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Sturgis 2008 Splitting Lanes With Billy Lane

On a 1948 UL Flathead To the Badlands

By Doc Robinson, Heavy Duty Magazine, Photos by Doc and Billy Lane
6/11/2010 6:03:41 AM

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There are worse places to hang around for a couple of days than the Bikernet,com Cantina, tossing back icy cold Coronas followed by shots of JD. And Sin Wu gives a heck of a neck massage. I was waiting for the Heavy Duty magazine tour group to fly in from Australia, some 60 guys and gals with Sturgis and Milwaukee in their cross hairs, eager to sample the night life as well as having a strong desire to sample every beer brewed in the US.

I wandered out into the garage to found Bandit fiddling around with some old piece of junk up on the lift.


“Whassup Bandit? Trying to salvage a part or two from that junk heap before you tear it to bits and toss most of it out?”

He stood up, raised himself to his full height - which is six- foot twenty-seven or something - and his eyebrows seemed to rise even higher.

“I’ll have you know Doctor Bullshit, that this bike is firstly, not junk, and secondly, belongs to Billy Lane who’s flying here in a day or so to ride it up to Sturgis.”


“Yup, seriously, he’s riding up with Scott Long. Now hand me that wrench or get outta here, I’ve got a bit of fine tuning to do.”

I pulled another Corona from the fridge, popped the top and walked around that old Harley several times, thoughts tumbling through my mind like leaves in a fall gust. It’s close to 1500 miles from Bikernet HQ to Sturgis, with deserts to cross, mountains to climb and long, long stretches of straight road.


That’s a fair haul on a modern bike, with a big cube OHV donk, a comfortable seat and suspension front and rear. And Billy was gonna attempt it on an old Flathead which looked like it had seen far better days? Hell, the bike was older even than Bandit … There was absolutely nowhere to carry any luggage. There was no way to mount it on the skinny rear fender behind the rock-hard solo seat. How the hell was he going to carry even the minimum gear required for such a trip?


I tried again. “Hey Bandit, you’re not pulling my leg are ya? You’ve done that before as you well know.”

He looked around and I shriveled a bit under his steely gaze.

“For the last time Doc, Billy Lane, yes that Billy Lane, the famous custom bike builder who could have ridden any one of his collection of bikes has chosen to ride this one – it’s his favorite.”

Well all I could think of was that I was glad Scott Long was riding up with Billy ‘cos I was sure it was a trip that would end up on the back of a pickup and breakdowns in the desert aren’t high on my list of favorite activities.

Watch for the Scott Long look-alike contest at the next Bikernet Brewha in Sturgis '09.

The next day the phone rang and Bandit’s countenance darkened as he listened to the caller. Frowning, he hung up and cast me a sidelong glance before strolling over to where I was sitting. Now if he looks big when we’re both standing – and he does – you can imagine how he looks when I’m sitting down and looking up at him.

His voice boomed down at me from the stratosphere: “Doc, Scott can’t make it. He’s had to cancel at the last minute. Do you have someone else who can lead your group?”

I could see where he was coming from. As it happened, Tex Hess one of our magazine staffers, was due in with the group. And as an old Mississippi boy (all tall drawling Americans get the nick-name Tex in Aussie, despite where they hail from) he was well suited to negotiate the roads and freeways of this wide land.

With more than a few misgivings I said, “Okay Bandit, count me in.” Hell, I thought to myself, it could turn in to be quite an adventure. Of course the cynic’s definition of an adventure is: ‘something, that when you are home by the fire, you wish you were out there having; and also something, that when you are out there having, you wish you were back home by the fire’. Or the air con in this case. Whatever, I was in.


Billy flew in the next day and we picked him up from Long Beach airport. We threw his not inconsiderable luggage into the back of the Sin Wu’s car and headed back to Bikernet where Billy was anxious to check over his bike before he did anything else.


A couple of minor adjustments, a Spectro oil top up, some refueling and Billy reckoned the bike was “good to go”. I still had my doubts, but who am I to question the bike’s owner, especially one who’d logged many a mile on it including a trip from Florida to Half Moon Bay and back to LA a month or so previously?



And of course the luggage problem was easily solved using one of the famous Bandit bed rolls strapped across Billy’s handlebars, with his leather jacket strapped underneath. I’d forgotten about those innovative rolls and when I saw Billy strapping it on I came out with a “Doh!” that would’ve make Homer Simpson proud. First hurdle solved.


Dawn came early on departure day and skipping our workouts in the Bikernet gym Billy and I wheeled our bikes out of the garage and pointed them north-east. I watched Billy’s starting procedure with interest; nothing special, a prime, a couple of kicks and the bike fired right up settling down into a loping idle almost immediately.

We swung out into the morning traffic and began the usual ‘dances-with-cars’ that typifies riding the LA freeways, heading off toward Vegas. All went well until somewhere near Riverside Billy suddenly pulled over to the shoulder. Stopping behind him I deduced that his bike had died already, which was confirmed when he climbed off and took off his distributor cap. The verdict; no spark. Zilch, nada, nothing - dead as the proverbial doornail.


It seemed my misgivings about Billy’s bike might be justified after all. Hell, we weren’t even out of the smog yet and here we were by the side of the road with a broken bike. Billy felt his coil, which was hot enough to fry eggs on and it was obvious that this was the problem.

Now if we had to have a problem, having one at Riverside was as good a place as any, Riverside being the location of Mike ‘Kiwi Indian’ Tomas. A quick call from Billy soon did the trick and with a new coil from Mike cable-tied to the side of the Flathead, we were back on the road.


Hopefully, we’d be break-down free for a while but such was not to be. Ten minutes or so after the coil swap we were hooting along up a long incline when Billy’s bike hit a nasty bump in the road and his tools shifted around in this leather tool bag, shifted enough that they began bouncing out a gap that had opened at the rear of the bag. Suddenly, I was performing ‘dances-with-tools’ as I swerved this way and that, trying to avoid those pieces of steel which were bouncing and flying every which way. Surrounded by speeding trucks, pickups, cars and buses there was no way to stop and pick them up though I pulled Billy over and he re-fastened his tool bag to prevent further losses.

The day was hotting-up and, as usual, the closer we got toward Vegas the hotter it became. Finally, on that long, steep, goes-on-forever grade not far out Billy decided to stop and let the Flattie cool off a bit.


“I’m so in tune with this bike Doc”, Billy said as we pulled over, “it’s like it’s telling me it needs a short break.” So we stopped on the shoulder awhile, along with quite a stack of cars that had hoods up and steam issuing. Hell, if it is hot enough to make cars boil their radiators you can imagine how well the Flattie was doing to keep on running. When we first stopped we couldn’t even bear to touch the frame rails, such was the radiant heat. Despite the ambient temperature being so high, around 113F at the time, the blast of air from passing trucks soon had Billy’s bike cool enough to continue.


But the temperature didn’t drop much as we hit the outskirts and then made our way to Denver’s Choppers to hook up with the famed Mondo Porras, Godfather of Choppers.

Flyin' into Vegas at 60 mph in 115 degrees, cold beer and half-dresses women waiting.

Billy and Mondo are good buddies, but I had never met the man, though I felt I knew him in a way as I’d been reading about the bikes he builds all my biking life and watching him on the biker tv shows, so it was a happy moment indeed to finally meet him in person.


After a tour of his shop we followed Mondo to his house where we were to spend the night. After a refreshing shower and a change of clothes we headed out to dinner at a nearby steakhouse for a good meal.


I went to sleep that night content with the trip to this point but had that nagging feeling about what the next day might throw at us. It turned out to be full of surprises, some good, some well … we’ll go into that in the next part of this story.


Part One Ends.

Check Chapter 2


BILLY LANE ROLLS WITH BANDIT'S BED ROLL-- Bandit’s Bed Roll is the perfect combo of tool bag and weekender engineered by the man that delivers form and function and keeps your ride looking clean. So pull out your wallet and click here to get your official Bandit Bed Roll Today.

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Reader Comments

I own this bike now. It is my daily rider, still runs perfect. Understand why it was Billy's favorite bike. There's nothing like it!

Michael corney
Shamong, Nj
Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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