White Knuckle

White Knuckle

White Knuckle

Safety Not Included.

WORDS Gregory George Moore  IMAGES Jeff Stockwell


When I think of a bobber, a "bob-job," a "cut-down," a "chopper," or whatever the hell you want to call it, this is what I think of: straightforward, low-slung, powerful, knuckles up, dangerous as all fuck, and as American as a heart attack.

This fine specimen was built by KC Kawano over the course of one winter to exacting specifications: his own. He is a man of few words, but his work speaks for itself. He didn’t build the bike to talk about it. He built it to ride it.

When we take into account that KC is an old-school hot-rod builder, and we stand that next to the Knucklehead, we can surmise a pretty good idea of the intention: build an American custom that would capture the spirit of the 1950s.

What we now consider the bobber was born in the 1930s. These early customs, known as "cut-downs," began as a way to breath new life into aging motorcycles and mimicked the styles seen on the race track. Depression-era riders stripped the bikes of their "accoutrements,” tossed the fenders, and junked everything else that didn’t either make the bike run or roll. This resulted in a much faster and much more stylish ride. All it took was a little bit of inspiration and some elbow grease. Besides, at that time, elbow grease and inspiration was about all anyone had.

When people are forced to reconsider the things they have, not the things they want, an otherwise inaccessible well of ingenuity becomes available.

The years that followed the end of WWII saw a marked rise in the popularity of the custom motorcycle. Soldiers returned from the war, the economy rebounded, and the "cut-down" evolved into the "bob-job." The extra scratch gave builders the means to apply more distinctive paint jobs, add chrome, and make other unique customizations to their bikes. This gave rise to what we see here—a near text-book example of the "bobber."

"When people are forced to reconsider the things they have, not the things they want, an otherwise inaccessible well of ingenuity becomes available."

Clean, simple, crisp – adjectives that are so ubiquitous that they could be used to describe just about anything. An apple. Maybe a cold pop on a sunny day. And definitely this '50s-inspired Knucklehead bobber.  It's not meant to set the world of custom motorcycles ablaze, to take home trophies, or to bolster KC's "insta-fame." It's meant to be the kind of bike where the question of whether or not there should be a front brake was never a question at all. How else would it earn its name?

KC's White Knuckle is a reflection of himself. No frills. It's the opposite of grandiose, long winded, and hyperbolic. So when KC answers the question of where the bike came from with a terse, "from here and there," it's a refreshing honesty. Maybe things just aren't that complicated sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, many more things in life would be better off considered just the same.

Name of bike: White Knuckle   Owner: KC Kawano   Year/Make/Model: the 20th century (it's from all over the place)   Fabrication: Shawn Rodgers   Assembly: KC Kawano with help from Shawn and Phil   Build time: one winter   Engine: 93" S&S Knucklehead. Oversized valves ported by Lee Wickstrom at Knucklehead Theology.   Carburetion: S&S Super E . Exhaust: fabricated by Shawn   Air Cleaner: Old STF, Mini Ed   Transmission: Baker 6-speed in 4-speed case   Frame: HD wishbone   Forks: I-Beam springer   Front wheel: Aluminum 21"    Rear wheel: Aluminum 19"   Front Tire: Pirelli MT66   Rear Tire: Heidenhau K34   Front Brake: Zero, zip, zilch   Rear Brake: HD mechanical    Fuel Tank: Newer HD bagger tank sectioned and narrowed 4.5"   Handlebars: Wrecked Metals   Headlight: Bates reproduction    Taillight: Nah   Handgrips: Indian grips   Foot Controls: Modified HD   Footpegs: Running Boards   Painter: Dale at Body and Paint Boise   Graphics: Bob Von Shaw at Smith Signs Boise   Polishing: Brad and KC   Seat: Solo seat   Upholstery: Leather

Originally featured in Iron & Air Magazine Issue 023.


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