Few words give modern chopper jockeys douchebumps like "Boardtracker" and "Sportster" in the same sentence. A description like that conjures up images of mix-matched styles and eras of machinery that lack both continuity and authenticity. Caleb Owens of Cro Customs in Culver City, California, had a similar reaction well over a year ago when his friend and fine artist Conrad Leach approached him to build such a bike for one of his patrons. Now Caleb's no uptight, period-correct spoke sniffer, but he has some pretty high standards when it comes to things he's willing to put his name on. After spending some time discussing details and ideas with Conrad, Caleb agreed that the Sportster-powered boardtracker concept was a solid one, and he accepted the challenge.
Caleb is known for his hand-fabbed, hard-ridden, real-world motorcycles, most of which are at least 40 years old and generally fall loosely into the chopper/bobber/custom/whatever category. Although all of Caleb's bikes are nicely finished, they are never what he would call a show bike. Cro's latest creation defies that pigeon hole entirely. Sure it's totally rideable and the new owner plans on giving it a thrashing, but it's still finished in show bike quality, and the attention to detail is amazing. This pictorial shows those details close up in dozens of images, so there's something to learn in here for all of us. But, clever brass bits do not a real motorcycle make. All show-winning bikes are festooned with trinkets and farkles, but 99 percent of them don't know where to stop. The restraint required to critique one's own work with a realistic eye and say, "That's enough" or, "That's just too much" is usually the difference between a bike that looks like a Christmas tree and one that's a work of art. Caleb's discipline and eye for balance kept him from jumping the shark on a concept that very easily could have ended up an over-decorated eyesore.
The engine on this beauty started out as a humble 1986 H-D Sportster, but didn't stay that way for long. After sharing several concept drawings between Conrad and Caleb, the shape, overall stance and proportions began to emerge. Twenty-three-inch wheels front and rear helped establish the board track posture. The stock frame was hacked until the only thing left original was the engine cradle. Repop cast big-twin axle plates look the part much more than the easier route of flat laser-cut units. The curved backbone has a graceful arc that lets the custom tanks straddle each side, carefully encasing both the oil tank and battery. Look closely at the springer and how narrow it is. Caleb didn't invent the idea of slicing and dicing a repop 45 springer, but he's done more of these than anyone I know and his perfection of that task is evident here. Keeping the exhaust tucked between the frame rails and the rear tire keeps the profile narrow without a lot of fussy vintage mufflers or other unnecessary clutter. These are the broad strokes that define the motorcycle's intent. Smaller, but still important details like asphalt-covered wires, handmade brass bits, hand-stitched Messigner saddle, custom-fabbed rearset foot controls make the bike complete and cohesive without being fussy.
A bike this scratch-built is basically several hundred sessions of problem solving. JD Sansaver, Caleb's good friend and righthand man on the build, was there through the whole project and could always be counted on for his creative thinking and tireless work ethic. Having a partner to share this load was a key element to the bike's final outcome and JD deserves credit. Keep an eye out for a feature in DicE magazine soon.
You can see more interesting stuff here: Conradleach.com and Crocustoms.com and keep an eye out for a full feature in DicE Magazine soon.
Note: You can click on any image in this feature for a full 1200 pixel wide photo.