over
Triple trees:
Size: 21”
Tire: Avon
Front brake: 10” Disc
Size: 250
Tire: Avon
Rear Brake: 10” Disc
Painter: Jooki Pinstripe & Kustom Paint
Color: Silver
Type: Polyurethane
Graphics: Jooki
Chroming: Supreme Plating
Bars: Custom Chrome
Risers: Dog Bone
Hand controls: Custom Chrome
Foot controls: Custom Chrome
Gas Tank(s): Biker Alley
Oil Tank: Biker Alley
Front fender: None
Rear Fender: Biker Alley
Seat: RJS & Tree
Headlight: Bates
Tail light: Custom Chrome
Speedo: Nope
Photographer: Twila Knight

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