Custom Motorcycle: Patrick’s 1977 Custom Shovelhead

Custom Motorcycle: Patrick’s 1977 Custom Shovelhead

A slim practical bike you gotta kick to get started

Patrick Huban of Brooklyn thought he’d hit the friends-and-family-special jackpot.

His buddies Tyler and Pete owned their own bike shop in nearby Red Hook, and Patrick was itching to modify his recently acquired stock 1977 Shovelhead FLHS. Instead of getting everything handed to him on a chrome platter, Patrick found himself in one of your classic exiled to the back of the
proshop situations.

Patrick's 1977 Custom Harley Shovelhead

“I was lucky they let me use a tiny space in the back of their shop,” Patrick says. That’s because co-owner Pete believes quite fervently that every builder should go through some sort of rite of passage, one we perceive as wrenchin’ in turmoil. “Pete learned to build bikes lying on a dirty floor in New Orleans with no A/C in the summer,” Patrick says. “He thought I should do it that way, too.”

The irony, however, is that despite Patrick having access to some of the shop’s tools, they weren’t enough. Shovelheads, Patrick realized, require very specific tools, such as a 1-7/8″ extended mainshaft sprocket nut socket. Patrick needed this very tool when his mainshaft started leaking. “There was no way I was getting that nut off without it,” he says. It didn’t help that Patrick, who used to race metric sportbikes, didn’t know much about Harleys, especially older models.

Patrick's 1977 Custom Shovelhead

Patrick also didn’t know that you shouldn’t tear things apart willy-nilly during the teardown. “I remember just yanking out all the old wires at the beginning,” he recalls. “I had no idea where any of them went.” Now he does.

Patrick’s buddy Keino Sasaki helped Patrick make a list of wiring after the yanking incident—including the ignition, charging system, coils, and starter—which Patrick installed. Keino’s list soon got a whole lot longer—much longer than it should have. Sometimes Patrick bought a part, thinking it came with something else, when it didn’t. Other times he’d just purchase the wrong thing altogether. “I found myself saying ‘nothing fits anything’ a lot,” recalls Patrick. “With newer bikes, you just buy the parts and bolt ‘em on, but ‘bolt on’ for vintage Harleys is definitely not the same.”

Patrick learned a bolt-on lesson after installing a four-speed ratchet top transmission pushrod and throw-out bearing replacement kit. “I was riding with this old-style kit and all of a sudden my clutch wouldn’t engage,” Patrick remembers. “It was like a cable snapped.”

Patrick's 1977 Custom Shovelhead

He later discovered that Harley had replaced this item because the pushrod umbrella would often slip out of place and fail to apply pressure onto the pushrod. “I don’t really see the point of selling or installing this piece if it were a frequent problem back in the day,” he comments.

While Patrick didn’t know much about vintage Harleys, he did know he wanted a “slim and practical” bike. That’s why he hacked off most of the body work. The frame, however, was off-limits. The only time he broke that rule was when his peanut tank wouldn’t sit flush with the original mounts, forcing him to hack the original dual tank mounts off.

Patrick steered clear of chassis-chopping, however, when mounting his 7″-wide rear fender onto the frame with spacers. (He didn’t install it to the swingarm because the fender would’ve moved with the shocks.) Patrick also welded a tab to the rear downtube so it wouldn’t pivot if someone sat on the p-pad. Another problem: the fender got in the way of the chain, so he cut a small section out of the fender to let the chain pass through.

Patrick's 1977 Custom Shovelhead

Like the rear fender, Patrick planned on having his aftermarket seat rest on the frame. But he also wanted it to flip up so he could access the oil tank, fuses, and relays. Welding a seat hinge to the frame addressed the second issue but not the first. So Patrick welded mounts to the bottom of the top frame rails to hold the seat down. However, the seat’s screws weren’t long enough to pass through the hinge and frame rail. So he welded screws onto the seat’s mounting screws. That worked. Patrick reached underneath the frame rails with a 1/2″ wrench to secure them.

The bottom frame rails, meanwhile, received mid-peg controls. Patrick first installed a curved V-twin tab to secure a solid steel tube which he then threaded together through a hole he had drilled. Next, Patrick bent the tube where he wanted his feet to rest with Pete’s tube bender. And that’s where he installed the peg mounts.

But all that work was for naught. “Mid-pegs are tough to make perfect from scratch,” comments Patrick. “I ended up going to the stock position, which works great.” Other parts he switched out after customizing them included his stock wheels. Both were terribly dinged up, so he bashed them with a copper hammer until they were “straightish.” He did, however, keep the front forks after rebuilding them with a kit. “They were basically pogo sticks,” he says.

Patrick's 1977 Custom Shovelhead

Patrick may have gotten help with fabbing a wiring harness and rebuilding the carb, but he did the paint himself—with a rattle can. Initially, Patrick tried to make it look like a “super-pro job” by sanding, buffing, and applying clearcoat, but all that changed when his wife, Jessica, accidently left a big mark in the paint with her nail. “I ended up actually really liking it,” he says. “It now has a worn look that I couldn’t have done on purpose.”

Jessica not only unintentionally made her husband’s bike better but intentionally, too. She bought him a vintage AEE Choppers triangle headlight with blue glass. It’s easily his favorite part.

Today, Patrick no longer works in that small space at the back of his buddies’ shop. Now he does everything in his small garage, and he finally has some SAE tools of his own, too. In fact, that’s where he switched out the front wheel. Patrick also added new apes and replaced the oil pump’s ball bearing and spring in his garage.
And, sure, while Patrick didn’t learn how to build his Shovelhead on a dirty floor in the summer with no A/C like Pete did, we believe Patrick went through his own rite of passage—successfully. RC