Finding inspiration in the V-Twin platform as presented by Moto Guzzi, Peter Fowler takes his LeMans Mk2-based custom to unlikely places.
It’s become “customary” for custom motorcycles to be built around V-Twin engines, so the fundamental logic of motorcycle technician Peter Fowler’s home-built Moto Guzzi is perfectly sound. After all, no one said you couldn’t put the engine in sideways.
Moto Guzzi aficionados are notoriously fanatical about the 90-degree pushrod Twin that powers most of the machines from Mandello. My favourite Guzzi T-shirt simply shows a line drawing of Giulio Cesare Carcano’s innovative creation with the provocative slogan, “vee twin done right” printed below.
The implication, of course, is that some other makers of V-Twins have got it wrong. Whatever.
The result of Fowler’s revision and reinstallation of the Guzzi powerplant in a custom cruiser of his own design makes a striking statement on the street. It’s long, low and, of course, very yellow.
“It’s a magic colour,” says Fowler. “It doesn’t seem to offend anyone, it scares no one. And the painting seems to have pulled it together.”
The owner of four Guzzis including the custom build featured on these pages, Fowler is a man who is very simply infatuated with the marque.
“I love Moto Guzzis,” he says. “When I bought the Le Mans Mk2 that this bike is based on, brand new in 1983, I put over 200,000 kilometres on it. Those motorcycles are strong as anvils. It occurred to me it would be the perfect one to work with where I wouldn’t have to spend time maintaining it. And it’s proven to be just that.”
This is actually Fowler’s second custom Guzzi. The first emerged as a result of long winter evenings when he lived in Ottawa. Built with a budget of $2,000 and using a girder front end and Harley tank, the result was a reliable rider that Fowler rode all over BC after moving there in 2002. Though bulletproof, it was no concours winner, so when he started on the yellow bike three years ago, he decided to go one better.
“Even though [the yellow bike] took more than three years, I told myself I’d pay attention to the details,” he says, “and for most intents and purposes it was a good idea.”
So did the yellow bike have a $2,000 budget?
“No. This one stretched right out to $6,500. That included buying the painting equipment to paint it!”
“I don’t even read custom motorcycle magazines,” says Fowler, when asked where inspiration for the design came from. “I just wanted to make a crazy long-framed motorcycle. The rest had to be built to match it, because try as I might—and I really tried to buy gas tanks—they were a foot too short, even the longest aftermarket ones.
“So I built a skeleton out of tubing, to which I welded the rest of the panels to make that tank. It’s turned out surprisingly well.”
Fowler fabricated almost all of the other parts of the bike himself, including the frame, swingarm, exhaust system and floorboards. The forks were new, but headlight, front and rear fenders and a few other components were rescued from wrecked bikes and refurbished.
“It was form following function, within my very limited metal bending skills,” he says. “I was learning along the way.
He’s perhaps being modest. Fowler has been “in the trade,” as he puts it since 1974 (“I’d call myself a lifer.”). In the 1980s he was an instructor at Fairview College in northern Alberta, which offers a broad selection of trades training including a pre-employment Motorcycle Mechanics program, and serves as the only authorized training centre for Harley-Davidson technicians.
After three years at Fairview, which is now a campus of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Fowler moved back to Ottawa where he worked for numerous motorcycle dealers. “It’s a small town, and after a while you’ve probably passed through all of them,” he says.
Despite years of experience and a full resume of qualifications, there were still puzzling and problematic areas associated with the Guzzi build, such as the construction of the drive shaft/swingarm assembly.
“It was not easy to manufacture,” he says. “Trying to get things true enough so I wouldn’t experience the wear and vibration I experienced with [my first custom Guzzi] proved to be a real slow process of lining up those numerous components and welding them without any jigs, because I had nothing to go by.
“When I was done, things were within thousandths of an inch, and it shows because the motorcycle is perfectly smooth up to 90 mph.”
But hassles with significant chassis components are one thing, dealing with niggling concerns quite another. “Getting the gas tank to stop leaking,” he recalls as the most frustrating part of the entire project. Confesses Fowler: “There must be 12 feet of weld on that gas tank.”
However, welding, grinding, pressure testing and rewelding eventually fixed the problem.
Not content just to cruise the build around town, and to prove the sturdiness of his creation, Fowler took the bike to that rugged, mountainous region of northern British Columbia that sits in glacier-bound and rainforest-clad glory just south of the Alaskan panhandle.
“My wife used to work … as a teacher on some of the reservations up there, and she wanted me to go see all these villages with the totem poles and so on. And of course the scenery’s rather breathtaking.”
The bike, he says, acquitted itself well in the challenging environment, logging 1,200 miles without complaint, though it had covered just 800 miles before the start of the trip. Naturally, in this unlikely setting there were ”a few looks of disbelief” as the couple posed with the Guzzi under the famous “North to Alaska” sign at the start of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway at Kitwanga Junction.
Certainly there’s no faulting the locals for their curiosity. Even in the jaded world-weary Big City where spectacle is routine and the out-of-the-ordinary is to be expected, a raked and stretched custom powered by a V-Twin in 90-degree configuration is simply not an everyday sighting.
by Robert Smith, Issue #247 (December 2008)