Historic first: Uke's puts together a custom cafe racer in unique bike preview

Historic first: Uke's puts together a custom cafe racer in unique bike preview


Uke’s Harley-Davidson, a Kenosha institution for nearly a century, was the site Thursday for a special historic unveiling.

“This,” Kyle Brown said, standing next to a mostly assembled bike atop a motorcycle jack stand, “is the brand new ‘Iron 1200.’”

The model was the first to roll off Harley-Davidson’s 2018 Iron 1200 assembly line.

“In our 88 years of business, this has never happened before. Harley has never released a new bike to a dealer before announcing it to the world,” Uke’s second-generation owner Keith Ulicki said.

He beamed with excitement as he eyed a team of people, including two Uke’s employees, Billy Lobacz and Rob Voss, replacing parts on the Iron 1200 in the process of turning it into a sleek, gloss black cafe racer with blue and white accents.

Harley lent Uke’s and the three other dealerships the bikes several weeks ago under complete secrecy, allowing each dealer to customize the Iron 1200 as they wished.

The new model won’t appear in showrooms for about another month, Ulicki said.

None of the four dealers are aware what the others are doing.

Their teams won’t see the finished versions together until today at the BMO Bradley Center. There, they won’t be featured in racing, but they’ll be displayed at the indoor “Flat Out Friday” motorcycle races and during this weekend’s Mama Tried show there.

International effort

Along with Lobacz and Voss, Uke’s team includes members from California, Texas, South America, South Africa and Texas.

Watching the team buzz around the spotlighted section of the Uke’s showroom floor, Keith and co-owner Nancy “Nance” Ulicki, Keith’s wife, were all smiles.

“Everybody here is a motorcycle enthusiast,” Keith Ulicki said. “The first time they all met in person was (Wednesday) night at Fuel Cafe in Milwaukee.”

“The fact we did this on a phone call, that’s incredible,” said Brown, Harley’s global marketing lead. “This is not work today: This is fun! We’re just having clean, pure fun.”

In addition to overall planning, execution and “making sure everyone has what they need and getting them parts on time,” Brown said his biggest role was navigating the ideas and input contributed nationally and internationally for the project.

“My job is pulling it all together and making sure this all goes as smooth as possible,” Brown said. Nodding as he surveyed the dealership, he added, “Uke’s is the power and brain behind a lot of this.”

When Phi Nguyen got the call in Los Angeles, he contacted Johannes Bartl, a native Austrian and fellow Angelino.

“Phi called me and said, ‘I know you love Harley-Davidson. Do you want to do this with me?’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Bartl said. “I told them, I’m not an engineer, but I will give you ideas. I’m happy they used a lot of them.”

Although not known for cafe racers, which originated in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, Harley manufactured a model in the class, the XLCR, lasted for two years starting in 1977, according to Brown and Keith Ulicki.

Ulicki said Harley gave the four dealers leeway to “alter anything on this bike except the (3.2-gallon) fuel tank, which is a Sportster trademark.”

The tank graphic, a blue-and-white decal on each side, picks up on the same color combination painted on the front and rear wheel mags.

“The decal comes from about 1974, when Harley-Davidson used that graphic,” Ulicki said.

Race, not ride, styling

Harley still will own the cafe racer, though Keith Ulicki very much wants to buy the bike. But it won’t soon be ridden, except for a planned test ride in the parking lot … by, of course, Keith Ulicki.

It’s designed to be street legal, although the Uke’s version doesn’t include rear view mirrors and turn signals. By law, the latter only are required for nighttime riding, Lobacz said.

The rider will assume the classic cafe racing posture, belly down, stretched out from the single seat across the tank to grip the handlebars, angled slightly downward from the steering stem. The foot-operated gear shifter and brake pedal are mounted well rearward to accommodate the riding position.

“It’s as much race inspired as possible,” Voss said. “We mixed some modern and classic styling in a unique way. People have been building this style of bike for quite awhile. But a lot of things have changed over the years.”

“A lot of people brought in a bunch of ideas,” Lobacz said. “And Rob and I are putting everything together.”

Engineer Nerissa Cerny, from Harley’s product development center in Milwaukee, joined the Uke’s team as “the subject matter expert.”

“I know the bike and platform really well. I advised them on what would and wouldn’t work. It’s going to have a custom tune. So, our bike won’t just look great, it will run great,” Cerny said, flashing a grin.

Available cafe kit

While Harley won’t be offering the Iron 1200 for sale as a cafe racer, the company’s Roadster Sportster, introduced two years ago, has an available cafe kit.

The premise of the Uke’s customization was, Lobacz said, “If you get the Iron 1200, this is what you can do with it.”

“By the time we get done with this bike, it will be the only one like it in the world,” Cerny said.

To learn more

To watch the stock 2018 Iron 1200 be transformed into a cafe racer at Uke’s Harley-Davidson, go to www.ukeshd.com and www.facebook.com/ukesharley.

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About Craig Ballantyne 13001 Articles
I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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