1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead

You’ve got it seriously made when your career is literally wrenching Harleys all day, every day, day in, day out.

However you want to describe building a custom Harley-Davidson or any custom motorcycle, we don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that every rider reading this would do practically anything to make that happen.

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors
Left side view of this beautiful 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

There’s a reason for the slogan “Ride. Wrench. Repeat.” Because, that’s the life. But all jobs—even working as a motorcycle mechanic—have their downsides. For bike builders, it’s always doing what the owner wants, especially when you don’t want to do what he wants you to do. As they say, the customer is always right (even when he isn’t).

But that wasn’t the case for builder Evan Favaro, owner of Speakeasy Motors in Wallkill, New York, when it came to this particular assignment, a 1976 Harley Shovelhead. “One day, a customer named Mike dropped his Shovel at the shop and told me, ‘I started this project. I have no idea how to weld or how to finish it,’” remembers Evan. “He just bit off more than he could chew.”

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors
Good look at the powerplant in this custom Harley-Davidson Shovel. Photos by Mark Velazquez

Sure, building a bike (almost) completely from scratch can be invigorating, even for a veteran craftsman. But the real plus was that Mike pretty much gave Evan free reign.
And there was a lot of free reigning to do. “Mike had a front end and frame and wheels and motor,” Evan says. “But it was basically a box of parts at the back of his car. It wasn’t even a roller. He had some of the major components. But I had to take it from there.”

Another plus: even though Evan had full creative license, Mike gave him just one guideline. “Mike said, ‘Just make it simple, then you can do whatever you want.’”
Why is this a plus? Turns out, most of the builds that Evan does are, in his words, “quite involved.” By that Evan means bikes with “a lot of sheet metal work,” and choppers and bobbers that are over the top. With descriptions like that, we don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that this bike is pretty close to being one of the simplest builds Evan has ever done. Believe me, I asked. If there was some type of “simplest builds in the world” list, it would be, as Evan said, “definitely up there.”

Much like the overall style of the Shovel, the process, too, was pretty straight forward. “It was fairly simple. I pretty much hacked away at it really,” he explains. As you’ll find out, Evan wasn’t joking when he said “fairly simple.” The word simple came up quite often during our chat with him. Evan described all of the non-hacking mods as such, including the “simple fender struts,” which he custom-made. The Sportster oil tank, which Evan modified and installed under the transmission with the kickstart, was referred to as “a simple fab.” Even the motor, which he rebuilt so it would be “all nice and fresh,” was anything but difficult.

Same can be said of the battery box. But there’s actually a whole lot more to say about the battery box. And what we have to say has nothing to do with how simple its installation was (besides it being mounted on the side of the bike). Ironically, though, we can’t actually say much, except that the bike is named after it, the “Little Black Box.”

Cockpit view of this 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

Back to the bike. Just because building the Shovelhead was easy doesn’t mean Evan “took it easy” when it came to ensuring Mike would get a quality bike. “There’s actually a lot involved in bike builds, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a simple or high-end, complex bike,” Evan says before adding, “especially if you do it right.”

Builds that aren’t done right Evan refers to as “botched jobs.” In many cases, these bikes are botched because the builders didn’t have the proper tools, such as wheel spacers. “Bikes aren’t like cars,” Evan says. “If a wheel on your car comes off, you can just stop. But on a motorcycle, that would be catastrophic.” That’s why this bike is comprised of components from GMA, Paughco, Three Two Choppers, Biltwell, Unity, and BDL, among others.

“With customers, you’re putting their lives in your craftsmanship. It can be a little intimidating,” Evan says. “There’s still a lot involved in making a bike a safe machine.”
While most of the bike is minimalist, there’s nothing minimalist about the paint job. “I left it all up to my painter,” says Evan. “I kind of pointed him in the direction and said, ‘Have some fun and make it look cool.’”

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

As you can see, the painter did just that. But seeing as Mike likes it simple, we were dying to know what he thought of the design. “I think the paint was a little more involved than what he was expecting,” responds Evan. “He was probably just expecting a single color. And we gave him a lot more than that.” But besides the rad palette choice, the bike was exactly what Evan was looking for: something plain and simple. “He loved it. He was speechless. It was everything he wanted,” says Evan. RC

Custom Motorcycle: Harley Super Glide to Shovelhead Bobber

Custom Motorcycles, new bike reviews, DIY motorcycle tech and gear reviews

Todd Farler’s always been a motorcycle guy. But it wasn’t until his cousin had a line on a 1975 FXE Shovelhead that he got into Harleys.

On the flip side, his cousin Lonnie Line had always been into Harley-Davidson motorcycles. So when Lonnie learned that a co-worker had a ’75 Harley Super Glide Shovelhead in pretty good shape, just collecting dust in his garage, he put the buzz in his cousin’s ear.

Todd's Harley-Davidson shovelhead bobber in all its splendor.
Todd’s Harley-Davidson shovelhead bobber in all its splendor. – Photo Casey Hawn

The owner originally wanted $5-6,000 for it but dropped the price to $4,000 if they’d seal the deal within two weeks. Todd’s loan application through his credit union was taking too long, so his cousin cashed in some 401K money and covered it until Farler’s loan went through. Nice to have a cousin who’s more “like a brother.”

“It had like a Fat Bob tank on it, had a big king and queen seat, some drag bars, and the narrow glide front end,” Todd says. “I liked it as it was and didn’t plan on doing anything to that bike because it was in such good shape. I felt guilty thinking about turning it into a custom bobber, but about five years ago I lost the rear master cylinder and had to stop real fast at an intersection and laid the bike down. It wasn’t too bad, banged up the front fender, scraped up a bunch of stuff, broke the turn signals off.”

Todd wasn’t as lucky as the bike, suffering several broken bones. During his mending period he realized it was a perfect opportunity to revamp the bike. An aerospace welder by trade, he toyed with the idea of doing a weld-on hardtail, but he didn’t have a lift or the equipment to get the job done properly at home. Luckily, he’s got friends who happen to be bike builders to turn to for guidance, including Donny Loos of Don’s Custom Cycle and Bill Schalk at Tried-n-True Garage.

This Harley Shovelhead bobbers custom headlight looks on point.
This Harley Shovelhead bobbers custom headlight looks on point. – Photo Casey Hawn

But it wasn’t until he developed a friendship with Cole Rogers that his bobber project eventually took shape. “I’d seen Cole’s work over at 138 Cycle Fabrication and really liked his style.” The two had met at shows, and Todd mentioned to Cole that he welded and offered his services but was graciously declined. So Todd got the idea to make a unique business card, welding two razor blades together edge-to-edge and laying “a real nice, pretty bead across them.” He then used a machine at work to stamp his name and phone number into the razor blade.

The next time he saw Cole at a bike show, he gave him one of his new calling cards. Cole’s response: “You did this? Give me a call Monday.”

Next thing you know, Todd’s doing an apprenticeship with him, hanging out at the shop and learning things hands-on. Cole builds his own springer and girder forks so Todd learned how to set those up. “The first frame I did for him ended going over to Schalk at Tried-and-True, and he won Easyriders that year with the Shovelhead frame I welded for him,” Todd says.

Near the end of his apprenticeship, Todd asked Cole if he could build his Shovel on a lift in the back, a request his mentor kindly obliged. Todd demonstrated some of the knowledge he learned from Cole by building his own springer. Admittedly, he did seek help with wiring.

Todd said the most nerve-wracking part of the build was cutting the frame in half to add the hardtail section. “That’s like the point of no return. Once you lay that blade in there and start cutting, that really freaked me out.” At that point he leaned on the reassurance of Cole that he was cutting in the right spot.

His mentor had given him an old junk tank with a crushed-in top for the build. Todd cut about 2-1/2″ out of the center of the tank and rewelded it, also rebuilding the bottom and adding a site tube because “It doesn’t hold a lot of gas. I like riding it, though, but I hate pushing.”

Framing the tank turned out to be a learning experience, as he got a chance to work on the English wheel, something he hadn’t done much before. Todd spent time “hammering the dents out of the tank, cutting the center section out, welding it all back together, and reshaping it a bit on the English wheel. It was neat to see the final product, to take something that was headed for the bin and bend it back into shape.”

The salvaged tank isn’t the only refurbished part on the ’75 Shovel. The oil tank is a 5″/38-caliber cannon shell from his cousin’s Navy ship. Lonnie served aboard the USS New Jersey BB-62 and had some of the cannon shells sitting around his garage that “made a great oil tank. Part of him is built into that bike now,” Todd says.

Todd's home-built retro runner is stripped to the essentials, beautifully.
Todd’s home-built retro runner is stripped to the essentials, beautifully. – Photo Casey Hawn

Amazingly, much work hasn’t been done to the engine.. The odometer read only 15,000 miles when Todd got it, adding “for what that’s worth.” But` after inspecting it, his buddy Loos thinks there’s a good chance it’s a bone-stock ’75 Shovel that’s never been torn apart. While Todd swapped out the carb, velocity stack, and pipes, everything else is the same as how he got it. But he admits it’s due for a build. He’d like to update the carb and go kick-only while he’s having the engine done. The biggest dilemma might be who does the rebuild, as Todd claims he’s torn between two friends.

In addition to the frame he cut and the tank he hammered out, Todd also likes how the bars he made turned out; they’re pullbacks with an internal throttle. When asked how it rides, he says, “Great. The rear tire has enough meat to run it a little low. Those springers Cole has ride really nice. But it is a hardtail and beats you up a little bit.”

Todd finished by saying he’s not looking to be a full-time builder but likes being involved in the scene and being respected as a welder. That said, he’s already got plans running through his head about a fully blown show bike for his next project, the words Invaders and Good Times Reform creeping into the conversation. Until then, he’s got one mean ’75 Shovel springer to run around on what just about any old gearhead would be proud to call his own. RC

Custom Motorcycle: Barrie’s Harley Shovelhead Custom

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

Custom Motorcycle: Jon’s Custom 883 Harley Sportster

Jon Davies caught the bug decades ago, developing an appetite for Harley Sportsters in the early ’80s when he bought a 1976 Ironhead.

After milling about on the ’76 for a while, Jon has since ran the gamut of Sportys, riding and owning models from plain, old stockers to full-blown Ness customs. While searching for the next entry into his personal Sportster history, he knew he wanted to do something different when he acquired this ’98 XLH 883. “I wanted to build something different, with the accents on details and modern tech with an old-school design,” he writes. “I wanted to do all the design, fabrication, and wrenching by myself.”

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

Bike builds are no exception to the Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Often, these are the questions asked of our featured builders. Jon more than eagerly answered each. He already addressed the who—himself. We also know the what, a 1998 Evo 883 powerplant. But why? “The motivation came from having chronic back problems, which limit my riding and fishing time,” he writes. “A project build allowed me to do as much or as little as I was able, with no time constraints.” As such, the build took Jon about 18 months to complete. But patience is a virtus, and Jon’s canonization candidacy is officially submitted for the Garage Build HOF thanks to this clean build, a project seemingly simple but truly meticulous. Oh, did we leave out where he conducted this build? C’mon, guys.

Jon started the build in earnest, first picking up the Sportster for £2,500 (about $3,200)—England has a great appreciation for the American V-twin, too—and subsequently beginning the designing, the fabricating, and the wrenching. Let’s start with that Evo. He tore it down and rebuilt it using James gaskets and seals along with Gardner Westcott Chrome fasteners. He also vapor-blasted the heads and cylinders (aka barrels. There’s that England thing again!). Conducting all this work proves Jon’s prowess in the garage, and given this kind of skill, expect the rest of the build to reflect that talent.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

With the work on the heart complete, Jon turned his attention to the respiratory system. The carb, which he rebuilt and rejetted, is some of his finest work. Jon says, “I made the CV carb support bracket and intake backplate from scratch to allow the use of a S&S Super B air cleaner, complemented by a stainless remote enricher bracket mounted to the rear rocker box cover.” Well he certainly has his own fabricating down!

From there, the exhaust needed an update. Off with the stockers! He fabbed two 2″ drag pipes for a wholly custom, ridiculously loud 2-into-2 system. These were then ceramic coated in Volcanic Black and fitted with torque cones and machined end caps, quaking into a full-on eruption every time Jon twists the throttle.

So the engine and breathing system were sorted, and that meant Jon needed to get the chassis prepared for the newly captured beast. He set to work on chopping and bobbing, shaving any unwanted brackets and removing the rear struts and sculpting the rear fender. That fender is rubber-mounted to the upper-shock bolts, which are Progressive Suspension’s 11-1/2″ 412 series shocks. He obviously told the front fender to kick rocks and shaved and grooved the fork lowers. The front suspension handles bumps with aplomb, thanks to 2″-lowered Progressive springs.

The latest iteration in Jon’s Sportster lineage rolls on a stock 19″ front wheel that’s been powdercoated and laced with stainless steel spokes. The rear, however, is off a Sportster 48, a 16″ rim that’s also laced with stainless spokes. Rubber meets the road thanks to Firestone ANS tires.
Jon clearly didn’t overlook a thing with this build, nor did he scrimp on spending up for both performance and design. That said, he takes great pride in the amount of fabricating he did himself, including the one-piece handlebar that both provides an aggressive riding posture and runs internal wiring to keep the front end as tidy as possible. “The clean bars are complemented by micro-switches that I positioned in the clutch and brake perches along with the concealed
wiring,” he says.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

He also notes that attention to detail is of the utmost importance. “Everything from the perfectly aligned pipes to the angle of the raised coil, set to match the angle of the front cylinder.”

Assisting in that symmetry is the NOS gas tank from The Harley Shop, plus a plethora of accessories. The pegs, riser, and mirrors are from Biltwell, the grips, heat shields, master cylinder tops, and fuel and oil caps are from Lowbrow Customs, and the seat is from notable custom shop LC Fabrications. Look closely at the petcock, which Jon acquired from Prism Supply. He went to work around the petcock, fabricating a one-off mount for the ignition switch. It’s the small things in life. Take, for example, this side-mounted speedo, for which he also fabricated a mounting plate.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

This is as impressive a build as we’ve found on the Garage Build website (GarageBuild.com), and there’s a reason that it was the very first to be featured here on RidesandCulture.com. Jon has accomplished a seriously dazzling feat with all the custom work he put into the once-stock Sportster. He affectionately calls the build “McQueen,” thanks in no small part to the reaction it gets from other riders and non-riders alike. “A close friend once said, ‘That looks like something Steve McQueen would ride.’ Hence the name!”

McQueen does indeed look like a bike that the King of Cool would take for a rip around town or even on a dirt track. And for that, Jon deserves hearty congratulations from the staff of Garage Build and its readers. He came, he fabricated, he wrenched, he finished, and he won. RC