The Two-Wheel Connection

Two like-minded BMW R60/5 riders transform a Toaster

Photos by Josh Withers and Kevin Vu


22_06_2013_bmw_r75_10More than one striking custom motorcycle has sprung from a random thought or arbitrary scheme and here’s an example. Homebuilder Josh Withers answered his phone one day to find Shane Balkowitsch who asked him build a BMW custom and “make it match my ’65 Porsche.”  Here, in Josh’s words, is what happened.


“I was just coming off the high of my second ‘frame off, down to the crank’ airhead restoration when I got a random call from a guy in North Dakota. We got to chatting, and he quickly revealed his interest in having me do a custom motorcycle for him just like my latest build. Due to the internet and a few magazine articles, my bright blue 1973 R60/5 toaster cafe conversion was attracting attention from all over the world, and now from this guy ‘Shane’. In this first conversation with Shane, I prefaced that I was not a professional mechanic and I work out of the garage of my humble Southern California home. He was understanding of that, put his faith in me, and thus our project and friendship began.


Within a month of starting, we found a carcass of a 1972 R75/5 for $600. It was in really bad shape. Broken rod, wiring was a mess with extra lights and switches drilled in the headlight and many other parts were missing, broken or downright bastardized. As I met the seller in the California desert, took the bike out of his pickup truck, began to take it apart to load it into my station wagon, a stranger walked up and asked if I would be interested in another R75. Considering I already had one halfway into my car, I laughed him off at first, but then we got to talking. I soon learned that he lived nearby and had a warehouse full of motorcycles. His R75/5 was a complete bike but hadn’t run in twenty years, had no title, yet he was asking $400. I had to check it out and before I knew it, I had not one but two 1972 R75/5 motorcycles in my garage.


22_06_2013_bmw_r75_01“Shane’s one request was that the bike matched his recently restored silver 1965 Porsche. Given that this bike was for somebody else, I couldn’t cut the same corners I did for my own personal restoration. This means completely rebuilding the engine, rebuilding and upgrading to a 5 speed transmission, new U joints, rebuilt final drive, wheel bearings, front forks, steering bearings, speedometer… I think you get the idea.


We found a good selection of bodywork in the past few years since my last restoration and settled with Cafeboxer who even made a custom ridgeless front fender for us. After hearing good reviews from the Siebenrock piston and cylinder upgrade kit, we decided to buy a set instead of spending extra money on a BMW set of R75 pistons. The Siebenrock kit bolts onto the same rods and uses the same heads as the stock R75. Supposedly it offers a 20% upgrade in power. A lightened flywheel was a must. Electronic ignition from Dyna was added. Rear shocks from YSS. And what would be a classy café bike without some wide shoulder Akront rims laced on powder coated white hubs. Lets hope they stay clean!


“A battery has been tucked under the seat. The taillight came from an old British 6V turn signal. I found drag bars that matched my clubman handle bars on my blue café. Of course, I had to get some custom gray and silver throttle, brake and clutch cables made. I also had custom swing-arm caps made to match his Porsche, and the stripes on the toaster panels were painted white to match our sidecovers.


22_06_2013_bmw_r75_02-1“To customize the bike even further, we found a reproduction set of exhausts from a 1937 R12 BMW. I had to customize them to fit the header pipes and then sent everything off to Jet Hot to get coated so the pipes would forever stay silver. They sound beefy too.


“Two years and four months after that first phone call, I was happy to let Shane know that his bike was complete. I’ve enjoyed every minute of the zen time in my garage designing another custom BMW. I had a lot of help along the way and continue to learn the nuances of these old bikes. Above all, through this process, Shane and I have shared countless phone calls, emails and text messages.


“We have became good friends and have shared the joys and sorrows of two separate lives from completely different parts of the country. Shane and I will meet face to face for the first time in a few weeks. It will be a bittersweet encounter for it also means that I will have to say goodbye to my two-year labor of love and send it to North Dakota. In order to heal that anticipated wound, I’ve already started planning out my next build.”


Learn more at:


Shane’s build page:


Josh’s blog:


See a 6-minute film about the build here:


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Dave Brackett and Big Twin the Trike

A crazy 5-wheeler is restored to former glory by the man who first built her.DSC04662


When Dave Brackett got out of the service in 1969 one of the first bikes he copped was a Honda 350. There were a few Triumphs and British bikes around then but there weren’t a lot of people doing Jap stuff at the time. Then Dave built a 450 chopper, and a 550, and a 750. Every time he built a bike he’d get the dimensions off it while it was apart. Then he started making and selling front ends and hardtail kits for them. So began the brief flame that was AEE Choppers, owned by Tom and Rose McMullen, a flame that burned strong but incinerated quickly. Dave Brackett was there at the time, and he was a part of it all while it lasted from 1967 to 1975. Now one of the iconic trikes of the period, also built by Brackett, has come back to him to be restored.

According to Brackett, Big Twin, with it’s outlandish set of five rear wheels, “might be arguably the most famousDSC04651 chopper from the early ‘70s.” We’re lucky that the current owners want it restored back to the original,” said Dave. “We’re lucky we still have some of the seat fabric to match, too.”

According to Dave, the trike project came about just before Christmas in 1969. Here’s how he tells the story:

“Tom, Rose, Jim Clark and myself had a meeting to discuss building another bike, for the upcoming Oakland Roadster Show, to try to repeat what AEE did with the Corvair trike. There were several sketches of different looking bikes from the magazine guys. We talked and came up with the conclusion it would have to have Sportster motors and four tires across the back. I spent a day or so making sketches, finalized one, showed it to Tom, he said do it. It was built in-house at AEE, along with my other duties there. After all the materials, motors, rear end and tranny were assembled, I had 32 days left to build the bike. I worked a lot of extra time, but I made it. My recollection is AEE spent about $10,000 on the build, a lot of money then.”

Late last year Big Twin came back to Dave from Paul Ponkow at Bones Legacy in Las Vegas, NV, the current owners. Paul pulled the motors to send them out for chroming before moving the bike to Dave’s shop in Washington state. (There were dummies in place while Dave did his work.) Dave wrapped up his part of the project recently and sent us some pictures. The goal is to complete the bike in time for the 2015 Grand National Roadster show, 40+ years after it made its debut there taking best in show.


Read and see more here:

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Streamlined: Craig Vetter talks about living better on less

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp

In 1969, 26-year-old Craig Vetter went to Daytona to show his motorcycle fairings and the seat/tank he’d made for his Suzuki 500. In 2014 the 71-year-old Vetter was again at Daytona International Speedway, this time as featured guest for the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Breakfast. His insights on a life spent studying and designing streamlining for fuel efficiency were fascinating and thought provoking.

IMG_8442Most motorcycle riders know Vetter for his Windjammer fairing, a design he pioneered and produced in the early ‘70s. He also redesigned the BSA Rocket 3, which became the Triumph Hurricane, invented Hippo Hands with his brother Bruce, and designed the Liberator fairing for Harley-Davidson. But listening to Craig Vetter talk now, the concept that stands out as his life’s guiding tenant is one he credits to futurist Buckminster Fuller: do more with less.

Early on Vetter tinkered with airplanes before bikes, getting his head around how they could be made to float on a shelf of air and experimenting with a wing shape towed behind a truck he called the Ram Wing. Though it never quite took off, “I still think it’s a good idea,” he said with a smirk.

“We designers of the time wanted to integrate parts,” he said. “Willie G did it with the Super Glide, I did for my Suzuki. I wanted to design whole bikes, not just parts.”

But as it turned out it was one component, the Windjammer fairing, that sealed Vetter’s impact in the motorcycle aftermarket. He credits its success to the fact that it was developed by a motorcyclist, someone who knew things only a rider would know. And of course it was properly designed so it would fit a variety of bikes; only the brackets were different. Looks and function were both naturally part of the design process and those factors enhanced the fairing’s popularity. But Vetter was far from finished. “I thought road racers knew something I did not and that racing would make me a better designer,” he said. “So in 1975 I bought a 250 Aermacchi to race.”

He took fifth place in the amateur class that year, too, but when he later got hurt racing his wife Carol convinced him to quit. “Cook Nelson said ‘why don’t you sponsor Reg Pridmore?’ so I did and Reg took the IMG_8438championship in 1978,” said Vetter.

Vetter sold his company in 1978, which gave him time to turn his attention elsewhere. Bitten by the race bug he focused his efforts on designing what he called a streetable road race motorcycle. Dubbed the Mystery Ship it was based on a Kawasaki KZ1000 but was vastly modified—including two-piece Vetter bodywork, of course. Only ten were built. “It had all the right things a race bike needed,” said Vetter. “All ten Mystery Ships are real race bikes!”

IMG_8416Vetter’s efforts in the 1980s to inspire fuel efficiency with the Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge fell mostly on deaf ears at that time, leading to an abandonment of the project. It seems motorcycle riders just wanted to have fun in those days of abundance and indulgence. But three decades later the concept of fuel efficiency resonates once again and Vetter seems delighted to be working with electric powered streamlined motorcycles now. He produced what he calls the last Vetter fairing, which was used on Terry Hershner’s Electric Zero motorcycle, doubling the bike’s battery capacity. The Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge is back, too, with 2014 events at Vintage Motorcycle Days and the BUB Speed Trials.

“There’s only one shape that goes through the air efficiently: round at the front pointed at the rear,” he said. “If you’re looking for efficiency in miles-per-gallon you need to be streamlined and have the least horsepower you can have to still keep up with the speed limit. Real streamlining will let a unit of energy take you twice as far.”

Vetter says there’s something magic about 25 horsepower. But can you think of any bike made today that is proud of making 25 horsepower? Maybe not but if it’s fuel efficiency you’re after consider this: “If you streamline a bike with 25 horsepower you can get at least 125 miles-per-gallon. That’s going 70 miles-per-hour, sitting up and comfortable, and carrying a useful load,” said Vetter. Quite an accomplishment.

A Vetter fairing is still distinctive, and it’s often described as classic. According to the fairing’s designer, “classic means it looks good today, tomorrow and in the future.” Classic and efficient? Mission accomplished, Mr. Vetter.

To learn more about Crag Vetter:

See a 1977 Vetter trade show video here:


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The Scott Jacobs Studio

New Scott Jacobs Gallery Opens


Story by ITN Staff, photos compliments of Scott Jacobs Studio


DSC_6712In early February, artist Scott Jacobs—known for his photo-realistic style of painting—opened a gallery in the town square of San Elijo Hills in north county San Diego, CA. We caught up with Scott’s daughter Olivia who manages the new gallery with her sister Alexis.


“We chose this location when we fell in love with the town about four years ago,” said Olivia. “We went for a motorcycle ride and stumbled upon the quaint, east coast themed town square. In January, we were looking for a warehouse to move the gallery, but everywhere we looked was depressing and not a place we wanted to work in every day. That was when my dad mentioned San Elijo and if the condo (above the gallery) and retail location was still available, he would buy it!  This is a perfect location for us because there aren’t any galleries in the area, let alone a custom frame shop.” 


Scott’s latest creations included an ongoing lifestyle series with wine and spirits along with classic automobiles and new Harley-Davidson works, including a vintage champion hill climber. There are over 110 pieces hanging in the new 1200 square foot space. Jacobs has 35 years of custom framing experience and the gallery has more than 500 wood frames to choose from. Scott’s studio is also located in the gallery so don’t be surprised to find him there, hard at work on his next new piece.


Art prices range anywhere from $400 to $6,000 for the limited edition prints. “We also have a few originals in the gallery, mainly for viewing, but they range from $20,000 to $150,000,” added Olivia. 


Speaking of items mainly for viewing, there are two motorcycles on display as well; a 1953 Harley-Davidson Hummer and a 1926 Harley-Davidson J model that Scott rode in 2012 in the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run. “He maintained third place for two weeks until the last few days of the race,” said his proud daughter. The 1926 also placed third in the Concours d’Elegance, a juried motorcycle event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.  


For over 20 years, as the world’s first official artist for Harley-Davidson, Scott has honed his craft and today his artworks grace the walls of prestigious collectors and avid enthusiasts all over the world. His new gallery now affords the public a comfortable environment to view an eclectic collection of paintings and prints. Stop in if you find yourself riding in San Diego county.


Address: 1231 Elfin Forest Rd W, San Marcos, CA 92078

Phone:(760) 510-9913

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The 2014 Donnie Smith Show

A force to be reckoned with on today’s bike show circuit

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp (Images added below)

Innovate, evolve or get out of the way! That’s not the mantra of a famous business guru but it might well be because it’s very good advice. More to the point, after talking with Neil Ryan, head honcho of the Donnie Smith Show, and later reflecting on the show’s remarkable success in 2014, it occurred to me that this is exactly what Neil has done.


Long lasting events, especially ones centered on a specific topic such as motorcycles, beat the odds by making changes and additions while maintaining a sense of familiarity. That’s been Neil’s MO during his dozen-year-tenure as the Show’s promoter and it’s apparently been a good formula. The show continues to grow, not only in attendance numbers but in popularity and reputation, too. But in 2014 innovation pushed the Donnie Smith show to ever new heights.

The actual bike show has always been the centerpiece of this event and rightly so. Midwesterners itching to get riding by mid-March never fail to impress, bringing a striking variety of machines out to shine. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this show consistently brings out a stellar collection of custom bikes to the show floor. Custom builder Dave Perewitz says the quality of the bikes in the Donnie Smith Show is second to none, and he knows a thing or two abut the subject.

The swap meet aspect of the event was a mainstay in this show’s origins as one of J&P’s Parts Extravaganzas. The persistent quality of the swap meet adds both interest and grassroots authenticity. This year the entire swap meet space was packed with vendors who brought out genuine parts and gear at fair prices. I heard more than one parts hunter lament not grabbing something before it went home with another buyer, while still applauding the selection on hand.

A year or two ago, Neil added Saturday Happy Hour to the roster, bringing in a band at 5 PM and kicking the Budweiser wagons into high gear. Happy hour keeps people hanging out and lends a party atmosphere to the venue. And as this show always happens near Donnie Smith’s birthday, that’s appropriate. Beer and birthday cake? Bring it on!

But that’s not all. This time around the show expanded another gazillion square feet (okay, maybe just 50,000) into the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium to include a classic car and hot rod show. A natural fit for a gearhead crowd like this, it also made sense as a way to further evolve the show. And it made more fun, too, adding another dimension, expanding the reach, and giving attendees more for their money.

A component of the Donnie Smith Show these last 11 years that we’re especially fond of is the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge, a competition between students of shop classes in high and tech schools. The program has expanded and contracted in the last decade in response to economic changes and school restrictions but it persists, to the good of motorcycling and anyone who cares about promoting our sport. This team of Ironworkers, formerly for IronWorks and now with Iron Trader News, has sponsored the DSCCC since its inception and we’re proud to do so.

Two teams turned out this year, both of them veterans of the competition. Eden Junior/Senior High from Eden NY, led by instructor Steve Jones wowed everyone with a classic looking bobber sporting a diesel engine. Mitchell Tech in southeastern South Dakota turned out a slick, red, café-style racer looking slim, light and ready to roll.

Outside of the DSCCC more young builders and designers populated the show. Kevin “Teach” Baas was on hand with his class from nearby Kennedy High in Bloomington, MN. As the longest running of the high school programs they’d been busy with several different bikes in various states and made stunning progress in spite of budget cuts that have Teach running not only Chopper Class, but auto shop, woodworking and more. It’s due to dedication such as this that Kevin’s students have gone on to advanced training in motorcycle mechanics, welding and other trades. Setting a good example still matters.

Another high school group that, like Kennedy High, enters a bike in the open show classes rather than the DSCCC, is from Sturgis Brown High in Sturgis, SD. In their second year at the show, the students, along with a solid team of instructors and mentors, displayed their urban-bagger-style custom H-D Street Glide, complete with graffiti paint scheme and matching backdrop. The bike, which took first place in the high school division, was built through the Buffalo Chip Student Build Challenge, aided by Keith Terry of Terry Components, Black Hills H-D, and Nick and Randy Cramer of Dakota V-Twin. It will take center stage again at the Chip’s Legends Ride during the Sturgis Rally when it’s auctioned off for charity.

Finding a cool bargain at the swap meet; hanging out with friends at happy hour; reminiscing about hot rods back in the day; getting ideas for fixing up your bike from the customs in the show; catching on to the enthusiasm of high school kids just getting into bikes; knowing that riding time is just around the corner. It’s elements like these that combine to make the Donnie Smith Show such a standout. Another thing that made the 2014 version even better? The people waiting outside in line to get in didn’t have to wait in the snow this time!



Historic cues enhance a classic Triumph on the show floor.


Vendors showed some unique components.


The Student-built bike from Sturgis Brown High.


Using an engine frame provided by S&S Cycle, the Eden Junior/Senior High class built this bike for S&S Cycle’s 55th anniversary last year.


This beauty from Blacksmith Motoring once graced an IronWorks cover.


One of the many projects in the works in Kennedy High’s Chopper Class.


Steampunk styling continues to play well.


Classic choppers always turn up at the Donnie Smith Show.


A ’46 Knuck from Hepcat Choppers.


It’s always good to catch up with Skeeter and Marie Todd.


Wyatt Harwood from Sturgis Brown High and the man of the day.


Hamsters from the New England contingent.


Overview of the car show.


Biking legend Sugar Bear and show promoter Neil Ryan.


Big Dan and Jody P – just smiling!


You can’t see Jorg’s new tattoo here but the man in the Rat Fink shirt, Nolan, is responsible for it.


There’s a ton of bike building experience in this picture: Donnie Smith and Dave Perewitz.


Here’s the Chopper Class Challenge team from Mitchell tech, in Mitchell South Dakota. They too trophies for Presentation and Technical.


The Chopper Class Team from Eden too top honors in Design and won the Overall trophy. They also took the Three R’s award for recycling and the Traveling Award, which they’ll bring back to the competition next year.


Happy faces! Christine Paige Diers, Executive director of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, Kiwi Motorcycle’s Carolyn Tomas, and Darla crown.


Darla Crown and Greg Wick.


Feb Kevin and Big Matt Willyard crafted these trophies for the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge. Everyone wanted to get a closer look at them.


The show always happens near Donnie’s birthday so you can count on birthday cake. Rob Kenney shares with the nice lady in the booth next door.

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Bert hamming it up with Tony.

Bert hamming it up with Tony.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

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