Caleb Owens won the Builder's Choice award at Born Free for the second time in a row. This is hard enough to do once, but to pull it off twice with two completely different bikes makes it even more of an accomplishment. Especially when you consider the fact that CRO Customs is something Caleb does on the side - he's got a full time job, married, kid on the way, all the normal life stuff we mortals deal with. Skill and work ethic coupled with a humble but confident personality results in a builder who is as down to earth as he is talented. Caleb recently wrote a super long blog detailing his experience leading up to the show and we've republished it here so you can see a ton of photos of the bike and get an insider's view of what it took to pull this thing off.
I've often been accused of being a contrarian. Mostly, I agree with that assertion, but context is always important. One part of the catalist to build Yang was no question motivated by my contrarian proclivities. The beautiful thing about the process is, you can have a plan or an idea, but at some point you have to let the bike talk to you and take you where it needs to.
For me the process has to be organic. I always reference jazz, but it's so true. A groove comes from some form of inspiration, then a mistake or variation in the groove introduces a whole new tangent. Which way do you go? Stay in the pocket, or see where the tangent takes you? I always go with the tangent.
Trying to be creative and let things flow is hard enough, add a hard deadline and the shit just gets thick! Mike Davis from Born Free asked me early on if I wanted to build another bike for the Builder Invitational and of course I immediately said yes, but in my mind I wasn't fully committed. That being said, the first thing that came to my mind was "other". The second was nose cone. I just assumed most everyone else would build a generator motor and people always over look the nose cones. I wanted to challenge myself to build a durable, ridable, and tasty nose cone.
Last year at the Brooklyn Invitational, Michael Barragan told me I had to build something better than my Pan. Damn! I thought. That's tuff. I wasn't ready to build a better version of a 60's chopper, so I decided to go entirely the other direction. 80's (sort of) swing arm, no kicker, and a push button starter. That's as far left for me as it gets. I could have put gauges and turn signals, but that would have been totally nuts.
I generally don't do sketches of bikes unless it is a complete frame build like the BS1. For Yang I wanted to get an idea of geometry so I knew what frame and front end mods I was going to do. Although the end result is fairly close to the sketch, there are obviously a lot of things that are not. I photographed the donor bike, my Shop Truck, then traced it on some tracing paper, then started playing with the frame neck location, wheel base etc. till I was happy with some basic dimensions. It gave me a great base to decide exactly what I needed to mod and as a result what needed to be hand made versus bolting on a stock part.
At the time I started fleshing out the idea I was slated to have a few months off of work and focus solely on the bike. That change quickly and I soon realized I would be pulling double duty. Working 8-10 hour days then getting motivated to switch gears in the shop at night wasn't going to be easy. I said a few "oh shits", took a shot of whisky or two, and started writing in my calendar.
As the schedule took shape I realized that I had to do things in a really odd order in the hopes it all got done in time. I take pride in building durable, reliable riders, but I thought I would just be happy to have the thing wired. The Born Free cats wanted it running, so that added even more stress.
I decided to make things really easy on myself and hand fab, from scratch, all the sheet metal. This, after I spent three weeks of build time building a frame jig. The first month or so of the build I was freaking out. Many sleepless nights of "I'm never gonna get this fucking thing done." I'd mod the frame, fab all the sheet metal once it was a roller, then send it all off for paint, and fab all the other bits while the tins were getting painted. Real risky way of doing shit, which made me even more hyper aware of how things were working together. Once it was off to paint I had to be as 100% sure about shit as I ever was, otherwise it was going to be a complete fuck wad.
At that point I pulled the motor and tranny apart and sent it off for polish. I was left with a bare roller to do other misc. fab till I could get the motor back together and in the bike to finish the other fab.
Fortunately I have a great painter and chrome guy that I can rely on getting things done in a timely manner. So the time I blocked in for that work I knew I could count on them, and as it turned out, they delivered earlier than I expected. I called my painter T. Markus months before I started the build and laid out the time frame and idea. I told him I would have the parts to him at a certain time and I stuck to that. Worked out perfect. Originally I was going to paint it myself, thank god I didn't.
On top of Yang consuming my nights and weekends, I did have other projects in the shop that I couldn't completely abandon. I'm amazed I didn't drink more. But I pushed on.
By the third month I was contemplating suicide, or backing out, not literally of course, but it does cross your mind. By that time shit was all over the blogs and press so It was sink or swim! I had flash backs of how I learned to swim. My Dad literally pushed me in the back yard canal, as I was fighting for my life I could see him standing on the dock with his hands on his hips saying " Just keep you head up and your arms moving son." Screaming and crying for what seemed like an eternity, I finally realized I wasn't sinking, "hey, I can do this". Yeah, I have psychological damage, but I'm a damn good swimmer!
I put my nose down and just kept going.
I knew the motor was solid so breaking the bike in could wait till after the show. The more it came together, the more I wanted to ride it.
Moving right along. "Ah honey, we have a family vacation remember?" "Of course dear, I remember". Shit! I pulled the motor and trans in a day, got all the bits off so they would be ready when I got back from 10 days in the sun that I so desperately needed.
Recharged, I couldn't believe how smoothly things were coming together and I was close to final assembly.
A little over two weeks before Born Free and things were coming together. I originally scheduled my final assembly for the week before the show, it ended up being two weeks before the show. I was stoked to say the least. I had a week to assemble and a week to run it.
Once the bike was close to being done I had all kinds of feelings. "Who the hell built this thing?" "I love it." "It's ok." "Can't wait to start on my 49." I'll never do this again!" It's like climbing a fucking mountain but you have to get there before the sun goes down.
In a lot of ways it was an all out sprint to build this bike, in other ways it was very fluid and things just flowed nice and came together. When you work so hard it's difficult to have any perspective till you can step back and take it in.
The day I stepped back and started taking it in, it all just flooded my heart and mind. Although I'd built something entirely out of the box for me, in a lot of ways it was totally in my box. It has me in it, it has my brothers in it.
I'm blessed in that every time I fire up the motor of a build for the very first time, I am reminded of that moment my brother and I got my first build running. It's a special feeling, and once Yang started barking, it was no different. Riding it down the street for the first time, it was hard to believe I was done.
Bikes wouldn't be special without love from family and friends. Michael Schmidt spent many hours filing and polishing on Yang, and I am thankful. This headlight cover mod almost killed us both.
I spent more time working with aluminum on this build. Sure, I could have done 3D models and CNC'd the controls and other bits, but then it wouldn't have that organic feel that makes something hand made special. I really learned to enjoy working with aluminum.
This is the 1500 dollar air cleaner. Took 4 days to make. My resident rocket engineer Matt Gamble did precise calculations on the finned portion.
Another lesson I learned is it would be really nice to have a planishing hammer.
Standing back looking at the bike completed, I felt very good about it. Good that I was done, good that I learned a lot, good that I did something out of the box and didn't lose my mind. And great that I got it running!
My friends around me kept saying things like ".. defending the crown", "you're gonna win." The accolades are nice and it does feel good, but it does make me uncomfortable as well. I was already happy to be part of Born Free, and even more excited to just be around so many good people and great bikes. I had zero expectations of "winning" anything. I've never built bikes to compete. It takes the joy out of it.
Barragan stood next to me at the show and said, "You did it man, you built a better bike." I don't know if it's better, but I do know it was a lot more work, yet it has the same love in it.
I felt I built a nice custom bike, but it was no show winner. The truth is, any one of the bikes in the show could easily be best of show in any show out there. The moment I was called to accept 1st for the Builder Invite, I was in complete shock. Last year was a shock and I thought for sure no one would vote for me because I won the year before AND I built something completely different.
I was blown away that such talented, respected builders had chosen my bike. In the past I've never felt like I was a "peer", I'm just another cat building motorcycles in his garage, to even be sitting in the same room with the other builders and lovers of 2wheels is flattering enough, to be chosen as 1st is an honor I can't even express and I'll cherish it for the rest of my life.
Mike and Grant with Born Free have managed to grab a point in time in all our lives that is very special. I am so thankful to be alive at this time and to be part of it all. I would have never thought 10 years ago, this many people would gather around the love of bikes. It's a unique time for people that really love motorcycles and all that brings. It's not about winning anything, it's not about what bike you ride, or even if it's old, it's not about selling more shit, it's not about money, its about the people, it's about community. I'm blessed that I can be part of it. It's a beautiful thing.
Big thanks to Caleb for letting us use his words and photos on here! Check out his website for larger versions of these images, or to pick up a t-shirt. CroCustoms.com