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Friday Edition


Knucklehead Chopper Love

And the Chrome Search for Artistic Freedom and Nirvana

By Bandit with photos by Peter Linney
10/20/2017


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Deny Babin grew up in Philly but came to California, after he fell in love with motorcycles and a girl. Deny is an interesting talent who started to paint when he discussed his first bike, a 1988 Sporty sheet metal paint job, with a pro about 10 years ago. Let’s see if I can keep this story straight.



Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania at 1.5 million population. Deny grew up on the cold streets banging heads with the concrete, but in his late 20s, he discovered two wheels and the freedom they injected into his life, cutting across harried city streets like a taut wire through cheese.



Then he met a girl, Christina, a model who was seriously taller than Deny and competing in a TV show in Los Angeles. Her delicate stature held on tight as he whipped through the late-night scene in downtown Philly, on cold nights searching for action. She also contained the spirit of adventure and when they discovered the seasonal obstruction to riding warmer climates beckoned and the desire to hit the road for the opposite coast caught on.



Then Deny, a member of the pipefitters union, decided on a custom paint job. He approached a local pro and was told $2500 for metallic action. Hell, he only paid $1500 for the bike. Deny had another notion and turned on his computer.



What is it about motorcycles? Something causes sane men to lose their grasp of reality. He researched the tools for painting bikes on the Internet and decided he could buy the tools and supplies for far less than the cost dealing with another talent, and he painted his own bike. So the couple's adventure unfolded all around motorcycles.

Two years into their relationship, Deny and Christina split for the opposite coast and ended up in San Clemente, California, because Deny had high school buddies who were also lured to surfing the coast.




Deny gave up his highly secure union gig, wonderful benefits, and dragged his flame into the chopper unknown. He bought cheap Sportster gas tanks and started to experiment with paint textures and styles.



San Clemente is a city in Orange County, California. It's known for San Onofre and San Clemente state beaches, with their surf breaks and sandstone bluffs. Running along the coast, the Beach Trail offers sea views and green parks. Near T-Street Beach, the long San Clemente Pier stretches out into the Pacific Ocean. Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens embodies the city's original Spanish-style architecture. But the population is just 65,000 and the vibe bored Deny and the flame. They needed city action.



He painted bikes, cars and trucks in a two-car garage, which he shared with another truck owner. So, one truck was parked for storage next to another project truck being painted, which left him with 5 feet of space (it also contained a work bench) to work on motorcycle projects. He started to discover a market for vintage paintwork with a special original paint patina.



“Other guys were trying to make the patina work, but they didn’t get it,” said Deny.



He started to research the process and spent a solid year every week painting sheet metal and testing various processes until he had it nailed. “I’ve learned a lot, but I still can’t pinstripe,” said Deny. “I wanted to do everything.”



Once more, the compass wheel of motorcycling caused them to move to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, where gangs tear up the streets and bikers roam the nights. “Artists bought warehouses and moved in,” Deny said. The Atwater Village became clean and gentrified shortly after Deny and the artist community took up residence.



That’s when the itch surfaced to build a Knuckle, his first, four years ago, which lead to his dream build, a 1946 Chief we featured here on Bikernet. He nailed his patina, an original paint process and was painting bikes like crazy for Go, a wild Japanese vintage Indian builder we also featured.


“The Indian was a dream machine and I planned to keep it forever,” Deny said. “Then this customer surfaced and took it away from me.”



That’s when this Knucklehead project kicked off at a Long Beach Swap Meet. “Buy those cases,” Paul, another vintage guru shouted at Deny who was vacillating about the purchase. He bought the cases and the adventure began. Next, he bought a $550 cam cover from V-Twin and it didn’t fit. The bushings didn’t align with the shafts. It was junk and he was out $550. Gotta watch out.



He traded a paint job for the top end and made progress. He had the frame in molding process. It is not original; it's a $500 hard-tailed vintage frame, but that didn’t matter. He planned to mold the entire chassis and connect it with a mini-bike gas tank with less than a gallon capacity.
 
“I still don’t have a gas cap,” Deny said. “I’m using a cork, and I want to build a spare gas tank.” He might hang it from the Sissybar, old school.



His molding was handled mostly with sheet metal, and then skimmed with Bondo. The front end represents every springer Harley made except the most recent one. With JD rear legs, he connected a Peashooter front legs with 45 flathead rockers. The springs are big twin springer. Hell, maybe the stem is late model?



He built this bike for the Born Free 2017 invited builder competition. Here’s his story:



I wanted to build a classic molded chopper, so I bought a frame around three years ago got a little tank and started welding the steel all over it with the intention of putting a ‘69 Shovelhead engine in it. Over time, I sold the engine and was piecing together a Knucklehead, so I just threw that into it. I had my frame looking done but it wasn’t and Mike asked me to be in Born Free Show with six weeks to go as a couple guys dropped out.



Nothing was done, not the engine, not the frame, front end, nothing. At this point, I promised two of the builders I'd paint their bikes, so I knew I was in for it. When the day of the show came, I was not done. The bike was together but not running. Come to find out later, it was my magnet in my mag that needed to be replaced. Bike is fun to ride; it feels like a little racer. The only thing that bothers me is the fuel capacity.



When we decided to feature the classic Knuck Deny stopped us. “I need to tear it down and put it back together,” Deny said. “Lots of items need to be dialed in.”

What is it about sleek choppers and sleek models that drive a man to the opposite coast, drive him to give up his job, drive him to a creative endeavor or drive him nuts. It’s all about adventures. May they never end.




SUPREME BIKERNET SPEC CHART

Owner: Denis Babin


Bike Name: Reptilian

City/State: Frogtown, CA




Builder: Denis Babin

City/state: Frogtown, CA

Company Info: Deny 528
Phone: 610 203 6412

E-mail: dbabin@mac.com

Fabrication: Denis Babin

Manufacturing: Harley-Davidson

Welding: Denis Babin




Engine

Year: 1946 Knucklehead

Make: Harley-Davidson

Model: FL

Displacement: 1200cc

Builder or Rebuilder: Paul Whitehurst

Cases: Harley-Davidson standard

Case finish: brushed aluminum

Barrels: Harley-Davidson standard

Bore: +.10

Pistons: Biker’s Choice

Barrel finish: black heat coat

Lower end: Harley-Davidson

Stroke: stock

Rods: Carillo

Heads: stock H-D

Head finish: Black heat paint and chrome tins

Valves and springs: H-D

Pushrods: H-D

Cams: H-D

Lifters: H-D

Carburetion: Linkert m74b

Air cleaner: Wood

Exhaust: H-D

Mufflers: Swap meet




Transmission

Year: 1950

Make: Harley-Davidson

Gear configuration: 4-speed

Primary: Harley-Davidson standard

Clutch: Harley-Davidson standard

Final drive: Biker’s Choice chain

Kicker: Yep

 
 Frame

Year: Who knows

Builder: Some Harley-Davidson

Style or Model: straight leg rigid

Stretch: Harley-Davidson standard

Rake: Stock

Modifications: I molded the entire frame



Front End

Make: Harley Davidson

Model: I made from JD, peashooter, BT, and 45 springers


Year: Many

Length: 28 inches

Risers: Jeff Leighton made flanders style

Mods: Front leg, rear leg, rockers and rods




Sheet metal

Tanks: Old dirt bike tank

Fenders: Original Wassell

Panels: none

Oil tank: TT tank




Paint

Sheet metal: Denis Babin

Molding: Denis Babin

Base coat: Creamish yellow

Graphics: Deny 528

Type: Secret

Frame: DB

Molding: DB

Base coat: DB



Graphics or art: Deny 528

Special effects: Deny

Pinstriping: a friend



Wheels

Front

Make: V-twin manufacturing

Size: 21 X 2-inch

Brake calipers: No brake

Brake rotor(s): Spool hub

Tire: Goodyear Sport rib



Rear

Make: V-twin manufacturing

Size:19-inch

Brake calipers: None, old school hydraulic

Brake rotor: stock hydro drum

Tire: Classico



Controls

Foot controls: Harley-Davidson standard

Finish: chrome

Master cylinder: Hydraulic

Brake lines: One

Handlebar controls: only a throttle



Shifting: chrome

Kickstand: H-D




Electrical

Ignition: Morris Magneto



Ignition switch: ?

Coils: knock-off



Regulator: In generator cap

Charging: Cycle Electric generator

Starter: Kick

Wiring: Deny 528

Headlight: Dinky

Taillight: Old spot or tin turnsignal

Accessory lights: running tail molded in rear fender

Battery: None, maybe an auxiliary gas cell in the future in its place.




What’s Left?

Seat: I made pan and Mauricio Aguilar did leather

Gas caps: cork

Handlebars: I made

Grips: Marble Cycles

Pegs: Stan Dishong

Throttle: Biltwell

Throttle cables: Barnett



SOURCES

Biker’s Choice
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Barnett’s Cables
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