Good ol’ Uncle Todd has the answer to everything. This was Bryon Short’s experience as he set out to build a modern tribute to the racers of old with his boardtrack custom.
The goal was to create a modern version of a post-World War I boardtrack racer,” says Bryon Short of Victoria, BC, who was influenced in the custom build on these pages by his reverence for Old School motorcycles. “Without them we wouldn’t have what we have today.” Specifically, he looked to the 1920s era of Flying Merkels and Harley-Davidson boardtrackers for inspiration. “These are the kind of bikes that really get me, y’know?”
But if his vision for the boardtrack custom project came from a faraway place and time, guidance and mentoring was available much closer to home in the form of his uncle Todd Short, whose own unique fabrication work has been profiled on numerous occasions in this magazine. (Todd’s most recent build appeared in Sept. 2011. Read, “Strange Brew.”) “Without his know-how, expertise and mentorship, it wouldn’t have come together like it did,” says Bryon.
Though the Shorts had often discussed the bike and the custom process in general terms, the project really got rolling when Bryon was in Los Angeles and a friend suggested that a company called Malibu Motorcycle Works might have something in their line of frames for the build he had in mind. When Bryon made contact with MMW, the company confirmed it did indeed make a boardtrack racer style of frame and that they could fabricate the necessary mounts, and make the setup work for whatever engine and wheels the client might choose.
That meant fitting a five-speed 1994 Harley 80-inch Evo Bryon had sourced through a custom shop in Brandon, Manitoba. Originally, it was a completely chromed motor except the oil pump and camshaft casing at the bottom. The boys stripped the mill down, repainted it, and fabricated acorn head cover bolts as one of the final finishing touches.
It’s a subtle detail about the engine work but Bryon is especially fond of the brass timing cover with viewing glass. “It’s one of my favourite things because we’re running points ignition not electronic. So you can look in there and see points separate, and spark, the camshaft spinning around, the lobe separating the points … it’s really a cool thing to see, especially at night.”
Then again, there’s very little that isn’t cool about the bike. The general public agrees. Our roadside photo session in early September drew a steady stream of interest and Bryon later mentioned that people have turned around in traffic to follow him, and that one particularly enthusiastic guy went so far as to interrupt him in mid-workout at the gym, just to grill him for details.
Bryon has come to accept the attention and the invariable intrusion on his time. “If I’m going to step out with this bike, it’s social hour,” he says.
Every custom has its visually defining elements, and Bryon’s boardtrack custom is no exception to that rule. Without doubt, the wheel selection and pronounced front end are the keynote elements.
The 26-inch rims are LA Lace from the lineup of Metalsport Wheels. They are obviously from the custom bagger environment and have been shod with Avon Monster rubber. “The whitewall style is maybe a bit after the era that we’re going for, but picture the old Schwinn bikes,” says Bryon.
And if the front end from Chassis Design Co. has a familiar look that you can’t quite identify, then a clue lies in the keen interest Todd and Bryon have for mountain biking. The dual shock in front actually riffs on the rear shock from a mountain bike. “The reason we used the springer is because it’s very similar to mountain bike shocks,” says Bryon. “We’re both big mountain bikers, and we thought it would be cool to incorporate mountain bike technology into a motorcycle.”
The flat handlebar might also be difficult to identify because it’s from a dirt bike, and flipped upside down. On the bars is a digital speedometer that’s intended for ATVs. It runs off a magnet on the front wheel but it needed calibrating and the maximum wheel size that it could accommodate is 25.5 inches. “We just squeaked under that maximum,” says Bryon. “I don’t even know where you’d look to find a speedometer that would work with anything bigger than 26.”
But the real challenge wasn’t in settling on a look for the front end; rather it lay in physically mounting it to the frame. “Anybody who says it’s bolt-on probably doesn’t put it on right,” says Bryon. The main problem being the bearing loaded hard to the left, but loose to the right. Where there’s a problem, there’s a solution—even if it is a total pain in the butt. In this case the neck.
“Where it [the bearing] goes through the neck tube, on either side of the neck are two stays of slightly different length,” says Bryon. “Just a couple thou difference. But when you turned a certain way it would bind. We had to fabricate washers to make sure the gaps were identical so when you were steering side-to-side nothing would restrict it.”
Of course the challenges kept piling up as the build continued to grow in complexity and it’s not that there was a hard and fast detailed master plan in place to deal with the thousand little problems that continued to surface. Like most boardtrack customs, or any custom project, “It all kind of just rolled together,” says Bryon.
For example, the shape of the pipes just wasn’t working in an aesthetic way. “We gave it three or four different tries, but it [the result] was kind of boring,” says Bryon. “So inspiration came from some of the copper tubing. We said, ‘Let’s in throw some bends and give it some attitude.’”
In case you’re wondering, those pipes are fully baffled as they pick up the flow of the copper lines running from the unconventional Chassisoil tank mounted vertically to the rear fork.
Originally the fenders and gas tank were painted black but here again the boys second-guessed the look. “These are hand-made pieces. We thought, ‘Why are they black? Let’s sand it down, and expose the metal. If the bike had stayed black it would have been totally different.”
Naturally Uncle Todd’s love for the unconventional kept surfacing, not only in the steampunk elements of brass and copper, but also in the right side jockey gearshift setup. But Bryon didn’t want to be stuck with only a jockey shift so a clever although painstaking linkage passes through the frame to the left-side foot control, with a pivot point along the way bolted to a piece of round bar circumnavigating the Ultima primary—the cover for which was made by the Shorts. “The belt drive came bare,” says Bryon. “But to be legal we needed a guard. The round bar was just asking to have something mounted on it.”
The liberal use of round bar is found as a thematic element throughout the bike including as head and tail light mounts. A closer look at those lights reveals that they began life as a unified dual headlight. At some point during the fender sanding process the boys decided they might as well tack on a mount, separate the dual lamp, and put one on the back fender to balance the look. At any rate, the rear fender, which was hand built on an English wheel, was already undergoing mods to widen it with stylized “rivets” brazed down the centre—a theme that carries on down the spine, onto the tank, and along the seat. The saddle was made by Bryon with a $20 piece of leather and Chicago screws, and serves as his tribute to MotoGP bike styling.
But for Bryon the single-most fiddly part of the whole operation was mounting the chain-driven rear wheel and its accompanying sprocket/rotor (sprotor) brake setup. “Only true bike builders would understand the frustration of mounting a wheel when you’re using a sprotor,” he says. “We had to torch out part of the frame, and build our own spacers and mounts for the sprotor. That whole wheel setup was probably the furthest thing from bolt-on that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Though he doesn’t regard himself as a “show guy,” Bryon Short hopes to campaign his boardtrack custom handiwork in some of the big-league custom events in Las Vegas, Sturgis or LA. In the meantime, it’s making one heck of splash here on the Canadian west coast.
- Story and photos by John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #307