For a lot of gentlemen (and ladies) of a certain age, those of us cutting our teeth on the first rung of the biking ladder (he said, mixing his metaphors) in the 1980s, chops looked, or would’ve liked to look, like the bike you see here before you.
Words and pics: Nik
The ’80s (and the ’90s) were really the heyday of the Japanese-engined chop. Yes, yes, I know that folk’d been building choppers using the venerable old (although not at the time) SOHC 750 Honda motor almost since its inception in 1969, but it was really in the decade of shoulder pads, leg warmers, running battles between the police and miners, and the fall of the Berlin Wall that us hairy-arses really took to taking the gas axe to a whole range of poor unsuspecting four-cylinder motorcycles from the Land of the Rising Sun. Almost anything with more than two pots felt the fiery touch of the angle-grinder, helped in no small measure by some of the most famous custom shops in the land embracing the new revolution in chopper building – who can forget, for example, the universal rigid frames that Cycle Haven in Lincoln sold that helped so many folk get their first chop on the road?
Martin Smith, the owner and builder of this bike, is a long-term biker and metal machinist par excellence, and he’s a good mate of Clive, aka Hip, from So-Low Choppers. He was doing a set of yokes for him back in 2005 when a 750/4 chop came into So-Low’s Stanton workshop. He’d been toying with the idea of a chop, and quite fancied this one as the basis for a project of his own, so he bought and started thinking about what he was going to do with it.
It really needed, he felt, a new frame as a minimum, a new front end, and new wheels. He set to, stripped the old SOHC ’Onda down, and set to saving up for new and much sexier replacements. After a while he had enough for a DNA springer fork and a set of Ultima wire wheels (21-inch front, 18-inch rear) and, with them in hand, purchased the tube for the frame and, with guidance from Clive, started bending and tack-welding the frame together, making the engine plates, reworking the rear ’guard so that it sat around the wheel in a more pleasing manner, and playing with a few sissy-bars before ending up with the finished one. He also tried a selection of ’bars (high, low, wide), and tanks (big, small, different styles), trying to get the look he was after finalised, but nothing looked quite right. Then, one day, he and Clive stood giving it a good looking-at, when Clive said: “It’s too long… let’s shorten it.” They did just that, truncating it by some four inches, and finally the bike sat just so.
Not being in any kind of a hurry, many days were spent at So-Low over the next seven (that’s right, seven!) years building the bike up. Once the chop started to look how he wanted it to, it was stripped down, and Jay, Clive’s son and a renowned builder in his own right, went through the frame and did all the welding properly (Martin’d only tacked it, remember?). Parts were sent to Specialised Polishing Services for chroming, including the modified four-into-two exhaust, and the seat was made and sent to GB Upholstery to cover. The Harley tank was modified (the cap was moved to the centre, and the fuel tap moved forward to clear the Honda head), as was the Mid West Motorcycle Supply oil tank (new neck and lovely brass cap, new cut-out for the chain underneath), and they, and the rear mudguard, were sent to Simon at Flying Tiger Paintwork in Fornham All Saints, just outside Bury St Edmunds (or, as they’ve just laid out a massive new development nearby, actually part of Bury) to have the really very clever variegated gold leaf/copper/bronze/cherry red paint scheme laid on… well, not actually laid on, obviously.
As I said, Martin wasn’t in a tearing hurry to get the bike finished; in fact it took him another two years to get the bike put back together. Mark, So-Low’s master of keeping the smoke inside the wires, created another of his minimal looms to connect all the important parts to one another so all the various bits sparked, lit up, or beeped when the relevant switches were flicked and, once the 750/4 was up and running, it was taken down to Krazy Horse for its first MoT test. As you’d expect from a newly built bike, it flew through with nary a thought, and Martin was, as you can imagine, really quite pleased.
Okay, so he wasn’t quite so pleased when, some time after, some very short time after in fact, the venerable old K7 motor started to knock like a hyperactive poltergeist. More than a bit miffed, he stripped the engine down, and a new crank and big ends was diagnosed as being required to quiet the aforementioned restless disincarnate spirit. Those items were swiftly (well, actually not that swiftly) purchased, and the engine built back up again with all new gaskets, bearings and seals, and since then it’s run like a Swiss watch… except without the penchant for cheese, chocolate and keeping Nazi gold hidden away in bank vaults. Actually, a year had passed, so the chop went back to Krazy Horse to be MoT’d again, and with the ink barely dry on its certificate, he took it to its first event; NCC Suffolk’s custom show at the Bennet Arms in Rougham last year, where I saw it and asked if we could photograph it.
Martin didn’t set out to build an Eighties chop, but that’s what he’s created – an absolutely stunning example of the breed. It’s been a long road to getting it finished, and most folk’d be more than happy to just keep it, ride it and, invariably, clean the crud of the Suffolk roads off it. He, though, has been bitten by the building bug, and needs to fund his next project so the Honda is up for sale for the bargain price of just £3,500. Ring him on 07983 113112 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you could see yourself giving it a good home.Enjoy more Back Street Heroes reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.