Exclusive Cobra Custom: Voodoo Daddy

From racebikes to restorations to big-dollar customs, when it comes to building motorcycles, Denny Berg has done it all. So what does Berg mean when he says he's returning to his roots? He wants to create a custom bike anyone could build in his own garage with his own tools, as Berg himself did while still a kid back in South Dakota. When you look at Voodoo Daddy, Berg's latest creation for Cobra Engineering, you'll see a bike that draws from a somewhat subdued palette. No expensive inverted billet fork or wheels machined from a single hunk of aluminum. Instead, he's carefully massaged the stock components and added a few details. Really. It takes a customizer with years of creative experience to do so much with so little.

And that's the point.

In his typical, low-key style, Berg says, "All I do is just cut and hack garage-type stuff." While he might not be returning to the days where he built his first chopper with a fiber-cut-off wheel for his drill and a battery charger as his welder, he is looking toward a simpler way to customize. Motorcycle magazines and TV shows have given rise to a new breed of celebrity customizers, and though that's great for bringing exposure to motorcycling, most riders don't have unlimited budgets to throw at their machines. Most home builders do, however, have deadlines-usually of the ride-I-want-to-attend type. So what's the secret to a quick-yet-stylish custom cruiser? Watch and learn what a master can do in a mere three weeks.

Since Voodoo Daddy is a Cobra/Honda Sweepstakes bike, it needed to be ready in time for the first International Motorcycle Show of the winter season. According to Berg, working with the VTX was easy. After he and Cobra's Ken Boyko decided on a look, Berg took two days to strip the bike. The bodywork went to the painter, the wheels went to the lacer and the parts Berg didn't already have in his packed work space were ordered from various vendors. All he had to do was prep the parts for polishing and wait for everything else to come back. The theme? Vintage hot rod with a modern twist. The overall color would be satin black with gold-tinted flames and orange pinstripes.

Motorcycle Cruiser readers are probably familiar with Berg's penchant for mixing different metal tones rather than simply dipping a bike in chrome. Voodoo Daddy was no different. The wheels received a three-tone treatment: polish for the aluminum hubs, polish for the stainless steel spokes and chrome for the spoke nipples. Each of these has its own characteristic hue that combines for a more pleasing effect than a monotone chrome reflection. The same scheme takes place on the swingarm and fork, where polishing plays the primary role, while Cobra accessories, such as the shaft cover or caliper covers, provide the chrome counterpoint. For polishing, prep is everything. Berg grinds away any casting marks or edges he doesn't like on the parts. To give the handlebar clamp a seamless look, he mounted a piece of one-inch pipe in the clamp and ground away the clamps where they join until they were flush. The clamps went to the polisher with the pipe section still inside so the parts could be polished as a single piece. Since Berg wanted to remove the right front disk to give a better view of the wheel, he cut the caliper mount off the fork leg and ground it to a uniform round shape. He also had the front hub turned down to reduce its size where the erstwhile right-hand disc lived.

Another approach Berg takes to customizing that all of us could learn from is hiding every wire, cable and hose possible. In cases where the cables can't be hidden, as in the front brake line or throttle cables, he keeps them in line with the body parts. Berg dislikes big-budget customs with lines and cables in big, dramatic, sweeping arcs. Instead, he tries to keep things as close to their necessary path as possible. "That last five percent where somebody takes the time to reroute the cables makes it or breaks it for me," says Berg. He feels OEMs should follow this rule, too, claiming the Yamaha Warrior is a beautiful bike ruined by a "mess of coils and hoses and crap."

In his quest for clean lines, Berg routes all the switch wiring through the handlebar. These wires are then run around the frame neck's left side to hide them when you're looking at the bike from the pipe side. Also, he runs the throttle cables and brake line through the triple clamp. Pointing to the stock top triple clamp and the holes he machined to accept the cables, Berg says, "Anything I can do here, a guy can do with a little patience and a hand file." He's done it, so he should know. Still, we bet he prefers using his mill.

Other portions of the stock components also received the Berg treatment. The louvers on the fenders were filled and smoothed out. To further clean up the bodywork, the rivets securing the front fender to the mounting bracket were ground off and the holes filled. Berg simply welded the bracket to the fender's underside. The rear fender had the mounting holes for the pillion filled and filed flat; Voodoo Daddy will be a strictly solo ride. Although they weren't physically altered, the chrome on the frame rails, headlight bucket and dash cover was covered with glossy black paint. According to Berg, when mounted to the bike these pieces will have the same effect as glossy chrome without detracting from the understated black paint on the rest of the bike. This paint was also applied to a few Cobra accessories, most notably the Cobra Highway Bar.

One of Voodoo Daddy's most striking features are the gold rims. While Berg's original plan called for powdercoated cream-colored rims, he ended up painting them gold to match the flames on the front fender and tank. Berg then laced a 21 x 3.0-inch wheel to the stock rim. The tire's outer diameter remains the same as the stock 18-inch rim/tire combination, but the look is sportier. However, leaving the wide fender with the skinny tire is the show-stealer. While current trends may call this a "gangsta" look, Berg says it harks back to the FLHs of the 1960s Los Angeles custom scene-only with a more modern-looking 80/90-21 low-profile tire. Regardless of its roots, the front wheel is nothing short of stunning when viewed from the right.

Berg reworked the linked brakes to keep the front of the bike uncluttered. The solo caliper had the piston bores joined by drilling a hole between the two. Now, one hydraulic line is all that's needed to power both pistons from the lever. Another trick Berg uses to make the braided steel hydraulic lines disappear is to cover them with black heat-shrink material. By doing this above the triple clamp, the lines match the stock throttle cables and give a more vintage appearance. Since the fork is all polished, Berg keeps the braided steel texture below the triple clamp to play along with the multiple metal hues. The rear brake line also keeps its braided stainless look to help it disappear next to the chrome swingarm cover.

Voodoo Daddy's paint plays with multiple variations of the same color the way Berg mixes metal hues. For this task, he turned to ace painter Zeak McPeak. The bodywork's overall color is satin black with gold flames fading to silver at the tips. To further soften the paint's appearance, a coat of satin clear was laid over the basecoat and flames. The pinstripes were done on top of the satin finish in glossy orange and black and, says Berg, highlight the effect around the flames. "I wanted it to look like a custom some guy had ridden to a rally and pinstriped." To Berg, pinstripes are like tattoos, inspiring constant additions. The color treatment didn't end with the bodywork, though. As previously mentioned, the headlight shell and other chrome parts were painted a high-gloss black. Berg also applied VHT Nite Shades paint to the brake light's exterior. (For those not familiar with this paint, it darkens the lens yet still allows light to shine through when the brake light comes on.) His original plan was to buff off portions of the paint to give the lens a pattern. About halfway through the process, he decided he didn't like the way it was turning out, so he sanded off the paint and painted the interior instead. Now the exterior of the lens has the same satin finish as the fender (thanks to the sanding) and the lens looks completely black when the ignition is off. The crowning portion of the pigment McPeak laid on Voodoo Daddy is the Woody Woodpecker-inspired variation of the VTX helmet logo, complete with an exhaust pipe hanging out of its mouth instead of a cigar.

Berg bolted a baby apehanger on the triple clamp because it reminds him of a Schwinn Sting-Ray. He also added Cobra billet parts in the Swept pattern, a Cobra Slash Cut Exhaust and a Cobra Fi2000 digital fuel management system. In another '60s-inspired touch, Berg mounted 12-sided Kromets to various surfaces on the bike. What are Kromets? Well, they're little metal doodads '60s customizers (and apparently current ones, too, since you can buy them from Parts Unlimited) used to epoxy or screw to the ends of handlebar grips, fork caps and other similar locations.

The lesson to be learned here is that if you want to build a custom like Voodoo Daddy, you don't need a huge budget. What you need is vision, a few weeks and some talent. Denny Berg adds, "Home builders, that's what impresses me more than somebody throwing a bunch of money at something. You walk through the parking lot at Daytona or the Honda Hoot and you see some really creative stuff."