When a diehard rigid rider needs to change his ways he takes a long look at an old FLH and decides it too must change.
Trader Joe and the Gold Rush Glide
The thing about Joe; he’s what you might call old school. A cement finisher by trade, the rider from Ontario has owned a lot of bikes over the years and they’ve all had a certain flavour. “I’ve owned eight rigids in the past,” he says. Most (or more likely, all) have been Shovelheads outfitted with a jockey shift. Harley Shovels. Hardtail frames. Stick shifts. You get the picture. Sure, there’s a newer Road King also parked in his garage but the big touring bike with the windshield, plush suspension, and floorboards is there for a reason.
About six years ago Joe was in a pretty bad motorcycle crash in which he lost part of his leg. Surgeons were able to restore the limb but, let’s face it, rigid-frame rides are only so much fun at the best of times and, “after the accident I couldn’t ride them,” says Joe, who nevertheless still has a rigid chopper with a 250-section rear tire left in his fleet. Never say die, right?
While for all practical purposes his rigid days are done or at least severely reined-in that doesn’t mean his actual riding days are over—far from it. And that’s where the 1982 FLH seen on these pages comes into the picture.
The big Electra Glide started life with an 80-inch Shovelhead motor, a four-speed gearbox and the standard travel rigging that the factory assigned it all those years ago. It’s a motorcycle that Joe’s father—a competitive driver—acquired in a swap that involved a racecar. It was a bike that had the potential to meet Joe’s current needs as a rider and also as a lifelong customizer.
Proving once again that fathers and sons are never very different from one another, Joe offered to swap a 1967 Camaro Pro Street for the motorcycle that his father had acquired with basically the same brand of currency. The deal was made, and Joe set about changing the very nature of the FLH. “I decided to restore it from the ground up,” he says. “I tried to make it old school into new school—little bit from both worlds.”
There are still original aspects about the bike, such as the chrome and the front end, but “I ended up doing a lot of trading out of the old parts for the new parts,” says Joe, who after stripping down the frame sent it to his buddy “Cabbage” for powder coating. As is often the case, a tight inner circle played a role in the build. His friend Dave Green was there to help with the wrenching while yet another friend, “Staples” applied the Gold Rush Candy paint, and a best friend presented Joe with the Sick Boys air cleaner as a birthday gift.
Swapping and shopping of parts continued with the sourcing of new rims and tires, while the four-speed was traded for a five-speed. “I ended up switching it to a jockey shift, because it’s just way too cool not to have a jockey shift,” says Joe, who scavenged the forward controls from his chopper and added handlebars from TC Bros. Choppers. And for aesthetic reasons, he decided that the stock rear caliper didn’t look right once the OEM bags had been removed. He jettisoned the stock units and fitted OEM Softail calipers in their place.
This build was really starting to come together. Here was a custom that had the comforts of rear-set Progressive Suspension touring shocks and a relaxed riding position while still embodying many of the chewy physical features that Joe wanted in his ride.
At some point, the OEM mill was also replaced—with a 96 cubic-inch Ultima Shovel, a high-performance, high compression engine that has long been considered by many in the Big Twin world as a “tuner’s choice.” Loads of giddy-up but you better be handy. Joe experienced some of the pleasure to be had with the big 96’er while fitting the retro-styled fishtails. Backpressure became the issue, as in too much of it. “The pipes wouldn’t let it run right,” says Joe, “like it was starving for fuel.”
The pipes seen here in Kyle Green’s photos have since been replaced with something shorter and more open which is kind of too bad because the fishtails lend heritage character that works with the wire wheels and Avon whitewalls, and they’re definitely tasty when seen contrasted against the shiny openness of the gold-chain final drive. It’s a look that has already garnered several top awards on the local show circuit but more than that, “It goes like stink,” says Joe.
But the big question remains, what does Dad think about all the work that’s gone into his old FLH?
“Well,” says Joe with a laugh, “He’s old school. He thought it was just fine the way it was and I should have left it.”
Yep. Old school dads can be like that.
By John Campbell, Canadian Biker #333