Custom Motorcycle: Gaspunk Harley Shovelhead

Custom Motorcycle: Gaspunk Harley Shovelhead

Welding and mounting a whole lot of copper to achieve steampunk status

There’s absolutely no mistaking it. Steampunk is a profoundly distinctive look and just as equally captivating (undoubtedly because of its unique appeal), becoming more and more popular with each passing day.

At least, it certainly feels that way, as steampunk has somehow managed to seep out from the confines of science fiction and trickle into the music and fashion industries. It has even found its way into the motorcycling realm, wherein people perpetually mislabel the genre as being what brought us Mad Max and its amazing motorcycles, despite the obvious absence of steam and that fictional world’s obvious dependence on diesel. No, it’s clear that steampunk has invaded two-wheeled culture by customs such as this 1982 Harley Shovelhead 1340.

Harley Shovelhead

And it’s clear not just because the builder, Remi Rossaert, inundated his FLT in copper sprockets, gauges, and valves. It’s due to these bits of machinery looking otherworldly.
That’s because—and hopefully this truncated definition won’t anger too many steampunk fans—the stories within this subgenre usually take place in alternative realities wherein steam has remained the technological driving force of the world. So instead of expanding into electronic computing and jet engines and having that project in Manhattan, mankind has devoted all its scientific knowledge into improving steam-powered machinery. Hence, the strange futuristic nature of this otherwise ancient technology.

Plus, we know this bike is steampunk because that’s what Remi told us. “I’ve been a longtime fan of steampunk art,” he reveals. “So I had this idea to give the FLT a heavy overload of old mechanical leftover stuff.”

Another reason why we know it’s steampunk is due to Remi’s main source of inspiration for the build. “The first idea for my bike was my tattooed arm, and I have a mechanical steampunk sleeve,” he says. “I wanted to bring that back into the bike.”

So, there’s that, too. Remi’s arm sleeve could only begin influencing Remi, though, once he got this FLT from a friend trying to get rid of it. “At that time, I had just finished my Road King lowrider,” Remi remembers. “And I couldn’t afford any other better models.” You can probably surmise by the usage of the word “better” that Remi wasn’t too keen on customizing a Shovel, which is why he thought about putting the engine in another frame. “But that would’ve been too expensive,” Remi relates. “I wanted to build the project as cheap as possible.”

Apparently, building an inexpensive steampunk-styled bike is not so difficult when you’re in Remi’s line of work, which involves performing in-house repairs and maintenance at factories. “I can easily find sprockets, gauges, and valves while on the job,” Remi explains.

Harley Shovelhead

It also helps when you have grinders, saws, and drill machines on hand—even if they’re crammed in a 50m x 50m garage. At least Remi has a whole other room for painting (he calls it his small paintbooth). But then again, we can’t really count that as extra space—at least not for this project. Remi kept the paint stock and instead engraved geometric patterns all over the bike. For that, he used the normal tools as well as barbwire and chickenwire. Well, actually, he only used this wiring to trace similar shapes onto his front fender. And, actually, it’s not really a front fender. It was originally the rear counterpart (another way to save money, no less).

While cool, Remi didn’t use barb or chickenwire to etch a gas mask on the same fender. When we asked Remi via Instagram about the design, he called it “a steampunk skull” and then aptly proceeded to include the “sign of the horns” emoji at the end of his response.

Also on the repurposed rear fender is a copper plate, one of many that Remi found while scrounging around in factories at work. On top of this plate Remi welded a copper version of the 1982 Harley commemorative winged logo.

Some other old factory components Remi added include copper wire, which he wrapped around the handlebars, and copper plates, which he welded on the floorboards. Ironically, the plating on these boards isn’t their main focal point. It’s the bikechains welded around the edges.

Probably the most prominent of these steampunk-specific additions is the giant copper piece that Remi mounted to the tank using studs and copper rivets. Remi says he likes this one the most, and it’s pretty obvious why, so we’ll just leave it at that. Also, we literally can’t tell you more. That’s all he would share with us. See, while Remi told us some good information about his build, he wasn’t able to elaborate on a few details. And it makes sense. For one thing, Remi lives in Belgium, and his native language is Dutch.

Regardless of this language barrier, Remi still knows enough English to explain the type of material he uses for his steampunk bikes: “You name it, I use it, and they give my bikes a twist nobody thinks about.”

In addition to installing a litany of copper material to save cash, Remi performed mods in the same vein as his front fender, which, if you may recall, was originally made to go over the rear wheel before Remi installed it under the handlebars. Without going into exhaustive detail, Remi wasn’t too keen on the FLT pipes, so rather than purchase a new exhaust system, he cut up the stock piping and welded it into the radical shape you see now (and sometimes Remi adds some Screamin’ Eagle mufflers from his Road King for added effect).

That isn’t to say he didn’t purchase any aftermarket parts specifically for his Shovel. Sometimes he had no choice. When telling us he didn’t run into problems directly related to fabbing, Remi did say, however, that this didn’t mean there weren’t any challenges at all. For example, the Shovel’s point ignition was originally shot, so he replaced it with an electric Dynatek ignition.

Now the Shovel operates quite well—even though it’s weighed down by a great many things that weren’t designed for bikes. “It rides sweet and smooth like any other Shovelhead should,” Remi says sheepishly. “When I kick it into gear, the pipes come to life and run great like one of the last real Harley-Davidsons.”

In the end, no matter what you want to call this Shovel—steampunk or just a different-looking bike—Remi had just one goal for his build. “I wanted it to be different,” he begins. “I wanted it to stand out in a crowd.” Well, Remi, we think it’s safe to say that, yes, your bike is different, and it most definitely stands out in a crowd. We’d be surprised if it didn’t. RC