LA Speed Shop’s Lane Splitting Panhead Bagger

Written by  Story By Juan Tanamera Photos By Jack “Thermostat On 80 – Check!” Cofano Thursday, 22 March 2018 12:00
Published in Baggers
   Lane splitting is something that can get you into some big trouble with the law unless you happen to live in sunny old California. Filtering through stopped, slow, or fairly rapidly moving traffic is perfectly acceptable as long as you’ve got the right bike to do it on and you’re a decent rider. I don’t think I’ve got to explain what kind of bike other than the narrower the better. Slicing between cars on a big Harley bagger can have its moments to say the least and an often even-wider custom bagger probably leaves you out of the lane-splitting loop altogether. But, not for Chris Richardson of LA Speed Shop fame. His Panhead bagger can slice and dice with the best of them.


    Chris is well known for his bikes that breach the gap to yesteryear with a taste of modern techniques that makes for a lovely concoction of old and new. In case you’re not familiar with Chris’ work, Barnett’s Magazine Online previously featured his board track custom called Benji Stacks that involved the mating of a 1927 Harley frame with a big-inch modern (replica) Knucklehead engine. Bare-bones style with exquisite craftsmanship is what he is known for and this skinny-ass Panhead bagger continues that mantra and gives the finger to big wheel customs without actually giving the finger other than mentally. Chris is too nice a guy and too into his own thing to care what other people think or are doing. And, that’s exactly what I like and respect about him and his work.

    It seems everybody’s making big wheel, lower, longer and wider baggers these days and if you’re a builder that might be the way you have to do to stay in business. Cut your overhead to a real family shop like LA Speed Shop and have the talent and good taste Chris has and you’ll keep things on the up and up too. Sure, it’s tough to pull off and all the work falls on your shoulders, but Chris wouldn’t have it any other way. Case in point is this lovely custom Panhead bagger that breaks all the rules without giving a damn about them.

    Oh, and no, this isn’t a spec bike that Chris built to set up a line of bagger parts made of composites to sell to the guy who’s tired of his stock 2010 Ultra. According to Chris, this was an idea he had for quite a while before finding a customer who gave it the thumbs up. Apparently that same customer rolled a complete (notice I didn’t say mint) 1959 Harley FL into Chris’ Alhambra, California, shop that became the fodder for this build. Now don’t all you purists out there get into a dizzy over this as Harley made almost 5,800 various FL models in 1959 and probably most of those still exist in some form as just about nobody ever junked a Harley no matter what shape it might be in.

    After completely freshening up the 80-inch Panhead and its jockey-shifter 4-speed tranny, Chris placed the crisply finished, but not overdone mill into a 1953 Harley straight leg-style frame. This included a three-inch stretch aft Chris made to accommodate the planned bags. Up front a narrow springer holds a modern size, but vintage spooled and spoked, brakeless 23-inch wheel sporting a ribbed-like-they-used-to Firestone tire that I’ve gotta assume is a modern replica. Personally, I’d be a little wary of riding that on those long grooved curves on California freeways, but then this is not some interstate cruiser so it get’s a pass as cool-correct. Same goes for the vintage tread Coker tire mounted on a correspondingly tall 19-ich rear wheel that has the only braking power (other than downshifting) sitting in the middle – a mechanical drum brake. All very classic and all very mechanical without a lick of ABS in sight.

    Bodywork is where Chris’ build takes a definite turn away from today’s custom baggers with not a piece requiring resin and cloth of any sorts. It’s all 16-gauge steel that’s been lovingly formed to within an inch of its visual delight and beautifully fitted to the frame. Chris may know how to work with composites, but you’d never know looking at this bike. The bags are pretty damn mind blowing when you stop and think about it. Compared to adding extensions to a set of plastic bags or replacing them altogether with taller, wider, and longer aftermarket plastic bags, banging out a perfect set in sheet metal with lids, hinges and latches is one tough job. Needless to say, Chris pulled it off, but don’t expect these to be featured in a new bagger parts press release anytime soon.

    Same goes for the lovely hinged rear fender Chris fabbed up. I just loved the old hinged fenders because they served a purpose more than anything else, but to fabricate a one-off hinged fender that really gives this build the proper feel is too cool as far as I’m concerned anyway. Using a tombstone-style tail light really fits the bill here too and shows Chris’ subtle good taste. A classic design is a classic design for good reason.

    Yeah, I know you’d now be surprised if the fuel and oil tanks were modified something or others and assuredly, they’re not. Chris fabbed up these units from flat sheet that have somewhat familiar profiles, but with enough of a shape to fit the bike exactly as Chris envisioned in his head. Hey, like I said before, a classic design is a classic design for good reason and with Chris’ take on them, they’re his own through and through.

    The thing I was never expecting and I should have knowing Chris’ work was that the little bikini fairing is steel and not something else. Somehow the shapely little fairing adds a lot more than the sum of its metal poundage to this build tying it altogether while adding quite a bit of visual interest on its own.  It’s not too much or too little and flows into the tank and the rest of the bike while keeping the front end light looking. Check behind it and you’ll not find a 1500 watt audio system with 12 speakers or even a set of gauges or anything besides a handlebar. Jesus and Indian Larry would approve.

  When it came to paint, Chris went back to his old standby for a killer paintjob that slowly smacks you in the head with its simple beauty. The IRS may know that standby (he actually isn’t old)  as Mr. Michael Ramirez, but everybody else knows him as just Buck of Buckwild Design Studios in Covina, California. I’m sure he’s got a couple of paintjobs he may not be thrilled with on strictly personal reasons, but I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t stunning without trying to be stunning. The mix of light and dark heavily-flaked greens combined with warm old cream color panels and tasteful lime green pinstriping give it a dash of old and new at the same time. It’s a lovely scheme that fits and flows with the bike perfectly without dating it now or in the future. Same goes for the quilted diamond seat cover by Tito’s Auto Trim in Rosemead, California, that finishes off the build and looks like it could be old or new, but knows it’s just right. 

   As far as lane splitting on this bike goes, that’s up to the new owner. But, if it was me, I’d just find some lonely back roads and take a in a nice cruise knowing I’d never ever see myself coming the other way. Even though they’re still pretty rare birds in the big scheme of things, I can’t quite say the same for a big wheel bagger. The only question I have left is “What’s next Chris?”

  To find out for yourself, check out LA Speed Shop’s website or visit his Facebook page. 

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