Joe Keene (we’ll call him Papa Joe) asked his son, Brandon, to fix a Bonneville that Papa Joe had purchased himself the year before. “Somebody had already turned it into a chopper by welding the hardtail, but it was on crooked,” clarifies Brandon.
Sure, Brandon’s dad may have had the means and skillset to do the mods himself, but here’s the thing. Papa Joe likes riding, but only when the number of obstacles he has to overcome includes inserting and turning the key in the ignition, turning on the fuel petcock, pulling the choke, setting the kill switch to run, squeezing the clutch lever, and pressing the start button. Adding any more to that cumbersome list would just get too much in the way of actually riding the damn thing. And customizing a motorcycle to make it roadworthy presents a whole host of extra impediments to work through.
Luckily, Joe’s son likes riding and getting a non ridable bike to the point where it becomes ridable (partly because he enjoys working in his two-car garage since it puts him “close to the fridge”).
Knowing this, the task of getting Papa Joe’s Bonneville there naturally fell on Brandon. Of course, if this had been Brandon’s project from the start, he would’ve purchased a Tiger instead of a Bonneville, since he likes the single carb.
At least this Bonneville is kickstart-only. And at least the only other thing Papa Joe asked for were front and rear disc brakes. This meant that Brandon pretty much had free rein over the entire project.
Well, kinda. As Brandon says, “I try to make every build different than prior builds.” Until then, he’d customized a 1972 Triumph 650, 1978 Honda CB550, and 1973 Honda CL350 in varying styles. Plus, he already had two 19” rims, which made sense to use on his dad’s bike. So Brandon really only had one choice if he wanted to keep up with not doing the same build twice: a boardtracker-style bike.
Naturally, the first thing Brandon did in his garage (after filling his nearby fridge with food and drinks) was cut off the bike’s rear, not just because the first owner botched up the hardtail, but because Brandon always makes his bikes rigid. “I like the chopper style,” he says matter-of-factly.
Brandon didn’t hardtail the bike all by himself, however. “A family member helped because I wasn’t ready to weld at the time,” he reveals. This brother/nephew/uncle/grandfather/or some in-law quickly came to Brandon’s garage with a TIG welder and secured the rigid end to the bike, along with welding some tabs and mounts later on. (Most likely, this male family member also taxed these services by raiding Brandon’s garage fridge.)
Brandon then got to work with the very few tools he owned, which include a side grinder and a Sawzall.
Brandon started by reinstalling the engine into the now non-crooked hardtailed chassis, but only after he had removed the heads to fix some leaking pushrod tubes. Now it was time to install those 19-inchers, which he just so happened to have lying around. “I can’t recall where they came from,” comments Brandon. “I just had them.” Since the wheels come from a Suzuki, Brandon thought it made sense to use more parts from the same manufacturer. He later found some forks, levers, and a front brake from that family. Surprisingly, Suzuki parts look good with other Suzuki parts, so he added more: a rear brake rotor and caliper.
Hoping to evoke the spirit of a boardtracker, Brandon wanted to gear up his dad’s bike, so he fabbed custom spacers and an aluminum adapter for a sprocket that he first installed on the front wheel. But since that sprocket is now on the back of the bike, we’re guessing Brandon wanted more bottom end and faster acceleration.
Brandon also handmade many other parts, including the fender struts and license plate bracket. When asked why, Brandon replied simply: “Stock sucks!”
By the end of the build, Brandon had done enough mods so that the bike truly didn’t suck. And we’re not just basing that assessment solely on his earlier sentiment about stock, but because it’s truly a great-looking ride.
Despite having customized the Bonneville for his dad and not himself, Brandon actually gained a lot from the process—and not in some intangible way that would prompt him to say something like “It made me feel good” or “The build made me a better son.”
After Brandon completed the build (and emptied the fridge in his garage), his wife, Amy, came up with the idea of entering the Triumph in the Smoke Out Rally’s ride-in bike show in North Carolina. It was a good suggestion. Out of the 85 bikes that participated, this Bonneville was one of only seven winners.
But Brandon’s luck didn’t end there. The rally’s organizers invited him back to compete the following year in the amateur chop-off, to which Brandon obliged by entering a 1999 Sportster—and won first place. (Brandon chopped the Harley XL, too.)
While that’s all fine and dandy, what does Brandon’s old man think of the boardtracker-styled Bonneville? Brandon says his dad loves it. While undoubtedly true, Brandon also shared what his father said the moment he laid eyes on the finished product: “Looks like all comfort was sacrificed for style.”
For some strange reason unbeknownst to us, we think that’s exactly what Brandon was going for. RC