In our rapidly changing world, it might shock some to know that it's somehow still legal to roll down a highway on a motorcycle this intense. What you're looking at is an extended 1949 Harley-Davidson FL chopper from Tony Provenzano, a personal friend of ours who builds bikes under the name Choppers to the Grave. During the weekly grind, Provenzano keeps busy at Dark Horse Tattoo, his studio in Wheeling, West Virginia. On off days, he spends his time working on chopper projects and navigating his panhead around the Ohio Valley.
You've had quite a number of motorcycles, including the shovelhead chopper from our first issue. What inspired you to do such an unconventional ride this time around?
Tony Provenzano: I thought that the shovelhead I had back then was an unconventional ride until we all rode out to the Bull Pen bar for Pittsburgh Moto's Outpost Ride Out in 2018. That's where I met Angelo Palmieri, the legend who created that stupid long ass front end. My bike at the time was twenty-over, but when sitting next to his bike, it looked like a stock Harley. I knew I needed that shit.
Describe for those who haven't ridden a long chopper what it's like navigating our area.
TP: It's hard to explain what it's like riding such a sketchy chopper other than it just being such a cool feeling. Maneuvering something this long makes riding a normal motorcycle feel like driving a car-just boring. It can be bittersweet, though. I enjoy riding it, but the bike is borderline stressful. You constantly have to be aware of your surroundings, and anyone who rides knows how fast something can happen. This isn't something you can really whip around. Riding on the Pennsylvania and West Virginia back roads is pretty intense on a regular bike, so having a forty-six over front end took some getting used to.
What are some of the key parts of the bike you'd like to mention?
TP: As mentioned earlier, Angelo Palmieri of Nickel City Metal Works made the front end. I constructed the seat with a 16-gauge sheet of steel, a yoga mat for the foam, and brown faux fur. Some other pieces are the custom copper-nickel oil lines, mini floorboards, high mids by Maindrive Cycle, and ripple tail light from Prism Supply.
Do you feel having a creative craft like tattooing has aided your interest in building choppers?
TP: Yes, but not just tattooing -any form of art. I have always been obsessed with starting from scratch and seeing things come together. When I'm looking at a custom bike, all of my attention goes to the stance, the shape of the bike, how clean the lines are, and how the builder made each part fit together. Everything needs to flow. Being a tattoo artist, I have spent years obsessing over how a tattoo fits on the person, making sure that it goes with the flow of their body shape. I use the same method when I put a bike together. It's very important to me how each piece fits with the next. Bad placement can ruin a perfectly good tattoo, and the same goes for a bike. I have so many cool parts that I wanted to use on this bike, but they just wouldn't work. It only takes one piece that doesn't fit right to make a bike tacky as fuck. With this build, less is more.
Any good stories you've had involving this latest panhead build?
TP: Definitely the trip to Buffalo, New York. After months of bugging the shit out of Angelo, I finally talked him into it. The deal we made was that if I bought his front end, he would cut and rake my frame. My buddy, Shelton, and I loaded up my parts and made a little weekend trip. We showed up Friday night and caught up over beers. On Saturday, we busted ass cutting the frame, had many more beers, then met "the big deal" Jake Mahoney. Apparently, he knew his shit and helped by drinking beers and pointing his finger at things he would or wouldn't do. Once the frame was finished, they took us out in Buffalo. The city is crazy. We went into one bar and people were buying us drinks and singing Country Roads. In the next bar, we just tried not to get stabbed. They eventually took us to a strip club where we met a stunning young lady named Satan, who was a sweetheart. After that, we hit a few more bars. I think we had about two hours of sleep that weekend, but it was worth it to hang out with Satan and have the frame finished.
Who would you like to thank or shoutout for helping make this happen?
TP: Obviously, if it wasn't for Angelo Palmieri, this bike wouldn't exist. He built the ridiculous front end. I still don't know how I talked him into selling it to me. Ryan Rodriguez killed the paint job. Richard Adams helped a ton. If it wasn't for him, I would probably still be working on it.
See this feature and many more in Issue 9, which available now!
1949 HARLEY-DAVIDSON FL - Built by TONY PROVENZANO / CHOPPERS TO THE GRAVE
Words by KURT DISERIO - Photos by ALEXA DISERIO / PITTSBURGH MOTO / @PITTSBURGMOTO