Skip to content

Steve Wright’s JDH cutdown custom

May 13, 2011

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.





10 Comments leave one →
  1. rich ostrander permalink
    May 13, 2011 7:45 am

    Peter, I was with Steve on that Death valley ride. I remember him saying that it had never run like he would have liked it to. Either Johnny Eagles or Dale Walksler did a little tune magic to it and you should have seen Steve’s face when it finally run like he always knew it should. First time I seen it was when he brought it to an early Dixon meet. The details blew me away.

    • May 13, 2011 7:51 am

      It’s also on the back cover of one of his books. But he has updated and changed a lot of things since the book was published.

      • Vince Spadaro permalink
        May 13, 2011 8:20 am

        Pete nice article and well said it’s nice to see were one’s imagination can go the nickle castings on the frame are cool Vince

  2. Jim Abbott permalink
    May 13, 2011 8:01 am

    That is “tres cool”! I’ve got to figure a quicker route from here to your neck of the woods. You guys are having way too much fun. See you in July. Jim A. Tucson, AZ

  3. May 13, 2011 9:10 am

    That thing is great

  4. May 13, 2011 11:50 pm

    Awesome. A very nice cutdown motorcycle with my favorite HD engine.

  5. May 14, 2011 3:24 pm

    Another great post on the “cutdown” theme, thanks a lot. I`m getting even more inspired to get my own cutdown completed.


  6. March 2, 2012 8:51 pm

    It is the finest modern cut down!

  7. Jewel Hendricks permalink
    April 22, 2014 1:00 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting and doing some work for Steve over the years. I am pleased to see the creation he did for himself. He was a special man.


  1. 2014 Atascadero Day 1. Bud Ekins & Steve Wright Memorial Tour | Occhio Lungo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: