I have said this many times but has never rang truer...one of the hardest things we do is select the builders, but it is also can be one of the most fun & rewarding. We have had some really cool & interesting guys come through this process over the years and Paul Cox is one of those guys. It's really crazy how all this works...I remember watching Paul & Larry on Biker Build-off ( yes I watched every one & love them) and being blown away with what they were doing..... flash forward a decade or so and now I'm putting on a show & he's in it...that's nuts! Paul's body of work is amazing and goes way beyond building motorcycles. He is a old world craftsman, an artist, a true professional and a gentleman....builds a mean chopper too. Last year Paul went above & beyond to show the Born-Free crowd what he was capable of and he definitely delivered. He's back this year and just sent in a few pictures and words on what he is up to...
I’m very proud to say that I’ve been asked back to be a part of this year’s Born Free
Show #7. When I built my bike for the show last year, The Guillotine, I felt really driven
to pull out all the stops and basically re-invent and re-engineer everything involved with
the project. This tends to be my approach to most things in my world, especially
motorcycles. I see something in front of me, and have a need to change, improve or
completely make it over from scratch. I feel a painful excitement when I know what I
“want” to do, but also know that there is not enough time to truly achieve it with balance
and grace. It’s a daily struggle. There should be a 12 step program for those of us with more ideas than time.
Anyway, as I planned this year’s attack, I had already started thinking of how to make
this ’46 Knuckle crazy from top to bottom. Huge displacement, about a dozen carbs, 5
magnetos, exposed flywheels with fully engraved cases inside and out. I was planning
an even crazier girder fork than last year with a frame full of steel overlays and lugs set
off by plating, paint, leafing and stripes. Then.... A certain peace crept up from my loins
like the warmth you feel slipping under the blood stained water of a slit wrist bathtub. I
said to myself, “This time, for once, I want to keep it simple.”
I picked up a 1946 HD Knucklehead FL engine from my friend and artist John
Copeland. This engine was originally owned by another pal, Andy Camay who sold it to
me years ago, then I sold it to John. It sat up on a shelf behind the bar at Black Bear for
about a year before I got it back for this project. Keeping it in the family. I’ve got the
engine completely apart, down to the bare cases at this point. My approach this time
around is to build a super clean and fun machine with classic details and a few modern
twists. As much as I appreciate original iron, I’ve never been a restoration guy. I’m a
chopper guy. So, if along the way I feel the original heads need more fins or external
drains, I’ll add em. If I want to shave some fins off the original cylinders or cut the relay
block off the cases, I will. I may do a dual Linkert set-up, but beyond that, I’m just going
to build a straight forward 74” Knuckle engine.
Another neat piece I’m working with on the project is a 1970’s era Little John 5-speed
overdrive transmission. This predates the HD 5-speed by about 10 years and is an
overdrive instead of just a close ratio. James, from Dudley’s Basement, a decades old
and respected Long Island bike shop, turned me on to this set-up. He had most of the
parts to build two of these rare gear boxes. I’ll pick the best parts of what I got from him
and try to assemble a reliable Little John trans to run behind the ’46. The shift lid is
specific to the Little John case because it has to be longer and guides an extra shift
fork. It’s a ratchet top style, that I may convert to non-ratchet for a simpler, more direct
shift pattern. Either way, it will be hand shift.
For the frame, in the light of my new-found aesthetic clarity, I’m going to hard-tail an
old Shovel frame I’ve had knocking around the shop, and clean up the original casting
for light molding and paint. I even thought about going super-sanitary with a tube neck
and no castings, but I do love the organic feeling of massaged lugs and mounts. I’ll
paint the bike here at my shop, and probably have my daughter Dylan jump in to help out.
The sheet metal is still a toss-up whether I go high or low with the tank. I have a little
piece of fender that I’ll probably start with, and maybe work some rod around the edges
to set off the shape. I’m still undecided on the oil tank, but I may weld up a couple old
spun aluminum cylinder halves that I have from a spinner in Queens. Otherwise, I
always dug the woven stainless horse shoe tanks that were being made in the Bronx
years ago. I had considered doing one last year, but didn’t. Maybe this time I will.
For wheels, I have a little spool hub for the front, and an aluminum Barnes quickchange
racing hub for the rear that I had already laced to a 17” Sun rim with stainless
spokes. This hub runs 4-bolt rotor and sprocket. I have a pair of Pirelli Scorpions laying
around for rubber, but I’ve been putting dual-sport tires on choppers for about 14 years now, so I may look into some other options there.
These are my general ideas and direction at this point. So far, I’m loving the feeling of
this project, and it’s a nice contrast to all the ones that I’ve done where I felt like it had to
be crazy and over the top. I still have a long way to go no matter how you look at it, so
it’s back to work for me right now. Good luck to all the fellow builders with your projects
and I cant wait to see. P