Stephen Wheeler knew what he wanted in a bike since the third grade, or thereabouts. Probably. This is a bit of a projection since I think most true enthusiasts feel the rapid pulse of motor oil in their veins from a very tender age. Of course, it helps that he's been riding since the wee age of 8, and we're not talking little red tricycles here, bud.
The 33-year-old Universal Technical Institute graduate and airport ground service equipment mechanic hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico, via somewhere in West Texas. His skills maintaining all the ground motorized equipment, such as belt loaders and pushbacks, plus his prior experience as a GM mechanic, helped him convert his stock 2002 Road King into the green and gold ride you see here.
Stephen has been wrenching for about 15 years. He enjoyed working for GM, primarily on Chevys, before the crashing economy claimed him as another casualty. "I got laid off, like many other people," said Stephen. "But what are you going to do? No point crying about it, just get back up and fight harder."
Stephen's old school work ethic has served him well in and out of the grease pit. He has built a nice career and a solid marriage with his wife of 11 years, Marcia. "It's a commitment that is easy to stick with," he said. Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler have done a lot of road trips together, including several to Sturgis, Laughlin, and Las Vegas. "Yes, my wife loves to ride; she works in a Harley dealership."
But let's get back to the past. Stephen began, like so many biker toddlers, with 50cc two-strokes in the third grade and kept riding the loud oil/gas contraptions until he finished high school. Afterward, he would ride Marcia's stepdad's Heritage Softail. Nice to have a stepfather-in-law like that. "Every time I rode that bike it was two-up with her," said Stephen, fondly. "We've had many good times riding up to Taos, where my wife's family is from, Eagle's Nest and the Red River area just north of town."
Jobs carried Wheeler to Albuquerque from Texas. "I like it here, in the Duke City" he said, referring to the 303-year-old town, which was founded in 1706 by Spanish colonialists. The village was named by the provincial governor, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, in honor of Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, viceroy of New Spain from 1653 to 1660. One of de la Cueva's aristocratic titles was Duke of Albuquerque, referring to the Spanish town of Albuquerque. "Anyway, the city is cool and I like its Hispanic culture."
To better enjoy the flavor of this old Spanish city, Stephen thought it time to get his own Harley. In 2002, using Harleys Fly 'n Ride program, he flew to El Paso, Texas, to Barnett's Harley-Davidson. Stephen already knew what he wanted, a spanking new Road King Standard. "I thought it was an old man's bike, sitting kind of high and sort of geeky. But I had plans for it, I was ahead of my time; everybody wants a bagger now. I even opted for a carb rather than the EFI system. I just thought I could dial it in more to my own standards that way." Barnett's reimbursed the plane fare for him and his wife, and even threw in a couple of T-shirts. "I think I had a smile on my face all the way back to Albuquerque, about a 500-mile ride."
Stephen began customizing the Road King right away, but it was a gradual process. "I guess you could say the build took seven years. I am just a workingman; I couldn't afford to throw bucks at it in one big bucket. I chromed this and that, covers and such; on came pipes (a couple of times), new handlebars, cams, pin-striping, and whitewalls, but then at a certain point you start getting serious."