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Barrie’s Harley Shovelhead Custom

Barrie’s Harley Shovelhead Custom

A vintage custom bobber that's cool not cluttered

Barrie Wispels of the Netherlands sure doesn’t like new-looking bikes. And we’re not just saying that because he built an old-school bobber from this 1968 Shovelhead.

Nor because Barrie first owned a 1978 Super Glide for 10 years before going through a slew of other Shovels and a Dyna—though, it definitely doesn’t hurt. We came up with that opening statement after hearing what Barrie had to say about the bike before it was his. “The last owner had tried to turn it into some kind of modern thing,” Barrie remembers. “To me, it looked like shit.”

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

Turns out, the bike may have looked uneasy on the eyes to more than just Barrie, seeing as it had been on the market for quite some time before Barrie finally purchased it. And the only reason why he did was for the frame and title, so he didn’t have to actually appreciate its aesthetics.

He did, however, want to do the bike justice, something the previous owner hadn’t done … at all. Barrie accomplished this by looking into the past, specifically at old pictures from the 1950s and 1960s. But Barrie didn’t just travel through time for inspiration. He also “traveled” the world. And by that, we mean he looked on eBay.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

His “journey” took him to places as close as his own backyard. Or, to be more precise, to the American Motorcycle Museum in Raalte where he found his handlebar. “It was just hanging in the attic!” he exclaims. For a damaged springer front end—which he heated and beat with a hammer—Barrie “went to” Romania. (He also installed something he described as “balhoofd” bearings, which essentially is a new headset.) For the front wheel and tire, he “trekked” out to Canada. Ironically, the hoop and rubber went on an epic quest of their own. The Canadian owner didn’t want to ship them to Europe, so Barrie had the parts sent to his friend in California who then mailed everything to him.

Because of where Barrie rebuilt the “modern thing,” it certainly qualifies as a home-built bike wrenched by an everyday do-it-yourselfer. Barrie tore it down and put it back together in his 8-1/2′ x 11-1/2′ garage.

So, yes, this is a garage build. But that isn’t to say Barrie didn’t have any professional help. Every Wednesday night, Barrie worked with a good friend and old Harley mechanic, Klaas van de Berg.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

In addition to installing the parts he’d collected from around the world, Barrie sought to bob the Shovel, partly because he’d built numerous choppers and wanted something different. “I also don’t see that many people riding around on original bobbers anymore,” Barrie adds. “Everyone says they’re riding a bobber these days, but I wanted to show them what else a bobber can look like.”

Bobbing undoubtedly entails shaving, and Barrie did plenty of that to the rear fender, especially after he’d found “a rare” brass 1200 fender tip to install. This required cutting about 7″-10″ off his fender and rounding out the end. “Then we moved the tip over the bike and welded it in the spot that looked right,” Barrie concludes.

To make his bobber more original, Barrie first had to install a larger fuel tank because that’s where he’d later install his handmade cover. Barrie made the cover by first drawing the design on paper and then onto a 3mm metal plate. Next, he cut out the shape with a cutter (which he calls a “slijptol”) and drilled a hole so he could use a nut to connect it to the frame. Finally, Barrie made an incision on the left and right side of the cover so it would fit under the tank mount and so he could take the cover off by just removing the nut.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

But there was something missing: The oil pressure light. Barrie installed it on top of the cover, bending everything until it fit. Currently, the wiring is the only thing that’s missing. But Barrie did that on purpose. The wires are now under the plate and seat, the latter of which was made from old leather.

As for the oil tank, that was done by the previous owner, one of the few things he’d gotten right. The same can’t be said, however, about the aftermarket forward controls that came with the bike. Barrie wanted them stock. “I went to a friend of mine who has a lot of Panhead and Shovel parts,” Barrie begins. “I called him up and said, ‘I’ll send you a surprise package of parts if you send me some Shovelhead controls.’ We did just that, and now everybody’s happy.” Barrie is especially happy since the stock controls work well with some footpegs Klaas fabricated out of metal.

Additionally, Barrie built a license plate side mount, also from scrap metal. While cool, it created a slight problem. He explains: “In Holland, you must have a light that shines on your license plate.” This meant Barrie needed to fabricate a mount for his taillight, which Klaas helped weld.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

At this point, even though his bike was looking less like “shit” and more like gold, Barrie didn’t want his bike to be fool’s gold (i.e., a good-looking bike with low performance). So Twin Service Enschede rebuilt the motor and tranny before installing a new oil pump. Meanwhile, Klaas replaced the ignition and Barrie installed some plugs.

Barrie also added some new gas inlets (or, as he calls them, sproeiers), which led to him rebuilding the S&S Super E carb. “I thought that I might as well go all in at that point,” he says. To the carb, Barrie connected an air filter by fabricating a bracket from, again, some scrap metal. (He also made the lever and Klaas fabbed the exhaust.)

And if you were wondering about all that rust and patina, no, Barrie doesn’t leave his bike out in the rain. He treats his bike quite well. Barrie just likes that look. His friend helped by applying some primer before Barrie spray-painted and roughed it up. “It took me hours with the sandblasting paper to create the look I wanted,” he remembers.

Now everything is almost perfect. Sure, his Harley Shovel may ride smoothly and handle well (since it sits just 8 cm from the ground), but Barrie wants something more. “I hope that one day my son or daughter decides to ride my bike,” he reveals. “That would be the ultimate thing I could ever ask for.”

We’re sure that will happen, Barrie. In fact, we bet both of them will want to ride it because your bobber doesn’t look like shit anymore. RC

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