Milwaukee native, Chris Graves, was given the opportunity to compete in the 2014 Show Class Magazine People’s Champ competition. It was fun to watch this bike come to life as most of his Instagram posts were done in the wee hours of the night. Chris works full time at Harley-Davidson and spent countless late nights in his garage. He was very fortunate to have friends supporting him along the way to meet the looming deadline. Chris was so close to the deadline that he finished the bike the night before it headed off to Born-Free 6. He took a short putt around the neighborhood before loading it up and hoped for the best. Chris was delighted to actually ride his bike to Cook’s Corner and the bike he calls the Thief of The Night handled like a champ. Chris’s ‘79 Harley-Davidson FXE Shovelhead didn’t win, but for Chris, it really didn’t matter. He made the deadline, the bike’s a runner, and he enjoyed Born-Free 6 with the friends that helped him along the way. That’s personal victory at it’s best. We would like to thank Chris for his help and insight on the build. Enjoy!
Things that pop into my head when thinking about this build:
My lathe: I bought a rad 14x40 lathe a while back. I’ve usually had access to one at one spot or another, but having one right in your shop is sooooo much nicer. Me and that thing bonded throughout this build process. I’m an engineer at the Harley-Davidson Product Development Center, where we have about every amazing tool you can think of, but ironically I can’t touch most of them (damn rules), so having this lathe became pretty mandatory.
The struggles of stainless: I love welding stainless, but hate every other aspect of its fabrication. So much of this bike is 304 ss, which welds beautifully, but loves to destroy taps, is a bitch to cut, galls the shit out of fasteners, and is prone to excessive distortion. But as they say… “stainless is forever”, and it’s beautiful, so in my opinion it definitely has a place on a motorcycle.
Deadlines & lack of sleep: Holy shit… And the weird thing is that we’re all addicted to this punishment. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Building a motor: I’ve always been into fabrication, but I had only rebuilt two bottom ends before this bike. Those were both years ago, so my friend Rick (Dirty Rat MotoCyco in SLC) would look over my shoulder and make sure I didn’t screw anything up. Um… no supervision for this build. Top ends are easy, but rebuilding and truing a 5-piece crank that has 30 years-worth of miles is no joke. Any screw-up lapping the pinion race in the crankcase or honing rod races can have some pretty expensive consequences. Bottom end tools are so expensive too! But then again I sort of have a tool addiction, so I justify things in my head. Thanks to Jon Vnuk for letting me use his truing stand and some other goodies on this build.
The crazy cowpie: What a weird transmission! I tried to find the engineer that designed it here at H-D since we still have a few guys that have been here since the 70’s, but no luck. I’d love to figure out why/how someone decided to get rid of the shift drum on a big twin. They’re kind of finicky too, but for some reason I like ‘em.
Sparks: I have this philosophy, “A rich man’s tools don’t spark.” Think about it… Mills, bandsaws, cold saws, Beverly shears… you get the idea. In my garage, many cutoff wheels were consumed during this build. The result- lots of black boogers in the shower.
The freedom of magnetos: Okay, I’m sure many people can relate to this. To put it bluntly, the last like 4 times a bike has left me stuck on the side of the road have been due to charging system or ignition system component failure. I think in the last 6 or 7 years alone I’ve had like 3 burned stators, 2 failed regulators, and 3 bad coils. Magnetos set you free! I’m not kidding… I feel so liberated from my dependence on the charging system to get me where I need to go. If my stator burns again, I’ll just keep cruisin’ down the road! Maybe without lights… but hey. My heads are dual-plugged too, and each mag runs the front and rear head so it’s a redundant ignition, a feature common on many small aircraft. So even if one mag shits out I’ll still be chopperin’. Plus they look ridiculously awesome.
The great people of Milwaukee and the Midwest. If any of you guys have spent time here then you know what I’m talking about.
Owner name, location: Chris Graves
Engine, year and make, model, modifications: ’79 FXE, rebuilt by yours truly. Morris 74DMD mags, Jims 3-hole crank pin, Jims pinion shaft, Andrew’s BH cam, dual plugged polished heads.
Frame: 3 up, about 0 out, 30 degree steering head
Fork: pieced together from 39mm Showa components. Fork tubes by Frank’s, lowers shaved by me. Triple clamps from Jr’s cycle parts
Chassis mods: Do dads & nick nacks.
Tire/wheel size and style: Rear: Continental MT9016, H-D wheel. Front: 21 Speedmaster, Jr’s Cycle Parts hub, Buchannan ss spokes, H-D rim
Favorite thing about this bike: The mags or the foot controls. Dammit, I love the way this foot clutch feels and how my feet are so high. Actually, the pipes would be high up on that list too.
Next modification will be: Evo charging system, highway pegs, road trip stuff
Other mods, accessories, cool parts, etc: Stainless tank tunnel, actually pretty much stainless everything.
I had some good times building this bike. I was under a hell of a time crunch for Show Class Mag’s “The Peoples Champ 2”, which was stressful as hell!! But I had damn good friends to help me out and keep me from pulling out my hair… wait, I don’t have any hair. Anyway, I haven’t been in Milwaukee that long and building this bike next to good friends really made this place feel like home.
Show Class Magazine
Special thanks to Dusty & Justin from the Valley- My dudes!
Boltsaction & the SLC crew
Pierce Street Seats
Everybody that helped me out or made me feel welcome in Milwaukee
Valley kids (all you wankers)
Cheater Rome & Carl
DJ Majik Mike!
Give Chris a follow on Instagram.