Custom VTX Motorcycles- Second Shift

Justin Scalzi , Andy Manna and Mark Zimmerman

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.

Less Is More
Cliff Randall's Chromeless Cruiser

The expression "custom bike" has become synonymous with too much billet, too much chrome or simply too much. Sometimes less is truly more. Case in point: Cliff Randall's understated, elegant and completely chromeless VTX, aka the Streamliner.

A self-described "bike maniac," Cliff's been modifying bikes of one sort or another since he was 16 years old. For several years he was off streetbikes, preferring to spend his time on the racetrack, where he had a fun if not stellar amateur roadracing career, but as he approached the big four-O he felt the need for another streetbike. His wife, Maralyn, agreed, tossing him a Vulcan 1500 A that didn't stay stock for any longer than it took to get the bike home. Once the custom bug bit, other bikes followed, including a tasty ZX1270 caf racer and a trick $50,000 BMW he donated to the Veterans Honour Ride Foundation (, a charity founded by Cliff to honor Canadian war veterans.

As Cliff was finishing his last project, the BMW R1100SS, he began to notice sportbike guys were customizing their bikes along cruiser lines, with inordinate amounts of billet, chrome and polish. At the same time he felt the natural evolution of cruisers would be in the opposite direction, toward a raw, tough, painted look. Accordingly, he began formulating his concept of the chromeless cruiser, a bike that would meld performance, style and practicality in a package "so revolutionary it would knock the cruiser world on its ass." A bold statement, you'll agree, but underscored by a bike-building philosophy that helped Cliff win the 2004 MAX Award, Canada's top custom award given in "recognition for building excellence."

The VTX was chosen for several reasons. Cliff felt the bike's styling potential was unrealized. The planning stage took a year. Cliff then presented his proposal to Honda Canada. They liked what they saw and tossed Cliff the keys to a new '02 VTX C, complete with a spare engine and extra parts. Their only caveat: The Honda logo had to remain on the bike.

Cliff admits his forte is design, assembly and tuning as opposed to standing over a hot lathe chewing out widgets. Accordingly, the bike was disassembled and the various bits sent to the respective specialists.

Swedish outfit MotoSpeed sleeved the VTX's cylinders out to 2000cc and provided high-compression J&E; pistons. Meanwhile, John Parker Racing flowed and cc'ed the cylinder heads, assembled the engine and degreed in the cams. While the mill was down, reverse-plating stripped all the chrome from the engine components prior to painting. To further clean up the engine, the water lines to the throttle body and the P.A.I.R valves were removed. Since Cliff invested more than 400 hours in mapping the Dynojet PCIIIR for his hot-rod Muzzys Kawasaki ZX1270, fuel management chores were handed over to a PCIII. A Kryakyn Hypercharger with a K&N; air cleaner was modified to act as a true ram air system as opposed to a fashion accessory. That alone took more than 50 hours.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one of the more ambitious aspects of the project was underway-the creation of the dual exhaust system. The finished system is so well done it appears to be OEM rather than fabricated from a stock right-side muffler and a Kenworth truck pipe. The system is gutted and features adjustable baffles. The guts of the system were ceramic-coated to reduce the heat passed to the outer cosmetic covers, which would eventually be painted to match the rest of the bike.

Radiators present real styling challenges. Cliff dealt with this by removing the radiator cover and grinding down all the external welds, thus reducing the perimeter. He then cut down and balanced the fan so the whole thing could be moved inward to the frame rails. A new radiator screen was fabricated to complement the air inlet.

Next up were modifications designed to enhance stopping, handling and, of course, appearance. Although the frame geometry was left stock, plates were added to the steering head to give it a finished look. Any unnecessary brackets were removed and the frame ground down to provide a smooth finish. Normally the VTX forks are tapered where they slide through the triple clamps. This precludes any repositioning. Since the idea was to drop the fork by 2.5 inches, the tubes were first turned to a constant diameter, then powdercoated. Because the cut tubes no longer fit in the lower clamp, adapters were machined to provide a clamping surface. Installing the powdercoated tubes into the clamps without scarring them was a tedious process using wooden wedges that took several hours, but in the end the coated tubes were unblemished. The only other front end modifications were anodizing the fork legs and adding two-inch spacers for a bit of spring preload.

To lower the rear without compromising ride and handling, Works Performance built one-off nitrogen-charged dampers with custom-rate springs measuring 11 inches eye to eye. These were delivered unfinished so they could be painted to match the bike.

Many of the parts are stock items massaged until they provided the right look. The fairing is an off-the-shelf VTX item, while the fenders were Shadow 1100 items subtly shaped by Vic "the Bodyman" Lefebvre. Vic was also responsible for removing the gas tank seam and flush-mounting the fuel cap and frame neck covers.

Cliff decided the linked brakes had to go. The front/rear plumbing was removed and the front calipers modified so all the pistons are activated from the hand lever. Other brake mods include a hidden rear master cylinder and powdercoated calipers and rotors. HH sintered EBC pads replace the stock items, and yes, the coating was removed from the pad contact area.

The bags are another key focal point on the bike. Standard Valkyrie bags were deepened by "The Plastic Surgeon," who added two inches of plastic. They're detachable and feature a unique, invisible, rare-earth magnetic latching system to keep the lids in place.

Since this would be the "chromeless cruiser," the finish had to be flawless. The bike was painted three times with a variety of paint schemes, powdercoats and finish procedures before Cliff was satisfied. Each time the finish had to be completely removed and the metal and plastic pieces prepped by blasting them with baking soda. The final finish was applied without a clear coat for the deepest possible black. That shine is the real deal.

This truly is a revolutionary, kick-ass custom.

From The Dark Side
Honda HomeComing's Best of Show

It wasn't too long ago when a custom VTX meant a stock bike with a fancy paint job and a grocery list of aftermarket bolt-ons. Those days are long gone, my friends. One after another trick VTXs are popping up like, well, custom Harleys, I suppose. Take a look at this streetfighter/chopper/custom from Rob Jenquin's Brown County Customs Inc.

Rob started by removing the headlight, wiring harness and engine/transmission/rear drive from a 2003 VTX 1800. Those he saved, while the rest of the bike went to VTX heaven.

The first order of business was to jig up and stitch together a new frame. The scratch-built chassis, which positions the rider three inches lower than a stocker, is constructed of two-inch tubing with a substantial 2.5-inch, cross-drilled downtube. In addition to being lower, it's also longer, having been stretched 2.5 inches, and the steering head is set at 40 degrees. To accommodate the massive 300-series Avon rubber and its 18- x 10.5-inch rim, a new swingarm was fabricated with a two-inch offset. Of course, this meant adding a second U-joint to the drive shaft as well, but that was the easy part. To control the rear wheel action and ride height Rob snuck a Tricky air shock between the frame and swingarm. The control button is positioned under the left side of the seat for easy access.

Rob felt mounting the rear brake assembly in the stock location on the right side of the rear end made for a cluttered look. Since clutter just wouldn't do, some serious reengineering to the rear drive took place, which included a custom hub being machined from alloy. By the time he was done the brake assembly had been transplanted to the left side of the rear drive, creating the clean, clutterfree look he was after.

Moving forward, Rob turned his attention toward the front fork. The triple tree is an off-the-shelf Mean Street component featuring an additional five degrees of rake, kicking the front end out to a total of 45 degrees. Since cold-rolling steel takes a bit more work than Rob had time for, he also procured four-inch-over fork tubes from Mean Street.

In keeping with the overall theme of the bike, Rob went with a pair of Pro-One Sinister wheels, bolting his custom hub into the rear. Braking chores are handled by a trio of 11.5-inch Pro-One rotors and four-piston CMP calipers arranged in the traditional manner.

The bars are another of Rob's creations, one of the many accessory VTX items he whittles out in his spare time. As I've mentioned, Rob dislikes clutter, so as you'd expect, all the wiring is run through the handlebars.

After bending up the big hunks of steel, Rob took a breather and began hammering out his fuel tank and fenders. The end results speak for themselves.

Rob does cop to having the saddle built for him. The way this guy works, I'm surprised he didn't slaughter the cow, grill a few steaks and then tan the hide and stitch it up himself.

Because the bike was intended to be a test mule for Brown County Customs' VTX products, Rob decided to leave the engine internals bone stock. That way he could concentrate on ironing out any issues with the basic concept and construction without being sidetracked by engine concerns. That being the case, the only engine upgrades were a set of hand-bent 2-into-2 open exhaust pipes, a K&N; filter with one of Brown County's own air filter cover assemblies and a Power Commander to tie the whole thing together.

As with most custom VTX projects, the radiator presented a significant styling challenge. Rob considered several ideas, including doing away with the traditional radiator altogether and running the coolant through the frame, an idea that's only been temporarily shelved until he's got time to do a little more research. In the meantime Rob had a triangular radiator made to his specifications. The water box is hung low, where it's unobtrusive and out of the way. The water passages are contained in the frame with short hoses making the connections between the frame and radiator and the frame and engine. Rob admits he's not crazy about the current radiator setup, but it works just fine. Consider that an ongoing portion of the project.

With the bike up and running, it was time to consider finish options. The pipes were a no-brainer. Ceramic-coated exhausts are hot these days, so to speak, so away went the pipes. As to the rest of the bike, the choices, as they always are, were endless. Trick flip-flop, murals, pearls, metalflakes were all considered. The final choice turned out to be basic black. As Rob says, "This bike was built as a test mule, so paint was the last of my worries. I bought about $200 worth of House of Kolor products and just started shooting. The engine and a few small brackets were done to match with rattle cans."

Now comes the Cinderfella portion of this story. With the Evil Black Bike up and running-and working pretty well, I might add-Rob decided to show it off at this year's Honda HomeComing in Marysville, Ohio. After all, it was built to display both the company's products and his considerable talents, so why not show it off a little? Why not indeed? Rob's home-brewed masterpiece took home not only the top trophy in the custom bike show, but also the $10,000 check that went with it.

Now here's the capper to the whole saga. Rob opened Brown County Customs in November 2002 with the intent of manufacturing a few custom VTX pieces. A self-taught machinist, welder and fabricator, Rob's only prior experience was fooling around with his own bikes. He's been riding since the age of 5 and driving cars when he could take a little spare time away from his day job. And what might that be, you ask? Believe it or not, he runs a string of day-care centers. But I'm thinking after this he'll be spending a lot less time corralling rug rats and a lot more time building custom bikes.