1998 Honda Shadow 750 - El Vato Diablo

The Shadow gets a shave, a bob and some wicked innards

When master builder Denny Berg suggests laying an eyeball on someone else's handiwork, chances are better than average that said handiwork is worth more than a quick peep. Case in point, this tasty bob-job built by Berg's former protg Paul Spradlin of Underground Cycles.

Back in 2002 Paul built a retro-custom based on a Honda Spirit 750, which he called the "Voodoo Doll." While it pains me to say so, the Doll was featured prominently in the pages of Cycle World magazine, where it attracted a ton of well-deserved attention, including that of Kenny Bucholz, the reputed skateboard baron of central Ohio. Bucholz, who also plays the squeeze box in a "metal-country" rock band called "Cotton Jackson" when he's not busting moves on his board, was knocked out by the Voodoo Doll and decided it, or something very close to it, was exactly what he needed to give his life meaning.

Since he already had a '98 Shadow 750 in his garage Bucholz figured he was at least halfway to Voodoo-Ville. Consequently, he gave Spradlin a ring to see what he'd need to complete the trip. Unfortunately the ticket was a little more than Bucholz had bargained for so the project was shelved, but not forgotten. One year later Spradlin got a call: "Remember me?" or words to that effect were how it began. "We've got a deal," was how it ended.

Going in, Spradlin had only one condition-while he'd be happy to build Bucholz a bike reminiscent of the Doll, he wouldn't build an exact replica. That was fine by Bucholz-he wanted a bike that had a certain look and he wanted it to run, well, like a scalded cat. Other than that, Spradlin had free rein.

Shortly thereafter, a crate containing one sorry-looking Shadow arrived at Underground Cycles. Best described as a "baroque custom," the 45-inch A.C.E. had clearly seen better days. But what the bike was isn't important. It's what it would become, that's the story.

As you'd expect the bike was stripped to its last nut and bolt. The frame was then relieved of extraneous brackets, tabs and welding spatter before being smoothed and repainted. Since this bike was going to be a bobber as opposed to a chopper, the stock frame's geometry and swingarm were left intact, the only chassis modification being the installation of a pair of 11-inch Progressive Suspension shocks.

The triple clamps were next to feel the kiss of the grinder-once they were smooth as a baby's butt they were powder-coated a gloss black. The top clamp was also drilled to accept the neutral, turn signal and high beam indicator lights-a very neat detail that really cleans up the front end. The fork length was kept stock; after all, like its ancestral predecessors this bike was meant to run hard. An extreme rake or extended front end not only would have looked out of place, it would have jeopardized handling. That didn't mean the legs couldn't be shaved and chromed though, and to help keep everything under control Spradlin finished off the forks with a set of Progressive Suspension springs.

The 750 A.C.E. comes from the factory with a 120/90-17 front tire and 170/80-15 rear rubber. For Spadlin's purposes these left a lot to be desired. Part of the problem was that they were low and squat, which compromised handling and ground clearance. The other side of the coin was stylistic, in that they gave the bike a heavy look. Accordingly the rims and spokes were separated from the hubs, and the former binned.

The new rims, a 21 X 2.125-inch front and 18 X 5.5-inch rear, were powder-coated gloss black, then pinstriped in red before being laced to the stock hubs (also powder-coated black) using polished, stainless steel twisted spokes. A pair of Avon Venoms, a 90/90 front and 180/55 rear, was chosen to provide the traction. The front tire was available as a whitewall, the rear wasn't. To avoid a fashion faux pas, the rear tire was sent to Doyle Killebrew in Glendale, Arizona, who used his patented process to install one. Besides giving the bike a bitchin' period look, the taller, narrower tires improve ground clearance and augment the handling, while giving the bike a lighter feel.

The stock front brake caliper took a stroll through the powder- coating booth before finding its way back onto the fork. A chrome insert was added to the caliper, simply to provide a little eye candy. To enhance stopping power the well-worn OEM pads and rotor were replaced by over-the-counter EBC items, as were the rear shoes.

Out of the box a stock 750 A.C.E. can't pull the slack out of Paris Hilton's panties. On the dyno one of these puppies is hard pressed to make 35 horsepower, and as delivered Bucholz's well-used bike was lucky to make two-thirds of that. Appreciating that you need some steak to go with the sizzle, Spradlin dove into the mill, the heads were ported and larger intake valves installed by Designed Performance, of Bolivar, Missouri-a shop specializing in VT750 performance parts-which also supplied the 11.1 pistons and a set of radical cams. Once the engine could breathe, a set of Underground Cycles' own "Window Rattlers" upswept exhausts were installed to help it exhale. To reliably light the fire Spradlin chose a Dyna Tek 2000 ignition module. On the fuel-delivery side of the street things remain stock, although Thunder manufacturing supplied one of its 8-inch billet air filters with a K&N; filter to enhance looks and flow. With the carburetor properly jetted, the bike now dynos at 52 hp while pumping out 60 lb.-ft. of torque-a roughly 40 percent increase over the factory numbers, which is not too shabby in my book. Since the increased power would have fried the stock clutch like a piece of bacon, a Barnett Kevlar clutch with heavy-duty springs was installed to handle power-transferring duties.

At this point what Spradlin had was essentially a hopped-up Honda with improved brakes and handling and some interesting cosmetic upgrades. If he'd stopped right there and just thrown a fancy paint job on the bike it would have been just fine. But just fine wasn't going to cut it. Visually the bike had to be a knockout-like any worthwhile project, that meant going the extra distance.

Spradlin whacked a gaping hole in the stock tank, and then machined and installed a steel bung designed to accept a gen-you-wine Moon Racing Equipment three-blade spinner cap. I'm thinking it takes a bold man to position his family jewels so close to such a lethal-looking gas cap, but I suspect that the owner of this ride has never given it a second thought. The rear fender and struts were pirated from a Honda 750 Spirit, and shortened by about seven and a half inches.

To polish off the bodywork Spradlin built a custom seat pan, which he had upholstered in black and red metal-flake tuck-and-roll Naugahyde by Bob Frevele.

Paintwork wasn't much of a consideration in the old days; in fact, most early bobbers look like they were "painted" with a piece of carpet. While homage to the past is nice, you've got to draw the line somewhere. Entirely modern two-stage black paint with flattening agents was laid down by Brian Horstmann at Splatterhouse Graphics. Splatterhouse also did the striping, which incorporates flames on the right side of the tank and scallops on the left, as well as lettering and devil cat graphic on the rear fender.

It's the finishing details that separate the winner from those on the sidelines, isn't it? It's a philosophy ingrained in the way Spradlin does everything. Check out the red dice tire stem caps, the switch wiring through the handlebars, the vintage red grips, and the two vintage H-D bullet lights converted to dual filaments used as tail and brake lights mounted asymmetrically over the Underground Cycles side-mount license plate bracket. Small but sweet touches that add immeasurably to the finished product.

And when the finished product was returned to its proud owner? Skater boy Bucholz says, "It's everything I wanted and more. A month after I got the bike back I'm still in shock-it looks great, it's a lot faster and a lot more maneuverable than it was. I ride it every day, rain or shine."

Bobbers originally came into being because their owners wanted bikes that outperformed what was commercially available-if they stood out from the crowd, then so much the better. In creating El Vato Diablo Paul Spradlin has paid homage to those seminal custom builders in every way. The bike combines good looks with superior performance, and does it without a lot of filigree. In my book that's a goal every custom builder should strive for, but few achieve. As for Spradlin, he does it just for drill.