Cyclist's passion stems from childhood
Craig Bell’s passion for motorcycles started as a child in Boston, and it was something he never forgot in his 20 years in Kansas.
As much as he enjoys bikes, he is quick to add that he prefers ones from as old as the 1940s, and up into the ’70s or ’80s.
“Like an old hot rod or something, it’s rough around the edges,” he said. “They vibrate a little more and sound a lot different. To me, the new bikes don’t sound like Harleys. This thing sounds more like a hot rod.”
Among the several bikes Bell has worked on is a 1974 FLH shovel-head Harley Davidson that he built from scratch and refers to as an amalgamation of parts.
“That’s why I have so many parts,” he said. “You put something on, sit back in a chair and go, ‘nah, that’s not going to work.’ It’s more than just putting something together that you can ride. You look back and see if it works for you or not.”
Shovel-head refers to how the cover on top of its engine looks similar to a shovel. Bell owns a 1972 FLH shovel-head as well, but the bikes look very different.
“If you have a new vehicle and an old vehicle, they ride totally differently,” he said. “The vehicle sort of is different, and it’s sort of simplistic.”
Being able to customize his motorcycles to look unique is part of what Bell enjoys about older bikes.
“With the newer stuff they pretty much all look the same,” he said. “Pretty much all they do is change the color; they might put a lower bag on, but these just all look different.”
Part of what he likes about the ’74 model is that it has beach bars. They are shorter and more swept back than other handlebars, which allow his arms to stay more relaxed.
Some bikers dislike beach bars because they can be difficult to handle at high speeds, but Bell doesn’t see that as an issue.
“If I can only do 65 or 70 miles per hour, then I don’t come into that range,” he said. “These bikes might go faster than that, but like in an old car when you get up to speed, that’s how these are. Yeah, the car can go faster, but do I really want to do that to this thing?”
Motorcycles make for a more popular hobby than some people realize but certain aspects might be becoming lost art, Bell said.
“I know a lot of guys out there who mess around with things,” he said. “But not so many people mess around with a lot of the older bikes, and out of the newer bikes they have to bring them to the dealerships because they’re all computerized. It’s just like a car. You have the guys who used to work on older cars, and you can do some stuff but when it comes to electronics you have to drop it off somewhere.”
Even with Bell’s love for classic motorcycles, he did go through phases.
He admits there was a tendency to favor faster bikes in his younger days, such as Suzuki and Kawasaki models.
“When I was younger, I just was into the speed,” he said. “Even though I liked the Harleys, it was the speed.”
Another of Bell’s bikes is a 1948 EL panhead, which has an engine cover that Bell compares to the look of a mining pan. Running from 1948 until 1965, panhead engines were the predecessors to shovel-heads.
“I probably could pull your lawnmower apart and get this thing running,” he said. “It’s actually the same spark plugs it would be, it’s all that stuff. I can make all my parts, pretty much.”
While there are limits, Bell’s ability to make things includes gas tanks, fenders, and he has several sets of handlebars just waiting for the moment he needs them.
Bell said if he had a frame he would have enough parts to build almost an entire bike.
“I don’t like things sitting around too long,” he said.
He has owned 20 bikes at different points since 2010. While it’s a financial investment, it significantly lowers the price to assembling bikes how himself.
“I can’t afford to go out and buy a brand new Harley,” he said. “That’s $30,000-something. I can’t do that, but for the $30,000 someone is spending just on that, I’m not even that much money with all these bikes because I’ve put them all together.
Everything on a road holds greater danger for someone on a motorcycle, from loose asphalt to dead animals, because riders are more exposed, Bell said.
But the biggest factor for bikers often is motorists in cars, he said.
“When they pull out they aren’t looking for a motorcycle,” he said. “You train your mind.
“The average person looks for a car. They’re not looking for this dot coming. I’ve had a lot of people pull out on me and had people back out on me because they don’t see me coming.”
Last modified Nov. 19, 2020