Day after day, as I trudge along my path in pursuit of two-wheeled nirvana, I encounter hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts from all walks of life. Some encounters are via the telephone, some are face to face, and some are online. My association with THBC means that 99 percent of the time when I’m talking about motorcycles, I am talking with someone who has more than a casual amount of interest in his or her own bike, so the subject matter is interesting. If you are passionate about chopping your motorcycle, I’m all ears.
For one summer weekend over the past decade or so, North Carolina has been the gathering place for thousands of like-minded individuals to get together, ride, party, compare bikes, and party some more, all while sharing the common bond of heading out for a long road trip on a home built ‘sickle. This party, the Smoke Out, is attended by a great mixture of souls who have no clue what one another does for a living, no clue about the next guy’s life, what kind of house they do or do not own, or what kind of tools they had at their disposal to build the bike they rode in on. Everything they know about one another is told by the calling card of a machine that was first created in their minds, and then by their hands. Past that, nothing else matters all that much, and certainly not each other’s financial position or their place in society. If you’re a wealthy professional, that’s great, but no one here cares.
Degreed professionals, like doctors, as an example, don’t normally ride our style of bikes in mind, if they are into bikes at all. What kind of a bike could an Orthopedic Surgeon possibly dream up or build anyhow? A man who spent four years in undergrad school, and another four years in medical school, and then another I’ve years in residency has to be pretty focused on his ultimate goal of becoming a surgeon in order to succeed. Sure, the first four years are pretty easy and fun. After that, there isn’t much time to think about bike building. Once they finally begin practice, the desire to get lost in a dark garage, surrounded by greasy machinery is all but flushed out of their system (if it ever was in there to begin with). It’s understandable.
How about a CPA? Four years of undergrad school, another two for a Master’s Degree, and then hard studying to pass a CPA exam. Most CPA’s probably spend their leisure time out on a golf course, or maybe playing squash with their pals. You might say that’s the mold they fit into.
Finding a CPA that spends his or her time in a shed, grinding away on an old Shovelhead frame seems pretty unlikely. Dentists, Architects, Chemical Engineers…none of these career paths have tangible links to the custom motorcycle world, I would think, as you might think. These are men of means, after all. No need to build anything because they can buy whatever it is that they want.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have believed that a doctor would even want to ride a stock bike, much less build a chopper. A doctor riding a homebuilt hardtail? Yeah, right. I can’t predict what every Orthopedic Surgeon might build, but one I know is building a hardtailed Shovel frame with a Magneto red 93” S&S motor, foot clutched and hand shifted, with a replica springer front end. It is going to compliment the Honda CB 750 Chopper he already owns, which he rode the whole time he spent in Medical School. I can also tell you about a family man who makes his living as a Financial Planner, spending whatever few hours he can spare away from his family each month to build the bobber of his dreams. He’s the kind of man who should take the easy way out and just buy a chopper, because building one means he has to juggle what little free time he has available between the garage and his family. Still, his dream gets assembled like a puzzle, little by little and piece by piece, until the day he can roll it out into the sun and kick it to life.
I know some of these guys. I’ve met them, worked for them and worked with them. It may not be until the second or third time we cross paths that their careers get brought up. Usually, if it slips out that I’m talking to a doctor or a lawyer, it is announced almost apologetically, kind of like they feel I will look down on them for being in the field of law or practicing medicine, and not for being a grease monkey. I know, it seems weird – but blue collar guys are almost expected to be able to build cool stuff. When you’re a machinist by trade, and you are making up a set of forward controls from scratch, your co-workers will likely scrutinize the hell out of them when finished, so you damn well better do a nice job. You can talk to your co-workers about how you are making them, and they understand. Maybe they don’t know anything about bikes, but they know about machining, and they understand what you are doing. They approve of it, and maybe even encourage you along.
Professionals have to deal with just the opposite, a kind of double-edged sword. They have to rely on their own research to figure out how to do chop up their motorcycles. There’s no one at work with whom to discuss their plans, and there’s no one at work that even understands what they are doing. Probably, their co- workers think they’re a little nuts to even want to build a bike, much less dream of a cross country trip on it when finished. Besides co-workers, their network of friends isn’t likely to be interested either, and it only gets worse. Imagine stopping in at your local indie shop, dressed in slacks and a tie, and ordering a couple of brake lines and fittings on your way home from work. Damn – imagine even having to wear dress slacks and a tie everyday. That would suck. These are the guys whose buddies are talking about buying a big bertha driver (wtf?), not how to mount an aluminum oil tank in such a way that it will not fail. I don’t know about you, but any driving I plan on doing has nothing at all to do with big bertha. Honestly, who does a doctor have to mentor them on mechanical projects of the magnitude that bike building requires? Just like the rest of us, they have a tough road to hoe, but suck it up.
No matter what you do for a living, if you’re a corporate executive, a family man, or play guitar in a punk band, we’re all fighting different gremlins on our way to our own chopper dream world. It might be a little harder for the guy who spends his days in a court of law to figure out how to keep his four speed from leaking than it is for a diesel mechanic to figure it out, but it’s just as hard for that diesel mechanic to figure out how he will scrape up the money to pay for the S&S Super Sidewinder he wants to put into his Shovelhead. We’re all in the same boat, so don’t be that guy who keeps that dream of a raked out, kick-started long bike locked in his head forever because he’s a “professional.” Man up and trade that sport coat for a greasy tee shirt and blue jeans once in a while, and get your hands dirty building a bike. It is more rewarding and fun than driving big bertha, that’s for sure.