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Bikernet Project: Charity Bike, Widowmaker Style

Chopper Build!-Widowmaker Style

by Mike Allen, Bahama

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“A man’s got to know his limitations”-Dirty Harry 

Out in the country roads of Moriah, NC., people pick their own tobacco, run their own stills and gut their own deer. At Widowmaker Custom Design and Repair, Hank Thibodeau brings that same self-reliant determination to the design and fabrication of custom motorcycles. Hank has been out here creating, chopping, grinding and giving inspiration to anybody with two wheels and a dream for more than ten years. The two car garage workshop he shares with Patrick Murphy and his father-in-law Jimmy Glenn, has produced more original works of engineered art than most million dollar bike shops.

The Widowmaker crew is ready to do everything from rebuilding the top end of your old Sportster, fabricating a set of head turning handlebars, or adding class to your fresh-off- the-showroom floor Milwaukee Iron, by installing Hank’s custom two-into-one pipes. Then giving her the iconic Widowmaker designed and fabricated intake so she can breathe 15 horses faster.  Your ride isn’t made-in-the-USA? No worry, Hank has a solid record of having a complete disregard for the national origin of any type of stray bike landing on his doorstep. He’ll take it and improve on your ideas, or, like he did two years ago, just take a crotch rocket, chop it up, lay his magic welding rod upon it and get top prize at the Ray Price Capital City Bike Fest  in Raleigh, NC.

The donor bike waiting its turn to meet Hank and Patrick's's torch and wrenches.
The donor bike waiting its turn to meet Hank and Patrick's's torch and wrenches.


Each year for the past eight years, the Widowmaker family had been organizing a very successful ride raising money to help families deal with their child’s medical expenses. This year is different; Hank is fabricating a custom motorcycle which will feature his signature hand made parts recognizable throughout North Carolina as the Widowmaker brand. The plan this year is to sell raffle tickets and raise $25,000 and give five local families in need, $5,000 each, to help with the medical care of their child. We caught Hank early in the planning stages and wanted to share his progress of this project to the announcement of the winner on September 26th at Ray Price Harley Davidson’s Capital City Bike Fest in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Bikernet is going to follow Hank through the process of building a custom chopper and staying within the basic interactions between: cost, skill level and availability of tools. This is the first in a series of five articles in which we will be going over some issues that need to be addressed prior to putting fire to metal or pen to paper.

Here’s Hank layin’ it out straight for you in his words: Set the goal and make a plan…then be flexible while you work towards that goal. Reaching that goal is the successful art of harmonizing your choices with your plans within the parameters set by your skills, or as Dirty Harry would say, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Even the cables took a little bruising.
Even the cables took a little bruising.


Be honest in evaluating your skill level; choose a bike that works within your ability and the tools you’ve got in the shop. For example, I would not recommend a 2005 fuel injected V-twin to anybody but an advanced builder. If your strong suit is not electrical, stay away from electronic bikes. Stick with the basic skills for a basic drive train and fuel delivery. Use the theory of K.I.S.S.- Keep It Simple Stupid. A carbed Sportster has been a simple and proven canvas for decades of custom builders of all skill levels. Carbed metric bikes are getting more attention partly due to popular magazines such as The Horse-Backstreet Choppers and Cycle Source. The metrics tend to lose their value quicker yet remain reliable, but the metrics need a more fluent skill set. Sportster tooling is basic, aftermarket parts are readily available.    

Most of the damage is on the front right side.
Most of the damage is on the front right side.


Choosing a bike.  Choosing your donor can be difficult. However, surfing the internet somewhat simplifies this option. Knowledge is power, knowing people helps. Know your surroundings and what you are willing to do to get what you want. What are you limitations? If you find a great deal on a bike but its 1,000 miles away, is it worth the drive? Consider any time, effort and expense in acquiring the donor bike or parts for your project. Speedy decision making is the key to sealing any internet deal. If you find a good deal, jump on it. There are plenty of up and coming backyard builders, and many are out there in the fast lane. This is where your skillset, tooling, and above all- your planning comes into play. Choosing a bike that best fits your ability is better than choosing a bike that better fits your wallet. Knowing your limitations will save aggravation and keep you from wasting time and money. Decide if you want a running bike or not. Running bikes are easier to start with. You’re trying to re-engineer the bike completely. If you decide an engine rebuild fits your plans, your market for a donor bike expands considerably.

The 1999 Yamaha 1600cc Road Star. Hard to believe this bike is "totaled." Doesn't take much to take a 16 year old Yamaha off the road.
The 1999 Yamaha 1600cc Road Star. Hard to believe this bike is "totaled." Doesn't take much to take a 16 year old Yamaha off the road.


Choosing a wrecked bike. First question, does it run? Look at causes of failure. How bad of a hit did the bike take and where? What are you changing about the bike and how does this affect what your plans are? Is the front end in the frame? Are you replacing the frame? Looks can be deceiving. Frame can be bent. Always check. Where was the impact? What deemed it totaled? What condition is the engine? Compression Test? A compression test tool can be easily found at your local auto parts store. Review the specific bikes requirements before performing the test. Basic actions, remove spark plug, disconnect ignition coil, install tester. Spin engine over with throttle open. Evaluate readings. Every engine has different specs. Know your specs. You should not have a difference of more than 10% from one cylinder to the other. This will give you an idea of overall internal condition. An easy way to decide if you have leaking rings or valves is to squirt some oil into the cylinder. Retest them if you have a poor reading. If your value goes up, the rings are bad and the valves may be ok.  How long has it been sitting? Perform a Cylinder Leak Down Test using another tool easily found. This can be confusing to understand. You will have 2 gauges. One showing the air coming into the cylinder, the other showing a percentage of air lost. The more air lost, the worse the condition of the internals of the engine, i.e. valves, rings, etc. Make sure the valves are closed and engine is on Top Dead Center (TDC) for that cylinder.  Does it run? Get a grasp on the variables of how long it has sat, what is the overall shape of bike? How many miles? Is the speedo stuck on a certain speed? This is a good indication of speed of impact. Is it water cooled? How will this affect your ability? Can you rework the design of the cooling system? Have a game plan for the bike. What parts will you have to fabricate to use in your build? Again, what is your skill set and tooling for the bike? Plan ahead. How far can your abilities carry you and what do you have to buy or source. Make sure your plans also consider the laws of you state for signals, light sizes, handle bar heights, fork lengths? Look at the overall of the bike. What is damaged, where, why, how come?


In this build, we are using a wrecked ’99 Yamaha Road Star 1600. The insurance company determined the bike was “totaled” based on overall damage vs. cost of repair and value of a repaired bike. The bike was running good and in good riding order. The majority of damage was isolated to the front and right side of bike. Fender, exhaust, tire, turn signal bar, etc. (insert pix here). (talking about points of impact, overall condition and damage). But the overall running works of the bike were intact and in good running order.

Craftech frame with 240 rear tire waiting to start a new life with a genuine Widowmaker brand.
Craftech frame with 240 rear tire waiting to start a new life with a genuine Widowmaker brand.


Having a plan. For this project, we chose this bike specifically based on availability and cost. Knowing our skill set on the front end, we knew this bike would be a challenge, but be a great build. We already planned ahead. We had a Crafttech frame with a 240 back tire that needed a large displacement motor. The 1600 cc Road Star engine fit the bill. Now this comes into tooling.  Keep posted to see how the overall pieces are made to fit. See you next month.

Hank making time to answer customer's questions.
Hank making time to answer customer's questions.



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Painters Bernard Warren and Zack Mathews of ZMCC

Carolina Ceramic Coating

Brandon’s Harwood Floor and More

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Reader Comments

You left out one of the sponsors.
American Legion Riders Post 7 of Durham, NC

Joe Dean
Durham, NC
Monday, July 13, 2015
Editor Response Thanks for taking care of American Legion Riders Post 7.

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