It’s a long-established fact of custom bike building that any given project will take at least twice as long to complete as intended, and cost at least twice as much as the expected budget.
Words: Dave M Pics: Simon Everett
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Tom Russell had a H-D Softail Twin Cam B, the one with the chain-driven balance shafts, and he had a plan. Naturally, given the magazine that you have in your hands, it wasn’t a plan to fit hard luggage and ride it around Europe. Oh no, it was a plan to change it entirely.
Long-term BSH readers will recognise the name Ian Borrowman as he’s had a hand in a fair number of bikes featured over the years, and it was he Tom turned to when it was time to set the project rolling. Tom knew the look he wanted, but it was Ian who worked out the angles and dimensions that meant that the end result would work as well as it looked.
The 2001 FXST frame remained (sort of…) albeit in a heavily modified condition, but it’s remained a Softail, with a chunky Penz swinging arm holding a Paughco 80-spoke wheel of 18-inch diameter and ten an’ an ’arf inch width. The front half of the frame, however, saw a little more attention, and the steering head was raised and brought forward, with 36 degrees of rake being created to accommodate the long Zodiac forks that’re a full 12 inches longer than stock. The Fat Bubba forks come from Holland with the shrouds, although Tom ordered some yokes from PSP Engineering, which differ slightly from the Zodiac offering in that they have a cleaner profile without the ribbing that runs across the front face of the Zodiac yokes. The upper fork shrouds that sit between the yokes were modified to allow the fitment of the one-off handlebars, made by Bing Ley Choppers, that fit in the same way as cafe racer-type clip-on bars… although they are rather wider, of course! The fuel tank is an off-the-shelf item, from Zodiac, but with a digital speedo unit set into it, and the oil tank, electrics box and battery box are bespoke, made to fit the altered frame’s curving top tube by Bing Ley, while the seat was covered by Sandbanks Upholstery.
The engine is standard, although without any of the fuel-injection nonsense that was fitted as standard, with a Mikuni HSR42 carb mixing the fuel and air, and an Altman ignition providing the sparks. A swoopy Paul Yaffe two-into-one exhaust dumps the waste products out of the right-hand side, which is definitely the business side of this bike! The final drive is also on the right, thanks to a six-speed Baker transmission being bolted to the back of the Twin Cam’s crankcases – unlike earlier models, which had a separately mounted gearbox, the Twin Cam has it bolted directly to the engine to create a pseudo-unit power train. With the tranny, zorst and carb hanging out on the right, the left-hand side only has the primary drive, although that is a rather wide three-inch BSL belt kit. The fill-in plate in the primary drive, that prevents dogs, small children and wildlife from hiding between the pulleys, is decorated in a classic tattoo style by Tony Reynolds, aka the eponymous Tony the Engraver, the ex-pat chisel-wielding artist who ‘hits things pretty’. Tony also engraved the rocker covers, as well as the timing and transmission covers on the right.
With some detailing sorted out in the form of a triumvirate of Crime Scene Choppers parts in the form of headlight, tail-light and air filter, and with some further brasswork coming as details with the Kustom Tech forwards, grips and switchgear and the coned rear spindle covers and front hub ‘knock-off’ spikes, it was then time to turn to paint. And, for that, Tom turned to the very talented Skin at AiryArts in Wimbourne, specifying that he’d like some Japanese tattoo-style art that’d match what Tony’d done with the engraving. Choosing a San Marino red for the main colour, Skin expertly laid down a satin lacquer to contrast the depth of the gold artwork, and the black stripe that runs down the length of the bike has 50 grams of gold pearl in it (yes, that is a LOT of pearl!) so, when viewed close up, it looks as though it’s brown, but it really bounces when the sun comes out!
So did the project end up taking twice the time and twice the cost? I’ll let Tom give you some insight to that: “The bike exceeded all my expectations really. I had an idea of what I wanted it to be, a rough idea of what I wanted to spend, and how long it would take, but it ended up costing four times as much and taking four times as long! This was because the idea had so much potential to be something really special, and it seemed a shame not to allow that to happen by skimping on time and money. The build kind of gathered its own momentum in that respect.
“And it could never’ve happened without the immense skills of all the people involved, especially Ian as his vision and technical knowledge really achieved the end result – the fact that the bike rides so beautifully, and has such perfect balance, is due to the effort that was put into working out the mathematics so well. The bike is huge but, unlike some chops, is so easy to ride!”
That’s not to say that he’s completely finished with the Softail yet as, much as is the case with so many projects, there are still things that Tom wants to do. Notably, some more engraving from the brilliant Tony – maybe the forks and yokes, maybe even the tank. And he says that it’d be nice to get a lower profile seat for showing the bike as well…. Twice the time? I think not!