Our Sister Sites:

Bikernet Trikes Bikernet Baggers Bikernet Blog
Ride Forever - Bikernet.com
Monday Edition

Sturgis '97 Part One

The Last-Minute Scramble Out of LA

By Bandit

Share this story:


The Odyssey To The Black Hills-In Style

Part One: The Last-Minute Scramble Out of LA
Link to West Coast Choppers Page

Bandit's Sturgis '97 is sponsored by
West Coast Choppers
Click on the images to visit Jesse's website...
A Complete Line Of Hand Made 18-gauge Steel Fenders
For Ordering Information, See Your Local Dealer or call
(562) 983-6666
...tell 'em you saw it on BikerNet...

For the last three years I've ridden to Sturgis. Last year it was on a Hi-Tech Custom Cycles slammed dresser with Ron Simms bags that ground at the canyons, Arlen Ness panels, and a Crane cam. My riding partners were Mark Lonsdale, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound weapons expert, stuntman, and close quarters combat trainer, and Myron Larrabee, one-time Mr. Arizona, retired Dirty Dozen, and owner of two World Gyms and the Scottsdale Easyriders store. We hauled the long way over small isolated highways and through modest towns until we hooked up with 25 Hamsters in Casper, Wyoming. All along the route we talked of bikes, the dressers we rode, and custom scoots. Ultimately the challenge was laid on the polished oak bartop in some long forgotten saloon: "Could we build choppers and be just as comfortable?" The answer was a resounding, "Fuck yeah."

All the way along the Continental Divide and across Wyoming we envisioned what these machines would look like, and what amenities they would contain. Not so much for Myron, who seemed content with 14-inch apes and a bagged Road King that was hopped up and detailed to the max, but with my 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame and reach, and Mark's equally large size, we dwarf most machines. We needed long bikes. So while in Sturgis we sought the advice of the masters of long machines, Brook and Pat Kennedy. Both Mark and I are bonkers over their frames and style, but they don't build a rubbermount chassis. For touring that was determined to be a must. But for me, their front end with the adjustable rake, long wide glide was the perfect solution for the road. Plus, in addition to being able to adjust rake, trail, and chassis height, the front end offers a multitude of damper adjustments for ridability. That aspect offered additional flexibility for the touring Chopper rider.

I was beginning to like hanging out in the shop, shooting the shit, and being creative, but the pressure was incessant.

The concept was launched to build a stretched, big-man Touring Chopper. But first we had invested in the dressers and needed to adjust financially to have the wherewithal to build such a beast. I sold my dresser to Mike Osborn, the editor of Quick Throttle, and Mark got a job working on a Mickey Rourke movie in Texas with Chuck Zito, a New York Hells Angel Nomad. We had our nest eggs. Not to be outdone, Myron began a complete ground-up custom rubbermounted Softail. But from this point on, so I don't get so fucking confused dealing with all these machines that I lose it, we'll stay focused on Mark's modified FXR and my ground-up.

Since the entire build-up has been covered either in Easyriders , with the coverage of the Jesse James steel bags and the Kennedy front end articles, in VQ, with the original concept in the April, '97 issue, a soon-to-be- published-update in VQ #18, and a full feature in VQ#19, and, finally, the complete fabrication from day one on Bandit's Bikernet update, I'm going to jump to mid July '97, almost a year later.

It was the last week before we were scheduled to leave for the Badlands. With less than a week to go we had a polished Draggin' Coaster 98-inch, predominately S&S stroker with STD heads, a JIMS close-ratio 5-speed Dyna Glide transmission with a Rivera hydraulic clutch actuator and Rivera Brute III primary clutch and belt drive, the Kennedy front end, and a couple of Kennedy 80-spoke wheels. The rest of the creative sheet metal work by Jesse James, plus the modified Paughco frame, and the Battistini's gas tanks were at Damon's Custom Paint being sprayed Damon's red. Jesse's handmade exhaust system, bumper, and miscellaneous parts were in some tank at South Bay Chrome and a box fulla Hurst controls, Custom Cycle Engineering risers, a Headwinds headlight, Accel electric components, and P.M. brakes waited while I cajoled on the phone.

The answer: "Hey, Bandit, we'd like to help you out, but Jesse just gave us this shit an hour ago." I leaned on 'em anyway. The paint arrived Monday and Pat Powers, Jesse's main mechanic, had the engine and tranny in the frame before noon. Tuesday morning I set the alarm for 4:30 and was in my truck by 5 a.m., heading for Paramount and West Coast Choppers. A shipment of Diamond fasteners had arrived, and we were hot to trot. We installed the front end, the rear fender and struts, and the rear wheel, after changing the tire twice and the oil lines when Jesse wasn't looking. Courtney from Hot Bike even spent a couple of hours tinkering in the early evening. At 10 p.m. that night we left the shop, fried, and went to Fritz, a madhouse tittie bar 2 miles away, to unwind. Three Jack Daniel's went down like buttermints melt on your tongue during the holidays. I had to face more deadlines the next day and took my leave at midnight.

Painting the Frame Wednesday, Pat arrived at the shop at O dark thirty and wired the beast. The day before, after I ran oil lines, I made constant parts runs to L.A. Harley. Performance Machine, which is only blocks away, supplied parts via my daughter, Faith, who is working there. Wednesday, with Jesse's instructions and confidence, 'cause he was too hungover to make it to work the next day (he kids us about being old-timers), encouraged me to hire photog Markus Cuff to come to Jesse's industrial park facility, set up a studio, hire a make-up artist and a model, and prepare for the photo sessions of sessions.

Friday morning I got the 4:30 wake-up call again and hit the road. We had planned to ride out on Monday, but at this point I called Mark and told him that our luxury-day card had to be turned in. We needed to leave Tuesday. He agreed and informed Myron in Phoenix. The clock was ticking as we swarmed the red beast and worked tirelessly from 5:30 a.m. till noon, when Markus arrived and began wandering around checking ridiculous shit like circuit breakers and lighting. We decided to stick him as far from the action as possible and moved his operation to the back, where Jesse's crew makes his line of fenders, while up front the man creates and builds motorcycles. I was beginning to like hanging out in the shop, shooting the shit, and being creative, but the pressure was incessant. With every joke there was a question, "Did the brake bracket arrive?" "Did Eric get back with those fasteners?" "When can we make the hydraulic brake lines?"

...we found out later that Trina, the make-up artist, had to apply body make-up to our dominatrix's ass to cover last night's whip marks.

By three in the afternoon the model, Dita, was there, and looking fine. Her thing is looking vamp. She's into bondage routines, although her demeanor was as soft as a kitten. She's corset trained, has a 16-inch waist, and can draw it to a spinning 13 inches. In the midst of bolting on the pipes she wandered into the shop, almost naked, to ask me what outfit would work. Everything stopped. At that point, I wanted to fist-fuck her and send her down the road, but the sultry make-up queen stood alongside her with her hands firmly implanted on her hips, like some dark mistress, and glared at us until we succumbed to her will and responded accordingly. As the afternoon sun waned Markus was recruiting valuable manpower into his dank surroundings and ordering them to move motorcycles and equipment and set up lights.

On top of Sturgis, making the damn thing run, and enduring a six-hour photo shoot, Sunday was the date for the annual Mikuni Bike Show. Jesse planned to have a considerable display designed, polished, and implanted on the grounds of the Santa Monica Airport to show off his wares to the 10,000 SoCal attendees. Holy shit! We broke out the beer as we pulled the completed Touring Chopper off Jesse's handmade lift and attempted to fire it. Even with the plugs pulled, the new Predator battery wouldn't turn it more than a couple of revolutions. It was 4:45; Custom Chrome would be closed in 10 minutes. According to the Predator experts, these batteries have a five-year shelf life and should never be charged. What the hell were we supposed to do with it? Besides, we had mounted the dry cell on its side and we couldn't replace it with a conventional battery. I called Dan Stern. He wasn't in his office. I left a message. We were fucked. At five minutes to 5 p.m. Dan returned the call and concurred-the battery should be fine. Another one was sent overnight. One more minute and no battery.

We put the charger on the existing one and went onto other operations. Danny Gray had come across with a seat that fit like a glove. We hauled ass to the hardware store for strips of Velcro and attached the seat pan, which Pat and Jesse had made out of heated ABS plastic, cut, and sent to Danny. The make-up girl was beginning to pace the concrete. "Are you ready?" she asked. The battery charger took a shit, and we had to rustle-up another one. It worked. Since it was Friday night, Jesse's buddies were beginning to arrive with chilled six-packs and a party mood. Progress slowed, and burnouts commenced in the street. Jesse traded an early Sturgis model Shovel for a slammed '59 Byscane with hydraulic lifts and started giving the guys three wheeled rides. My video crew arrived about that time and decided to interview Jesse and me. Fuck, didn't we have enough to do?

Imagine the scene. Markus Cuff, his assistant, and 5,000 watts of power pack were exploding against a seamless background in the back, while welders, grinders, drill presses, and wrenches were flying in the front. One office was boarded up so the bondage queen and the make-up artist could fondle each other in solitude. As a side note, we found out later that Trina, the make-up artist, had to apply body make-up to our dominatrix's ass to cover last night's whip marks.

Our video producer took the other office apart, setting up lights and beta cam, then strolled into the midst of trying to finish this masterpiece and announced in his usual dour manner that everyone had to be quiet while he interviewed Jesse, then me. The crew laughed and opened another beer.

Halfway through my interview, Pat Powers fired the bike. All 98 inches ran as smooth as polished crystal while he let it warm and adjusted the carb. The short, turned-out, and baffled drag pipes slapped the walls of the office and gradually drowned out anything I could have attempted to say. Besides, I quickly lost my desire to describe the odyssey we were still in the midst of and wanted to get closer to the bike. As I left the office, Jesse was rolling the bike under his steel roll-up door and heading into the street. He rode it up and down the wide industrial street, I did the same and so did Mark. Dale Gorman, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound, East Coast arm wrestling champion, had just flown from Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod to ride with us. He was already knee deep in wrenches helping, 'cause that's the kind of guy he is.

We stood by as Jesse took another trial run, in awe that it had come this far, performin' as if it had just run off the assembly line. There was little, if anything, about this motorcycle that was stock or relatively common. The frame was innovative, the engine pushed, the front end mildly radical, and the suspension completely off-the-wall (Jesse had moved the shock position 15 degrees to align the shocks with the line of the frame). Nothing about this bike was tried and true, but it seemed to be acting as if it were. Only one job was left unfinished at that point, detailing. Jesse called his man and a van pulled up in front of his joint. One quiet kid worked endlessly polishing, while his acerbic boss bitched and moaned about everything while doing his part. No more time to adjust and test. The fragile paper back drop, tense video cameraman, edgy photographer, tightly wrapped model, and protective make-up artist were waiting.

First we shot details of the bike in the back of the shop. Dale and Jesse assisted in moving the long bike onto and off the paper-white background. Footprints, oily hands, and tire marks were prohibited. We laid out old blankets and rolled the bike onto the backdrop over the protective material while standing on the soiled material. We then carefully folded and maneuvered the make-shift rugs from under the tires, while the photographer directed. Two hours later we were ready for the girl. I had to admit she looked good enough to ... But being a professional with a couple of beers under my belt and another four hours of work ahead of me, I steered clear of trouble and certain rejection. We strapped on a strong, unrelenting 20 hours that day.
Dita and
One product of a six-hour photo shoot: Dita and "The Redhead"

At 8:30 the next morning I picked up Mark and Dale at Mark's Santa Monica pad and we worked and strained back and biceps at Gold's Gym before heading back to Paramount. The shop was clean, the bike warmed and dialed and the cascade of beer cans showered around the joint the night before were mysteriously gone. We spent the better part of the day dialing, fixing, and making things fit better. Jesse called in a local upholsterer who lined the inside of the bags. Mid-afternoon, with Dale following me in my truck, I filled her up with gas and headed for the freeway. It was 45 miles home-almost 45 miles of the most congested traffic in Southern California. If the bike were to stumble and fall anywhere between the predominantly Hispanic, industrial city of Paramount and the war zone of downtown, to the teenage traffic rolling out of Santa Monica into the inner city, I would have been summarily run over by several thousand Saturday drivers and tourists.

Cautiously pulling onto the 105 freeway I changed into the number three lane. As the front 21 crossed into the number two lane, the bike jolted. I hit something. Quickly assessing the pain to the chassis I glanced behind me to investigate-nothing, except 400 drunken motorist and a semi with a flat barreling down on me as if I were the starting flag at the Indianapolis 500. I twisted the wick and continued. The bike felt good in my grip. It centered itself and sensed all was right in the lane. I let go of the bars and it tracked straight. I moved around in the lane to test for a loose front end, wheel bearings, or misalignment-nothing. It seemed to take to the road like a duck to a pond or a salmon to the mouth of a river. But when I changed lanes again, pop! It happened again.

It's one thing to split lanes during rush hour, with thousands of veteran commuters around you, but to split lanes on a Saturday, with thousands of tourists, inexperienced, nervous yahoos who generally avoid freeways, and folks fulla margaritas flanking you, is suicidal.

I changed lanes again and noticed this time that something under the bike was catching the kickstand. Traffic backed up as I realized something on the frame-mounted kickstand was popping the reflectors on the freeway. The bike was definitely too low, but I was about to receive acid test number 2-slow traffic. Suddenly, I was splitting lanes on a bike with a new clutch ... and my first hydraulic hand clutch, at that. The pull was positive, but hard. Leery of hydraulic shit that might leak or might not be completely bled, I relied on my faith in Jesse's assistant, Eric, who handmade each line. Terror energized my spine at the thought that the bike was so low I might tear off the clutch line going over the next reflector. Avoiding changing lanes, I had to split Dodger Stadium traffic through the downtown interchange to reach the Hollywood freeway.

Praying that the clutch wouldn't give out, I turned the throttle while bouncing between vehicles. It's one thing to split lanes during rush hour, with thousands of veteran commuters around you, but to split lanes on a Saturday, with thousands of tourists, inexperienced, nervous yahoos who generally avoid freeways, and folks fulla margaritas flanking you, is suicidal. The scooter held firm at slow speeds, and the brilliant red and chrome held onlookers at bay. Then I leaned into my first turn. Everything scraped-the bags, the frame, and the kickstand. Momentarily, the bike was on one wheel. Lesson number three: Watch for ground clearance before beating a cage in the turn.

Miraculously, I made it to my pad and immediately called Jesse. Dale and I quickly loosened the front end and lessened the rake, creating more ground clearance. Two clicks and we raised the frame an inch. The kickstand had been bent with Jesse's torch on Friday night. Now it needed rebending to align it with the frame. We did it. Checking over the bike I discovered that a fender-strut bolt was catching the tire. Earlier, when we'd pulled the engine over with the hiem joint on the top motormount, we'd over compensated. Now I had to move it back, or risk blowing the tire out over the next 50 miles.

The next morning I had to meet my bros in Santa Monica at 8 a.m. to make it to the famous Mikuni Show by 9. I was up and checking over the bike at 7 a.m. By the time I reached Mark's pad, I already knew the bike needed to be raised more. We made it to the show on time. Jesse was there with a new booth, flyers, and more bikes, including one they'd finished between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. I was impressed, and my bike drew crowds.

Let's go back to Dale for a moment and fill in the picture. Dale rode a flamed dresser from New England to Sturgis a couple of years ago, then rode onto L.A. He spent some time out here, trying to break into the stunt business, but ran out of cash and had to return to Massachusetts to paint hockey sticks with his partner Jeff. He left the flamed dresser, with sidecar attached, at Glendale Harley, hoping to sell it. It never sold, so when he decided to ride to Sturgis '97 with us, I called Oliver's men at Glendale and asked them to service the bike and disconnect the sidecar. Dale flew into LAX, and Mark picked 'im up and took him to Glendale, where he picked up his flamed-out touring ride and was ready to go.

Now, let's bring you up to date on Mark's bike. When he returned from Sturgis last year, he looked around his garage and saw his blacked-out dresser, his custom Pro Street (recently featured in the July '97 issue of Easyriders ), and an '89 FXR, mostly black and raked. Two years ago he rode it to Sturgis and back the direct route-22 hours and a handful of gas stops and he was home ... no sleep, no breaks, just straight riding. Based on my premise of a street touring chopper, he decided to stretch the frame, extend the wide glide to 12-over, and make his reliable FXR into a Touring Chopper. Jesse performed the frame modification, and Mark did the rest-extending the front end, changing his risers to Custom Cycle Engineering dog bones, finding and attaching a new gas tank, having Bartels' H-D perform their formula street fast head work on the bike, extending the cables, chroming his tried and true Performance Machine forward controls, etc. He basically left the bike black except to have the engine heads polished and powdercoated Hamster gold between the fins. Then he put a golden rod and red graphic on the tank and continued it to the side panels. When complete, the bike fit him like a glove and was done in time for a test run to Hollister. It ran like a dream. All right, so now you know that the two bikes beside me were basically black, with some Hamster touches.

All right, so now we can get back to the tense action. Keep in mind that while we looked at the myriad of flashy custom bikes at the Mikuni show I still had only 65 miles on this puppy, and I needed to jack it up off the ground some more. I hardly had enough miles on it to confidently say the charging system was working, or that the sketchy battery would not fail, or that the engine would hang together, or a number of other questions. We split from the show early, and I headed home to tweak and begin to think about packing. I was determined to pack only in Jesse's steel bags and not even run one of my famous, convenient bedrolls. I managed by stuffing my day roll with tools and putting it in the right bag, along with my camera, cell phone, tennis shoes, and a quart of oil. In the other bag fit my ditty bag, a small bag of underwear, socks, bandannas, workout shorts, and two folded dress shirts. At the last minute I determined that I could not carry a spare pair of Levi's and I'd be forced to buy another pair on the road. That was a mistake.

Monday, I rode the bike to the Easyriders Garage and worked the entire day. The staff went crazy over the bike and it seemed to ride and function fine. By the time I got home, I had almost a hundred miles on the clock. I changed the oil and inspected it for wear particles. Everything seemed in line and a go. I didn't get to sleep till midnight, and the alarm was set to take my ear off at 4 a.m. It came too soon, and I got my sorry ass out of bed and made coffee, checked final packing, and pulled the bike into the street. One hundred miles of fresh paint, polished aluminum, and chrome was ready-or so I thought-for the trek to the Badlands.

- End of Part One -
The Saga of Sturgis '97 is sponsored by
West Coast Choppers
Specializing In Hand Fabrication. If you want that special touch to your motorcycle, a tank with scalloped pannels, hand made exhaust system, a custom fairing or small detail touched to make your bike unlike all the rest, Jesse James may be your man.
Click on the image below to see some of Jesse's Products...
bike image
Custom Fender Images and Descriptions
For custom fabrication quotes call the legend himself at
(562) 983-6666
...tell 'em Bandit sent ya...

Share this story:

Back to Event Coverage

Your thoughts on this article

Your Name
Anti-Spam Question:
Please enter the words you see in the box, in order and separated by a space. Doing so helps prevent automated programs from abusing this service.