All posts by ITN

Custom Services, Keepin’ it real in Wisconsin

You might think that one bike shop is much like another, but that’s not so. Sure, they have similarities due to essential equipment requirements, but they have individual personalities too. This became immediately clear when I visited Jim Jones, proprietor with his brother Bill of Custom Services in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, southwest of Milwaukee.


IMG_4170There was no snarling dog, no chainlink fence and no greasy parts pile. On the contrary, this shop was remarkably organized and as close to pristine as any shop I’ve seen. More impressive, it was chock   full of work. Each lift was loaded with a bike in progress and each nearby tool shelf was impeccably ordered. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the operating room at the local hospital, it’s a working shop, but seldom have I seen one so well put together.


Though they’ve been in business for 20 years, I first learned about Custom Services from Tony Pan, whose Custom Services-built ’48 Panhead bobber we found at the H-D Museum custom bike show in 2012 and featured last April. I’d talked with Jim Jones for the story on Tony’s bike and decided to make a point of visiting his shop during H-D’s 110th. But before that could happen, another bike caught our attention; Big Bird’s Pan, featured here, came rolling into the Museum’s 2013 custom show. It was quite a looker so I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was a Custom Services build. Still, it was a serendipitous happenstance for sure.


Not one for fussing, Jim Jones gets right to the point: “We build plain, simple bikes,” he said. “It’s what we’re known for.” That may be, but like most things that appear simple, this isn’t. They specialize in building the older models, Shovels, Pans, custom hardtails, bikes with hidden suspension, even trikes and bobbers like Tony Pan’s built-to-ride custom. When the shop was younger, before they got so busy, they handled restoration work for the local Harley-Davidson dealers, but they have plenty of their own restorations to tend to these days. And there’s no love lost here for unnecessary bling and functionless trifles. “It annoys me to see fake stuff in magazines and on TV,” said Jim. This place is all about authenticity.


IMG_4118There’s no showroom to speak of, you simply walk right into the shop. But Wisconsin business requirements dictate that a fabrication shop must maintain a separate retail space. So adjacent to Custom Services—the bike shop—is a separate business called Creeper’s Customs reserved for retail traffic like T-shirt sales. The shop itself is well equipped with numerous work bays, mills and lathes, a wiring station, dyno, paint booth, and stacks of bright red toolboxes floor to ceiling. Welding and fabrication tools and materials are housed separately to keep noise and debris down.


Custom Services does quite a bit of overseas business, too, shipping finished bikes literally all over the world. For the H-D 110th, one customer was coming in from Australia to ride the ’48 Pan they’d finished for him. It would be shipped to him in Australia after the week’s end.


When I asked Jim how he and his brother Bill divide up the workload, he said, “We both just do it all. We even get along—at times.”


There’s nothing like a family business, huh? —M. Stemp

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Legends Suspensions

Keeping the focus tight and the goal clear

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp

IMG_2401Listen up because this is how it is: “We have our own CNC equipment and we make everything here,” said Jesse Jurrens of Legend Suspensions in Sturgis, South Dakota. “There are maybe three parts we don’t actually make but they’re all U.S. sourced,” he added.

That qualifies Legend as a subject for the IronWorks Made in U.S.A. section, don’t you think? We do too, so it was a good thing we stopped by to visit Legend during the 2012 Sturgis Rally. If you’ve buzzed down I-90 from Spearfish to Sturgis you’ve passed Legend, on your right as you head east, though it’s not obvious. Not that the company is trying to hide, mind you, they’re just busy is all. And that’s a good thing for owners of V-Twin motorcycles.

The company is clear about their goal: Legend is committed to using the highest quality materials and best components available to produce the best performing air suspensions on the market. “We put a lot of effort into getting it right,” Jesse said. “It’s a long process to get new products into the market but once it’s worked out right the product lasts.” 

Legend started in 1998, when Jesse convinced the Gates Rubber Company to lend their patented Kevlar impregnated rubber air spring technology to the fledgling South Dakota company. That was the springboard for Legend’s V-Twin air suspension systems, the heart and soul of the company’s current product offerings. Jesse gained knowledge about suspension systems for motorcycles by riding and studying off-road vehicles; the company has been making off-road suspensions for several years, as well. “We’ve gained a good bit of knowledge about our components’ abilities and limitations,” said Jesse, “and that research has improved all of our products including suspension systems for motorcycles.”

IMG_2424Research and development is always ongoing, too. Legend has to stay on top of every H-D model from an engineering perspective. “We test fit each new model for wheel travel, damping, shock spacing and compressor/electrical fitment,” said Jesse. “The compressor is made in Wisconsin and is common on all of our systems but compressor location, wiring and exact model fitment is always a challenge,” he said.


In addition to OEM model year changes that can affect any aftermarket product, manufacturing air suspensions is not a simple process. At Legend various components start out as aluminum bar stock that’s CNC’d to tight tolerances for each application. Over and above the more obvious parts, air suspension systems also have compressors and electrical parts—and that adds complication. In fact, some of Legend’s complete kits contain over 100 individually machined components. “We produce and wire our own handlebar controls or micro toggle switches in house,” explained Jesse. “They’re all so model specific we do it by hand to ensure quality.”

Each suspension system is thoroughly tested before it goes out the door, too. The result is that warranty calls and claims are running about .07% combined, which is miniscule. That’s why Legend is confident about offering a lifetime warranty, even for second owners. “As part of our lifetime warranty, current customers can take advantage of upgrades so they’re riding the newest and best technology we have to offer,” said Jesse.

IMG_2421“We’ve been working hard on internal efficiency as an alternative to sourcing from other countries,” he said, going on to describe the lean manufacturing model they’ve adopted. Part of that model means that ongoing employee training has become vital. “All the employees take classes one day a month,” said Jesse. “It changes slowly and is never finished but eventually it becomes a company culture as everyone evolves and develops our efficiencies together.”

Another aspect of lean manufacturing involves keeping inventory low so company funds aren’t tied up in stock. Certain metrics are used that consider order history and track manufacturing times, so components are made only when they’re needed. Standard work assembly stations are used for each model and everything required is within reach. “It’s a common sense systems approach learned from years of continual improvements,” said Jesse.

Careful thought also went into the design of Legend’s Installation Guides, which illustrate the process in four or five steps. “We made sure anyone can install an entire system with a few common hand tools just by looking at the pictures,” Jesse said. “It’s more work up front but the easier we make installation the fewer calls and problems we encounter.”

IMG_2411If you’re considering a suspension upgrade to achieve the lowered look without sacrificing ride quality, look at Legend. The company has engineered their air suspensions so that when installed and adjusted correctly they’ll provide the best ride you can get. That’s the beauty of a specific product line: when you do just one thing you can do it well.

Having said that, Legend suspension systems are not inexpensive. You wouldn’t expect them to be would you? Certainly not for high quality and top performance in a complete package—made right here, in the USA.


Legend Air suspension

Sturgis, SD


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Belt Drives Ltd.

A state-of-the-art American manufacturer

IMG_0822There’s a quiet confidence about BDL’s president, Steve Yetzke. Maybe that’s because he trusts that the products BDL manufactures at their new facility in Anaheim, California, are solid and reliable. From raw materials coming in to final packaged belt drives, brake components and clutches going out, BDL manages everything about the manufacturing process for uninterrupted quality control and predictable results.

The company had previously operated from three different buildings and the recent consolidation opened the door to a more efficient operation. “We had the opportunity to lay out the new space for the best work flow and better control,” Steve said. “It’s helpful when you have everything under one roof.”

The “everything” Steve refers to includes not only more than 50 CNC mills and lathes, but also gear cutting, rubber molding and every other process to go from product design to product out the door. “Few companies do their own CNC milling, CNC turning (lathes) broaching, polishing, and also have their own aluminum foundry like we do,” said Steve. Add late-technology CAD design capabilities, rapid prototyping, 3-D printing and a rigorous testing lab and it’s apparent that such containment of the entire manufacturing process makes a difference in the company’s ability to produce superior product at affordable prices.

IMG_0823If you’re thinking that this sort of business doesn’t sprout overnight, you’re right. Steve’s father bought a screw machine company called Pacific Broach in 1966. (Broch, by the way, describes a machining process and also the serrated tool used in that process.) Steve’s been around machine shops since he was a kid and learned his craft on the job, working at the family business through his high school years. “We made the drives on Vance and Hines’s high speed bikes, did all of Mickey Thompson’s stuff, and built parts for AJ Foyt in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said.

In the early 1980s Steve bought out a vendor who operated a metal lathe company. “I worked all day for my dad then worked all night for myself,” he said. After his father retired in the mid-‘80s Pacific Broach expanded to various endeavors such as making automobile throttle bodies and cutting belt drives for equipment in other industries. R&D for H-D-style motorcycle belt drives started in 1990 and the first units were sold in 1993. 

“I thought about several possible names for the motorcycle side of the business, like Evolution Belt Drives and All American Belt Drives, until I settled on BDL, Belt Drives Limited,” said Steve. But if you look at the product line today, it’s not limited at all.

IMG_0832More recently, BDL bought Jamar, a line of performance and racing components for off road vehicles. Product development for Jamar has helped improve the other products, as well. “The R&D we do in one place helps improve the other lines,” Steve said.

BDL bought out GMA in 20XX and they have since improved the design of GMA’s basic clear anodized units with a variety of new styles and finishes—ball milled, black smooth, chromed, and new designs on the 4-piston caliper, to name a few. As Steve explained, “The GMA line fit into BDL’s business because BDL was already making forward controls and hand controls. Now all of the motorcycle braking applications are under the GMA line.”

BDL is constantly developing new components, such as their new Bagger Drive in chrome black and polished. And why not? They certainly have the capability. Best of all: We’re all made in America here,” said Steve.

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Belt Drives Ltd.

Anaheim, CA


BDL does not sell direct. See your local shop or dealer.


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A Trip to the Black Hills – and to the Past

Story and photos by Paul Barber:  Who would have thought we’d be here some 30 years after high school, riding motorcycles in the Black Hills? As one would say in the 70’s, it’s a trip. Bill and I have been friends since elementary school. We played football and ate a lot of the same dirt back in Massachusetts. How it all came to be, is a bit of a blur, but I ended up in Oregon and he stayed back east and we both ended up riding bikes. But one day we decided to meet in Deadwood, SD and ride Harleys to Sturgis and beyond. 1


People often associate Sturgis as the Bike Week Capital of the world. If you looked up the word “debauchery” in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of Sturgis. But we weren’t interested in the craziness, so we opted for 2 weeks prior. We stayed in Deadwood at the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Inn run by Dex and Terrie, and it was right down town within walking distance of inviting themed shops and “smell the goodness on the streets” restaurants. It is an atypical small town with down home storefronts exuding a mix of the old west while providing all the modern conveniences we have become spoiled to desperately need – electricity, refrigeration, and internet connections. But to catch all the charm, it’s best not to visit during bike week, IMHO and that’s what this is all about. There is another side of Sturgis that people don’t often see. It’s actually a biker’s paradise in the middle of numerous adventurous roads and world renowned destinations.


Walking along the streets of Deadwood, we ventured into a local establishment, a hardware store, and easily struck up a face to face conversation with the proprietor. “So what’s it like during bike week around here for you guys?” He was just a regular-looking guy and said, “Honestly, we just go grocery shopping for a few weeks, and just stay home. It’s not worth going out into the circus.” He wasn’t unhappy with the prospect of all the business that would come to the community, nor was he disdainful at the sight of all the stranger-than-normal looking visitors. But you could tell it was something they all planned for and enthusiastically accepted as a way of life. He wished us well and recommended some great places to eat. We shook hands, smiled and feeling a warm Deadwood welcome, we were on our way.

Day 1 –

We decided to just gas up and explore on our own – no maps, no guides, just remember where we went. And as one would guess, we got lost. We ended up on a dirt road and I was “lucky” enough to be at the rear (cough cough). We did see some wild life but not the scantily clad tattooed bar babes one may expect, but a good sized herd of cattle with 2 head-butting bulls in the spotlight. And believe me they owned the road, not us. We knew it and they knew it. We 2kept out distance but managed to get close enough for a shot. Keep in mind that these creatures are well capable of picking up both bike and

rider and giving them a “joy toss” into the air.

After the “show” and a few more miles of dusty cloud, we found pavement and took a break. Bill and Deb took one look at me and started to laugh uncontrollably. Not surprisingly, I was covered in dust, an adult version of Charles Shultz’s “Pigpen” if you will. But as you can see, I was a happy pig and this was

me after I brushed myself off. 3

4The other part of the day was spent in downtown Sturgis, shopping, and just taking it all in. For 50 weeks out of the year, Sturgis is really a ghost town – with empty shops, parking galore and is eerily uninhabited. But the shop-owners who remain are very friendly and their mounting energy was obvious as they prepared for the weeks to come. We bought T-shirts, mugs, bandanas, walked the town, had a cold one or two and enjoyed the day and were not in a hurry. Nice.

Bill, who is a Smith and Wesson electrical engineer by day, has also turned out to be quite the chef. He can barbeque a steak that melts in your mouth or brew up some authentic New England clam “chowda” that takes you miles beyond any canned version of the same. He did most of our cooking while we enjoyed the tavern-style kitchen at the BC. And we had it all to ourselves. What’ll it be partner?



Day 2 –

Our second day was spent riding the Badlands loop. On the way we stopped on the side of the road and took some photos and noticed the occasional group of bikers passing by and every time, as we were stopped the group would slow down and give the thumbs up, as if to say “Are you guys OK? Need any help?” And our thumbs up reply said “no problems, thanks for noticing, rubber side down” and we smiled and nodded. If you’re into the bike culture, you know exactly what I mean. It doesn’t happen all the time but it’s good to know, that if you’re out in the middle of “badlands”, you’re not alone. Be courteous out there.  Here is Bill and his lovely wife Deb. She may not look it but she can easily handle

that 700-pound red Heritage Springer, it’s her bike. Bill’s black road king is leading the way.


It was in the upper 90’s and it was a dry heat in the real sense of the word, so this place looked like heaven on earth to us. Notice the empty parking lot – weird huh? No lines, no crowds, just walk in have a seat and enjoy the shade, the brew and the chit chat with a local. You could tell that this place was to be

common stop-over during bike week. The only thing missing was the crowd. 7

As you can see, nothing much grows in the Badlands, hence its name.

This trip would not be complete without a stop at the “Wall Drug Café” It has been around since 1931 and honestly ranks highest on my “best burger place” scale. Burgers, beer, buds and bikes – it doesn’t get much better.

8 9Day 3 –

We visited Spearfish Canyon, a windy road through nature’s showcase, with waterfalls, scenic turnouts and other bikers to connect.








Day 4 –


Who hasn’t heard of Mt Rushmore or Crazy Horse? Well not many and this was one of the relatively crowded spots, but I guess that’s true all year around. We did enjoy spotting license plates from all over the country as well as the monuments themselves. As much as I enjoyed seeing the presidents, I really was impressed by Crazy Horse. Not only did you get a feeling of Native American pride, but the sheer size of this work in progress was overwhelming. Apparently Mt Rushmore will fit into Crazy Horse’s forehead once completed.

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Day 5 –

13Devils Tower was one of my all time favorite spots. If you’ve seen the movie “Close Encounters”, this is where it all took place. Seeing this monstrosity up close, one would wonder if anyone could really climb this thing. Well they do. The ride there and back was a bikers dream with just the right amount of bends, turns, straight-aways, greens, grays, browns, blues, mountain views and valley splendor. As we neared our destination, the approach was unique in that our greeters were more like parade observers. The 1000-plus prairie dogs (no lie) stood motionless near their road-side communes and watched intently as we approached the behemoth. And we watched them just as intently, mesmerized by their cautious but confident stance.

Just to give you an idea of how big this thing is, those are real people climbing up the side.14

Traveling the Turquoise Trail

Exploring history and mystery in New Mexico


Story and photos by M. Stemp


IMG_0289As a life-long east-of-the-Mississippi resident, I’ve harbored persistent romantic notions of the American West’s proverbial wide-open spaces. Annual treks to the Black Hills have assuaged some of the longing to soak up the Wild West aura, but a recent opportunity to visit the southwest—specifically New Mexico—rekindled my wanderlust for those storied places. It also proved to be an opportunity to explore the region in search of ITN Overnighter resources.


The Southwest’s Four Corners area, incorporating Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, offers a wide-range of landscape that includes roller coaster mountain roads, towering rock formations, and long, lonely stretches of open road. History and geology collide along the way, taking in a diverse eco-system and multi-cultural influence that has been a part of the area since before the first European explorers “discovered” it hundreds of years ago. It’s a symphony of colors, too, highlighted by audaciously blue skies against the stark elegance of rust, amber and steel-shaded mountains of a scale and size many east-coasters like myself simply can’t fathom. You could spend weeks, even months, exploring what this area offers but we’ve only got two days to complete this Overnighter, so some focus is required.IMG_0416


IMG_0224A good starting point is Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city situated between the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande River, a region that has appropriate ties to Historic Route 66. With its high-desert climate plus history and culture to spare, you could easily spend a few days right here. One suggested stop: take Unser Blvd. (named for the famous racing family that, thanks to Al Sr., Al Jr. and Bobby, lays claim to more Indianapolis 500 victories than any other clan) just off I-40 east to Petroglyph National Monument. If you climb the Boca Negra trail to the top of the mesa, you’ll be rewarded with a dramatic view of the city. The 20,000 ancient stone drawings along the way are cool, too.


But my goal was the famed Turquoise Trail, otherwise known as NM Route 14, a National Scenic Byway that runs 62 miles from Tijeras. You can pick it up 16 miles east of Albuquerque, and it ends in Santa Fe. Along the way you’ll take in some of the best scenic miles you could ever experience on your Hog. If ghost towns, endless vistas, ancient Native American ruins, and canyon carving push your button, this is the place to ride.


Leaving Tijeras you quickly come to the town of Sandia Park where a worthy detour on the scenic Sandia Crest Highway leads to Sandia Peak Ski Area, Cibola National Forest and Sandia Crest, the highest point along the Trail at an elevation of 10,678 feet. Don’t miss the view from the observation deck and if you have time the Sandia Mountain Wilderness has well-marked trails that lead through aspen glades and wild-flower meadows. There’s also a chairlift ride at the ski resort and a scenic tram, so if you want to let your bike’s engine cool down, now’s the time.


IMG_0254Heading north, you’ll pass the gold rush ghost town of Golden and you’ll want to stop in the historic coal-mining town of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), where much of the movie Wild Hogs was filmed. It’s a biker-friendly hamlet that benefited from some spiffing up by the Disney location crew during the film shoot. Stop by Johnsen & Swan Leather Company and say hi to Judy Swan who penned the article on the film for IW a year or so ago, and who also took some of the photos for this article.


Ride through Los Cerrillos, where turquoise was mined as early as 900 A.D. then as you get into Santa Fe, the traffic picks up a bit and the Turquoise Trail ends, joining up with 285/84. Santa Fe simply screams Old West authenticity and refinement and it would be easy to stop here for the night to stroll through shops and art galleries or to enjoy a fine dinner. It’s a simple matter to loop back to Albuquerque from this point for a quick Overnighter.


But to extend the trip, take Highway 285/84 further north and detour west before you reach Espanola, taking 502 into the town of Los Alamos. Depending on your security clearance you could try to visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. national security center. My name isn’t on the “cleared” list so I had to settle for the Bradbury Science Museum in downtown—a better option for all concerned, really. But if it’s genuine mystery and intrigue you’re after, visit the archeological sites at Bandelier National Monument, once home to Ancestral Pueblo people. It’s just a few miles south of town.


IMG_0280Back on 285/84 going north, it might be easy to miss, but don’t just pass through the tiny town of Abiquiu along Highway 84, about 15 miles after the two roads split near Hernandez. Just a few miles north of where highway 96 branches off, is the Ghost Ranch where artist Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted, now a 21,000-acre education and retreat center. The grounds and hiking trails are open to visitors and even a short stop reveals why O’Keefe was so enamored of, and inspired by, the place. If you decide to stop for the night, the Abiquiu Inn in town has comfortable rooms for rent and several cozy casitas with full kitchens and fireplaces, plus a refined restaurant with some surprising offerings.IMG_0299


From Abiquiu, follow 96 east to 550 south, a road that skirts around the Santa Fe National Forest and Native American lands, before linking up again with I-25 near Albuquerque. There’s an intriguing legend in these parts, near the town Jemez Springs, that notorious gangster Al Capone, old Scarface himself, holed up at a ranch here in the late 1920s.


The stealthy but vibrant life of the high desert, combined with the endlessly varied shades of earth and sky, make it easy to see why artists, among others, have drawn such inspiration from this landscape and its inhabitants. Albuquerque is within a day’s ride of El Paso, Amarillo, or Flagstaff along interstate highways, so this part of the country is close to several populated areas. Denver and Colorado Springs are a bit further, but again, it’s a straight shot on the superslab. No matter where you come from, though, once you get to this Overnighter, you’ll leave the frenzy behind for a relaxing step—or dare I say, ride?—into the past. Sometimes, it seems, the road less traveled leads to some well-worn paths.