Hand-Built In Iowa
The sun began to set on another eventful day at Harley-Davidson's 105th Anniversary. Onlookers, whose heads were busy turning all weekend, became fixated on a motorcycle like no other. It stood in front of The Milwaukee Art Museum, beaming sleek, nostalgic characteristics. Hundreds gathered to catch a glimpse of the machine. Some thought it was unusual. Others thought it was futuristic. Everyone agreed it was art.
"I just had an idea for a motorcycle I just had to get out of my head," says bike-owner/builder Darren Knoll. The Maxwell, Iowa, native admits he just wanted something no one else had. What Darren originally had was a '99 H-D Road King he purchased in Indiana. After a few repairs, he rode it stock for the better part of 60,000 miles with the intentions of realizing his dream.
And so it started in December 2007 with a simple one-dimensional drawing on the wall of his garage. Countless hours later and a little help from friends, Darren said he surprised a lot of people, including himself.
"The end result is better than I ever thought it would be," Darren says. "It's exactly how I imagined it, and I wouldn't do anything differently."
"It's an awe-striking machine," says friend Jamie Morris. "It's difficult to put into words what Darren has accomplished. It truly is a work of art."
During the design process, Darren said he wanted to hide things that are normally obvious on any bike. So, in this spirit the gas tank features a hidden filler-neck underneath the left-side handle bar. Also, the carburetor is located directly under the gas tank. Finally, the taillight is hand-formed, hand-built, and molded into the fender to give it the one-piece look he was striving for.
"I wanted this to be one big flowing piece of metal and I think these little things help pull it off," Darren says.
But what may be the biggest secret is its most unique characteristic.
"When people first look at it, they think it's all fiberglass. Then I tell them it's all metal and their jaws hit the floor," Darren brags. Using a hammer, beanbag, shrinker/stretcher, and small English wheel, Darren used his hands and tools much like a painter would a paint brush, letting the bike come to form on its own. It wasn't easy though.
"This was my first time shaping sheetmetal," says Darren, a 20-year veteran automotive technician. "I watched a bunch of videos on how to do it and just practiced until I felt comfortable with a particular piece." Darren used 18-gauge sheetmetal to create the "sculpture on wheels." He estimates it adds an extra 300 pounds to the bike, resulting in a smoother ride and exceptional handling.
Because of the amount of detail and troubles shaping the metal, the project took much longer than Darren originally planned. He struggled to shape the fairings to fit the gaps just perfectly on the sides and handlebars. The days, months, and bike shows passed. Darren was a no-show in the J&P Cycles' Show in Anamosa, Iowa, and Metzeler Sturgis Bike Contest in South Dakota.
"I started to get pretty frustrated after I missed those two shows and the bike wasn't done yet...but I was determined to get it done and get it perfect," Darren says.
Finally, a breakthrough. After shaping the metal and bolting it all together, Darren's dream came together in bare metal and that's when he knew it was going to work. After some late-night pizza parties with friends helping out in any way they could; working nights, weekends, and 48 hours straight in some cases, the bike was completed August 6, 2008.
"We had a marathon paint weekend," says friend Juan Valdez. Juan said even though it was a two-tone project, it was a challenge to keep paint consistent because of the unusual contour of the bike. "But Darren made it work and I think it's pretty sharp."
Besides enjoying the open road on his new-look ride, Darren says it's the wide-range of reactions he gets from people that pleases him most. "I never thought building a bike like this would strike interest and imagination in so many cultures," Darren says. "That's probably the most satisfying part of all." Darren, 48, plans to build other bikes for sale, knowing full well the struggle that is transferring a vision onto paper, or in this case, turning his vision into one hot bagger.