What a little sensation this Bling inspired chopper is, but what really attracted my attention to this back to basics, style of rigid, was the fact that Andy Bergin and his girlfriend never seemed to be off it. I’d see them out riding two-up everywhere I went in Daytona during Biketoberfest with big smiles on their faces. Finding them parked up to request a photo shoot opportunity on the other hand proved to be a more difficult task to achieve. Even when I did finally catch up with them, it took a little persuasion to get them out of the saddle.
You will need to have been living in a cave for the past decade not to know the name Bill Dodge, and have heard of his company Bling Cycles. Bill came to the fore and gained widespread national American notoriety as Jesse James’ main man at West Coast Choppers, when reality television took its first tentative bite out of our previously shrouded and private domain. Like everything American, that television program soon filtered out into Europe and the rest of the developed world, until Bill became a well-respected household name. Of course, this was at a time before Teutul mania, when custom bike building meant more than staged arguments and inflated egos. Whatever plus or minus effect television programs such as American Chopper, Biker Build-off, Build or Bust, Monster Garage and a slew of other less notable programs had on our custom bike world, parting company with Jesse afforded Bill the opportunity to turn his back on mega buck chopper building way before the recession stuck a greasy spanner into the works and all but killed $100,000 plus bike building overnight. Bill chose to take a refreshing path, rather than making himself rich, he instead turned his attention and passion into the construction of building something more personal, and crucially, more affordable for the average Joe on the street, rugged looking bikes that a normal working man can aspire to own. He has also inspired others to follow in his ‘keeping-it-real’ footsteps.
No matter how relatively affordable a genuine Bill Dodge built Bling Cycle’s creation might be, it will always be out of reach to some bikers. That however, need not be the end of their dream, of owning a similarly styled bike. Take Andy Bergin’s bike for example, you can instantly see where his inspiration came from, but building his version with an old Iron Head Sportster motor rather than the more expensive Knucklehead engine that Bill favours for his builds, has brought the build cost down dramatically, as did doing all the work himself!
I feel that until recently, many fat wallet clutching customers were guilty of being completely disconnected from the build process, and if they were honest with themselves, even from what they really wanted from their custom bike once finished, having in reality, only bought into owning a brand, a bike from a named builder at the very cost of individualism and rider enjoyment. No chance of that happening here! Andy’s bike is a hotchpotch of parts, a hand cut and hand formed sprung diamond plate steel saddle can hardly be called luxurious, but it does the job admirably. The use of a Husqvarna fuel tank, harks back to an earlier age of custom bike building before it was possible to procure an off-the-shelf pseudo custom offering, and the two-into-one white bandaged Low Pro exhaust system hints at an ability of speed, which it should, as Andy has been into the motor, in short, the ensemble of chosen parts offers a compelling finished bike that is very much a blend of scrambler meets Mad Max; a bike that is just begging to be thrashed for the pure hell of it. It was also apparent that Andy is not precious about his bike, instead of worrying about the corrosive effect of sand and salt spray on his pride and joy, when it came time to park up on the World’s Most Famous Beach, he just grabbed a handful of throttle and spun the back wheel until the chunky Dunlop back tyre sunk deeply enough into the sand to support the little chopper. Class!
Andy would like to thank everyone who understands the philosophy of this simple bike, the bikers who really ‘get-it,’ those that can appreciate a real back yard build, rather than a high dollar custom motorcycle that was purchased without any design input from the owner. Andy only bought the bike in February 2009, a week prior to Daytona Bike Week, at that time; it was a primo, complete and running 1974 Sportster. Andy’s big idea for this project has been to build the bike that he wanted without permanently altering the factory produced Harley-Davidson frame. This route still gives him the ability to change the bike back to stock in little more than a weekend, should the value of old Iron Sporties start to climb. This however, didn’t make him bashful about splitting the old 1000cc iron lump to replace the pistons that had been slotted into place in Milwaukee with more modern Wiesco offerings, he also reground the valve seats and switched to Rowe stems and guides and binned the mild Harley-Davidson camshafts replacing them with wilder Andrews grinds. A free flowing air filter gleaned from a close friend, Joe Brandau was fitted to a Keihin carburettor and a Dyna-S ignition pretty much wraps up the engine mods that give the lightweight Sportster a little extra punch. Truth be known, these old Sportsters need all the extra little help you can give them in the engine department; when this particular Sportster left Wisconsin in 1974 it came with just 61bhp, even when Harley-Davidson released their best looking Sportster of all time, the all black and mean looking bikini faired XLCR three years later in 1977, their engineers had only managed to coax an additional seven ponies out of the rapidly aging power plant.
There has been such a backlash against high dollar custom bikes in the past year, that you rarely see anyone riding one in America anymore, in fact, I would go as far as to say, many of the owners are probably embarrassed by them, as the coolest thing to be seen on now, are low budget bikes such as this. Cool is now defined as: A bike that is both stylish and fun to ride, but one that didn’t cost the earth to build. Now, if you cast your mind back to my introductory sentence, you will remember that I told you how much time Andy and his young lady spent tooling around Florida and enjoying their vacation on their Bling inspired ride, and surely that is the point of an individual’s simple, fast and functional dream motorcycle, something that you just love to spend time on. Less really can be more!
As if further proof were needed that we are now living in very different times, as I conclude this feature, word has reached me that the dysfunctional Teutal family’s American Chopper series has been axed as of February 11th 2010 (in three days time). How about a new reality biker build program that is exactly that, reality? A program where you see down to earth bikes, with down to earth prices constructed for the pure enjoyment of watching and understanding the engineering.
Photography by Steve Kelly and assistant photographer Simon Webster
Owner/builder Andy Bergin
Model/name Bling Inspired Sportster
Motor Reworked 1000cc Iron Head H-D Sportster
Air filter Free flowing aftermarket
Exhaust Andy Bergin 2-into-1 Low Pro glass pack
Transmission Harley-Davidson 4-speed
Frame Andy Bergin modified Harley Sportster
Frame mods Bolt on hardtail
Risers Bill Dodge ‘Tri-power’
Handlebar controls 1972 Kawasaki H2-750
Mirrors H-D SX175
Front fender Kawasaki H1-500
Rear fender Found at swap meet
Struts Andy Bergin with brake rod pass through
Headlight Upside down Harley Sportster
Taillight Reproduction Sparto with Andy’s homemade lens
Petrol tank 1974 Husqvarna 360
Saddle Andy Bergin with own design shock assistance
Front wheel Harley-Davidson spoke
Front tyre Bridgestone
Front rotor/brake Harley-Davidson
Rear wheel 18-inch Harley-Davidson spoke
Rear tyre Dunlop
Rear brake Harley-Davidson drum
Paint By Husqvarna in 1974, what little is left!
Colour Orange, black and chrome
Polishing Andy Bergin by hand
Special parts Homemade chain tensioner made from H-D Big Twin primary chain buffer and cut down coil spring.
Written October 2009