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Photo by Genghis

RED DEVIL PAINT: The gift that keeps on giving.

My first Harley, my '68 Sportster named "Sally The Bitch," was cosmetically perfect. Sally was a frame off custom that I put a lot of time and work into. After disassembling Sally, I filed all the protuberances off of her frame, then I molded the frame with fiberglass. I then lovingly painted the frame with rattle can Kalifornia Kustom candy apple red. The paint job didn't look like a rattle can job---it looked as professional as professional can be, because I took the pains to sand after each coat of paint---resulting in a finish that was objectively indistinguishable from an expensive paint done by a seasoned professional. The paint was that good. You can read about my painting of Sally in "The Chinese Laundry Cellar." Sally's frame turned out to be a smooth and flawless objet d'art, fit to be a museum display, replete with a silently rotating base, with classical music playing softly, softly, in the background. A museum docent would say, "We're walking, we're walking....shhhhh....observe the sheer magnificence in front of us...."

The paint on her tin was equally flawless. Yet, I somehow missed seeing Sally's OEM-configured frame---gnarly bits, protuberances and all. There's something that is so authentic, so traditional-looking about a untouched black OEM Harley frame---call it a link to our stripped-down-Harley roots from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, when these bare bones bikes proudly displayed their unmodified frames for all to see---that seems to be diluted by a Harley frame that has been too finessed, like Sally's was. I was proud of how Sally looked. Yet, I knew that I would take a different tack when I got my '71 Super Glide, Mabel, in 1985. I had this question in my mind: Is the imperfection that is inherent in an unmodified Harley frame, the one marker that gave the bike its very personality---the appeal that sets her apart from all the rest? Is there truth to the platitude, "Unmodified's best, screw the rest?" when it came to Harley chassis? Is the classiest chassis one that's had nothing removed by scalpel or hacksaw? Was the "perfection" of a "cleaned-up" Harley frame, a form of neutering---a surgical excision of the natural hormone that allows a Harley to be herself, instead of a sanitized and gutless version of said motorcycle? Was the hacking off of uneven portions of a Harley frame, like the wanton extraction of the estrogen, that made her so sexy in the first place? I believe so.


An OEM Harley frame painted black, is disarmingly honest. I can stand there and look at a Harley OEM framed bike, which hasn't had her frame hacked up in an effort to make it "look clean," and the sight actually excites me. This is especially true of '60s era Sportsters, and big twins from 1936 to 1985. Not lurking beneath the tin, these black OEM frames sit proudly around their righteous Harley motors that they adoringly cradle, and assume a position of pride, in all of their wonderful traditionalism. Nothing is hidden. The uncut frames sit there in all of their honest, gutsy, glory, finally standing out---and outstanding---once all of the dresser parts have been stripped-away. I knew that my Harley 74's classic 4-speed swingarm frame would remain uncut and black, the last half of Harley Orange & Black. Mabel's frame would keep all of the historically-important gnarly bulges, hills and valleys that make her a unique sister in the Harley-Davidson family. Call it a form of Protrusion Perfection in Motion. Yes, Mabel would share in common with her Uncut Sisters from the '30s to the '50s, the righteous class that made 'em so desirable as outlaw-style bikes.

There's also a practical side to this. In keeping with the tradition of uncut-framed Harleys, the maintenance of the paint of Mabel's frame, would also take a traditional tack: A paint brush and a can of black enamel would be the maintenance instruments of choice. This is the Red Devil Program, conceived by long-ago biker ancestors, whose origin has been lost in the mists of time. Can you say "Neanderthal Black?" What an elegant and simple arrangement, man---at once, traditional and pragmatic. None of this fussy, flashy, finesse paint for Mabel's frame! It's gotta be black and it's gotta be applied by a cheap paint brush! Righteous! Let the Elitist Lites have their bondo and metalflake purple! Bare bones black is the way to go!

Photo by Genghis

ARMED WITH A PAINT BRUSH: I took aim at retouching Mabel's frame and various parts.

I headed out this morning when the sun was barely comin' up, armed with my years-old can of Red Devil glossy black enamel, and a three buck brush from Saifee's Hardware in the Lower East Side of NYC. I was suffused with inspiration, a Veritable Van Gogh with a Red Devil Revolver in my holster, ready to draw and fire! I felt like Roland Deschain on a mission! I was looking forward to touching up not only the parts of Mabel's frame where the paint had either chipped or worn, but also the various originally-unfinished brackets and such, that I've kept painted black over the years, in just this manner. I've mentioned in previous articles how I was thinking of having Rosa's Cycle powder coat these parts black, but I'm changing my mind on this. We doan need no stinkin' powder coat! The simple act of using out-of-the-can black enamel on parts, is so cathartic, so satisfying to do, so "Mr. Every Biker"---why would I deprive myself of this simple man's pleasure with powder coat? It's not as if these are large parts with vast expanses like Mabel's primary cover and cam cover, that require the surface evenness of powder coat to look right (these are powder coated for that reason). These are small parts where painting-by-brush looks just as good as powder coat. The differences between the two are undetectable by the naked biker eye.

There is also something to be said that doing something as easy and straightforward as painting-by-brush, that "Mr. Every Biker" can do---and not relegated to tasks that you'd have to farm out to a powder coater's for---that is extremely appealing. In the biker subculture, there has always been a natural rebellion against elitism. That's because we realize where we came from: The Street, where our bare bones Harleys ruled over flashy garage queens. What could be more Everyman than canned paint and a three buck, throwaway brush? And talk about economical! That small can of Red Devil black enamel that I bought years ago, has paid for itself many times over! Just think of what powder coating parts cost. It's not even close.

Best of all, after performing the satisfying rite of renewing the black enamel sheen of Mabel's frame and brackets, I get to take her out----chest puffed out with great pride at her like-new appearance once again---to revel in the extreme pleasure of my Shovel's sound and her feel, as she blasts down the highway. Like this morning. There I was, Mr. Every Biker---riding his Every Biker's Harley, with new and gleaming Red Devil black paint. Does it ever get better than this? It's the little things that make being a biker so pleasurable. I'm reminded of Anne Bancroft's quote from "Point Of No Return:" "I never did mind about the little things." In the case of little things like painting small motorcycle parts with Red Devil canned paint, I would change this to read, "I dig everything about the little things." Because the little things can mean everything. Later.