Off the wall

...and off the scale. The launch of Assembly bared the soul of traditional Choppers - and proved to be one of the greatest alternative bike shows this country has ever witnessed

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For three days in July, the vaulted arches of the House of Vans’ underground skatepark near L o n d o n ’ s W a t e r l o o Station became a sacred place of worship for the chopper, its metalled and airbrushed sculptures creating a curious sense of mythology amid the dimly-lit catacombs.

Assembly, a new show celebrating 1960s and ’70s choppers, and organised by four die-hard enthusiasts, brought together the bestknown builders from both sides of the pond to showcase their machines in a venue that is literally ‘off the wall’. Bike-builder Vincent Summers, Reino Lehtonen- Riley (of Great Frog London), DicE magazine owner/editor Dean Micetich and Tamara Bell (who runs Burds clothing with Ame Pearce), worked together to pull off the greatest chopper event this country as ever hosted.

It was a show that celebrated both the old skool chopper and the new, younger breed of builder/rider, their hippy-like skater and BMX influences putting an accent on fun and friendship rather than pretence and posturing.

Assembly also offered a great opportunity to speak to many of the key players to get a sense of what 1960s/70s choppers mean to them – and why these bikes appear to be enjoying a resurgence in this sanitised modern world of advanced electronics and nanny-state legislation……

 

Dean Micetich

When DicE was started in 2004, myself and Matt (Davis – the co-founder who sadly passed away in February after a long illness) were both living in England. There was no chopper scene here like there is today. We knew two or three people that owned old Harleys – and they were stock 45s! It was either cafe racers or stock Triumphs. No Knucklehead choppers!

This was the late ’90s , dawn of the internet, and the only place you could see cool choppers was chopperdaves.com and greasykulture.com. These two websites and the book Zero Engineering are what did it for me and Matt to start a magazine. It wasn’t just in England either, the whole world has seen an explosion of fantastic bikes being built, mostly because of the inspiration given by the internet and social media. Everything is so accessible now. That obviously has its good points and bad points, but when it comes to information on old choppers and showing people what’s happening around the world, I think it helps.

The American builders invited to this show have all been friends of Matt and myself for many years. We were lucky to have met so many talented and inspiring people through DicE and a lot of these people have become like family, especially the people we brought over for this first show. The quality of the English and European bikes on display was top-notch and people here are building bikes that are completely on par with anything else being built in the USA and Japan etc. Every bike made us all extremely proud to how the world just how good the English scene is. Bringing Matt’s bike was extremely important for all of us involved with the show. Matt was there with us when we decided to put on the show and it feels good that his positive spirit is so ingrained in the event.

Myself and Matt always had the same outlook on life, which is, think of something fun to do... and do it. Too many people limit themselves and overthink things. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Life is short and the only things that matter are to have fun and try and be a nice person. For me, to ride to Assembly on his bike with his ashes, was a very magical thing. I didn’t have to think twice about doing it. We all miss him a hell of a lot, but we also realise that we are very lucky to have been able to spend so much time with him. He would have been extremely proud of the show and of all of the hard work put in by everyone involved, especially by Reino, Vincent, Horsey and Tamara, – aka ‘The Dream Team’! The same DicE ethic goes for Assembly: it doesn’t matter what religion you are, what political views you hold, how much money you have in the bank, what music you listen to, or what clothes you wear... it’s all about having fun on two wheels with your family and friends. Fuck everything else.

Scott Stopnik

Cycle Zombies (from Huntingdon Beach, California) started with me, my brother and my dad messing with old bikes. We were home-schooled and came from a big family; there were seven kids in my family – a healthy group of retards! My dad built dry cleaners so he was a good hands-on guy. I used to go and help him at work to earn a few bucks.

Dad had always built bikes. I remember he found this roached-out old Shovel and brought that bike back to pristine, when even the guy he bought off told him the thing was dead.

I got a Vespa first – full Mod style, Clash logos etc – but I sold that when I was 17, maybe 18, to buy a shitty Sportster. I wanted to make it stripped down and loud. I remember seeing Jason Jesse and Max Schaaf (4Q Conditioning) and realising that choppers weren’t just about old men with big beards. I watched Choppertown, those guys, including Jason, were so crazy. Jesse was also a skater, into punk rock and loved offending people – so the whole thing was quite appealing. I soon realised you don’t need much more than five tools to build a chopper. Buy a bike. Build it. Ride it. I think people get too hung up on needing all kinds of trick stuff to get the job done.

My brother, who was 14-and-a-half at the time, built a little oil-in-the-frame Triumph. I had Triumphs along the way too – six of them in fact, all chopped. We were constantly bringing old bikes back to life and came up with the Cycle Zombies name and started a blog because there were so many little projects going on. We were always finding old bikes and building stuff. We did lots of swap meets to find the parts we needed and we got a lot of internet friends following what we were up to. People were coming to us, asking if they could appear in our videos. It’s all grown to the point where now we have a speed shop. What inspires me is old stuff – 1960s era. I think a lot of us [chopper builders] are the same. I’ve been doing swap meets since I was six. My wife has been doing them since she was young too so it’s great for both of us.

I wanted to do a chrome bike so I collected together all the parts I had. I found a frame from a buddy of mine for $1600. I had a 1966 Panhead to go in it but then another buddy called me up and said there was a stock Knuckle with repop [reproduction parts] in it. Turns out the guy was selling it for the same guy I bought the chrome frame off! He wanted $20,000 for it but I said that was kinda high. So he said, ‘What do you want to pay for it?’ So I said ’15,’ and he we did a deal on 16 for cash. So I’ve got this 1946 EL Knuckle motor in the chrome frame. I sold the rest of the original Knuckle for $16,000 and the old Pan motor for $4600. The front end came from a swap meet, so I reckon I’ve spent $7000-8000 building this!

It’s great to have been invited to this show. The place is amazing. The architecture is unreal and it’s crazy how big the place is for a skatepark. To be here at the House of Vans is pretty rad for us.

Michael Barragan

I think the motorcycle speaks for itself… It’s a 1947 Knucklehead and I built it in 2012; I bought it as a basket-case from Dean [Micetich]. He sold me the whole thing for $7000. It was a shambles, all fucked up and with two rear heads. Rather than buy a front head, I decided to use what I had and reversed the intake and exhaust, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds.

The frame was mint 1947 Kucklehead which I cut and raised by eight inches. I narrowed the fenders and oil bag to keep the bike as slim as possible. I enjoy building motorcycles and treat it like a medium of art. This particular bike is a tribute to the life of a guy called Freddy Hernandez of Denver Choppers who was known for his gooseneck frames with rigid front ends. I tried to keep the bike as original as possible using any parts I needed from swap meets.

My business, Evil Engineeering in Burbank, California, has been going 15 years, and I like to build a wide spectrum of bikes – performance machines as well as choppers like this. I own an SV1000 and I ride dirt bikes too. I like to build eclectic styles and I’m happy to build a short wheelbase Harley that I get into corners hard and enjoy the speed of a high-performance motor.

Even on this bike I made sure I kept plenty of ground clearance and kept those narrow tyres to make sure it handles really well. The front end is very stable and I ride it fast, even though it’s really a cruiser. It’s got a 96-cubic inch motor, Baker six-speed trans and I like to run ISR six-pot rear brakes. I like to hide the performance stuff a little.

Before I built bikes I toured with a band called Plexi – but never to this venue. This place is spectacular, a real labyrinth. I love all the graffiti outside. The place is a blast and it’s so much fun to be here with my peers.

Chase Stopnik

Scotty taught me to ride his Triumph and I got my first Shovel seven years ago. Scotty and I built Cycle Zombies, then a year ago I opened Highway [styled as HWY]. I found a shop location on Sunset Boulevard in LA, it’s an old building and I live right on top of it.

Scotty’s my cousin. His dad, Big Scotty, was like a dad to me and from them I learned how to use tools. I love working with my hands. I did all the wood floors in my new premises. I had a vintage clothing store with a friend and then built a motorcycle garage inside the store – we make T-shirts there too. We turned it into HWY. It’s taken off in a big way, thanks to Instagram. It’s such an easy way to stay in touch with people.

I’m building 1960s-style choppers; I like ’em crusty and rusty, used and abused. This 1940s Knuckle is my own bike. I get all my parts from swap meets.

I realised watching Big Scotty that you didn’t have to have a college education to build bikes. I’ve just got a huge network of people who help me with stuff. That’s what makes this community so cool. There’s so much knowledge about, so many peers. The bikes may be powered by gas but it’s the willingness to share that drives them.

I’m just attracted to things that are aged. Things with a story to tell. I think the old parts bring a real personality and life to bikes like this. This place is amazing. There’s skating, music, a movie theatre, food. To have it all under one roof in one of the biggest railway stations in London is really amazing.

 

Tom Paterson

My bike has a repop motor, a replica of the ’42 Knuckle, and was built by a guy in Germany at Motortechnic. It’s all repop apart from the gearbox – I got sick of shitty old stuff. I’m 35 now and I studied industrial design at Uni but didn’t use it for work. My plan was to build hot rods but I never had the room so I turned to bikes, so I’ve not got the provenance of some of the builders here.

Nine years ago I immersed myself in this scene when I saw bikes on different blogs and thought ‘I want to build something like that’. I like the old looks, but balanced with reliability so I can ride a lot.

My first bike was a XS650 chopper. If it wasn’t for Toddy I’d have jacked it in. When I moved from Wales to Leeds I was hitting a wall with the build and Toddy said: ‘bring it over and we’ll see what we can do to sort it’. Toddy’s work is second to none.

I really enjoy the learning process of building bikes. I learned to weld and to fabricate. Then it’s been a case of honing my skills. I like using old stuff to create new parts – spanners for the pedals, the sissy bars are old tyre irons. I finished this bike in time for Trip Out last year.

This is an insane show and really puts the UK on the map. I’m so proud to be here. They’ve brought some world-class builders here, but also showcased what we can do – it proves that we can do cool stuff too. It sets the platform for the future and hopefully will inspires others to crack on.

Toddy

I built this Shovel for a mate in 2011 but he could never start it so he ended up selling it back to me. I changed it a little to what you see now. The truth is, I’m constantly changing my bikes and I aim to alter it again after the show.

I built the bike with a big S&S motor, but it’s now got a 1970 80 cubic-inch Shovel. I’ve got a 1969 generator Shovel to go in it which much better suits the style. I like to keep altering bikes, otherwise it’s like wearing the same suit, day in, day out.

The frame is stock Shovel up front with the hardtail rear. The tank is my favourite piece, it’s 1940s Matchless cut into six pieces then narrowed and tucked at the front, back and cut away around the rocker covers.

I like the way the scene has gone full circle back to the 1970s with the new kids putting their own spin on the bikes they’re building now. They’re keeping it alive. Everyone gets on in this scene, there’s never any trouble. We all feed off each other and all put our own spin on things.

 

Andy Carter

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, with parents who ran a prototyping shop so I learned to work on a range of stuff while my dad also built cars, bikes and even an airplane in the basement! I crafted plastic model kits to real dune buggies as a kid. I then moved to California and worked in a hot rod shop, everyone at the shop had choppers because it was too expensive to build themselves hot rods.

When I tired of California I moved back to Utah and did a blog with tutorials on how to make stuff while I worked in a hot rod shop. Then I bought a motorcycle, took the summer off and just rode all over. I went back to work at my parents’ old place – they’d sold the business while I was in California – but I couldn’t get on with the new owner and he fired me. So in 2008 I decided to go self-employed with Pangea Speed, Salt Lake City.

I always did parts and bikes, but now I just focus on a parts line. There’s just not the profit margin in customer bikes – plus it’s the customer who dictates the build. With that said, I’ve always been able to use my creative side. Now I love designing parts and the challenge is to figure out of to productionise. It’s easy to make a one-off but to make batches of them is much harder. I draw in CAD and have a CNC machine.

I built a Pan to ship over for this show but the shipping company screwed up and never sent it. So, I had to figure out something else. I built this Sportster in 2013 and traded it to a friend in the USAF who lives in Germany. He said I could borrow it.

It’s a 1987 four-speed that originally was an 883 but now has a 1200 motor. The frame is custom-made by me – I even sand-cast the axle blocks [Andy also does some sand-casting for The Wretched Hive]. I made the oil bag, narrowed and stepped the gas tank and made the sissy bar.

The thing is awesome to ride. It’s super-fast. I’ve done a 1000 miles on it over here and it’s been great. Super reliable and a flawless runner.

Jeremiah Arment

I run Love Cycles in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s been ten years as a shop but I built the business from working in my backyard. Now we’ve got a full machine shop. We do restorations plus a couple of commission builds each year. This is Tom Fugle’s bike [Tom was one of the pioneer chopper builders in the 1960s and a founding member of El Forastero Motorcycle Club. He passed away in December 2016, age 75]. He bought it in 1965 for $100 as a stock 1936 Knuckle and chopped it up. He got it on the road in 1966 and then gave it to his wife who rode it until 1972. Then it was taken apart and stored in his basement. Me and Tom were good friends and one day he asked if I’d like to be the caretaker of the bike.

The frame was rotten on the bottom where it had been sat in the damp for so long. I’d hoped to be able to save the original paint but it was too far gone – and one thing Tom always said to me was, ‘don’t leave it looking old and tired…’ He always liked his bikes clean and well-presented. I’ve rebuilt it exactly how he did it – all in his style and just like Tom, I gave it to my wife once it was on the road.

Mona [Jeramiah’s wife] and I got here ten days ago and we went for a ride around Cornwall. I was stationed here in England at Mildenhall for two-and-a-half years so I got to know my way around this country quite well and made a lot of friends here. I always liked to meet new people. This is a great show and I’ve met some of the nicest people of any show I’ve ever been to. I love the venue. This place has real history – and it’s mental. It’s great to see a show like this in England. The chopper scene is resurgent everywhere. I think it’s the aura of an age that’s gone that attracts people to it. We can’t go back but we can resurrect it.”

 

Scott Walker

I’ve got a 1994 Sportster and a 1979 Shovel in pieces and was selling a set of forks on eBay. I had to deliver them to the customer via Vince, so we ended up chatting about bikes.

I worked at the House of Vans running the skatepark, when 21 Days Under The Sun came out so we all rode in for the premiere here. Vince was amazed by the venue and said, ‘we should do a bike show here.’ I mentioned it to the management here and they were up for it.

The House of Vans always want cool stuff here – because thousands of people share it online. It was hard to explain the whole event to my bosses: why Joe King Helmets would pay to fly halfway around the world to be here. Or why the Americans would want to ride from Antwerp on choppers to the show.

We figured it might get busy, but I’ve never seen it like this here before and they’re saying it’s the biggest event ever at this venue. Hopefully we can do it all again next year. We can open up some more gallery space so it can be even bigger and better – with maybe a different slant on it.

Adam Brinkworth

I’ve got two bikes here in the show, both bought on my 50th birthday when I found myself in some kind of midlife crisis! Actually, I bought three, but one of them is an A65 flat-tracker, which I race with the DTRA.

The Harley was by Scott T-Bone Jones at Noise Cycles in California. It was the winner of Born Free 5 and won an award at another show, but I bought it because it looks so unusual. I watched it being built on Instagram, from the MDF formers for the bodywork up. It’s got a single alloy body section and the seat is covered with an old leather jacket. I kept saying to Scott, ‘I’d like to buy it,’ but he was building it for someone else. On my 50th birthday it came up for sale and I snapped it up.

At the same time, the little Triumph was also for sale. It’s built by Todd Austin at Small C Cycles and is based on a 1960s show bike. I love the contrast between the two.

While I really love them both, I can’t do either of them justice when it comes to the mechanical side of looking after them. And It seems like the older I get, the more dysfunctional bikes I’m buying. I’ve got a 1942 Flathead WLC which I’ve raced all year with the DTRA. Thankfully, it runs like clockwork. I take it to races in my 1969 El Camino.

There’s something about going racing with a vintage bike – and trying to get to meetings in a vintage car. I might not even get there, and even if I do, my race bike might break down.

 

Bradley 'Coppertop' Hood

It’s a 1951 Thunderbird – with a custom stretch frame. The motor was built by Dick Smith at Baron’s Speed Shop. Stock, but tweaked. I like the fact that it’s a pre-unit engine – so British. The bike has got custom pegs, a heel brake and I made the tool box to match the oil tank. It’s taken me four years to build it in my spare time and I finally finished on the Thursday of show setup day.

I love doing the fabrication work and I’ve been into choppers for years. I’m a product design engineer by trade and this marries my design background with riding. I had a 1965 Triumph – almost stock – but I’m into choppers through and through. I’ve been to Kustom Kulture [major old skool chopper show in Germany] this year; I love meeting new people.

This show is the best I’ve ever seen – hands down. I like the fact that it’s in London too, as I’m born and bred here. It’s amazing that the organisers have managed to bring so many American builders and their bikes to the event. The fact I’ve got my bike in a show with them is really quite humbling as I don’t build bikes for a living. It’s just amazing to have been invited by Reino and Vince to be here.

Vincent Summers

When Reino, Dean and I talked over the idea of this show we all agreed we were doing it for the love and wanted it to be the best we could. We had 40 or so really great bikes, we had some great traders, there were good bands. The tattoo guys were flat out throughout the show. We have to thank the House of Vans for hosting the show in such a fantastic venue.

Everyone was super-chilled and it was quite humbling how they all supported the event. There was a lot of trust involved. We rang the Americans inviting them over, and they were willing to pay their own freight costs of the bikes and their own flights just to be here. What a super bunch of guys. I’m just so pleased that they were so blown away with the event once they got here.

I took two bikes along, one which I built for someone else plus my own 1949 FL Panhead with a 89 cubic-inch stroker, S&S rods, Andrews cam, ported heads, four-speed trans – all built by me. It’s a 1949 FL frame with four-inch over forks, Borrani wheels [21in front – 18in rear] and a Wassell tank, mounted Frisco-style. I love all 1960s/’70s choppers, but particularly the Frisco style.

I build a handful of bikes each year and it’s not hard to have several on the go – it’s only the final assembly when you’ve got everything back from the painters and platers than things get hectic. I have a full-time job so this is my hobby, which means I work crazy hours, but it’s something I love doing.

 
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Shane Markland

My bike is a 1946 Knuckle which I built with the help of Michael at Evil Spirits. I wanted to create a a tribute to Dick Allen [one of the pioneering chopper builders, credited being one of the first to run two-into-one exhausts, disc brakes, belt-drive primaries as well as long springer front ends] and this bike actually has Dick Allen springers and exhaust.

Michael builds bikes for a living whereas I do it just for fun. He made a sissy bar for another bike some years ago so I managed to persuade him to sell it to me. It’s a Cadillac rear light, by the way. I wanted a highway bike, not something for the city. I wanted it to be comfortable on a long road trip and when we rode from Antwerp to this show, with Dean and Michael, it was awesome.

I’ve also got a pre-unit Triumph digger and a gold Evo Hollywood chopper. I like all bikes, I don’t worry about the style or trends. I’m 40 now and have been into bikes all my life. It’s in my blood. What’s changing is the people who build choppers. A lot of skaters and BMX-ers have moved to motorcycles, looking for the same thrill so this is an easy transition.

This show is probably one of the coolest I’ve ever been to. The venue is the best. Ten years ago you’d not see all these young guys building choppers – you no longer need a beer belly and beard to ride one!

Some of the old guys hate the crossover but I love it because it’s brought a new level of creativity to the scene. DicE magazine is the leader in showing people what’s out there. Every two months the mag comes out with new builds, and different young guys.

 

Jeff Leighton

I was born and raised in Southern California. I was a plumber and electrician, my dad’s trades. I grew up a skinhead and mod and rode an LE150 – I still have an SX200.

I had old cars too, then my buddy bought a motorcycle and I kinda fell into it myself. I loved making stuff at High School but I never had much time as I used to manage bands and was always on the road.

Then I met a guy in an old Triumph shop. He told me lots of stuff and I became obsessed with bikes. My first was a 1970 Triumph which I hardtailed. I met other old guys who had built bikes and I went to swap meets to buy parts and build them myself in my spare time.

I noticed everyone was building bikes under a brand name. I’m a sci-fi geek so I called my stuff ‘The Wretched Hive’, which comes from Star Wars. It’s become a business in the loosest sense of the word. I buy and sell, I make parts but I don’t build bikes. I don’t want to burn the passion out of it having to build stuff to order.

This bike is an early 1950s Panhead – it’s stamped 1947 and has had a VIN since 1966 - which I bought from my friend Tom Kaiser. He was the Editor of Easyriders magazine from 1983-87. This was the first bike he built and though he changed the way it looked over the years, it wasn’t until the 1990s that he took the original Panhead motor out to replace it with a hopped-up Shovel he did as a magazine feature.

He took me in when I first met him and showed me stuff and became one of the closest people in my life. For Born Free 5 I built this bike using his Panhead motor as the basis. Up to that point I’d always sell the bikes I’d built to finance the next project, but this is the first time that I knew I’d keep it forever, even though the look of the bike may change. In fact, it already has.

 

Reino Lehtonen-Riley

I can’t believe how the weekend panned out. We couldn’t sell any tickets so it was a free show. This meant we had no idea how many people would turn up. When we realised we had queues waiting to get in, I was so happy. It turned out to be such good fun and it was a bit special for me because I got to hang out with the [American] heroes of mine who I’d only read about in magazines or seen on the internet – and they were all so complimentary about what we were trying to do with the show. We wanted to get Max Schaaf (4Q Conditioning) there because of the crossover with skating, an ideal fit with the House of Vans, and he reckoned it was the best ever show, hands down, because there were no egos.

I love choppers but I also love all kinds of bikes – I’ll happily ride my R1 or go riding an enduro bike – and really enjoy it when choppers show a mix of influences, like Jeff Wright’s Church of Choppers FLH Shovel which was fitted with a race-style exhaust by John from Racefit before the show began.

Vans loved it, which was great too. Scotty there is a young guy and it was his baby, so it was great for him when his bosses were saying how successful – and how Instagram had been pumped full of people sharing stuff from the show. We’ve already got plans for next year’s show and how to grow Assembly as a brand, which we have to do because the budget to launch the show came out of our own pockets this year because it was something we all believed in and wanted to do.

My bike at the show was an old Panhead that used to be owned by my uncle in America. We had a big family holiday in Florida and I went there looking for an old Harley chop, but only had about two grand to spend. I got talking bikes with my uncle and he wondered if his mate Bern still had the Pan he’d sold him. That got my attention. He hadn’t spoken to him for years so, like an excited child, I insisted he call him up there and then. Turned out he still had it and would sell it, but only to my uncle. So we borrowed a 4x4 and trailer from my aunt and the next morning took a seven-hour ride to Bern’s place.

Bern greeted us a with a bong in his hand and was clearly smoking some good stuff. After checking out the value of a Panhead, he sold it to me for four grand. We stopped the night, smoked a lot of weed, then the next day I was up bright and early with the bike loaded up and ready to go just in case he changed his mind!

Once I dealt with the hassles of shipping it over I got my good friend Toshi to check it out and he discovered it was in great condition – the cases had never been apart. I took off the apes and six-inch over front end but otherwise kept it as it was, with all that glorious survivor patina. It’s the one bike I’ll always keep.