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Lil' Ruby: Another addition for The Chopper Saga

The Chopper Saga continues

by Johnny White

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Lil’ Ruby is what I have named her, but this came after I bought her from the original builder this Summer. You see, Lil’ Ruby started life as a 2002 Sportster that my son-in-law bought in 2015. He bought the bike from another young man who needed cash more than he needed a Sporty, and my SIL had cash in hand. He rode it home to his mother’s house and estimated he had the motor out of the frame less than 2 hours later.
The Harley Sportster wasn’t his goal though. He planned before he purchased the bike. You see, he devised his strategy long before his purchase, and since a Sporty is the cheapest H-D motor he could get, well then that’s what he went with. He was on a mission to build a tight little chopper/ bobber that he could ride through town and not see another exactly like it anywhere.
He took a different route than many today, as instead of plunking down some cash, budgeting in his payments and riding out on a shiny new bike. This kid decided he wanted to take a route travelled by far fewer. Wide is the easy path which leads you to Hell, but narrow and difficult is the road to the promised land, or something like that from The Good Book.
It wasn’t long before he started ordering parts from his J&P catalog, knowing from the start what kind of ride he was looking at. She had to be a rigid frame. She had to have a ribbed rear fender and matching tank, and she had to be cool… But he had never done anything like this and really didn’t know what he had gotten himself into.

At the time, being a student in college full time and working part time, money was tight, but ideas and passion were in overdrive. This was 2015, so a good 10 years after the Discovery Channel wave had peaked. He had an idea of what he wanted to do and basically stuck with the same theme for the next 7 years. I tell ya, the kid had patience and resilience, which are both necessary when building anything.
First, for the frame, he was looking for something narrow, light, and of course compatible with the Sporty engine. The frame is a Kraftech, rigid Sportster style with stock 30° rake and 0 stretch. This made using the stock narrow glide Sporty front end easy. When we discussed his vision, he was firm. He wanted it to be low, narrow, and tight. Nothing extra, just as naked as he could get away with. The gas tank is a ridged, 2.4 gallon Mustang to match the ridged 4.75-inch Stingray rear fender. He wanted this thing to look fast sitting still, but more in the lines of Indian Larry than Jesse James.

Small parts orders went in as the build progressed. A set of Biltwell Slimline Risers, Flanders style Biltwell handlebars, round oil bag with battery tray… The pile grew larger and he realized every time he placed a piece of the puzzle together what he was missing next.
The best thing about this build, which was different from any I ever did, was his patience. Never in a rush, he didn’t sacrifice any part to “just get by." He wanted to utilize what he could from the stock bike but still wanted a one-off custom bike he could say he built by himself. He finished the mock-up and then slowly disassembled the parts, chronicling what went where, while labeling all his parts, bags of fasteners, diagrams and left it apart until he could afford a paint job.
Well, life has a way of throwing curves, and he dealt with a few. As is the case sometimes, the project always got put onto the back burner but he toiled away at it when he could. He eventually paid a family friend to paint it and tool the leather that sits on his steel panned seat.
Once he got the parts all painted, he took his time putting everything back together, all the while staying true to his theme and original design. The process produced plenty of adjustments, late nights, busted knuckles, a few moments of cussing, and maybe a cold beverage or two. When finished, he was proud to say his pockets were empty, but his bike was running and he could honestly say he built it from the ground up. She was a beautiful little ride that will provide years fun.
He did finish the bike a year or so ago, but it’s been sitting on a lift in his garage being tickled by a battery tender to keep the battery alive for a while. While he liked the bike, it was just not the same for him now…life took over. He rode her here and there but never very far. It was cool…just not his thing at the time. So, there she sat, collecting dust, until I wandered in.
While visiting my new granddaughter, I saw the bike for the first time and was so excited to tinker with it. As you know, a perfectly running bike doesn’t like to sit for too long. I have observed over the years, you can take an old machine and keep her in immaculate running order just by being observant, regular rides, and proper maintenance, nothing crazy or extreme.
Within a few hours we had her running and I polished her up enough to convince him to take it for a ride. Seeing the excitement on his face was the drug we all search for whenever we ride a chopper of any kind. He looked like a little kid as he tentatively pulled it out into the street and took a quick loop around the neighborhood. Once he returned home, the smile on his face said it all, and I was sure he was bitten again. We spent the rest of that night talking choppers, polishing small parts, and basically re-kindling that fire that any scooter tramp knows.
He even told my daughter that night how his passion was returning, and he was now excited to play with the little bike again. Chopper love reborn.
The next day while he was working on his truck, my wife and daughter were playing with the baby, and I had some time to kill and was looking for any excuse to check her out. I convinced him to let me take her for a spin. I took it for a quick ride but couldn’t stop at the end of the street like he did. I decided to go a little further and test her on a couple of winding roads.
April in North Carolina can be sketchy as its as likely to be 45 degrees and rainy as it is possible to be 90 and humid. Luckily for me, it was 75 degrees and warm enough for riding in a t-shirt. I’ve been bundled up in Chicago, so the thought of riding a Harley in a t-shirt was too much for me to pass on.
As I pulled out of the neighborhood and onto Morganton road, I quickly knew I was going to ride for a bit longer than I had planned. The fresh air mixed with the smell of fuel from the old Mikuni carb reminded me I was no longer on a factory fresh bike. This thing was dirty, vibrated, slung oil from the chain onto my clothes, and left an odor on your skin and jeans that reminds everyone I was riding something very different.

It was practically an untested machine. I was careful as I gradually picked up speed and took my time testing the slim tires…the front rim riding on a 21-inch Avon Speedmaster. The rear hoop rides on a 16-inch-MT-90 Shinko. Although these tires looked “period correct” for a late '70s, early '80s build, I had never ridden on them. I was cautious, but it turned out fine. They handled great, and the slim width made the bike handle like she was on rails…just amazing. The squared corners on the skinny ties reminded me of the bias ply tires of the past, but they handled great and my concerns proved unfounded.

I pulled into a gas station to fill her with go-go juice and drink a cold water, while taking an inventory of every nut and bolt that wasn’t too hot to touch to see if anything had wiggled loose. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and the bike sparkled with a gleam as if she was thankful to be out.
Believe it or not, these machines will talk to you once you’ve spent time with them and I could tell she was a happy girl. Ticking away as she cooled, I did notice she was spraying a bit of oil from the chain, maybe a seal leak at the main drive? Nothing to get too concerned with, as at least I knew the chain was lubed, right?
I rode her for about an hour and was reminded of the thrill of riding a tight little rigid framed bike and the many sensations that go a long with it. The buzzing of your hands and feet after the ride, the pumping of life blood through your veins, and the quick firing nerves in your brain reminding you that you are alive again. Riding a bike like this isn’t for everyone, as many find it offensive, a hassle, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and plain miserable.
Jumping on a stock H-D today requires nothing but a credit score and money for gas and tires. All you do is press the start button, tune in your phone to your Bluetooth, listen to the radio or have a conference call while riding at 75 miles an hour on the freeway. Rubber mounting, anti-vibration timing and flywheels, you can even read the car’s license plate behind you in the rear-view mirror as they don’t even vibrate at idle, much less at acceleration.
Riding a modern Harley is so easy now, it’s almost like riding in a convertible… It won’t be long, and they will have some contraption to keep them upright for you as well. They are wonderfully modern and reliable machines, and I currently own two of ‘em…but they don’t wake me up like this little gem…not even close.
As I was pulling into his driveway, he was also just pulling out in his truck to come look for me. Apparently, everyone got worried, when I was gone for more than 20 minutes. I left my phone at the house on the counter, and they all feared I had either broke down, got lost, or had an accident.
We pulled the bike into the garage and let her cool off while we both cooled off and talked bikes for probably too long. He promised to give me first crack if he ever sold her, and I promised I’d buy it, take care of her, and he’d always have the opportunity to ride her whenever he wanted and could even buy her back in the future. At least this way he’d know she was at a good home.

To my surprise, two months later I owned Lil Ruby. I’ve added a few finishing pieces to complete the look he was after and repair the broken parts from shakedown runs. For example I added a chromed fork brace, chrome kick stand (replacing the broken one), air cleaner and gas cap from Amazon (replacing the stock oval one), Vans grips, TC Bros Throttle assembly (replacing the mismatched ones) changed fluids, fresh coat of wax, and double checking of blue loctite on a few of the known rattlers, while riding the snot out of her.

Today, she’s a quick half-choke start and warms up in about 2 minutes. I can safely take her on a loop here in Illinois, where I roll the throttle confidently on two lane black top.  I’m surrounded by rolling corn and soybean fields of green like nothing you can imagine.

There’s a route I take that has enough elevation changes and twisting curves to get my heart pumping and give me enough of a scare to make me realize I am on a different kind of machine. In the early cool mornings as the fog is still settling in the lowlands, you will hear the 1200 engine purring against the farmland backdrop and see my goofy ass sitting atop the lil chop while grinning from ear to ear. Again, arriving at my destination thankful to have arrived, grateful to have the honor to ride free, and completely content knowing if anything breaks, it’s only a little time and a few dollars to get her back roadworthy.
Yeah, some guys search their whole life for riches or fame, but as for me, I will stick with my Lil Ruby. She’s a treasure worth more than you know.

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