Ken Conte took time out from his busy schedule during the 70th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to allow me to shoot his recently finished custom bike that is known as Blood Stains, Speed Kills. Ken runs a PR company in Denver Colorado called Rise Above Consulting; in fact, it is through his business that we became acquainted, as he promotes many motorcycle companies, parts manufacturers and motorcycle events. Ken has been kind enough to help me out with some great media access, invites to industry parties and supplied bikes to test ride over the years, so now it is time for me to return the favour, not that that is going to be difficult to do as this bike is a real gem.
Blood Stains, Speed Kills, took twelve gruelling months to construct, but the grain of the idea had been with Ken for a whole lot longer than that, as like most of us, he lusted after his dream bike long before he had the time and money to jump into the build. Back in 2005, Ken procured a bare bones ride from Jeff Cochran’s Sucker Punch Sallys. The basic SPS bike was nothing particularly fancy, but it provided Ken with what he was looking for at the time, a bike that he could ride the hell out of, either locally throughout his home state of Denver, or further afield to Bonneville’s Salt Flats or to Sturgis South Dakota, the World’s largest motorcycle rally. By 2008, Ken started to think that he wanted a bike with a slightly more radical look, so he enlisted the help of a friend, Ryan Boyd, of Boyd Motor Company of Loveland Colorado to help him towards that goal.
Ryan has a fantastic track record for turning out classy bikes and hotrods, so when Ken started to tell him about the sort of thing that he had in mind, he would simply answer, ‘Yeah, we can do that’. What Ken didn’t know at that time, was the ramifications of that simple statement. Put it this way, Ryan does not do things by half! By the time Ryan was happy, all that was left of the SPS donor bike was the front half of the frame, the oil tank (with new mounts) and the engine, that was it! A long way off, from what Ken had originally envisioned, a change of wheels, handlebars, fuel tank, fenders and paint! Starting with the three remaining parts, Ken and Ryan bounced around a few ideas, Ken really wanted flush mounting axle caps on the rear wheel, and particularly liked the way Gard Hollinger had tackled this aspect, but Ken also wanted a drag racing brace built into the hardtail for a hotrod look, similar to that found on a West Coast Choppers dominator frame. As if that was not enough for Ryan to contend with when reconstructing the frame, he also had to factor in the ISR sprocket brake that Ken had obtained from Gard’s LA County Choprods. As the frame started to come together in Boyd’s professional frame jig, Ken started to get an inkling that he was going to end up with a World-class custom when the bike was finally finished. As far as Ryan was concerned, there are few limits in fabrication; the sky was the limit for Blood Stains, Speed Kills.
The race inspired and clean look of the one-off hardtail frame that Ryan welded up, was then replicated throughout the rest of the build of this flawless bike. Ken found a used 35mm dual disc front end at his local bike breakers, which Ryan transformed by shaving the lower legs and by ditching the stock triple-trees in favour of a narrower custom set that he machined up on Boyd’s Bridgeport mill, of course, when making the billet trees he left room for the twin ISR brake set up that Ken wanted. Ryan also machined up some custom fork caps to finish off the front end as cleanly as possible. For illuminating his way at night, Ken decided that he would like to have a one-off mounting machined up to utilize a 4.5-inch sport light lens, Ryan predictably responded by saying, ‘Yeah, we can do that!’ Ken bought a chunk of aluminium, which Ryan spent no time at all in skilfully hand turning into the light shell, the finished piece is both totally unique and beautiful. As the finished components started to pile up, Ken came to the decision that he wanted a brush look finish for them, rather than high lustre. All the parts that were machined from steel that were not painted went off for chrome before getting the Scotch-Brite treatment that was brought to the fore by visionary bike builder Russell Mitchell of Exile Cycles.
It was decided that Blood Stains would be fitted out with mid-controls in keeping with the racy look of the bike. Ryan designed the lines of the mid-controls to match the lines of the fender struts. Of course, they are no normal set of mid-controls, as Ken wanted them to be super stout Ryan welded them directly to the frame, and to make sure that they have silky smooth travel in operation, they come complete with phosphor bronze oil impregnated bushings. By opting for mid-controls Ken can really feel the bike underneath him, and it has kept the narrow aesthetic of the project.
Ken got the idea for the fuel tank from Sucker Punch employee Justin, aka ‘Princess.’ He had taken an ugly old Superglide tank from the 1970’s and narrowed it, (and blown it up in the process, but that is another story). Ken liked the idea, but wanted to take the concept a step or two further, namely by dishing the sides to look similar to that of a Triumph Bonneville tank, and by adding a complimentary ridge to the centre of the tank to match the one found on the Led Sled Mohawk rear fender. To complete the custom look of the now complex fuel tank, a flush finish screw was welded into place for a billet filler cap. Ken was by now in awe of Ryan’s talent, as Ryan had taken care of the masterpiece fuel holder as if it were nothing at all, he even let Ken have a go under his tutorage, so that he felt a deeper connection with the finished project.
The more Ken and Ryan got into the venture, which took a year of nights and weekends, the more Ken started to enjoy the process, and the less he would tolerate, what had now become inferior sub standard mass produced so called custom parts. It looks like the build turned out to be something of a baptism of fire and a steep learning curve for the PR company director. Ken chose to go with exactly the Baker transmission that he wanted rather than the box that originally comes with his SPS ride, he opted for a five speed, kicker only, with no starter ear and hydraulic clutch. He is glad that he did too, as it has turned out to be the best transmission he has ever owned, not that I am surprised by that, as Bert Baker’s transmissions are the undisputed world’s number one producer of high quality gearboxes, that just about every top custom bike builder uses. Gaining a smooth slick-shifting gearbox that is super quiet in function was not the only benefit that Ken has gleaned from this high quality component, the combination of hydraulic clutch and ISR hand controls has allowed Ken to really dial in the actuation, to the point where it feels more akin to something found on a high end sports bike rather than a Harley-Davidson.
When it came time to decide who should paint the project, Ken knew that there was only one man for the job, and that man was Kirk Taylor, of Custom Design Studios. Ken had a clear vision in his mind as to what he wanted, and relayed his ideas of painted panels to Kirk as best he could, without missing a beat, Kirk said that it wouldn’t work, or give him the look that he was after, however, he understood the sentiment, and would be able to run with the nub of the idea. And that is what you should expect to hear from a quality painter, you are paying them as much for their knowledge as their skills with a paint gun. When the paint came back, Ken could not believe what Kirk had achieved, the DuPont candy apple red looked about a mile deep, and the silver flake lettering and charcoal lace effect flawed him with its supreme balance, a look that only a skilled painter can pull off. Kirk hadn’t forgotten Ken’s brief either, you only need check out the fine white and black pin striping that has been applied to the fuel tank, to see a subtle rendition of what appear to be panels, the work of a true master craftsman who really understands the art.
While the paintwork and chrome were being taken care of, the next order of priority was to get the motor looking like something that would belong in its new and vastly improved home. The engine had a ton of miles on it, and looked like it too, as money was tight, Ken went the matt black rattle can route that I’m sure all of us have taken at one time or another. The finished look was not brilliant, but at least it was a little better. The next step was to switch the rocker boxes; Ken ditched the somewhat angular Evo boxes for covers from Fuller Hot Rods. They are really designed for Sportsters, but as Evo heads and Sportsters have the same footprint they were an easy switch. The all but stock 1340cc Harley-Davidson engine now causes a lot of confusion and head scratching when people see this sort of set up for the first time, they just can’t figure out what kind of motor it is. The intake manifold was bead blasted to clean it up, and the carburettor got a thorough overhaul before getting topped off with a smoked glass velocity stack further adding to the unique look, and further upgraded the finish of the bike.
Attention to detail is the key to attaining the highest standard, with that in mind a small sample of the paint was sent to Eric at Insane Chains so that he could make up a killer chain to match. For the saddle, like the paint, there was really only one man to go to, and that man was East Coast’s Paul Cox, Paul has a knack with leather that leaves his competitors in the dust. Blood Stains, Speed Kills was finally coming together for the last time, Gardner-Westcott 12-point fasteners have been used throughout the assembly, and with the exception of a few parts, hardly anything has come from a custom catalogue, Ryan lovingly hand made as many parts as possible, the amount of attention paid to the smallest details really impressed Ken, and now he can’t thank Ryan enough, it is through Ryan’s tireless work that Blood Stains rolls the highways and byways of North America, blasting away one town at a time.
Ryan has benefited too as parts such as the risers, battery box and medium wide trees and smooth axle caps have proven such a smash since Ken’s ride hit the streets; that they have spawned a spin off of parts, that are now marketed by Boyd’s and sold to customers worldwide. Ken is very happy to be sporting the original prototyped parts, and flattered that others want the same for their own bikes.
Special thanks to Ryan Boyd of Boyd Motor Company, Paul Cox Leather, Kirk Taylor’s Custom Design Studio. And finally to Ken’s wife Mary for looking after their children Elvis and Layla on all of the nights and weekends that Ken spent wrenching life into Blood Stains, Speed Kills and for stopping him turning to fast cars, cheap thrills, rich girls, fine wine, for losing sense, for losing control, for losing his mind.
Builder Ryan Boyd
Owner Ken Conte
City Fort Collins, Colorado
Model Blood Stains, Speed Kills
Builder Donny Loos at Don’s Customs
Heads HD with Fuller Hot Rods rocker boxes
Carburettor S&S Super E
Air Cleaner Bare Knuckle Choppers’ velocity stack
Exhaust Boyd Motor Company, D&D can provided by Brass Balls
Primary Belt Drives Limited ‘Skinny’
Final drive Chain, ISR Sprocket brake
Make Heavily modified SPS/Santee by Ryan Boyd
Forks Boyd/HD 35mm telescopic dual disc
Triple trees Boyd Motor Company
Front wheel 21-inch SPS with Boyd’s hubs
Front tyre Metzeler ME880
Calliper Dual ISR twin piston
Rear wheel 16-inch SPS with Boyd’s hubs
Rear tyre Metzeler ME880
Calliper ISR 4-piston sprocket brake
Handlebars Boyd Motor Company
Risers Boyd Motor Company
Hand controls ISR Chopper adjustable
Fuel tank Boyd Motor Company
Oil tank SPS H-Bomb, modified by Boyd Motor Company
Headlight Boyd Motor Company
Taillight Boyd Motor Company
Front fender MIA
Rear fender Led Sled
Saddle Paul Cox
Foot controls Boyd Motor Company mid-glide
Mirrors On and off as needed by State law
Painter Kirk Taylor’s Custom Design Studio
Colour Candy apple red, silver flake with charcoal lace
Moulding Custom Design Studio
Graphics/Airbrush Custom Design Studio
Chrome Denver Bumper
Brush finish Scotch-Brite