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TIM'S BEAUTIFUL SHOVEL RIGID: He don't need no stinkin powdercoat!


"When I was knucklehead I had a few decisions to make with my frame. As I've said before, after I sandblasted off all the molding and saw the neck had not been cut, my project took a different turn. De-chopperization went into full swing. Floorboard tabs, sidecar loops,and stress bar were added back onto the frame. The down tubes, backbone, and upper motor mount were repaired as well. Not every casting would be put back onto the bike as this would be far to cost-prohibitive, but I would do my part in bringing this frame back into rideable respectability. I took a few liberties,such as making a mount for the later style panhead coil and slugged the frame for the gas tank rear mount and rear head exhaust mount but this are minor and easily removed or repaired.

Paint vs. powder coat and beautiful imperfections.

When I took my frame, front end, gas tank,and rear fender to my painter he asked me if I wanted him to smooth out the frame and springer front end castings for a cleaner job. I told him, "No,because that's how it came from the factory and I liked the grainy imperfect look of it." I remember him looking at me kind of strange and shrugging his shoulders. "Okay, if that's what you want." I had some small brackets powder coated at the time and have since come to regret that. As nice as powder coat is in its finish I now think that it's good for show bikes , but not for ridden choppers, strippers, etc. My reason for this is simple...everyone dreams of the cool time piece (weather it's stock , stripper , wild chopper , racing heritage) throwback barn find ,right? Why? Because they like the way it aged. It's small dents, scratches, faded paint. In other words, its uniformly aged heritage.....soul. When you combine paint and powdercoat it's as if you have only a partial aging process . The balance is off. Kind of like a Frankenstein monster with human body parts taken from all different age groups, or an old woman with an always fresh breast job . Thanks again for the thought provocation Genghis."


I really dug what Tim wrote. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tim. Tim is a True Biker who gets it, who transcends trendy bullcrap and sees traditional righteousness for what it is in a motorcycle. Car guys call what Tim is trying to describe as "patina." Vintage car enthusiasts describe the age-related wear and tear on the cosmetics of their old autos, as patina. What a loving and artistic term to use for the natural aging of a beloved vehicle. Patina. So simple a term, yet so expressive of the true love one has for a motor vehicle. True bikers will see the inevitable patina of age on their motorcycles as an attribute to appreciate and be proud of, instead of as a blight---which is how Biker Lites with their late-model Harleys might perceive surface aging changes. Biker Lites lack the sense of history and tradition in the Biker subculture, that prevents them to be taken seriously. For these Brando-Come-Latelys, "patina" on their bikes would signal a time to trade up for a shiny new Harley.

Consumerism rules for these folks. Does the ownership of a Harley make the owner a "biker?" It's not that easy, man. The Harley scene has been a perennially divided scene---especially since the '90s when yuppie Biker Lites discovered that they could fake their way into a subculture, by purchasing power alone. Pitted against each other, like a highly politicized and divided country, are old-line bikers in stark contrast to the "shiny new riders." Do any of these shiny riders have Harleys older than 10 years old? Do any ride Pans or Shovels? Is the next periodic trade-in for the newest and latest, inevitably on the near horizon? Guys like Tim and I are different. It's obvious that Tim loves his Knucklehead and Shovelhead, how he values 'em in his life. His purist approach to "paint, not powder coat" is a testament to that. With Tim's artistic sensibilities, it would not surprise me if he used the word "patina" with respect to his bikes.


Pa-ti-na, noun: a surface appearance of something grown beautiful with age or use.

Photo by Genghis


I on the other hand, have no qualms about mixing and matching powder coat and conventional paint. In fact, if Mabel's (my 1971 Super Glide) frame had come from The Firm powder coated black, I don't believe that one could visually distinguish it from the black enamel that it is. It is the so-called "imperfections" of the castings that give the bike her character, not the paint covering these castings. Powder coat would---as enamel paint does---merely coat the beautiful imperfections extant in the frame. The imperfections found in the OEM frame would still show through in either case. The only difference would be the method of application. The historically exciting unevenness found in an OEM frame would still show through powder coat, just it does with regular paint.

The point I was making in "Red Devil Program" was that I decided that I would not smooth out my Super Glide's frame's "imperfections," as I had with "Sally The Bitch's" (my 1968 XLCH Sportster) frame. With Sally's frame, I cut and filed away metal protuberances, and then molded the frame with fiberglass, so that abrupt surfaces flowed into the lines of the tubes smoothly. I had in effect, smoothed away any uneven surfaces. The neck flowed smoothly into the top tube and down tubes. The seat-post area was filled in with fiberglass so that it looked organically rounded. If I had to pick a descriptive term for Sally's frame, it would've been "organic" versus the "mechanical" look it had when it was unmodified. I much prefer the mechanical look of the unmodified Harley frame. If I had done Mabel as I had with Sally---as a "frame-off" project---I wouldn't have minded having Mabel's frame powder coated black---but not molded.

Photo by Genghis

ALSO POWDER COATED ON MABEL: Her points cover and fender struts.

As a method of applying a durable coating of paint, I have nothing philosophically against powder coating. In fact, I have Mabel's primary cover, points cover and rear fender struts powder coated black. The philosophical point I was making in "Red Devil Program" was that I didn't consider touching up chipped and worn paint with good 'ole canned enamel (such as Red Devil or Rust-Oleum paint) and a paint brush, "beneath me." These brushes vary from broad to fine-tipped artist brushes, depending on the offending paint chip or worn spot. Many fussy bikers would at the very least, eschew canned paint and paint brushes as too plebeian for their standing. Oh no, they've gotta use professional-grade spray equipment! That's not me, man. A brush stroke strategically applied here or there, will do for this biker. I'm not dogmatic about Mabel having all conventionally applied enamel---powder coat is cool with me. Whether her frame had factory applied enamel, or powder coat---I would still touch up worn paint and paint chips with black enamel, just as Paul (AKA "Shovelin It") does. Here's what Paul has to say on the subject:

"When I rebuilt my '77 around 2001 I had never had a new bike or fresh paint. I decided to go with powder coating. I had the frame, swingarm, oil tank, battery tray and box, tranny plate, triple trees, engine guard (under the motor), riser clamps, and other brackets powder coated for the princely sum of $300. Crazy cash huh? The guy that did the work, did racks and such for retail stores and absolutely loved the idea of doing a bike (lucky me). I must say over a decade later it still looks good and I do touch-ups with gloss black...paint.....She still looks great and I too cherish giving her the little dabs of gloss black rejuvenation when needed. Great read G, thanks."
PAUL'S 1977 SHOVELHEAD: Powder coated, but judiciously touched up with enamel.

Tim may be more a conventional paint purist than Paul and me, but we all share this in common: We have a deep and abiding appreciation for the history and tradition of the Biker Subculture. We recognize where we came from. We're throwbacks to a time when it meant something to be called a "biker." We're the anachronistic continuation of the road that our subcultural fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers forged in the life that they led, and created. We respect our Biker Ancestors. We follow their lead, and inherit their "everyman" philosophy with respect to our motorcycles, and we heel to their outlaw beginnings. We pattern our Harleys in the graven image that they set in iron and stone. Our machines are stripped, basic and essential. There is nothing more soul-stirring than a machine stripped to its essence, lean, low and savage in her authenticity.

Photo by Genghis

SAVAGE HISTORY: Outlaw-influenced.

The biker subculture has always had a Mr. Every Biker, "everyman" populist message, which is why this is a theme that is so often repeated in my writing. In Average Street Bikers---whether from the 1930s or the 2010s---there is an innate nobility that resides in them that cannot be created or copied by sauntering into a Harley dealership with a Gold Card. It's just not possible, or realistic. True bikers must acquire their own patina, a beyond-the-surface age-related change, that comes from years of dedication to their machines---and not just to their machines. Heed and a deep respect must be paid to the outlaw blood that runs through the veins of our subculture. This outlaw blood shows in the style of our bikes, and the homage we pay to our forefathers by the way our bikes are configured. All of this, leads to our inner patina.

Photo by Genghis

BADGE OF AUTHENTICITY: Nothing to gloss over.

It is not a patina that is somehow generated by attending numerous rallies, pinning 20 pounds of tin badges on leather vests, or collecting drawers full of catchy sloganed t-shirts. It is a patina that you cannot see on the surface, unlike the patina visible on the surfaces of our motorcycles. It is a deep nobility, a bearing that reflects our cognizance and respect for outlaw history and tradition. Who knew that this nobility in true bikers, could be represented by a 16 ounce can of black enamel? In the end, this discussion isn't about whether powder coat belongs on a righteous Harley or not. It is about perceptions, both about ourselves and the biker subcultural world around us. Here's what I see in this splattered, beat-up can of black enamel. When I peer into the pitch-black pool in this paint can, I see the years and decades of the Biker World, stretching back 80 years and more. This can of paint, is a microcosm of who we are. In the end, we as bikers---have the same beauty of imperfection that our bikes have. We, like our our motorcycles---are less shiny, less flashy and less perfect than the newly-minted and tin-badged Biker Lites and their new Harley-Davidsons. Later.