By Doc Robinson of Heavy Duty Magazine, Australia
Interestingly, when this Ironhead Sportster motor went down the line at Harley-Davidson’s Engine Plant in Milwaukee some time in 1967, carbon fiber hardly existed. Sure, it was back in the 1950s that the first carbon fibers were developed for use on missiles, but they were primitive compared with today’s product. And it wasn’t until the 1970s that today’s carbon fiber composites began to be refined to the point where they became suitable for a wide range of uses.
Carbon fiber’s high strength-to-weight ratio is the core property that makes it such an appealing product to use in all kinds of applications, including cars, motorcycles, fishing rods, guitars and racquet frames, to name but a few. However, you don’t see much of it in the custom bike world and there’s a good reason for this; it’s a real bastard to work with.
Nevertheless, this somewhat discouraging fact didn’t put off Dylan Robb, from Southern Australia’s Robb Handcrafted Cycles, from taking on the challenge of building a one-off, one-of-a-kind bike, mixing antiquated engine technology with space age materials and some sport bike technology thrown in.
Dylan is one of those passionate and extremely committed guys whose brain seems to keep on whirring, generating idea after idea, many of them from left field and it is only a comparative lack of funds that sees his bike building production plodding along, rather than speeding along. Give this bloke a decent budget and stand back; he’d be building mind-blowing bikes one after the other.
Now an earlier bike of Dylan’s was the main cover bike for HEAVY DUTY magazine issue 96, a super neat and clean bobber featuring a ’67 Genny Shovelhead, with the whole bike done in a stylish old school manner so I for one, had wondered what his next creation would look like. Well, he sure hasn’t disappointed and has blown me away once more.
I’m very impressed with this bike in all its aspects; design, style, thematic coherence, finish and overall effect. However, you may not be quite so impressed and that’s understandable. Yet had this bike have come from a well-equipped workshop with various kinds of welders, lathes, milling machines and other bike fabrication paraphernalia on hand it would still be impressive.
But I’ve seen where it comes from, having visited Dylan and his soon to be bride Jess and well, let’s say “humble” is a but a start when it comes to describing it. Three words – an old shed – sum it up pretty well, along with a file, a screw driver or two, some wrenches and a rusty hacksaw.
Okay, so I exaggerate a tad, but only a tad – the hacksaw was only a little bit rusty. A presenter on Britain’s widely televised show Top Gear, James May, recently wrote a book on the breakthrough inventions of the last 100 years and the book’s subtitle is, “How men in sheds have changed our lives”. In it he writes that, “the moment of inspiration is often in a shed of some sort” and lists the Wright Brothers, Karl Benz and John Logie Baird as examples.
Well Dylan’s shed creations may not lead to major changes in the wider world but they sure get people thinking in the custom bike world as demonstrated by this very cool cafe racer style custom. Asked why he built it, his answer was straightforward and simple; “for the love of it”. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.
Dylan lists a build time of some 1600 hours over 8 months when the work of everyone involved is totaled, which equates to 40 working weeks of 40 hours each. That’s a lot of work by any standard but when you look closely at this bike and then look again, only to see another slew of details jump out at you, it becomes easier and easier to see why.
Let’s start with the motor, an XLCH, which Dylan rebuilt with twenty thou over pistons wearing cast moly rings, a balanced crank and conrods along with P cams, which were a 1966 innovation and feature a .400 lift. The heads were seriously ported, alloy solid pushrods used, and the valve gear received a modified oil gallery to feed the rockers. The valves are returned by Andrews springs and held in place with alloy retainers, while the oil pump is an STD unit and the oil filter is an Oberg piece which found its way on to this bike after an earlier life filtering the slippery stuff in a land speed record car.
An iconic Joe Hunt magneto sits in pride of place on the right side of the motor, the very type of magneto that’s broken the knees, ankles and hearts of many an XLCH rider over the years – but so what? It looks mega cool and totally in keeping with the somewhat unusual marriage of low and high tech that makes this bike what it is. Above the magneto sits an S&S Super E carb with velocity stack by Dylan, all 6 pieces of it.
And how about that sexy exhaust, fellow custom bike aficionados? Is that cooler than a truckload of frozen cucumbers or what? Ya, gotta love it; the wrapping, the routing to the left side and the underslung muffler. The pipes are mandrel bent stainless and were designed and bent by Dylan. Now don’t go saying, “Hey Doc, I thought you said he did it all in a shed he shares with a few chickens but with no equipment?” Firstly, I didn’t mention any chickens, and secondly Dylan is smart enough to find access to whatever equipment he requires.
But back to that exhaust, where a close look at the muffler reveals that it is made from aluminum and has a stainless tip. Dylan assures us that it contains some baffling and that the bolts used to hold it in place are titanium. Cool.
Back to the right side now, where we notice that Dylan has greatly modified the shape of the cam cover in a somewhat radical stylish gesture, has fabricated a very neat kick start support, split the rocker boxes and converted to an alternator. Now so well has Dylan designed this bike, so cleverly indeed, that HEAVY DUTY magazine is offering a lifetime subscription to anyone who can locate the battery box on this bike.
Trick, trick, trick – everywhere you look there is trick stuff. Take a look at the internal clutch cable activated by twist grip; yeah, it’s sorta trick but not Nobel Prize stuff. Okay, now look again at the trick-to-death way that Dylan has routed the clutch cable down the right frame downtube and along the bottom frame rail. Not only that, but those are titanium rollers, also made by Dylan.
Now Ironhead Sportster enthusiasts (they do exist, really they do) know that the ’69 model had a right hand gearshift. Not so this Dylan special, which has been converted to work on the left side with all controls fabricated by the boy himself. Let me tell you, that having examined them very closely, they are trick-to-death trick. Fully adjustable, with folding pegs on a ball detent!
The bike runs a dry clutch with Kevlar plates and the primary is duplex with a solid crank drive while down the back is a 530 O-ring chain driving an alloy sprocket. You’ll have noticed that the primary cover is a carbon fiber unit, as are the rear guard, the chain guard, the seat base, and the very trick right and left fuel tanks. Cleverly, Dylan has located some of the electrics in the left hand tank. Now a keen eyeballing of this bike will elicit some minor flaws in the carbon fiber work here and there but given that it’s a first effort, I for one, will forgive them.
Dylan tells me that he not only designed the tanks with their flowing compound curves and indents, but made the plugs and a few of the molds for some of the various pieces of carbon fiber on this bike, while Peter Wickham did some work on the tanks and Peter Trewarther laid the carbon fiber of the tanks.
The rigid custom frame was designed by Dylan and Luke and built from chrome moly 4230 but with a tool steel neck raked to thirty-two degrees. The frame was built by Gworks Custom Cycles in Geelong Victoria and is powder coated in carbon black and at the rear are heim joint adjusters that provide wheelbase adjustment. The 53mm forks began life on a Ducati 916 SPS as did the triple trees but as you might expect the fork stem required considerable modification to make it fit like it was meant to be there.
Now while I’d like to tell you that Dylan made those slick and trick carbon fiber wheels on his kitchen table with a Mixmaster and the help of his cat, but alas, it would not be true. In fact, the wheels are the superb Blackstone Tek Products (BST), Harley-Davidson V-Rod wheels, which are available in a 5.5 or 8.5-inch rear and on a V-Rod are a direct bolt on replacement for the original wheels.
The front disk rotors are one-off wave items with titanium floaters, ready to be gripped by a pair of 4-spot Brembo calipers, while at the rear a 2-spot unit grabs the solid stainless rotor when needed. Dylan credits Max Trewarther with making the rear disc and bracket and Luke McPherson for the front rotor adaptors. Stainless brake lines sheathed in black add to the dark custom look of this bike. Oops, did I just steal a Motor Company marketing term when I said “dark custom”? Err – maybe, but what the heck!
Now for a look at the seat, that very cool seat. Well folks, it’s a one-off carbon fiber unit with gel inserts, Grippa seat covering and with the LED taillights and indicators molded into the rear section. They may look small, but they are very bright indeed. The seat rides on a beautiful piece of mechanical art rising rate linkage and a Fox air/hydraulic adjustable shocker.
The Dylan-built handlebars are billet items, featuring knurled grips and internal clutch and throttle and mounted on Ducati clip-ons with the master cylinder also from Bologna while the switch gear consists of flush mount micro buttons. The headlight is modified from a 2006 Gilroy Indian and modified by Dylan, the speedo is a wireless pushbike unit, and the oil gauge is by Twin Tech.
There’s more, much more that could be said about this dramatically different custom, a bike which is about as far as you can get from the raked out, beach ball tyred customs so popular on the scene. But diversity after all, like variety, is the spice of life. Viva diversity.
Dylan’s aim is to one day represent Australia in the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building and as I write this is off to a good start having won both the Melbourne and the National round of the Australian series taking out Best Bike and Best Engineered.
Dylan wishes to thank everyone who was involved in this project, but in particular his lovely wife Jess, “for putting up with my obsession.” A big thank you goes out to Fiber Infusion Australia who specializes in fiberglass sales and repairs, resin infusing, custom composite components, boat building and marine engineering. Thanks also to Peter, Rob, Max and Neil Trewarther, Shaun Cashion, Darren Hansford, Luke McPherson from Gworks, Peter Wickham and Sue O-Flarety. Plus a special thank you to the HEAVY DUTY team who’ve always been supportive.
Bikernet.com Extreme Tech Chart
Bike Name: Stealth Bommer
Company Info: ROBB HANDCRAFTED CYCLES ; RHC
Wheels – Front
Make: BST carbon fibre
Brake calipers: twin brembo 4 pot golds
Brake rotor(s): twin one-off 320mm wave rotors by RHC & Gworks
Tire: Bridgestone 120×19
Make: BST carbon fibre
Brake calipers: Brembo gold twin pot
Brake rotor: One-off RHC/ Max Trewarther solid wave disk
Pulley :alloy 530 anodized by RHC
Tire: Bridgstone 180×18
Specialty items: It only weighs 357 pounds, lots of carbon, molly, alloy titanium, split rocker boxes and heavily modified cam cover, and clutch release cover, sits very, very low
Comments: won the Victorian state round in the Australian Custom Championships with top bike & top engineered, and won the national title with top bike for 08/09.
Credits: Peter Trawarther, Peter Wickham, Luke McPherson from Gworks Custom Cycles, Darren Hansford and my wife Jess for putting up with the long hours and stress.