Bought in a stock, clean configuration in Alabama, this pretty-as-pie machine gave the Pop’s Garage Fab team the type of solid, no-drama platform they were looking for. Some might consider hacking up an FXR2 sacrilege, but in this case it morphed into something even more desirable, as if that’s possible.
Actually, the story for Smuggler’s Blues (the name is a Miami Vice reference) begins the previous year at Sturgis’ FXR show, where Nick Erickson, owner of Pop’s Garage Fab, showed off his FXRT, named Blue Girl, and took top honors. Nick got the attention of the FXR community with that iconic build. So begins the story of Smuggler’s Blues.
With a customer in hand, Nick had the enviable job of taking a solid, collectible machine and turning it into the type of wheelie ripper muscle bike you see here. He’d use the development of this machine to design and test a number of parts—wheels, swingarm, rotors, mid controls—and so the development time would take longer than the norm, considering this build was a development test of new ideas and designs.
Using the stock FXR frame, Nick and his right-hand man, Peter Fosburgh (his shop manager), got busy stripping and cleaning it up, cutting off tabs and fender rails. They removed the factory cross member under the transmission and replaced it with a stronger, wider cross member that made room for relocating a lightweight lithium battery. Once the bike returned from the powdercoater, Nick and Peter stuffed a stock S&S 124, with a Pop’s Garage Fab carbon fiber and aluminum air cleaner cover, into the frame. As they settled the exoskeleton and motive power into place, the dynamic duo got started in earnest.
Good enough is simply not acceptable at Pop’s Garage Fab, and that makes for challenges, do-overs, and makeovers. Selecting top shelf aftermarket suppliers such as S&S and Baker really helps keep a build on schedule and within budget. An example of good enough not being acceptable is the swingarm on this machine.
After ordering the aftermarket’s finest swingarms (twice, from two different manufacturers) and finding that they did not meet fitment or quality requirements, Nick decided to design and fabricate his own. Based on the strength and appearance of this unit he’s created, with the math for the CNC units already done, Nick has decided to offer a few of these swingarms for sale—if you want one, get in line now.
Surprisingly, some parts found on the bike are straight-up aftermarket parts, the Speed Merchant pegs being one. Nick shares, “The Speed Merchant pegs were exactly what I would have designed for this bike, so why not support Speed Merchant and purchase them?”
Conversely, what about the wheels? Why on earth would Pop’s Garage Fab order wheels from a catalog when they could have the exact custom wheels they envisioned fabbed for the bike? So, the wheels are one-offs, custom-designed and manufactured for this machine.
Bodywork is paramount to this machine’s appearance, and as with all Pop’s Garage Fab projects, a lot of thought, sweat, and handwork went into producing the bodywork, specifically the aluminum oil tank and tail section of this machine. The tail section was an epic project in and of itself. With the oil tank built separately and “suspended” inside the cowl, the fitting required plenty of trial and error to make the parts play nice and look cohesive, but this proved fatiguing. Add to that bit of complication the fact that Nick didn’t want a single thing, hose, wire, or widget, hanging below the frame, and every line had to find a safe, low-visibility home.
The gas tank was another exercise in keeping things simple and tidy. Removing the filler tube from the FXR tank allowed Nick the room to create a dash. The dash itself is a beautiful piece (actually, it is a few pieces) of formed aluminum that mates to the tank seamlessly and houses a slick Motogadget multi-display.
Oil lines, normally no big deal, were turned into something akin to artwork, and with a hard line/soft line/ hard line configuration, vibration from the beefy 124 won’t be an issue. The Baker Frankentranny is about as macho and burly a piece of billet as you could ever hope to find on a V-twin, and with the 124 being so stout, kicking it over isn’t really an option, though I think we’d all agree that the kicker looks awesome, and, besides, it protects the side of the bike from spills.
White bikes are generally not showstoppers or even eye-catching, but a touch of micro flake gave Nick exactly the look he wanted: low key, subtle, and well done. The tasteful tank badge is a tip of the hat to the company, AMF, that saved H-D from financial destruction. The blue, silver-leafed lines on both the tail section and tank are reminiscent of the Dykem that was used to mark the panels before fab and assembly.
The stepped titanium exhaust was another piece of complication, made in-house by Peter using slices of titanium pie supplied by TiCon Industries. The carbon fiber muffler began life as something else entirely and was cut up to fit this machine.
Mounting the exhaust was another exercise in keeping things tidy yet tough, which is harder than it sounds. The hardware used throughout the machine was provided by ARP, and, for the record, every single piece was hand-polished for a perfect and consistent finish, time-consuming but ultimately worth it.
Probably the most complex pieces of the bike to design and build, after the swingarm, were the mid-controls. The amount of detail, thought, and design that went into developing these pieces is daunting. But these first-run prototypes are brilliant. Take a good look at the exhaust-side mid-mounts; they hold the brake pedal and footpeg while also providing structural support, connecting transmission and engine.
Kirk Taylor from Custom Design Studios was consulted in terms of appearance and suspension and recommended that suspension duties be handled by a set of Kawasaki ZX-10 fork legs, held in place by Kraus triple trees. These amazing (and extremely pricey), state-of–the-art fork legs are mated to the usual Pop’s Garage Fab fare: Ohlins shocks out back and ISR brakes. The rotors were custom-cut for this bike, and floating buttons were used to attach them to the custom-cut carriers.
So when all is said and done and the final reckoning is to be had, what’s this featherweight, high-horsepower machine like to pilot down the road at speed? Well, as Nick shares, “This is a high-end wheelie machine that has enough power, brakes, and suspension to take anything a rider can throw at it in stride. The bike is unflappable, it’s perfect, and as such it demands respect and the rider’s full and undivided attention.”
The Pop’s Garage Fab team of Nick Erickson and Peter Fosburgh couldn’t be happier with the way Smuggler’s Blues turned out. The machine is a one-off ripper that has some slick prototype parts and a drivetrain that just won’t stop. In conclusion, it’s clear that Pop’s Garage Fab built a hyper-custom, handmade wheelie machine that looks as good as the ass that it kicks. Props to a job well done, Pop’s Garage Fab!
Pop’s Garage Fab has also expanded into the coffee game, opening Pop’s Coffee Company. Giving their community and riding buddies a place to meet before or after the ride.
The shop owners said they “opened Pop’s Garage Fabrication in 1997, building unique custom bikes and some really great friendships along the way. So, we decided to expand – and create a place that would invite even more of our neighbors to stop in. And that’s how Pop’s Coffee Company came to be.” Much like us at Rides & Culture, they feel it’s ” all about family and community.” We raise our coffee cups to that sentiment!
Stephen Berner along with being a rider, photographer and wordsmith, is a skilled leatherworker and Barber. He’s a man who wears many hats, well! Check out his custom hand-tooled leather at the Steve-B Leatherworks Etsy page. If you’re a New Englander in need of a haircut and shave, head to the Up Top Barber Shop in West Simsbury CT.