Custom Builder Iron Slave Choppers

February 5, 2009
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
Cruiser Editor |Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Iron Slave s RJ is truly old school - he s not the type to run to the nearest part store  preferring instead to figure out a solution to the problem and building his own parts instead.
The longer you look at this motorcycle the more you’ll appreciate all of the little details that make it stand out from the cookie-cutter customs.

Pride, Integrity, Guts. I’m staring at this crazy bike with super tall flat steel apes, scrolled homemade foot controls, a chainmail seat and an industrial leaf spring fork and I’m thinking whoever built this is full of all three. The spit and polish of most show bikes is replaced by the patinas of raw metal and the gold beads of weld marks. An ’81 Shovelhead and left side open primary drive add to its retro vibe. Those three words I mentioned before – Pride Integrity Guts, are printed on a vintage brass belt buckle welded on to the left side of the bike’s oil tank complete with a caricature of a 1950s-era Porky Pig as a policeman, truncheon at the ready. The more you study the motorcycle, the more antiques and artistic details you’ll discover on the motorcycle RJ Parkins calls ‘Old Soul.’

RJ runs a small shop out of Walnut Grove, California called Iron Slave Choppers and is the man behind the bike. His evolution as a custom motorcycle builder was born out of necessity more than anything else. About seven years ago he inherited a 1981 FLH from his dad.

“Everybody knows what it’s like keeping an old Harley on the road. I got tired of paying for cheap replacement parts that were made in China, so I figured why not make my own that won’t break off,” RJ said.

So he honed his craft the old-fashioned way, through trial and error. And though the circumstances that lead him to start making his own custom parts may have been coincidental, what started as more of a pastime is now a passion.
“My goal is to make everything myself if I can.”

It might look like an old Shovelhead on the outside  but with heads ported and polished by BC Gerolamy and Jim s lifters and rods  this ain t your typical Shovel.
It might look like an old Shovelhead on the outside, but with heads ported and polished by BC Gerolamy and Jim’s lifters and rods, this ain’t your typical Shovel.

Which is more of a challenge to a true garage builder than larger shops with more resources. You won’t find any high dollar CNC machines or heavy duty lathes at Iron Slave Choppers. So when RJ wanted to modify the reproduction ’81 FL frame on ‘Old Soul’ into a single downtube, he did the process by meticulously hack-sawing, grinding and filing. The stock round tube has been replaced with one of RJ’s original designs, a strip of steel with scrolls and points that fit the medieval-fantasy book appeal of the bike.

Cradled within the modified FL frame is an ’81 Shovelhead engine, his powerplant of choice because of its history and familiarity. And while it may be a vintage mill, the H-D heads have been ported and polished by BC Gerolamy, a company who stakes its reputation on making high performance head mods. RJ tweaked the engine further, installing Arias pistons and Jim’s lifters and rods. He chose an S&S carb to control the fuel flow, and sourced a 5-speed tranny from a local Californian company out of Grass Valley called Sputhe Engineering. The primary drive is an old school, belt-driven open setup that juts off the left side and contributes to the motorcycle’s old school charm.

And speak of old school. Fitted directly to the top of the Sputhe transmission is a jockey shifter on about a four-inch lever. It works in conjunction with the foot-actuated clutch pedal that he made from an old meat grinder and has the words Made In USA stamped in the steel. Wanna fire this baby up? Slide out the kick pedal that is fashioned from the

RJ Parkins likes to make bikes that are a  work of art that rolls down the street.
With a jockey shifter, foot-actuated clutch, kickstarter and a magneto, ‘Old Soul’ truly does roll old school.

brass-knuckled handle of an Army knife that dates back to 1918. Look close and you won’t find any battery either because this bike uses a Hunt magneto to provide its spark. ‘Old Soul’ is appropriately named, because the art of the kick start and the suicide clutch is lost on most bikers nowadays who’d be stuck in the parking lot without electronic ignition and a hand-operated, cable-actuated clutch.

Which you won’t find on the end of the crazy high, narrow bars on this bike. Remember those three words I mentioned before? Well here’s where Guts comes into play, because I give RJ props for having the guts to use flat steel for his ape hangers. He started with 308 Stainless Steel Flat Bar, put a slight bend in them, and ground down the edges until he got the look that he wanted. Teamed with a Kiwi Leaf Spring fork and a 21-inch Apollo wheel with plenty of spokes and you’ve got a heavy-duty, distinctive front end. Closer inspection reveals that there’s no front brake, but there is a brake lever on the right handlebar which runs to the rear wheel.

RJ used twin calipers on the rear disc just  to do things a little differently.
RJ used twin calipers on the rear disc just ‘to do things a little differently.’

RJ makes up for the lack of a front brake by using twin calipers on the rear disc. The lever on the handlebar runs to the first while the second is controlled by a foot pedal on the right. The arrangement is especially helpful with the suicide shifter, as he can keep it from rolling backwards downhill at complete stops with his right hand while he lifts up his left foot and takes his left hand off the handlebar to operate the jockey shifter.

“It’s pretty much a hill brake,” he said.

‘Old Soul’ not only looks and operates like something you’d see in an era long gone, but antiques sprinkled throughout its design add to the motorcycle’s charm. RJ confesses that he enjoys checking out the local antique stores looking for stuff that would look cool on a chopper, stating “Old stuff has a story to tell.” It is the little details like Lady Liberty Silver Dollars that serve as covers on the brake calipers and the Walking Liberty Half Dollars that substitute for washers on the foot controls that set this bike apart. Not every bike sports an old brass gas lamp that’s been converted into a taillight, or uses an Overland oil gauge that dates back to 1914 and uses an improvised Neumade gas cap. The bike is rife with originality, down to its chainmail and leather seat.

This Overland oil gauge was another antique store find that fit the throwback feel of the bike perfectly.
This Overland oil gauge was another antique store find that fit the throwback vibe of the bike perfectly.

And while the bike is stripped down, bare-boned metalwork, spots of

Iron Slave Choppers Midevil foot controls are twisted and sick. And we love  em.
Iron Slave Choppers Midevil foot controls are twisted and sick. And we love ’em.

gold and brass thrown in the mix complement the bike well. Candy Striper out of Sacramento did an excellent job on the gold inlay and pinstriping on the fuel tank and rear fender. The exhaust ports have brass tips, copper tubing snakes up the right side of the engine and runs up to the Overland oil gauge, and an antique brass Y&T lock is latched onto the clutch pedal. RJ’s even done stippling on the engine’s rocker boxes and case covers, patterns with a tribal feel that add texture and dimension to the metal. The fact that you see this process usually done on pen and paper makes what RJ’s created that more impressive.

Pride  Integrity  Guts. The motto on this antique brass belt buckle could double as Iron Slave Choppers mission statement.
Pride, Integrity, Guts. The motto on this antique brass belt buckle could double as Iron Slave Choppers’ mission statement.

Right now Iron Slave Choppers is moving into its new shop in Walnut Grove. RJ is already working on his next Shovelhead, and is taking offers on ‘Old Soul.’ His ‘Silverback’ handlebars, 26-inch tall ‘King of the Apes,’ are selling well, as are his stag-like Midevil foot controls. He offers a lifetime warranty on all of his parts and makes them to order. Didn’t we mention Pride somewhere before? Gotta love hand crafted bikes and parts. We saw first-hand the attention his work received at the recent Easyriders V-Twin Bike Show in Sacramento. RJ said people can check out his work next at The Horse’s Smoke Out Rally in Arizona scheduled for May. ‘Old Soul’ captured our attention for its originality and we anticipate RJ and Iron Slave will continue keeping it real.

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