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Custom: Portrait of a Champion

goldammer Thunder exterior 1Though Roger Goldammer has long been on the radar screen as one of this continent’s elite custom builders, the reclusive Kelowna, BC native has traditionally shunned the public spotlight. But since last year’s victory in the Freestyle class of the AMD/Custom Chrome World Championships for custom bike builders, anonymity has no longer been an option. His boardtrack racer-inspired BTR3 rocked the custom world, became the instant darling of motorcycle press and, more importantly from Goldammer’s perspective, earned the respect of his builder peer group. 

Goldammer’s place in the pro builder’s firmament was further entrenched when he successfully defended his Freestyle title at the 2005 World Championships in Las Vegas in November. 

The Goldammer entry Trouble revisited the boardtracker theme and in so doing, earned 599 points; tops in an international field of 166 bikes from 121 separate builders. A panel of 100 judges, the majority of whom were fellow bike builders, narrowed the field to the top three. Astoundingly, the 2005 podium was a mirror reflection of 2004, as Goldammer, Mike Prough of South Dakota and Bertrand Krugger of Belgium again finished, respectively, first, second and third. 

Event organizers called Goldammer’s repeat victory a “remarkable achievement” that was “against all possible odds, even by Las Vegas standards.” For his efforts, Goldammer walked away with a cheque for $25,000 in his pocket. Because judging was by fellow builders—who understand the challenges of taking a concept project to completion—the win was especially meaningful.

“I was judged by my peers and won from their votes,” he says.

TROUBLE WAS FIRST UNVEILED IN THE FALL OF 2005 AT A CUSTOM bike-building event in north-central Alberta, where Goldammer was featured as a celebrity judge. From there, he took the bike to Vegas where it quickly garnered international attention by winning Hot Rod magazine’s Artistry in Iron show. It was the latest in a string of twelve significant industry awards since 2002, and with that notch in his belt Goldammer turned his attention to the world championships. But even with his recent streak of success, Goldammer never looks at winning or placing as a done deal. His expectations were modest; he simply wanted a respectable showing, perhaps a finish somewhere in the top twelve.

“I wanted to prove that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder,” he says.

goldammer trouble exterior 2UNTIL HIS BACK-TO-BACK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, GOLDAMMER had been one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, even though his high-end, hand-built aftermarket frame and suspension components are highly sought-after items. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, he does not crave the spotlight—unlike many other bike builders. In the past, he had been asked to participate in Discovery Channel’s biker build-off series, but he’s always shied away from this. 

“I saw what happened to my fellow bike builders,” he says. “They would be building bikes, go on TV, get famous, and then it was hard for them to find the time to build their bikes. I want to build bikes.” 

Because of this focus, he is reluctant to give interviews. 

“Some days I get on the phone and before I know it, half the day is gone. Then I have to work at night in order to make up for what I lost in the day.”

THE WORLD CHAMPION LIVES AND WORKS ON A SIX-ACRE PARCEL OF land overlooking Lake Okanagan. Here he builds his signature bikes and the parts that are in such constant demand by ordinary riders and elite clients including Paul Yaffe. He walks to work past the dirt track he’s built right outside his shop. The track layout features basins and is skirted in places with foot-wide paths on which to ride, making for an unnerving test for both bike and man. He has made mounds and projections from which to springboard his bikes through the air. Hand-cleared paths climb the mountainside and weave through a partly-charred forest, remnants of Kelowna’s devastating fire of 2003 that ironically started near the Goldammers’ unscathed home. In a round of this dirt track, his bikes essentially go through boot camp. 

goldammer trouble custom interior 1A stone’s throw away from his home is the pristine shop he shares with two assistants, one being his former teacher, Burt Kuckelkorn. Rapidly it becomes apparent even to a casual visitor such as myself: Goldammer is a self-sufficient man. Not only does he build bikes, he has also fabricated many of the tools and the machines he needs to engineer his creations. 

“I live in a place that didn’t have all I needed,” he says, “So I had to build my own machinery in order to make my parts.”

On his workbench were the beginnings of Trouble, a minimalist motorcycle with throwback roots and deceptive complexity. 

“I wanted to go back to the essence of the bike, something that would go fast and handle well,” says Goldammer, who took formal technical training at Harley’s tech school in Phoenix, Arizona to complement his study of the history of motorcycle design. “When you look at what was built in the past, it gives you an idea of where you can move things forward,” he says.

goldammer playing outside with a custom bikePowering the flat track/boardtrack homage piece would be a 965cc Harley-style engine built by Goldammer Cycle Works. The trick is that the rear cylinder had been dissected from the package and a belt-driven Rotrex supercharger now flows neatly toward the intake port. Bolstering the looping single downtube rigid frame is a girder front end and a shock assembly hidden in the neck. The wiring is routed internally to keep the focus on the lines of the bike. Aside from the odd piece of aftermarket kit—such as the Primo clutch and Morris magneto—every single component has been built by GCW, including the in-frame gas tank and quirky handlebars.

With a hand-sculpted front end, and the rear light tucked into a wafer-thin rear fender, Trouble echoes an Art Deco green of the fifties. But like the BTR3 before it, Trouble traces its lineage to the early 20th century. To be specific, Trouble took its early inspiration from Harley-Davidson’s 1927 Peashooter S, the competition single-cylinder machine co-designed by Harley’s great factory flat track racer, Joe Petrali. 

The Peashooter’s era represents the seminal years of motorcycle racing, a time of banked wooden velodromes—boardtracks—that made heros of Harley and Indian factory racers such as “Red” Parkhurst, Gene Walker and Ray Weishaar. But too many lost their lives on the boardtrack because the bikes they raced were hardly more than deathtraps. Lacking brakes, a clutch or even a throttle, the only control of the engine speed was an ignition cut-out. Any part that added to the weight and wasn’t absolutely necessary was eliminated. Indeed, Harley-Davidson’s promo material for its 215-lb. Peashooter read like this:

No brakes. No clutch. 

No transmission. No problem.

And it’s in the lines of this saucy ad campaign that the origins of Trouble’s name can be found. The Motor Company boasted that its Peashooter was “no problem” while Goldammer confesses that his was “trouble.” 

goldammer trouble custom peashooterBut there’s still another reason for the ironic nomenclature and it dates back to Goldammer’s personal history of bike building.

“The first real bike that I built had a Shovelhead engine, and I called it my ‘Troublehead,’” he says. “I shortened it to ‘Trouble’ for this bike.”

The engine case reads “Trouble Mfg” and Goldammer delights in hearing that people have gone searching the web for the fictitious company. It seems like a schoolboy prank, like someone scrawling his name in wet cement. And when Trouble is at a standstill, Goldammer plugs the air-intake pipe with a rubber monster-head toy to protect the engine from any invasion of dirt. Because of this, the toy has followed his every bike. The unfettered fun of the phantom name and the rubber mascot seem at odds with the more serious matters of elegance of design and craftsmanship. Perhaps it’s in this dichotomy that a person can come to understand how a world champion is put together.

by Manon Elder Canadian Biker #219


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