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Race of Gentlemen USA

[Josh Sirlin]

Race of Gentlemen is a celebration of our American history in the best way. I am drawn to TROG by everything it invokes: my love for America, Harley Davidson, speed, machines, racing, building, charging, team work, reflecting on history, and doing things that have a meaning. I decided I had to participate in this event. I didn’t know how I would do it, I didn’t have the right bike, I didn’t have anything I needed. I’ve been in this situation before when I wanted something, I felt that I needed to do it, and that was all it took. My determination took over at that point, and sometimes determination is all that is needed.

MORE THAN A MACHINE An American Classic.

My 1948 Panhead chopper launched me into the world of motorcycles–especially anything related to antique Harley Davidson. This bike is true to what a chopper is known for, made up of a 1948 Panhead motor matched to a ’51 transmission and a ‘53 frame.

This bike was the beginning of a new journey opening up something genuine; new experiences and the forging of new relationships. I spent hours searching for vintage parts, so while I was following up on an ad for a 1948 tank emblem, thats when I met Jeff Coffman.

Jeff and I connected, and traded emails regarding parts and pictures of bikes. This quickly led to us jumping on a call.

During the call, Jeff invited me down to his shop outside of Portland to see his parts first hand. I knew there was a story there; I wanted to learn more about Jeff, and see all the Harley Davidson bikes and parts he has. There was also an underlying hope that this might be the place I find a bike that fast tracks the brand into The Race of Gentlemen.

With an open plan and a chance to see, photograph, and explore the story of someone very interesting, the chance at another Black Bear Brand story had presented itself.

Needing talented individuals to come along and record our journey, I decided to invite one of the brands main photographers: Chad Lyons. Chad has been an integral part of the brands stories over these past 2 years and as I presented him with the opportunity, he quickly agreed to come along for the ride. I also invited Ian Beaudoux, a killer cinematographer who I had recently connected with about a handful of ideas, stories, and similar interests. The group was off and ready to Dundee, Oregon.

At Black Bear Brand, our purpose is fueled by making and doing. Drawing from the past, we explore and attack our goals. e desire and determination to compete in e Race of Gentlemen ts like a glove as part of Black Bear Brand and our approach as a Union of Makers.

Jeff’s American Classics Dundee, Oregon

Jeff’s American Classics is a shop with an overwhelming amount of Harley Davidson history. At every turn you see more authentic bikes, parts, and pieces than you can wrap your head around.

Jeff is all old school, and all biker; no bullshit. He has a wealth of knowledge about Harley Davidson’s beyond what I’ve ever experienced and I was ready to see just how far his knowledge would take us.

As we walked through room after room, we talked about the parts, designs, and fabrication methods that help define the model and year each goes to. Jeffs passion for authentic builds was something I shared as well.

The day was spent walking though the shop with Jeff answering my questions and learning more about his history. It was simply wild.

Jeff’s life was motorcycles. It quickly became clear just how connected to the culture he was. It was a part of him and it was something I wanted to be a part of.

The day was certainly fun. We learned and saw a lot. We shared a day talking about Harley Davidson, Black Bear Brand, passions, history, and the meaning of life as we each saw it.

The day didn't conclude on anything specific but it was through this I decided I was going to find a way to build a Harley Davidson from the ground up. The bike we would enter into TROG had to be 100% real deal with NO re-pop shit; and Jeff was going to be a big part of it.

This was the start of something more than a friendship. To me Jeff was like a teacher. A mentor, guiding me, and passing on a piece of his knowledge and experience.

BLIND DETERMINATIONBuilding a bike for the Race of Gentlemen

I left Jeff’s place determined to build a bike for The Race Of Gentlemen (TROG). Finding a way to build this bike was now like a bug that I couldn’t shake.

As I was learning more and more about classic Harley Davidsons, it became more crystal clear that I really didn’t know shit. The realization was blaring how fortunate I was to be on this journey with the help of my friends.

My goal was to start out with a foundation. I needed to find an engine or frame to build everything else from. If I was going to go after this, it would have to be done right, and with the goal of getting the bike into the Race of Gentlemen.

Step one was getting my head around the bike requirements put forth by TROG.

I was looking for engines, frames, and asking everyone I knew for help. I’m super fortunate to have a variety of friends across the country that all have similar interests and that know a lot more than I do about bikes. I quickly became aware that what I was looking for wasn’t easy to find and was probably going to be expensive... the story of my life. I’ve never been drawn to the common, easy, or cheap. It’s ironic that what I’m drawn to and

interested in lineup with the brand we’re developing and integrates seamlessly as just another story of our journey.

From California, Kamloops BC, Seattle, to Chicago, and Pennsylvania, the search was full on... I lost one bike I had a line on and was getting bent... but then, as usual, we found what we were searching for.

In the weeks prior, I was introduced to Ryan Anderson, a talented painter and all around craftsman from PA.

He’s a killer painter and much more. He’s an engine builder, fabricator, machinist, inventor,and a watch maker. In short, he’s a true savant.

Ryan and I got on right away; we instantly wanted to do something and with him being a metal flake painter, we started planning paint schemes for a few tanks and helmets. A plan was set for me to fly out to PA two weeks later.

“determination; doers do; make it happen if you want it... just start running; jump off the cliff and build your wings as your falling“

Ryan was now part of the team helping search for the parts necessary for the TROG build!

During one of our calls I started talking about a 1936 Flathead I lost and a light bulb must have lit for Ryan. He actually had a 1937 Flathead “pre-restoration” in his shop; he said it didn’t cross his mind to mention it before because I had asked him about help finding a knucklehead engine.

The questions and requests for pictures` of each part had begun. We went over every part I could think of, and I was sending every picture to Jeff Coffman and Thom Jones, two people I trust to confirm whether or not this stuff was legit. Between Jeff and Thom it was determined that the foundational pieces are the real deal; it was settled; we had the bones of our bike... I jumped.

This was now the beginning of us really going after making a bike for TROG,the Black Bear Brand bike to be done our way by the Union of Makers.

We now had a bike, it was in PA, and I was headed there...

BUILDING AN AMERICAN CLASSICGumption – e Psychic Gasoline

It became real when the title of the 1937 Flathead was in my hand and I legally owned a bunch of parts that technically constituted a motorcycle. It was now more than a crazy idea, my first bike build project had started.

The Plan: to build a 1937 Flathead using real 1937 Flathead stuff and enter the Race Of Gentlemen. To get there, we would have to rebuild the engine, rebuild the transmission, and reassemble the bike in only 65 days. And to close things out, it would then be ridden across the country from PA to Seattle. My dreams and reality, like normal, were tossed in a blender producing my own delusional reality


Starting in Pennsylvania

I helped Ryan disassemble the bike while I was in PA and we made a wish list of everything we needed. We had a great start, but still needed a lot; a 1937 gas tank, a 1937 oil tank, 1937 tins, a seat, and a slew of engine and transmission parts. Our goal was to use real 1937 Harley Davidson parts for everything we could.

Back to Washington & Oregon

I shot the list of what we needed to Jeff Coffman before flying back to Seattle. After being home for a few days, I ripped down to Oregon to see what I could wheel and deal for the rare parts we needed.

The day with Jeff at his shop was like going to school. After about 8 hours of “history and shop class,” I had a lot of the outstanding parts: a 1937 gas tank, 1937 oil tank, 1937 front and rear tins, a couple of broken bar pieces - each part had a life of wear on them, making them as real as they come. I drove away from Jeff’s with a gold mine of 1937 Harley Davidson parts and everything was shipped to PA the next day.

When it came to the seat, I had something special in mind. I wanted to tie in Horween leather and a craftswoman I’d been wanting to work with.

I found two seat pans to cover, an original Bates pan for the race, and an original Harley Davidson solo seat just for fun. I reached out to Horween to get some special leather, and scored us some old stock calfskin they still had from 1940.

I connected with “Ginger” McCabe from New Church Moto in Oregon. Her artful touch, combined with priceless 70 year old leather, made for the perfect seat. It’s just too cool.

Back to Pennsylvania, with the seat in my bag, it was time to make this a bike.

Now that we had the materials, it was time to start designing and building.

For the frame, forks, and tanks we wanted to celebrate these are real and from 1937. We made some small structural repairs, and simply cleared each part to preserve the metal’s real character. The only parts we chopped and customized was our 1937 fenders that we popped to the supports, cut 2 inches out of the centre, trimming the sides at the bead roll. Ryan’s also a painter, and my background in the graphic world, so we attacked the gas tank with a design that marked the beginning of graphic designs on H-D motorcycles - the 1933 art-deco “eagle” using a combination of raw metal and paint. The age of each metal part, and even the bronze braising on the frame, was preserved in its natural state of 80 years. Note: Harley Davidson customers had the option to order any back dated graphic dating back 5 years.

Now to the important stuff ; our engine and transmission. Ryan has re-built hotrod engines, but this would be his first Harley engine and transmission. When this was still a crazy idea, Ryan said he’d build the engine, and he’d love to have his first Harley engine rebuild be a 1937 Flathead. Relying on him to do this isn’t as crazy as it may sound. Ryan has a natural talent that’s truly rare, and I was so excited to have Ryan rebuilding, and not sending it out to be rebuilt - another part that I simply loved, and it gave me the opportunity to help. Like the engine, the transmission needed a full re-build too, and that was just another piece Ryan said he’d tackle, with me hoping to help any way I could.

Looking back at this process, I laugh at how stupid I was not think this was a big deal. What Ryan did was miraculous...another level. I got help finding all the parts. I laugh at how green I was and still am. What Ryan did is over my head, so I made sure to have it all documented. I was able to help in the final assembly, and even got to place the engine in the frame. My first bike build... Totally gratifying and a hell of an experience.

This is still the beginning of the story. Watch it unfold at Black Bear Brand/ The Race of Gentlemen.

Photography by Chad Lyons instagram: blackbearbrand site: fb: Black Bear Brand

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