The Honda Shadow Project Part 2

In Pursuit Of A Perfect Murder


How much custom do we need? According to the official motorcycle guide, The Biker Codebook: Rules, Style and Ethics, which have I kept tucked neatly somewhere in my head, "Stock is merely a blank canvas for which to splatter chrome, paint and parts to one's personal satisfaction, or until you run completely out of money." The book doesn't mention, however, how much aggravation you should put up with before considering homicide. Let me explain. That would take too long, let me sum up:

In our last episode, I related a harrowing tale of bike building woe and madness. I handed over a 2006 Honda Shadow Aero VT750 to a cabal of crazed customizers with the artistic intent of showing exactly what could be done with an inexpensive, mid-size metric. This was launched as a relatively mild project that would demonstrate one, what kind of fun you could have retooling a Honda; and two, create something that would be the envy of any custom shop.

We only had three months to get the bike through disassembly, fabrication, paint, reassembly (using Honda and bunch of aftermarket parts), and the usual tuning and tweaking. The brain trust of Seth Boldman (painter), Jason Wilson (fabricator), Pascal Cooper (seat maker), and a builder who wished to remain anonymous, collectively concluded this would be plenty of time to remodel the VT750.

The only player to meet or beat the deadline was Cooper, whose extraordinary, hand-tooled leatherwork stood out as among the best I've ever seen. He did the seat, side panels and retooled the Honda leather tool bag and heated handgrips. Wilson's tank, fender and rear strut fabrication was spot on, but well behind schedule. If Boldman blew out the paint job, we still had a slim shot at making the deadline and displaying the bike at the then upcoming Honda Hoot, held every June in sunny Knoxville, TN.

But dark clouds fell upon the project; nasty, stormy, deadly clouds. It all seemed like a bright idea at the time: strip her down, paint her up, add a bunch of cool and shiny bolt-ons from Cobra, Kuryakyn, Dakota Digital, Honda, Arlen Ness, and Thunder Manufacturing and presto chango, we would have one cool retro ride. What could go wrong?

Everything. Wilson and Boldman, once buddies, were now hotly blaming each other for project delays. Both rolled out reasonable excuses, and some that weren't. The builder was losing interest, the Honda connections remained patient and I was feeling a slow groundswell of murderous thoughts that grew heavy in my head. Paint took a full year.

Meanwhile, most of the bike and crates of parts were shipped to the builder from Southern California to Northern California. He eventually tired of waiting for the sheet metal and dropped out. A second builder picked up the project, finally got the tank and fender after some death threats to the paint shop, but then got bogged down while waiting for some minor parts and eventually lost interest and dropped out. The deadline was dead, and the Honda was stuck in project bike hell.

For all intents and purposes, the Aero was now in unofficial storage, wires hanging limply about, metal rusting, the shell of a good idea gone bad. A dire sense of shame sank in. Apologies were sent to Honda and the good suppliers whom I had nothing to show for their generosity. The search was on for a third builder but I was deservedly pretty much out of Honda's good graces. I would have to find a shop, somehow get the bike there and finish the bike, as promised.

Then I remembered ace wrench, Mark Shoultz, the owner of Vicious Motorcycles in Flagstaff, AZ. Shoultz is not nationally known; in fact, he tends to fly under the radar and I think he prefers it that way. He does repair and maintenance work on just about every year, make and model of two-wheeled conveyance, but like any builder worth his Snap-Ons, he loves a mechanical challenge.

We came to an arrangement and all I needed to do was get him the bike. Only problem was the partially disassembled Aero was somewhere outside of San Francisco. I thought if we had enough duct tape and moxy, I could get the bike running and ride the thing some 800 miles around mountains and through deserts to Shoultz's shop. Seemed like a sensible idea, what could go wrong?

Everything. It would have worked if I could cajole the bike's caretaker to put it together just enough to be ambulatory. He didn't want to be responsible for my bleached bones turning up in the Mohave Desert. Pity, liability issues such as this has torpedoed many a brainy idea. To the rescue: FedEx Custom Critical Auto Transport.

FedEx's Rick Ranier was a life safer, pulling my ass out of the bubbling boil of this cursed project. He dispatched a truck and within a couple of days the bike and a few boxes of parts were neatly delivered intact and without a scratch to Vicious Motorcycles. Shoultz thought Christmas had arrived:

"Along with the motorcycle, there were unopened packages from Honda, Kuryakyn, Cobra, Thunder Manufacturing, Arlen Ness, Pingel, and Dakota Digital. One box contained the painted fuel tank and flat rear fender, the metal work was unique and the paint job outstanding. The last box contained the leather-worked solo seat, side covers and grips. I have never seen leatherwork so beautiful.

"But the bike wasn't a pretty sight. It was obvious that it had been sitting a very long time by the dust, rust and flat tires, and wires hanging out everywhere," said Shoultz, "I could see it began as an old-school bobber, but it was a basket case; I couldn't wait to get started."

Shoultz cut, welded, painted, fabricated and assembled an unwieldy amalgamation of parts. For the odd bracket or bolt that had gone missing, he made or salvaged from his personal collection of pre-owned bits and pieces, or what civilians might otherwise call "junk." As all builders, inventors, shade tree mechanics, and the institutionally eccentric know, everything has a purpose and must be saved, somewhere, for something.

The Sex Panther, as Cooper dubbed the bobber by cleverly embossing the name into the left leather-covered side panel, was a chaotic case of good, bad, and ugly ideas. For example, after mounting the rear fender, Shoultz discovered the fabricator didn't account for travel, leaving a mere half-inch of space between the taillight bracket and the fender.

"Maybe he was going to make it a hardtail, but then why did he scratch the stock shock covers up with sandpaper in an attempt to de-chrome them?" puzzled Shoultz. "Anyway, since I like to still be able to walk after a ride, I opted to utilize the shocks."

After modifying the taillight bracket to accommodate the fender travel, Shoultz fabricated a bracket to relocate the retro cathead taillight, kindly donated by Wilson, up from the fender. He then cleaned up the rust and painted the bare metal parts and shock covers.

The builder then pulled the carburetor, ass-canned the stock air box, cleaned the varnish from the long-sitting carburetor, installed the Cobra jet, and reinstalled the carb using Thunder Manufacturing's air cleaner and breather. Shoultz reported this all went together nicely.

The stock speedo and ignition switch were gone, bobbed off early in the Sex Panther's reincarnation (the ignition was later replaced by a toggle switch and moved to a hidden location). Shoultz used an IV bottle filled with gas since the tank was still off the bike. He hotwired the ignition and the bike instantly roared to life. "I was amazed," said Shoultz, "for any bike to sit that long and start on the first try is impressive. The Cobra Streetrod pipes sounded awesome."

Off came the stock headlight, on came a shapely Arlen Ness billet lamp with some modification of the headlight bracket. Kuryakyn provided flat LED lights to mount under the fuel tank, but Shoultz used them inside the cat light instead. Kuryakyn also sent a module that allowed the rear turn signals to also work as brake lights.

The fender struts were used to mount the Kuryakyn bullet LED rear turn signals, with some drilling, tapping and the help of two hollow air cleaner breather bolts from a Harley. "I was able to run the wires inside the fender. A couple chrome windshield mount brackets from my collection worked to mount the bullet front turn signals to the clutch and brake mounts," said Shoultz.

The Dakota Digital bar mount "Information System" was next, but the builder said it took quite a bit of work to hook up, particularly since it was designed for Harleys. The result, however, was a slick and functional 2 x 4-inch unit with speed, tach, odometer, turn signal, high beam, and neutral indicator read outs. Cobra tossed in a couple of other shiny pieces, such as chromed vintage-look horn cover and chrome dipstick.

The Honda chrome driveshaft cover and chrome swingarm pivot cover were bolted on, as were an almost endless supply of Kuryakyn pretty stuff, including chrome front brake reservoir cover, Maltese Cross mirrors and air cleaner cover, footpeg adapter, chrome caliper covers, chrome switch housing covers, footpegs, brake and shift pedal covers which bolted on without grief.

The Sacred Steel gas tank, well done in caf racer cool, went on last with an assist from a Pingel fuel valve. Only problem was somebody didn't leave room inside the tank to pump in gas. There was only about a 1/4-inch clearance below the gas cap. Shoultz discovered, however, that it was only a splashguard and not an absurdly shallow tank. "A couple whacks with a sledge hammer and brass punch knocked it right down."

The quick and easy three-month project was finally complete after three maddening, painful years and the application of some very clever engineering work, and paint, metal and leather artistry. The smooth running, liquid-cooled, 745cc (45.5 cubic-inches) V-Twin was remade into a classic beauty.

The Cobra pipes gave Honda's potent motor that sweet beastie growl, the RiffRaff Leatherworks' sculpted seat dropped the riding height to near asphalt, and the eye-catching green/black and polished aluminum color scheme was set off by some outstanding tribal pinstripping work. Cast a crate of Kuryakyn chrome and some Ness light at the Sex Panther, and it became a shinning example of what can be done with a mild budget and a wild imagination.

Disclaimer: No lives were probably lost in the making of the Honda bobber, although some blood may be have been well shed.