Don Hotop titled this machine as a 2009. But with an engine swap, it could as easily be recognized as a late 80’s model, given whose hands have crafted it. The machines that Don has been building, consistently, over the course of years in his simple shop are clean, well done, detailed and timeless in their purposeful, muscular simplicity. There I said it.. purposeful muscular simplicity. Chew on that. Under “clean machine” in the Pictionary, you’ll see Don Hotop’s likeness.
Hotop’s resume is as storied as the day is long, and history will identify him as a Hamster as well as a founding father in terms of the VTwin custom empire. The number of years he has been in the “business”? Well they numbered 33 at the time this machine was built in 08 – now you understand the significance of 33, and here you were thinking Latrobe. With that out of the way, lets get down to what’s really happening here in sleepy Ft. Madison, home of the Iowa State Penitentiary, across the street from the HyVee – where Hotop has his purposefully placed his shop.
But first the bike, addressing the bits, pieces and parts: we have a clean, flawless Daytec frame holding a tough, pretty and very purposeful 121 TP Engineering VTwin engine. The pipes are cut up V&H units, the bike inhales through an S&S G, Don’s carb of choice, the tank and fenders are courtesy of Russ Wernimont. So far the pedigree is right where you’d want it – solid.
The wheels are Drag Specialties units that were striped and fitted with stainless spokes. Perse provides the front end lower legs and the trees are 41mm Ness units that were in the “back” of the shop, long out of production and waiting all these years for a home. Fork guts are all H-D. Base paint was provided by Gary Barnes, with embellishing art by Mike Robbins.
The front “fork brace from hell” as Don refers to it, is a simply executed, extremely complex multi-part unit, which allows the front end to perform great, stay firm in the sweepers, keeps the fender off the tire and look killer. Lots of parts and pieces were required to pull off this super sanitary, simple looking unit, and needless to say you will not be finding this design in production anywhere soon – it is just too much work to execute.
This as much as any other part typifies what we’d expect from a genuine OG like Hotop. The brace had to work perfectly, and of course no weaseling tricks, no slotting to make it easy, no slop – it fits, and it fits perfectly – got it? You’d better be holding the smart end of the measuring stick if you are going to try and pull this off at home – it’s not so easy. This integral tweak bar does not bind the front-end one smidgen and the front fender is suspended perfectly, it works because Don knows not only HOW to measure but WHAT to measure –and then he builds to that measure, using hand tools – there are no hulking CNC machining centers in Hotop’s shop.
The handlebars with their integral shift light are another example of seeing things through a performance lens. Appreciating clean lines, and design it is obvious that Don’s hands have touched every part, smoothing, finessing – until they worked in a greater context. Little touches that pull the bike together – like the axle covers, abound
An open belt is currently in place to help transport locomotive force, but that just might change given some “free” time. The belt drives’ a light piece and the ratios seem appropriate, but the functionality of the unit is in question given the way Don rides the bike – aggressively. Don sees a chain drive wet clutch in the bikes future, no big challenge there. Cleaning up the oil tank so it fit perfectly was not a big deal, the fittings were thoughtfully installed and relieved in terms of vibration mounts.
A super clean GMA integrated rear pulley/brake helps bring 33 down from speed in a safe and efficient manner. Danny Gray, a friend of Don’s covered the Hotop supplied metal pan. Like everything else about this bike, it is just right, it fits perfectly – both personality wise and aesthetically.
This is the kind of bike that Don likes to build, and that more importantly, likes to ride – simple, super clean and to the point. Obviously some bling is appropriate, Don is a hot rodder and the parts he buffs tend to be the muscle bits, case in point, the gorgeous TP mill – oooh lala.
So, what’s Don been doing these days, from his clean, tooled up, quiet place in Fort Madison? Well no news here folks, he’s doing the same damn thing he’s been doing for the past 35 years – going to work every day, knocking out a few killer customs every year all the while customizing customer bikes, providing service to local riders and designing parts in the background for industry luminaries.
Just another typical year at Hotops Speed & Custom, dig it, we can’t wait to see number 35!
Images & Words: Stephen Berner