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Common Tread

Save this Softail: Part 2

Feb 04, 2014

My bike saga continues. On Saturday, I needed to compress my clutch springs on the monstrosity I picked up, and realized I was missing a pretty crucial tool to do the job. The steel yard was closed and all I had was scraps on the floor, so welding up something was pretty well out of the question.

On Sunday, I called a friend to see if he had the tool I needed. I skipped the football game, grabbed a case of cheap beer and my camera, and set off to see what was new at Roost Cycles, in Pottstown, Penn. I got totally sidetracked for the day and my bike sat quietly for another weekend.

Richard “Hutch” Hutchinson and Pete Jackson are the dudes behind Roost. Specializing in restoration, customs, and traditional chops, the two run their shop by appointment. Both men have full-time gigs outside the moto-world, but love of the game and an inability to stop cutting things led them to open their shop to the masses.

Hutch (on the left) and Captain Pete (on the right) are the brains and brawn behind Roost Cycles. Photos by Lemmy.

Both men share a love of customized everything. There is seemingly no bike part they are unwilling to fabricate. What they cannot get or are unwilling to pay for, they simply make. I was there to borrow that 5-speed clutch compressor, but Hutch suggested I make one -- even though he had one in his toolbox. They are notorious for putting lost hours into a bike simply to make something unique that no one else has. A few of you readers may remember the beer cooler trike that made an appearance on Ride Your Bike To Work Day at Revzilla.

Hutch's trike build was composed of Ford Thunderbird spare wheels, a Honda CB900 drivetrain, an old Durfee girder he shortened up, and the rear end from a Suzuki Samurai.

That trike is a perfect example of the sort of madness these fellas get themselves into. But they strike a balance by also turning out very traditional choppers and customs, like Pete’s project du jour.

Pete’s current build is a ‘51 Pan, affectionately dubbed “Terrapan.” The Terrapan began life as a wishbone frame and Pete applied saw and stinger to it until he got the geometry the way he wanted it -- long and laid back. Terrapan has a choice front end on it -- a Harman spirder. (A “spirder” is a portmanteau of the words “springer” and “girder.” Effectively, it is a girder-style front end with the springs hidden in the rear legs.) It’s a rare and costly piece that gives a bike an especially skinny, spindly look. It rolls on Invader wheels, as classic as classic can get.

Now, we move back to the radical end of the spectrum. Hutch is in the midst of building himself “Slowpoke.” Slowpoke is a Harley 45 being installed in a later Big Twin frame. Slowpoke will also have a Big Twin transmission and it will be a totally rigid bike, with no suspension anywhere. Of course, for a fully rigid bike to be rideable, the forks need to be long enough that they flex -- a flexible rigid! To fit a front end of this length on a bike requires heavy frame modification, none of which scares the boys at Roost. Take a look at the neck of this frame the fellas are whipping up. That’s a whopping 54 degrees of rake. (The average sport bike has around 27 degrees!)

If you want a six-foot-long-front end on your bike, you need a healthy dose of rake angle to pull it off.

The guys are working on a modern Triumph chopper right now for a customer build. It began life as a 2007 Speedmaster, hence its working title: “The Sleazemaster.” It’s currently in a rigid frame (which is also going to serve as the oil cooler) and is wearing a 23-inch front wheel. Radical does not begin to describe the transformation this bike is undergoing.

Modern bikes like this Triumph chopper have a home at Roost, too!

I think what makes this shop — and these builders — so interesting is the way they approach their work. Firstly, neither seems to be working, ever. They look so overjoyed to be playing with motorcycles that you might not guess they worked at the shop. Rather, you could peg them for a satisfied customer. Neither owner is old. Both are in their early 30s. They both display a respect for the motorcyclists who went before them that is evident in the way they speak. You can see it in the items that turn up in their shop and the hours they spend on motorcycles they know will never sell for auction block prices. They rescue all manner of items and typically wait for just the right situation to use them. There are surprises to be found all over their cavernous shop. I found this tasty treat hiding under a workbench, cuddling up with an old Invader wheel that had seen better days.

Peekaboo! I found the coolest things in their sprawling shop hiding in all manners of places. This genny engine was tucked under a desk, keeping an ancient, cracking Speedmaster tire company.

Even when work involves making choppers, you don't forget where you make your living.
Like so many chopper guys before them, these guys are ultimately the real deal. They’re working joes who go out of their way to help anybody on two wheels, even the little ones who wander by occasionally needing bicycle help. They both muddle through long hours and insurmountable problems, but when they hang up the welding hood, they are family men to the core. These fellas treat their riding brothers like actual family. Like the bros of days gone by, you’d be hard-pressed to tell who was kin at a family reunion and who was simply a bearded vagabond “brother.” Hutch’s daughter, LBK (Little Baby Kaitlyn), is something of shop royalty and the fellas make no secret of that. And why should they?

When it’s all said and done, what do you really leave behind? Rusty old bikes, memories, and the hope that you may have changed lives for the better. Roost Cycles is getting old bikes running one at a time, and making friends and seeking out the good times while they’re doing it. Doesn’t sound like a bad gig to me.

Save this Softail: Part 1

Save this Softail: Part 3

Save this Softail: Part 4