CA-99 is the worst highway in the world. When it’s not cold and foggy, it’s hotter and smellier than a steaming pile of poo. And it’s straight and featureless, zipping through nondescript farm town after farm town, punctuated with fields of various things California is known for.
I had a girlfriend in Fresno once, years ago, and I’d blaze up that stretch of road a few times a month, thankfully on a very fast bike. Since then, my trips up the 99 have been very few. This time, given the amount of time since the last trip, was not so bad.
Back then it took a bit of cooze to get me motivated, but Paul Binford of Binford Custom Cycles (BCC) did a pretty good job finding a suitable replacement. Paul had called me, as he does on occasion, to show me a new bike he’d built; this one, in fact. To coax me up the dreaded 99, he set up the shoot at the Castle Air Museum, hooked up a rather fine little retro pinup girl (albeit, young enough to be my daughter), and even offered to buy me lunch. I still might have declined, but in my driveway was a Victory Cross Country Tour that I wanted to get to know a little better. So I went.
For a bike like this, Castle Air Museum was the perfect location, with its slew of aircraft from before and after the era of gaping shark mouths on the underside of military plane noses. On the grounds of the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California, the museum covers acres of lawn with military planes stretching from World War II to the Cold War. But importantly, there were more than a couple with an iconic shark mouth.
The shark-nose fairing that first appeared in the ’80s has always been the more functional of H-D’s fairing designs, but despite that, a majority of people prefer the traditional “batwing,” as found on Street Glides and Electra Glides. The shark is fairly aerospace in appearance, drawing down from its high leading edge, much like the nose of a plane. So a mouth to go with that nose is only a natural progression.
The most famous shark-nose/mouth combo was the one made popular by the mercenary Flying Tigers on their P-40 Tomahawks, prior to the US entry to WWII, a group given the personal blessing of FDR to fight the good fight in China versus the marauding and heavily armed Japanese military. The P-40 was hopelessly outmatched by the lighter and more advanced Japanese aircraft, but managed to kill far more then they lost. Perhaps it’s something like destiny or irony that nowadays you’ve got American custom builders making garage-built customs from scratch using a blend of American and Chinese parts as an alternative to (faster and more advanced) Japanese sportbikes. Not that there are any Chinese parts on this bike; the forks are Japanese, but I digress.
This bike may not have gone to war tens of thousands of feet off the ground, but it has had a tortured existence as a custom-touring bike. The owner (who identifies himself alternately as “Junior” and “Carlos Santana,” neither of which I believe to be the name on his birth certificate) bought the bike and immediately upgraded to a bumpin’ stereo and commissioned a pearl orange paintjob. The shop that was doing the work even started on getting it raked out to 42 degrees, but for one reason or another work stopped and the bike moved on.
The second shop (is this starting to feel like Three Little Pigs to anybody else but me?) actually installed the Alpine system along with some bolt-on goodies. Junior decided his fly ride was ready for the big time and entered it in a local show at the Black Oak Casino in Sonora, California. Instead of the good times one usually associates with a bike show, this one dealt a double blow to Carlos: a) he didn’t have the flyest ride there, not by a long shot, and b) he wrecked the bike over the weekend.
Shop #3 was BCC in Manteca, California, deep in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. I guess we don’t need to tell you that this is the bike that came out the other side. Aside from the shark-face/WWII/pinup theme, the Road Glide got a fine assortment of Binford’s new (brass) Knuckle parts: footboards, rear pegs, and fender spacers. With all this time being spent on cosmetics, the BCC crew talked Carlos into some motor work, bringing the 103ci mill up to 125 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque.
I think it’s safe to say Junior is now a happy bagger owner. We yakked a bit over a lunch of chile rellenos (he’s a vegetarian), and he’s clearly stoked on this motorcycle, eyes lighting up when he talks about it.
The best part (not counting our awesome pinup girl) was to finish the shoot, hop back on the Victory, and head for the cool, twisty roads of the coast. Santa Cruz is one of my favorite towns, and I was headed there. •