Custom Motorcycle: Zak’s Harley Ironhead

There’s a reason why Zachary Gallo used the word necessity when referring to his 1985 Harley XLH custom.

It’s a word he used often when describing his custom Harley Ironhead. Actually the regularity in which he used the term we found, well, alarming. His mods were done “out of necessity,” he tells us. Ok Zak, please continue.

Custom Harley-Davidson Ironhead motorcycle
A nice look at the clutch side of this custom Harley Ironhead.

And as though this weren’t enough, Zak resorted to making claims so audacious that they just had to be a shameless attempt at hyperbole: the project itself was “a build of necessity.”
But, Zak wasn’t exaggerating! It’s absolutely necessary to replace your tank, controls, and bars after getting them busted during an unfortunate altercation with “a defenseless mailbox.”
It becomes all the more necessary when your swingarm and strut mounts are ripped from your bike after entering a curve too hot.

All this happened to Zak’s Harley Ironhead. “It felt like the right thing to do as it was my only vehicle at the time,” Zak remembers. That’s more he could say about what was in his toolbox (read: it was empty). When asked about what tools he used, Zak said, “You’re gonna have to ask my buddies Bernie and Ray and my dad. I stole everything I could from those guys. I had nothing at the time.”

Custom Harley-Davidson Ironhead motorcycle oil tank
A little chatter on the oil tank of this custom Harley Ironhead.

Much like a person recovering from a major accident, Zak’s busted Ironhead spent a good deal of time in bed. Well, in a spare bedroom—minus the bed. “We’d already moved the bed out of my buddy Chris’ bedroom, so I just kind of sneakily rolled my bike in there. Like a gentleman,” Zak adds. Aside from sparks “singeing a couple of posters,” building there was a positive experience. “We actually have a lot of funny pictures of me shooting sparks all over the room and piles of parts everywhere,” he says. “It was rad being able to wake up and just start wrenching and drinking beer with my bud.”

It was here, in the unlikeliest of spaces, where Zak’s bike acquired anything but a dull name: The Purple Moose. “It used to have a huge 6-1/2-gallon purple tank,” Zak explains. “That, combined with the apes, made it look big and obnoxious, like a dumb moose.”

But, as you can clearly see, there’s nothing purple about this bike. The very absence of this particular color explains why it’s now known simply as “The Moose.” It also reveals how much Zak’s mentality evolved throughout the build.

The Moose soon began changing not because Zak kept crashing it—or because parts would break or fall off (though that was a major contributing factor)—but because Zak caught the bug. You know, that bug. The one that always gets us when we’re our most vulnerable. The opportunistic little bastard. “I’ve been removing everything that doesn’t make the bike move forward,” Zak says. “That’s the fun part.”

Now the bike changes seemingly every season. “I’m not really married to any one thing about the bike besides the motor,” he reveals. It was during this transition when Zak realized he needed an actual garage, especially since he planned to do some structural welding. “I figured I should probably use something a little bigger than a Harbor Freight buzz box,” Zak recalls.

That was when The Moose lumbered into Bernie’s garage. There, Bernie and Zak’s other friend Ray welded the hardtail to the frame’s halo. “I didn’t even attempt this because I didn’t want my bike snapping in half while cooking down the highway,” explains Zak. That’s a legitimate reason. Plus, everything he’d welded until that point had broken off. Zak originally thought it was because he sucked, but it was actually because he used a cheap $100 flux core welder.

Luckily, the dropseat that Zak welded hasn’t fallen off despite being his first major mod. “I figured I needed to jump right into the deep end,” Zak says, though he basically just jumped into a kiddie pool since the tail section “lined up perfectly.” (Zak did, however, have to weld a bracket for the seat-stay brake caliper and a self-made plate for mounting the rear fender and struts.)

He struggled quite a bit more when searching for compatible parts in general. (Zak described it as a nightmare.) “I shredded a bunch of gears and splines in my tranny,” he adds. Zak also shredded his bank account when looking for an offset drive sprocket. (Zak either literally purchased “a hundred different” sprockets or it just felt that way.) “I couldn’t find one spaced enough to get my chain straight,” he continues. “And 99 percent of the sprockets wouldn’t fit on the splines of the final drive.” Welding a spaced sprocket over the stock piece allowed him to use the necessary parts off each. “This thing makes no sense,” Zak says.

He also spaced out the intake manifold and his curved intake so the latter would work with the carb and velocity stack. “That thing is like a piece of artwork to me,” Zak says of the intake. “When I’m riding, it gets ice cold and covered in condensation.”

Custom Harley-Davidson Ironhead motorcycle
This custom Harley Ironhead has a classic stance.

While Zak may like his intake getting icy, he doesn’t feel this way about where he builds. When winter came, The Moose plodded over not into Chris’ spare bedroom, but into Zack’s living room. “I was living the high life then,” Zak says, what with the TV, carpet, and kitchen being right there within reach. “The Moose fit perfect right next to my couch.”

There, Zak got to work on his motor. Mikey V at Twin Tech may have built the heads, but Zak tackled the bottom end. He might as well have been tackling the entire New York Giants’ offensive line though. “The parts are not all interchangeable, so it took a lot of guessing and checking with everything,” he reveals. “I did a lot of angle grinding to make $#!+ work.”

He’s also done a lot of spray painting—with a lot more on the way. But, for now, he’ll stick with his Krylon and pinstripes, which getting straight “was a pain.” And for all The Moose has been through, it rides “surprisingly awesome.” Let’s just hope it stays that way. The bike hasn’t crashed since becoming The Moose, he told us, before proceeding to knock on wood. We’re gonna knock on some wood, too. Ride safe! RC