Steve Wright’s JDH cutdown custom
Many readers will be familiar with the name Stephen Wright, even if they haven’t been to the Bud Ekins Memorial Tour that Steve hosts each year in Atascadero. His books on American motorcycles have been very well written, and consequently fetch a high price on the used book market (but you can buy new printings of them directly from his website!) His books show how well he knows the bikes, but he also can spin a wrench, and has restored several of the pre16 bikes that go on the tours in California and Nevada each year.
About 8 years ago, he took some time off from restoring bikes for other guys and set out to make a bike for himself, built around a Harley JDH two cam motor. Not content to use a worn out original motor, Steve cast up 5 sets of new crankcases for some other JDH projects and used one set for this bike. It was bored and stroked, and now makes plenty of horsepower. But the motor is just he beginning of this bike. Steve modified the frame, and in the process used some very ornate lugs from Hetchins bicycles. These lugs have very elaborate cutouts and paint, and originated in 1930’s England. click the links to see some nice examples.
Upon my first view of the bike, it was the lugs that caught my eye. But then a lot of other things kept my attention. The hand-formed gas tank, for which Steve made a form out of wood. The handlebar control levers, which he shaped to mimic scimitar blades. They are at once functional and beautiful, and so much more interesting than using the typical HD open levers or the now-fashionable British reversed levers of the 19teen and 20’s.
Above the 1940’s foot shift 4 speed sits the hand-made oil tank. In front of the tank is a little wheel filled with holes. Turning it operates a crank which manually sets the ignition timing at the magneto. And a ball detent snaps into place to lock the timing on full advance while the bike is on the move. In this photo you can also see the custom made duplex primary chain that Steve had fabricated to fit without any connecting links.
The front of the oil tank is mounted with a strap that looks rather ornate. My photo of it isn’t very good, but it is made from two sterling silver table spoons from one of the fashionable old hotels on London’s Regent St. Faces are relieved into the handles of the flatwear, which is what caught Steve’s eye many years ago.
Additional details can be seen in the paint on the tanks. The medieval heraldry was chosen after searching through ancient books and the typeface used on the left side of the tank to spell out “Harley Davidson” is a font that was used in medieval times. The pushrods were made with very large diameter, thin wall tubing to reduce weight but retaining the strength of the stock units.
It is easy to get caught up in the little details of this bike, but if we step back a ways, you can see that the shape and proportions are right too. The curve of the tank, the position of the wheels, the shape of the special seat that Steve built and embossed himself, all these things work together to give the “right” silhouette.
And one of the most exciting things about this bike is where it was photographed; in a parking lot. This bike hasn’t been shipped to a show in Japan, or a biker build off on TV, or premiered on a golf course somewhere. Steve rides the bike on the potholed pavement of California, and has already taken it on the Death Valley Run. Seeing the bike in person is really great; hearing it fire up and then scoot down the road is 10 times better.