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Custom: “The Journeyman” Big Bore 120

What a long, strange trip it’s been, but the big bore bobber Burgess Special is finally up and running.

This custom adventure, a big bore bobber,  started some years ago with an email from my ex-chair at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology where I was a millwright instructor. It went something like this. “Hey Rich: do you want the prototype frame from the Journeyman project? If not, it’s getting cut up and scrapped.” The reference made by the Chair was to an instructor-built custom motorcycle project called the Journeyman that I had led back in 2008. Construction of the highly technical bike involved a number of trades and was meant as a kind of rolling advertisement for SAIT.

big bore silver custom bobber parked rear shotWell yes, I wanted it; the poor thing had been kicked around a bit, was never really meant to look beautiful and would take a ton of work to get presentable. I put hundreds of hours into that project and it featured the first frame I ever designed from the ground up. I also remember the feeling of opening up the bike’s big Merch motor on the front straight at Calgary’s now departed Race City Motorsport Park. It went straight as an arrow and handled well for a V-Twin custom. The Journeyman was fabricated with Italian stainless steel and some beauty TIG welding. Our welders wanted to show off how good they are and I was all for it. 

Let’s get back to my bike, which has a heavy wall chrome-alloy frame, welded mostly by ace welder Al Knox. It’s strong as hell—H110 rod, that’s 110,000 PSI tensile strength—the heavy wall frame tubing about 80,000 PSI is bulletproof. If someone ever has the misfortune of hitting a car with this bike, it would not be a surprise to see the car get the worst of it. 

If I were ever to build another bike it would be a lot lighter and more compact but I’ve got a lot of history invested in this rig. By the way, all the tubes run straight, no thin spots at a curve. 

I decided to try a single shock setup using a widened, reinforced and extended Dyna swingarm. Sportster handlebars were added as an underbrace with solid steel inserts at the shock mount. 

big bore silver custom bobber rear suspension set upThe shock was borrowed from a Suzuki Hayabusa—a model that can be found lightly used at a fraction of their retail cost. The shock works great but was meant to reside in the centre of the bike, so some fabrication was required. Because the shock must be free to move without binding the original pivot mount was modified to suit. It goes inside the clevis and has a bearing. On the outside I picked up a couple of thrust bearings to allow movement as the shock works. Obviously this means no heavy torque on the bolt; it’s threaded through to the other side and the nut torqued. The second bolt serves as a backup and it can be tightened down hard and provide some lateral stability. After bracing the swingarm it all worked well with lots of adjustability.

My original intent was to do a fairly low budget “big bobber” build. Unlike most bobbers this one is not tiny, and was in fact made for a larger sized rider. Wire wheels are still my favourite, and here I’m running a narrow 21-incher up front and a 200 X 18 in the back. I think 200 is about as big as I would ever go. The front brake is a Pro-One with a 13-inch braking disc, mounted feature side—opposite of the norm.  

The plan was to use parts on hand or what I could get a good deal on. That all changed when I found myself in possession of a set of Ness Retro controls. Using these pricey bits meant I would have to step up my game. Then Guy St. Pierre at Cyclemania Artworks in Okotoks, Alberta offered a killer deal on paint and the ball was really rolling out of control. Paul Chirayath at Racedyne came through with a deep discount on a set of Shevol rockers, and he now has them for the Twin Cam engines as well. 

After nearly sanding my fingerprints off, I turned the frame and tins over to my friend Guy: he and Dan would finish it right. But first Guy did some of his magic shaping the four-gallon mail order tank to blend into the seat. Guy is not a fan of flake but relented after I told him a story/urban legend. Way back in the 1960s a couple of versions of this story appeared in a US-based magazine. It went like this. A crazy old dude builds a custom. It is all chrome and glass metal flake, except the tires. When done, no one can look at it in the daylight because it’s as bright as the sun, magnifying light from every angle. The only way the old coot could ride it was at night, with welding goggles. 

My bike—which is fitted with a Jeff Wingrove-designed custom seat boasting a stingray insert—is not that bright but bright enough, with just enough black to fake sanity. Something I have been more or less getting away with for some time now.

The Ultima 120 engine is another reclamation project; it’s failed on me before. (See, “Big Engine Blues,” August 2014.) Unfortunately it failed in a big way at about 9,000 kilometres. When I took it apart, I could see a roller had broken on one of the lifters taking out out the lifter block, cam and oil pump and cam cover bearings. 

A gear pump can take a lot of abuse and is definitely one of the toughest pump designs ever invented, but after chewing a fair amount of aluminum they can jam. So, this is what happened to the rest of the missing piece of lifter block. The drive key on the return to tank gear (scavenging) sheared and the oil stayed in the engine (not circulating). The violence had to continue in the removal process since there was no high-tech or graceful way I could think of to get around this mess. The gears that should have just slipped off after removing the clips refused to co-operate. 

In the end I had to resort to Vice-grips and a big hammer. Knowing a new pump was in the cards made me feel like I was just putting this one out of its misery, still the whole thing kind of goes against everything I know about mechanics. Sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.

Ultima sent me replacement parts after the initial fail but about 8,000 km later came another, just as bad or worse. However, this time the lifters stayed together, probably because I substituted the stock components with some very tough aftermarket parts.

The basic 120 Ultima now seems very strong, and I’m pretty sure it will be reliable. This time it has upgraded parts: JIMS billet lifter blocks and lifters, S&S cam cover, TP roller rockers, Edelbrock cam, Racedyne rocker boxes, Daytona Twin Tec ignition system, .005 over pistons in a fresh hone job (thanks to Jeff at Calgary Harley-Davidson) and very careful assembly. If it fails again a sane person would give up, but sanity is subjective. 

At the time of this writing, the road test of my new custom had consisted of just a short ride around the neighbourhood yet that was enough to tell me the engine is definitely strong, and the five gears will be plenty with that much torque. 

My experimental hybrid Hindle/Vance & Hines pipe sounds great—not too loud but an impressive tone for sure. (They were not interested in building a pipe for me so I just went ahead and did it myself using their “Quiet” can.) 

The big bore bobber is about two inches longer than a stock Dyna, and handles similar once rolling. With the rubber Dyna mounts and a couple of extra velvet ride stabilizer links it is super smooth but the chassis will not tweak under deceleration. I will likely put this ride up for sale; there are still more projects that require cash to finish. Hope they don’t take so long.  

by Rich Burgess Canadian Biker #316

big bore silver custom bobber parked with rich sitting

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