Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cover Story #115 My Shovelhead

In reality, there’s not much I can write about this bike that I haven’t already covered in these pages since I got the bike on the road in 1998. The original Iron Horse was my source of inspiration at the time, so I began looking for parts around 1993. I started off with a questionably numbered FXR frame and an un-numbered set of 1981 crankcases. How can a 1981 set of cases have no numbers you say? Well, as I learned to my cost, no matter the cock and bull story supplied, it’s unlikely to be true. I acquired an early 60’s four speed frame and abandoned the search for the not-so-easy to find FXR parts. I traded the frame for an S&S Super G and I used the money I earned in the evenings playing in a bar band to finance components one at a time, some from friends, such as the heads for $250 and a four speed transmission for $250. The cylinders I got from two different catalogs, probably Chinese crap but I knew no better at the time. Scouring the swap meets was half the fun, and eventually I had enough engine parts to put together. The cases came with a crankshaft and rods and oil pump, which I had disassembled (anyone can take shit apart) and had the cases blasted to get that nasty wrinkle black stuff off. I took my pile of pieces to a ‘pro’ (the fact he worked out of his shed should have gave me pause, in retrospect). I wanted him to set the bottom end up, I was fairly confident I could handle the cam, cam cover and top end by myself. A couple of weeks later, I picked it up, looked pretty good. Until, that is, I had the engine on the bench and was rotating the crank with the rods and noticed glass beads from the blasting process oozing out of an oilway! So I took it to a more successful engine builder and he put the cases in a sonic cleaner for a week, told me the crank pin and rods were shot and a few other things had to be done. These are the kind of setbacks that could make one abandon projects, but I soldiered on in the hopes of one day having a rideable Shovelhead. My buddy Andy has a nice sized pole barn set up as a workshop, so I took my bits over there and worked most weekends on trying to put together something resembling a bike. I finished the mock up and sent the frame out for powder coat and hauled the rest of the stuff home. After final assembly, I rolled it outside to the curb and kicked it for the first time. To my surprise, it started right up! It sounded like crap, and oil was squirting from every possible source but I managed to run it around the block once before shutting it down. Then I loaded it into the pickup and hauled it out to the guy that rebuilt the bottom end correctly and had him button it up and tune it. After I got it home, I took it to the courthouse grounds a couple of blocks away and did a photoshoot for the article that would eventually appear in Iron Horse #163, the November 1998 issue.
Ironically, the feature came out in the magazine at the same time the bike was sitting in an impound yard for having covered up numbers from a stolen bike. The hidden numbers were discovered when I was having the inspection done for the ‘assembled bike’ title, they poured acid on the case and there they were! Apparently the original bike was stolen in 1981 in Indiana. I got super lucky because the insurance company that paid off the bike, no longer had the records from that period, and they signed off on them and I was able to take the bike home and the State Police showed up and stamped new numbers on it.
I built it the way I did because I only had stock bikes nearby to go on, and I thought it would be a good place to start. It wasn’t long before the turn signals came off (they never worked anyway), I shitcanned the electric starter and front fender. I picked up a cast front wheel from a swap meet and pretty much rode it like that for a few years.
The first radical rework involved bolting the rear fender to the swing arm, installing the ‘king’ Sportster tank, switching to a dog-chain pull foot clutch and jockey shift, and a Chopper Enterprises springer front end. I also made a two into one exhaust with a Supertrapp can and split the rocker boxes. Additionally I added a Baker six-in-a-four overdrive transmission. I really liked the bike in this configuration, but the engine was getting a little low on compression. I figured I’d just do a top end job and call it good. I grabbed a pair of KB pistons, and had the jugs bored to their spec. Well, something was wrong, it ran fine, but as it got hot, the engine started to ‘drag’. A block from the house I slowed and pulled in the clutch and the engine stopped... suddenly. After a couple of minutes, I was able to slowly kick it through, but I pushed it home anyway and got hold of Dan Roedel to ask him to take a look at it for me. I ended up taking him the engine and he soon gave me some bad news, the pressed in race in the cases was loose and pretty much unfixable. I managed to grab a new set of cases from S&S, some through-the-pushrod oiling lifters and roller rockers from JIMS, a magneto from Joe Hunt and Dan put together the best running Shovel I have ever rode.
The last major refit was having Fabricator Kevin hardtail the frame. He made the stainless steel oil tank, fabbed the exhaust and rear fender. He reworked the gas tank so the filler was at the top and the petcock was at the lowest point. He also dreamed up the hydraulic clutch pedal. I can’t say enough about how great this man’s work is and what a nice guy he is to boot!
This bike will probably always be in a state of flux, since getting back from the 5000 mile trip to Death Valley and the Long Road, I replaced the tires and powdercoated the wheels. I’m thinking of replacing the bars next. I’d LOVE to put another Sugar Bear springer on this, but I also want to build a 25 over long bike, so I’ll have to figure out what I want.

Looking at the original picture from IH #163, the only parts surviving from that version are the cylinders, heads, pushrod tubes and covers, crankshaft and flywheels and the front frame loop.

This is the one bike I will never sell.. well, this and my 1971 Triumph chop.
Big thanks to all who have helped me get it this far.

Tech sheet

Fabrication: Fabricator Kevin
Year and Make: 1998 Shovel
Assembly by: Owner/Fab Kevin
Time: 13 years

Year: 1981/1974/2005
Model: Shovel
Rebuilder: Dan Roedel
Ignition: Hunt Magneto
Displacement: 80 inches
Lower end: Stock
Balancing: Dan R
Pistons: S&S
Cases: S&S
Heads: HD 1974
Cams: Andrews A
Lifters: JIMS
Carb: S&S Super E
Air cleaner: Goodson
Pipes: Fabricator Kevin

Model: Baker six in a four
Year: 2005
Shifting: Jockey
Clutch: Hydraulic
Primary Drive: Evil Engineering

Painter: Bodies by Bob
Color: Black
Type: Shiny

Year: 196?
Builder: HD
Type: Four speed FL
Rake: Stock
Stretch: Stock
Other: Fab Kevin Hardtail

Bars: Drag
Risers: 10”
Headlight: Dented Paughco
Taillight: Fab Kevin
Front Pegs: Swap meet billet/Fab Kevin Hydro Clutch
Mid Pegs: Fabricator Kevin
Electrics: Extremely minimal
Gas Tank: Reworked aftermarket XL
Oil Tank: Fab Kevin Stainless
Oil System: S&S
Seat: Fab Kevin/Hard Luck Designs

Type: Wide Glide

Size: 19” 1974 HD cast
Size: 16” HD cast
Tires: Avon Venom
Brakes: Fabricator Kevin

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