WEB SURFER SPECIAL
Engine from eBay, frame from a garage sale, seat from a surf shop...
A WISE MAN WHO ONCE SAT IN MY CHAiR DESCRIBED TO ME ONE OF the requirements of an editor-in-chief. "You're the guy who has to say No," he said. As in, not every story idea gets a green light, for reasons that range from philosophical to budgetary to simply not being the correct fit.
Problem is, Richard Pollock won't take No for an answer.
You’ve seen Pollock’s handiwork on these pages many times. Doing business as Mule Motorcycles (www.mulemotorcycles.net) out of a converted two-car garage in suburban San Diego, he turns out quite probably the world’s finest street-tracker customs. To date he’s built about 75, most using Yamaha XS650 or Harley-Davidson Sportster motors.
It was while interviewing him about his latest XS build that he sprang this on me: "Hey, we should do a project bike for the magazine; it'll be cool!" Pollock's kid-like enthusiasm is hard to blunt, and CWhas a long-stand ing infatuation with street-trackers (former Editor Allan Girdler-a.k.a. the "wise man"-just wrote about his converted XR-750 in August's "Stars & Stripes Forever").
But reluctantly I had to say No. d
"Richard, the economy's in the crapper and your bikes cost, what, $20,000 to $25,000? No, not right for the times, sorry."
"Nah, nab, nab, we can do this on the cheap," he shot back. "You're on eBay all the time, so am I, and we've all got bits and pieces in the back of the garage. And how about this? I just scored a 1972 Sportster rolling chassis at a garage sale for $100!"
Hmmm, a budget street-tracker made up of used and cast off parts? A good editor also knows when to say Yes. We'd keep the main frame (well, most of it) from that `72 Sporty, plus the iconic headlight eyebrow, but that left a lot of blanks to fill in.
Biggest empty space was in the engine bay. Someone supposedly in the know told Pollock that an early Evo Sportster motor would slot right into the space vacated by the old Ironhead. Great! Fourspeed 883s are cheap as chips, and one was quickly sourced on eBay for $1360.
Big Bugaboo #1 occurred when it came time to install the motor. Expert assurances aside, no way it was going to fit. Too tall. Just a minor inconvenience for Pollock, though, who was lopping off the frame's headstock anyway to make way for a set of his billet Mule triple-clamps so we could run an upside-down fork. (The triple-clamps themselves were "blems," bargain-priced at $300 after an anodizer's error left them an odd champagne color.) While he was at it, Pollock removed the frame's backbone, sweated out the twin, brazedin rear downtubes, replaced them with 1.5-inch-longer pieces, welded in the new steering head and tied it all back up with a reinforced backbone. New motor-mount tabs welded on, we had our engine/frame package.
Now to get it off the ground. A measly $60 got us a pair of non-adjustable Ducati Monster fork tubes via eBay. A call to my friend Kenny Dreer resulted in a set of trick Ohlins piggyback shocks, virtually new, left over from his days of trying to resurrect Norton. He let them go for $600, a $700 savings, and that included a complimentary setup and respringing by GP Suspension (www.gpsuspension.com).
The shocks attach to an old Knight short-tracker swingarm rescued from the scrap heap and heavily massaged to mate with the Sportster pivot.
Wheels look like old 19-inch Morris mags, right? Or maybe the recently remanufactured copies, $3500 the set in magnesium! Nope, another eBay score, Kawasaki fitment from the late Seventies, available online for between $50 and $75 per. We promptly spent some of our savings at Kosman Specialties (www.kosman.net) having the rear widened so a meaty Maxxis dirt-track tire would fit, a $450 operation. Gold powdercoat completed the conversion.
Memorable machines have signature components, and this bike’s is its all-wood seat, hand-shaped and clear-fiberglassed just like a surfboard. A surfer since age 9 and onetime member of the Hobie surf team, Pollock really pushed for the balsa tailsection, even when I failed to share his vision. In the end, he could not have been more right: The seat is a standout feature and it led to the bike’s “Web Surfer Special” handle. CW Art Director Elaine Anderson, former SoCal beach babe, designed the gas-tank decal, inspired by the famous Rick Surfboards “double-bubble” logo.
Time for final assembly and Big Bugaboo #2. Our cheap 883 motor was too good of a deal. Taken down prior to installing a brand-new XL 1200 Custom top-end kit (an $800 gem of an eBay find), it turned out to be roached beyond easy repair-one of the dangers of buying sight unseen. No problemo, said Pollock, got a low-mile 1993 Sportster motor sitting right here on the workbench for another project; we’ll use that.
But it wasn’t that easy. Later-model, five-speed engine cases are wider, forcing Pollock to section one of the lower frame rails along its length, then weld in cross braces to
bring the rigidity back. Motor mounts had to be repositioned, too. By comparison, the discovery of rough pitting on our cheap fork’s chrome stanchions hardly caused a hiccup.
And here’s a tip, bargain hunters: The replacement forkfrom a Ducati 900SP, fully adjustable and in an anodized brown that nicely complements the rest of the bike-was found in the backroom of a local dealership, a take-off not wanted by the owner after he upgraded his front end. Cost us all of $200! Likewise, the Brembo Goldline front calipers, $100 the pair, though they needed a clean-up and new pads ($78). Because they needed a specific offset to mount properly, the Galfer front rotors ($300) were among the few brand-new parts we had to buy. It was back to eBay for the rear brake, a Wilwood caliper ($30) favored by minisprint cars, pinching a Hunt plasma-sprayed rotor ($23), once the hot setup for 1970s TZ250 roadracers.
More cost-cutting when it came time to fab the exhaust system, made up of scrap stainless-steel bends and a used SuperTrapp megaphone. Total outlay maybe $30.
The “bro network” was heavily utilized, too.
A welder friend did up the oil tank in exchange for a good steak dinner (Pollock contributed the curved, right-side aluminum panel, “Just to dress it up a little,” and the Yamaha Seca oil-sight glass). Sundance, our favorite Harley specialists in Japan (www. sundance.co.jp), commissioned a super-strong drive chain from RK Excel and were thinking of selling it in the U.S. They sent the magazine an example, but the importation deal fell through. “Keep it,” they said, “you’ll find a good use for it.” We have, and thanks, guys. Then there was the Harley counter man who wouldn’t let Richard pay for a gas cap just because he liked the Web Surfer concept so much.
Pollock understands the attraction. "This kind of project takes over your life, your waking (and sometimes sleeping) thoughts," he says. "You end up putting your soul into it." Final bill for the parts, plating, powdercoating, paint ing and ancillaries came to $7575-call it $8K with the fudge factor. But, of course, that is not the whole story. It's like that old credit-card commercial. Sportster frame.. .$lOO. Ducati forks.. .$200. Richard Pollock's fabrication skills, problem-solving abilities and unwaveringly upbeat attitude. . .priceless.
cycleworld.com/wss BUILDING THE WEB SURFER