Choppers – they’re not fast, are they? They don’t handle, they don’t stop, you can’t hustle ’em along, they’re not comfortable, are they?
Words and pics: Nik
Well, it depends on the chopper, obviously. Yes, lots of chops do fit the description hereabouts, but not all of them – not the ones that Dan Death Custom Cycles build, for instance. Dan, the main man, is a big fan of Japanese-engined chops, although he’s happy to build and do work on Harley and Brit-engined customs too, and he’s swiftly earnt himself a reputation for putting together damn fast and damn good-looking chops based around, mainly, big Suzuki engines. He’s a bit good with 1200 Bandit engines in particular, and has a thing about using them to build bikes that do a lot to dispel the supposition that choppers are slow, evil-handling, tarts’ handbags, that’re only good for puttering around slowly on and looking cool. His bikes do that too, don’t get me wrong, but they also take off like a scalded cat when you twist the throttle, and track straight and true through roundabouts and corners too.
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The bike you see before you started as an idea he’d had in his head for years (like many of us, he’s got hundreds of bikes whizzing around in his head, just waiting for the chance to be built) – he wanted to create a fast Jap 4 (as most DDCC bikes are!) that sat nicely, went round corners, stops well, is comfy for him on a long ride, and that he can ride fast; not a collection of qualities you’d normally associate with a chopper!
He opted for 17-inch wheels front and rear, something he’d not done before, always going for the more conventional 16 rear/21 front combo, as he’d always wondered how a chop’d behave with sports bike tyres. His daily workhorse-cum-winter hack at the time was the perfect donor bike – a MK1 1200 Bandit that he’d owned for years, with a motor that was an utter peach.
First things first, he built the frame and, knowing that the chop was going to be his only bike for a while, and that it was going to do a shitload of miles, he did a few things differently when building it. Firstly, he added an extra 25mm of width in the back to assist removal and installation of the rear wheel, servicing the rear brake, and chain and sprocket changes. He says he’d like to think one of the main differences between the bikes coming out of DDCC, compared to many other bike builders, is that his are for riding, not just for sitting in a show – don’t get him wrong, he’s not knocking people who build bikes to do that, it’s just not what he’s about.
He went with a single downtube and 45 degrees of rake as he’d always loved the look of high headstock, long fork choppers, but he also wanted to keep the twin disc setup of the Bandit as decent brakes’ve always been a big thing for him. He did this by using aftermarket extended Electra-Glide sliders, fabricating brackets for the Suzuki’s four-pot calipers, and machining up a front wheel spindle to mate the Suzuki wheel to the H-D Showa forks. High mid-controls were also a major factor for a bike for himself as he says he just can’t get on with forwards: “I’ve tried time and time again, but always go back to mids for better lower back comfort and control of the bike at speed.” The handlebar/riser setup is also another recurring theme of his personal builds – it looks cool and works well.
The exhaust was also going to be a major feature of the bike. He loves the look of the Vance & Hines Sidewinder drag-race ’pipes – possibly the loudest and most in-yer-face exhausts available for four-cylinder engines. The thing is they have two problems when used on anything other than an out-and-out drag bike; firstly, they’re designed for bikes that don’t really turn corners so they cause serious ground clearance issues for bikes that’re intended for use on the roads, and, secondly, they are obscenely, ear-burstingly, wince-inducingly, bastard loud and the custodians of the nation’s laws and ordinances tend to get very tetchy indeed about the noise that comes out of them.
Dan wanted something that looked like a Sidewinder, but allowed him to go anywhere other than the fast lane of the M1, and he also wanted not to have blood dripping from his ears when he pulled up at the end of an NCC run too, so he set about making a V&H-style one that more suited his purposes. It was fabricated using 38mm mandrel bends and a megaphone-style silencer sitting nice and high to get back that much-needed ground clearance, and fitted it with internal baffling that’d give the correct back-pressure for it to run smoothly right through the rev-range (drag racing ’pipes aren’t too concerned about this as the engines they’re fitted to are generally only used flat out all the time). It works too – not only does it look the part, the chop’s carburation is smooth and controlled all the way up the scale, and at a local dyno-tuners it made a very impressive 127bhp at the rear wheel.
Much use of stainless steel is another facet of his builds, and this bike is no exception as it almost drips with the non-rusting shiny stuff; the wheel spacers, the electrics box, all the linkages (gear, brake, etc.), the mudguard struts, the torque arm, the aforementioned mid-controls, the battery tray, and more. He also made a detachable sissy-bar-cum-rack to carry his luggage when he goes away on Chopper Club runs, as he’s a very active member of NCC Northants.
To enable a decent tank range on these runs, he’s used a West Coast Choppers Villain tank that not only helps to give the bike its iconic silhouette, but also gives 100 miles between fuel stops – another example of function and form coming together. The paint on it, and the rear mudguard too, was expertly done by his good friend Dave at Flakey’s Custom Paint Studio; Dan fancied something along the lines that the guys in the US, especially the Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, use on their lowrider cars – lots of ’flake, lots of leaf, and intricate designs both standing out and ghosted into the paint. He and Dave tossed around a few ideas, and between them they came up with the design the bike bears, with heavy chrome ’flake and silver leaf over a silver base with black candy and gloss black. It’s not perhaps what most of us’d choose for a bike like this, but it suits it perfectly.
He says that the chop came out just as he’d imagined it would; a real tight-handling, aggressive, lightweight chop that just functions so well. And the sports bike tyres? Well, having tried to keep up with him on the way to where we did these pictures, I’d say they work and grip pretty bloody well actually!
Mind you, if you’re impressed with this bike, you should see two of the others he’s built in a similar vein; one of them has a 217bhp blow-through turbo engine fitted, and the other a latest-generation GSX-R1000 motor. Neither of them’re quite finished as yet but, as soon as they are, we’ll do our best to get them on to the pages of the magazine for you to see – watch this space!