Bartley owns 14 motorcycles. His most recent purchase was a 1980 MANCO mini-bike, complete with 3½-horsepower pull-start Tecumseh engine.
But his baby is the custom chopper he has built and is still tweaking. He estimates it has cost him $50,000, not including time, labor and hundreds of phone calls for parts and advice. He likes to point out that parts are made in the U.S. and the bike was built in a 1934 Panzer garage, the Auto Hobby Shop at Panzer Casern in Böblingen.
In building your own bike, what came first?In 2001, my first Daytona Bike Week. I had a ‘98 Buell White Lightning. I saw this guy, Billy Lane. He was a well-known chopper builder. He had a chopper called the Blue Devil. It was minimal — so chopped, so bare. I said, “I want to build a bike like that.”
Describe your bike.Six-inch downtube, 5-inch backbone, 48-degree rake (the angle of the front fork from vertical). I stretched the bike out to make it longer and leaner, like a racehorse.
Your bike is minimal.It’s got a clear coat over bare metal. Ten coats of Imron (clear finisher). Most people ask, “Are you going to paint it?” But it looks unfinished and approachable. That’s by design. There are always five or six people who come over whenever I park it. And they touch it. They would never do that to a painted bike. People want to feel the metal. It’s like rolling art. It has a Rat Rod kind of look. Black, steel and chrome — real simple.
And wire wheels. To me, wire wheels are classic, like stiletto heels on a female.
Is this a quest? Will it ever be finished?I’ve got two big things left — the exhaust and the seat. I want to move on to another project. So I’ve got to find a place to stop so I can go on to something else. You become a little possessed about it, way too passionate in getting stuff done and how it’s done. It overtakes you.
What’s next?I’m looking for a 1969 Bird Duck. It was my first minibike.
What do you like about riding?You feel sharp, focused, alert. You’re scanning, you’re planning, you’re engaged. You’re looking for what other people are going to do. You take your mind off everything else but the ride.
Cmdr. Joseph BartleyAge: 50
Job: Custom chopper builder (Day job: Navy reservist, military transformation planner for U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany)
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