A roaming man of the west reshapes a classic combination with found materials and a frantic deadline.
White Buffalo Rider
It is just an old fishing and logging village on Vancouver Island where folks still make their living pulling salmon from the Salish Sea, hauling timber out of the woods, and generally leading an old-time, laidback, blue collar catch-as-catch-can, west coast lifestyle.
It’s the kind of place you might expect to find someone like Ray who, at age 57, has spent much of his life roaming the west including three years in southern Saskatchewan near the Montana border where he tended a big herd of some 600 buffalo. “The president and vice-president of the Bison Association figured I’d be in the top 10 herders in the country,” says Ray, who recalls that buffalo era in his life as a ‘soul experience,’ and his connection with the province of Saskatchewan as one of his most profound. “I felt like I’d been on that land my entire life.”
Which probably explains the evocative buffalo skull he’s hand-painted on the rear fender of his whiter-than-bone custom. The fender is also the product of his handiwork. Taken as a whole, Ray’s treatment of the bike is just so different, that it stopped me in my tracks as I returned from a hike into the Sooke Hills that nestle the town.
I first caught a glimpse of the machine as Ray rolled by on a main road near the head of the trail. What the heck was that? I thought to myself. With the rider sitting tall and old-timey straight on a sprung solo seat, the bike fit the profile of vintage bobber, but that didn’t quite satisfy my curiosity. Certainly there was a unique signature about it, but the motorcycle had passed by too quickly to gather many details beyond a half-formed impression.
Some hours later, I spotted the bike again as Ray pulled onto a side road leading to his riverbank home. This time I was able to track the man and the bike down. What am I looking at here? I asked of Ray as his faithful sidekick, a tiny, friendly rescue dog named Shiver danced playfully around my heels looking faux fierce in an ironic spiked collar. Ray takes his loyal little dog everywhere he goes, even riding. If you squint hard enough you can see her pert nose poking out of his jacket in the photos on these pages.
“Well, it’s a Honda 750-Four motor in a Savior frame,” said Ray, in response to my question. Of course! It’s the quintessential collaboration between metric motor and American plunger-style framework. Though Ray’s custom has many of its own unique aspects, the Amen Savior and the CB are veritable chopper cult classics. His features the 1974 version of Honda’s game-changing motor, retrofit with an 836 big-bore kit.
As a carver and sculptor, he has the fabrication skills to make body mods such as the fenders with distinctive centre ridge lines, which he’s molded from a steel 45-gallon drum, or the two 1940s Harley-Davidson fuel tanks that he’s bonded together with material from that same drum.
“My buddy told me, ‘Y’know, you can just go out and buy a fender.’ Well, yes, I could have. But I wanted a classic looking bike. I wanted that old 1920s look,” says Ray. “That’s what all the brass is about.” Brass components add detail at regular intervals along the bike, including the fender struts, risers, and the controls. Most items are hand-turned or fabricated from “found materials” like the foot pegs made from railroad spikes, or the seat pan fabricated with the metal he dragged out of a swamp near Williams Lake, in the Cariboo region of BC. Ray taught himself to cast aluminum for the project, which actually dates back to 2002 when he was first introduced to the barebones of the bike sitting in a friend’s basement.
“The bike was sitting there derelict, beat on, left in the corner, and stripped for parts. I knew right away that was my bike,” says Ray, who eventually paid “a buck a cc” for what was essentially a rolling chassis. “He got it somewhere, but had never really done anything with it, never run it. As far as I was concerned I was buying a frame. I fell in love with the frame. It’s really beautiful—round and flowy.”
But unfortunately the frame was also attached to “an ugly pea tank” and a 10-inch-over front end. These were someone else’s vanities and they would definitely have to go.
“I wanted something I can ride out into the hills of Saskatchewan,” says Ray. “I can’t even imagine 10 inches on the front of it trying to go the places I’ve taken this bike. I ride all year round.”
He contracted an engineer friend to shorten the front end and make the rake adjustments in order to bring handling back into the land of reality. “My buddy at Off the Wall Engineering got the geometry just right,” says Ray. “It handles really well. I’ve heard a lot of naysays about that front end, but it’s doing the trick.”
After the front end was sorted out with a seven-degree de-raking effort, Ray painted it yellow and rode it like that for a few years. But when he returned from his adventure in Saskatchewan he was promptly run over in downtown Victoria by an elderly, left-turning gentleman who was focused on claiming a parking spot. And so it sat for a few years while Ray turned his attention to an older K model BMW.
But when his son made plans to come for a visit on Ray’s birthday in April, it suddenly became important to get the old Honda up and running. Ray wanted the two of them to go for a ride on his birthday: his boy would take the BMW while he would relight the Honda’s fire. He worked frantically toward the date of April 4, rewiring the bike, replacing two of its four carbs, mounting a combination of Avon and Dunlop tires, fabricating pieces and applying its current coat of paint.
“I didn’t actually do the paint this time,” says Ray. “I thought maybe I’m just being stubborn about doing everything myself.”
The final push saw him up till 1:30 in the morning readying the Honda for the birthday ride. Shortly after, I made the acquaintance of the man, his dog, and his motorcycle. Time well spent.
By John Campbell, Canadian Biker #302, June 2014