CALGARY — Stretched out, lean and low, Kevin Cuffley’s chopper is his ideal ride. But this machine is a long way from where he started, commuting as he did in the late-Eighties to Bowness High School aboard a 1981 Yamaha Exciter 250.
“I’ve always thought cars and motorcycles looked better cleaned up and modified,” Cuffley says as he prepares to show off his homebuilt chopper at the Ill-Fated Kustoms + Tank Kickstart Motorcycle Expo – Volume 4.
“The best thing about Kickstart is the show is all about garage-based builders,” Cuffley explains. “It’s not filled with machines where someone simply wrote a cheque and rode off on the bike. Kickstart celebrates the work I’ve done, and others have done, for themselves on their motorcycles.”
That’s what Kickstart co-organizer Kenny Kwan says the event is all about.
“We started this as a way to embrace and celebrate custom bikes and the modifications made to machines by garage-based builders,” Kwan says. “It’s all about getting your hands in there and getting dirty.
“I’m not saying these builders need to have done their own paint, their own chrome or final welding on these projects, but if your name is on the build card then you had a major hand in its creation.”
With the exception of chrome plating, upholstery work and metal engraving, Cuffley’s chopper is all his handiwork.
An RV salesman, a husband and a father, Cuffley spends as much time as he can in his double car garage. Half of the space is taken up by a custom low-rider 1962 Ford Thunderbird and the rest is his fabrication shop.
After his Yamaha 250, Cuffley first turned his attention to building cars. It was his can-do attitude that informed many of his building decisions. But it was also his lack of sufficient funds that forced him to do as much as possible for himself.
“On the T-bird, I had to cut out and weld back in at least 12 different panels,” Cuffley says. “And then when it came time to paint it, I had quotes of up to $30,000. I just couldn’t afford it, so I taught myself how to paint.
“I’ve had a couple of mentors, but experience has been my constant teacher.”
Cuffley has also taught himself to TIG weld and operate a metal turning lathe and a mill.
“I love to paint but that’s followed closely by a love of fabricating with metal,” Cuffley says.
He returned to motorcycles in 2005 when he modified a 1996 Harley-Davidson Sportster. Others have followed, but this S&S-powered chopper began when Cuffley bought the engine and Ultima six-speed transmission from a friend.
“I’d always wanted a vintage Harley-Davidson engine like a Knucklehead or a Panhead, but this Evo-style S&S was a really good deal so I picked it up,” he says.
Cuffley purchased a rigid frame from Ontario-based custom builder Maximum Motorcycles – a company that’s no longer manufacturing parts for the industry. While the frame had the look Cuffley was after, he modified it further by cutting the neck and raking it out slightly more. Into this frame Cuffley installed a springer-style chopper fork that he made from scratch, using another builder’s fork for inspiration. Other parts made by Cuffley include the sissy bar, handlebars, exhaust, oil tank and foot controls. First finished in 2016, Cuffley painted the chopper burgundy and gold.
For 2018, Cuffley decided to take the chopper apart and change it up. He welded the gas tank to the frame and cut and formed sheet metal to fill gaps between many of the frame tubes. At the U-Wrench Garage & Bodyshop rental spray booth in northeast Calgary, Cuffley primed and painted all of the metal white. Then, he laid out and masked up the flames, spraying them black with an airbrush. Gary Grodzack at Auto-Marine Upholstery reshaped the seat, cutting down the foam and stitching a new cover to make it more streamlined. Extra touches were added to a reproduction Crocker motorcycle taillight and a Cole Foster headlight when Heather New of New-Line Engraving in Crossfield, Alberta engraved the alloy parts.
Cuffley’s re-imagined chopper was seen early in 2018 at the Calgary Motorcycle Show. Now, it will be one of the 38 custom motorcycles on display at Kickstart – Volume 4 at the Christine Klassen Gallery, 321 50 Ave. S.E. This gallery is next door to the IFK + Tank motorcycle shop, and the show is on May 5 and 6. Free for the public, Kickstart runs 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Email [email protected] for more information.
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected].