When I first lost my arm and leg to an IED blast while serving in the Marine Corps, I figured riding a motorcycle was never going to happen. A year or so after my injury I decided I might as well give it a try thinking “what’s the worst that could happen?” I borrowed a friend’s Sportster as a proof of concept and installed an EFM Auto Clutch, which was just enough for me to ride. After a bunch of practice I was confident in my riding abilities and decided to get my own bike.
I wanted to get either a Fat Boy or a V-Rod but both were pretty expensive. Considering the fact that I already had a clutch that worked in a Sportster, as well as experience on one, I decided to get another Sportster. I increased the function on this bike and modified a cruise control switch from an Ultra Classic to move my turn signals and horn to the right handle bar. The bike worked well and I definitely enjoyed it, but on long rides (350-500 miles) I was pretty uncomfortable. After 5 years or so of riding a Sportster I decided to upgrade and build my own dream bike.
It started out with an excellent deal on a 2008 Night Rod special with less than 1,000 miles on it. Never being dropped and rarely ridden, this was the perfect bike for me to begin my build. The next thing I needed to do was find a mechanic that could help me with this build. It was important for me to find a mechanic who allow me to stay involved and not cost an arm and leg (perhaps a little pun intended). Lee at DNGRS Cycles was the perfect man for the job and he helped me throughout the build and did most of the mechanical and electrical work but still kept me involved.
The first thing we needed to do was make it “ride-able” with one arm and leg. I once again used a modified clutch from EFM, which did not require a clutch cable for V-Rods. I also used a similar set up from the previous bike for the turn signals and horn. Knowing that I wanted to do something special with this bike, I had to figure out how to move the hi-beam switch to the right hand side leaving nothing on the left handle bar.
I found an excellent switch housing kit from Pro-One but after receiving it, I was disappointed to discover the three switches that came with it were all momentary. After a quick phone call to Pro-One, they introduced me to Kevin from Judco Switches. Kevin was absolutely awesome and helped build me the exact switches that I needed and wouldn’t take a dollar from me after finding out I was military.
I wanted handlebars that would give me a little extra leverage and look cool. I went with the Wild1 Mini Apes. No longer having anything on the left handlebar enabled me to do something I had joked about in past years; cut it off. It looked pretty awesome but caused a few issues which I will talk about further in the update section. This gave me everything I needed to ride but I still had one more adaptive issue I needed to address.
On my first two bikes I found myself fatigued on long runs. Admittedly, much of this is from the wind at 80+ miles an hour and a refusal to use a windshield. Riding with one am requires constant control of the handlebar which can sometimes be a fight. Additionally, I cannot pull back on both handlebars to hold myself onto the bike. My solution was getting a comfortable seat with a removable backrest. I really wanted this to be a low-profile seat that was still made for my comfort. Corbin made a seat with a removable backrest, but it looked gaudy and was not at all what I had in mind. I also planned to change my rear fender and was worried about the fit of a production seat. After several hours looking online I finally found Bitchin Seats.
Because I rarely have passengers, I figured the “Wifebeater” seat would give me the look I wanted without compromising the comfort. I saw on their website that they had some seats with a removable backrest but nothing for the V-Rod, and I wasn’t sure if it could even be done. I gave them a call and got ahold of the owner, Rich. It turned out that Rich had additional experience as a bike builder and he quickly became vital to helping me build my one of a kind bike.
Before I could do anything with the seat, we needed to figure out what type of Fender I was going to use. Initially, I considered doing a solo seat and adding a new fender that Rich was designing for V-Rods. I decided against the idea for fear I could never have a passenger. I eventually decided to go with a Harley fender from the 2012 V-Rod.
Rich was great to work with and helped me figure out exactly what I needed to pull this off. We both knew that this was going to be a challenge, and with his location in California and mine in Maryland, communication was going to be critical. Now that the fender was settled, we could begin a one of a kind design on a custom seat. My focus was on function but I didn’t want to compromise appearance. Once again, I came back to the Wifebeater low profile seat for my foundation. The nitro-gel in the seats core offered exceptional comfort and the low-profile look had virtually no impact on the rider portion of the seat. I would not recommend this for individuals with frequent passengers.
The seat had offered significant “scoop” and provided stability before any modifications. I wanted to ensure that the leather I used would also promote grip (I didn’t want to slide off the seat) so I went with the dull buffalo leather. I liked the look of the stock leather too, so went with a two tone design which also saved some money.
Although the seat was already sufficient to meet my needs, I still wanted something to provide exceptional comfort on long rides. We spent a great deal of time developing a seat pan that would accept a backrest. I wanted it to be there for longer rides but quickly and easily removed for short rides. After several generations of trial and error, we finally came up with the perfect design. Utilizing the optional hinge system (permitting the seat to flip up and rest on the rear fender) allowed me easy access to the gas cap from either side of the bike and enabled easy access to the backrest system (simply flipping the seat up and removing one screw). Having this backrest also offered me a clean place to attach a bag for overnight runs. The last thing that really set this seat over the top, and my favorite thing on the entire bike, was the patch work of my stick figure and road name. The seat is truly one of a kind and is as comfortable as it is unique.
Now that the adaptive stuff was out of the way, I could start looking at the other stuff on the bike. From the very beginning I knew I wanted a tactical themed bike and originally thought of doing an all-black bike. As cool as black bikes are, they are also quite common. With consideration of my second hobby in aviation, I opted for the WWII fighter look. I saw sharks teeth on a P51 Mustang and thought that would make for an excellent theme for my bike. I brought my ideas (a series of pictures off the internet) to Ron at Cycle Finish in Baltimore and he really brought them to life.
Along with the paint I knew I wanted to have a pin-up type theme. I couldn’t fit everything into the paint without it becoming too busy, but I found my solution at Eyezon Gauges. After a couple of weeks of back and forth working on a design idea, I finally received my custom gauges and couldn’t be happier. In addition to the wickedly cool pin-up theme, they also installed green LED lighting which looks even better at night.
I bought a ton of little extras from GR Customs including their Viper air-dam, a side license plate holder, fiberglass side covers, a glass coolant hose, a black shifter linkage, a hot topper kit, and a black wrath blade brake lever. I got custom handicap derby and clutch covers made up from Figure Machine. Performance Machine sent me my forward controls and passenger pegs and Kuryakyn sent me my mirror (which is a Skelton hand!), grips, and a few other goodies for my bike. All of these venders were easy to work with and I would recommend them to my friends.
The last of the truly custom aspect of this build was my “road guard kit”. In my Motorcycle Club we often assist in parades and motorcades for wounded warriors and their families and find ourselves operating in busy intersections where getting attention is critical. With this in mind I decided to go with a cop car air-horn for my horn and Python T4 emergency lighting. With the way my turn signals are rigged, I cannot use my hazard flashers. With my current set up I don’t need them.
All said this project cost a lot more than I had expected to spend and about 5 months’ worth of work. I can safely say that I never want to design another bike again but the friends I have made along the way have made it all worthwhile. The bike I have is truly one of a kind that I thoroughly enjoy riding. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen for me.
So I have put about 5K miles on my bike in the last 6 months or so. In general I couldn’t be happier with the bike. It constantly receives a ton of attention and is both cool and unique. Most importantly, it’s also functional.
The biggest issue I had on the bike was from cutting the left handlebar off. At slow speeds there was no issue but at highway speeds, wind resistance against the handlebar and mirror caused the bike to drift and required significant effort to counter. After talking with Rich at Bitchin Seats and Lee from DNGRS we finally came up with a solution.
Although I wanted to completely sever the left handlebar, Rich and Lee had talked me into keeping it set up so a temporary bar could be added for when my bike was in the shop. Although the bar never really got used, it did provide a platform for me to add a new bar to counter the aerodynamic issues I was having.
Still convinced I did not want a left handlebar, I made a new bar to mount my siren speaker to and found the right leverage point to counter wind problems. The bike handles much better after the correction and still looks maintains its radical appearance. The addition of a heat shroud from a shotgun added to the tough look of the bar. Though I still prefer the appearance of the old set up, function trumped appearance on this one.
After riding my completed bike, I still wonder if I made the right call on not going with a solo seat and bitchin fender. It would have been truly one of a kind and I hardly ever have a passenger. Other than that, my seat has been awesome adding unparalleled comfort and appearance. We have revised the positioning of the back rest a couple of times and are currently adding a little more padding to it. The seat has had a ridiculous amount of thought and effort put into it and I would highly recommend the now “dialed in design” to anyone looking for function and appearance without compromise.
Thanks again to everyone who has helped set this bike over the top and I would especially like to thank the folks at Bitchin Seats for going way above and beyond to make special for me.
Adam “Bandit” Kisielewski
NKMC Battlefield Chapter
This month's bike feature is unique, special, and something that will make you realize how awesome our "Biker Family" truly is. Read below to have a little insight on someone who makes our world a better place!