Suppose your passion is building custom cruisers, but your business is selling aftermarket parts as an internet retailer. How can you find a way to combine the two? Well, if your name is either Justin Scalzi or Andy Manna, you work the dayshift keeping your customers happy and sales growing. Then you grab a bite to eat before going back to the shop to spend your second shift-the unpaid one-wrenching. If you're smart, you'll find a way to combine your passion with your business, and if you're lucky, maybe you'll even make some money at it. Scalzi and Manna of Viking Motorcycle Company have their eyes on the prize.
Take an engine from a crashed bike, stir in a custom frame, slap on some fancy wheels and you've got a one-of-a-kind cruiser, right? Not so fast there, Sparky. All those components are used in custom bikes, but it's the how, not the what, that makes a bike special. Also, not everyone has the ability to see when a project's original idea isn't making the proper transition from paper to three dimensions and then change the entire project midstream. In the customization game, detail work separates artists from also-rans.
Scalzi and Manna wanted to build a custom VTX that would be more than a platform for fabricating custom accessories to sell. They wanted a complete frame that could be reproduced and marketed in various forms. So they set out to graft the VTX's rear end into an aftermarket chopper's chassis. After much cutting and bending and attempting to wedge the engine into the frame, the pair realized that, as Scalzi tells it, "The further we got into the project, the more we started cutting into things, the more we realized this wasn't the right way to do it." So they made the bold decision to scrap the frame combination idea and build one from scratch. Since one of the primary goals of the project was to make it possible to mount American-style aftermarket front ends, the new approach was to start at the front of the bike and work rearward.
By building the steering stem to a standard size, Scalzi and Manna widened their options to literally hundreds of forks. Open up any Harley-focused aftermarket catalog and you'll see a number of styles and options, from conventional to inverted in almost any reasonable length. Manna points out that these forks have two benefits: First, all the bugs are worked out. Second, buying a more mass-produced item instead of recreating one from scratch helps keep the project cost-effective, "If you can use that term with a custom bike," Manna says. To get the look they wanted from the front end, they settled on a 39-degree rake in the stem plus an additional five degrees in the triple trees. Since they wanted a long, low profile, the neck was not raised. Instead, they stretched the front end three inches.
The frame itself is constructed by KCS Custom Fabrication out of chromoly for strength. However, the tube diameters were selected for how much of the crud associated with motorcycles they could hide. Take a glance at the front end-the only thing sullying it is the brake line, which exits cleanly from the bottom tube of the frame neck. Since Scalzi and Manna decided to use an ultra-slick handlebar with all internal cables (thanks to the twist clutch and the absent brake lever), the Viking Motorcycle duo spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to completely hide the front brake line. Eventually they realized they had to utilize a visible line. To some eyes, the way the line drapes in a graceful arch from the frame directly to the RC Components caliper adds to the bike's clean look.
The handlebar is perhaps the VTX's most striking feature. The absence of any mirrors, instruments or control levers makes the bike look like it is a nonfunctional design exercise. However, the Viking VTX is more than functional; it's capable of being a daily rider and was ridden on Los Angeles freeways to the photo shoot for this article. The clutch is controlled by the left grip. Roll the grip back toward you and the clutch disengages. A slot within the grip pulls a pin and cable as the grip is rotated. This cable pulls the lever on a remote master cylinder hidden under the seat that operates the hydraulic clutch. According to Manna, the clutch was the second most challenging part of the project. A ton of fabrication hours were spent modifying aftermarket hydraulic parts to get the clutch to work properly.
The Viking VTX owes much of its overall frame design to Scalzi and Manna's desire to remove the big twin's radiator. Since the bike was destined to be ridden, Scalzi and Manna had to hide the radiator somewhere. With the minimalist look they envisioned, only one place was large enough to contain the heat exchanger. However, that space was already eaten into by the clutch and brake hydraulic systems, as well as the shock and air-ride system. To create more room under the seat, a pocket was built into the leading edge of the rear fender to house the ignition system and fuel injection controls. For the biggest challenge of this project, Manna reached back into his automobile dragracing past and built a radiator that, while smaller in surface area, was thicker to allow extra cooling capacity. Despite the small area in which the cooling system lives, it actually holds a slightly larger volume of coolant when compared to the OE system. (Of course, the long hoses required to get the coolant to the radiator contribute to the volume.) To make sure no heat builds up, the stock fan runs whenever the ignition is turned on.
Since rideability was an important consideration, tuneability was built into several key systems. The air ride allows for adjustable ride height over a range of four inches. Unlike most stiff-riding air-suspended customs, though, this bike also uses a hydraulic shock to smooth the road out. Since no brake lever sullies the front end, the calipers on both needed to be linked. From the Hoggone master cylinder the line travels back to an adjustable valve under the seat where it splits to the front and rear calipers. Although the valve allows you to fine-tune the percentage of power going to the front brake, Scalzi and Manna left it wide open, feeling it worked great out of the box. The fuel injection is another story. Since the displacement was bumped to 2000cc, a Viking Motorcycle Total Fuel System (TFS) helped the stock injectors deliver the proper mixture. To gain access to all these systems in the confined space under the seat, just remove a single screw for each side cover. The seat simply pulls free of its hook-and-loop fasteners.
Winding up our journey rearward, the massive 250 rear tire makes a powerful statement. The best part about the rear wheel and swingarm is that they are from a bolt-on kit for stock VTXs that Viking sells! The RC Components wheel slips into the Viking-modified stock swingarm, and the whole assembly fits into an unmodified VTX frame. For this bike, the swingarm was significantly modified to enable it to mate to the hidden suspension.
While we may have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the fruits of Scalzi and Manna's labors, they haven't succumbed to the temptation. Instead, they're taking what they've learned from the first generation of their frame and looking toward future projects. On the slate for Version Two? How about running all the cooling lines inside the frame. So if you're looking for a built-to-order frame for your VTX, maybe you should give the guys at Viking Motorcycle Company a call.