Gangster Choppers Shakedown Chopper

Written by  Story By Alvoris Vambrosio Photos By Jack “Every Day’s The Weekend” Cofano Friday, 03 April 2015 15:16
Published in Choppers
  One of the most overused and incorrectly used terms regarding custom motorcycles is “chopper.” People often refer to any custom Harley as a chopper so much so that it’s kinda lost its meaning. Many have tried to define exactly what makes a bike a chopper, but it’s always an open debate with no final definition from what I’ve seen, read, and heard. Me? I kinda take the approach that the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart took when he had to rule on what was pornography way back in 1964 and said, “I know it when I see it.” Perfecto. I’ve never bothered to think or argue about what makes a motorcycle a chopper, but I know one when I see it.


  What I’m looking at right now is a chopper built by the always lovely John Dodson of Gangster Choppers in Richmond, Virginia, and it is a chopper by anyone’s definition. Hey, it’s no big surprise that a business called Gangster Choppers of all things is making choppers and has been since like forever ─ or so it seems anyway. John loves his choppers and here’s one more example from the man who always has a plan. John is so into choppers just for the sake of choppers that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a no-parking sign for big-wheel baggers in the shop’s parking lot. Now I better clarify that a bit by saying that I made that remark about the possibility a no-big-wheel bagger parking sign and I think John’s too sharp a businessman to do something that crazy. But, if he did, I’d have to say I wasn’t surprised. John is clearly the master of his domain and you gotta respect that especially when he’s building choppers like our feature bike.


  Building a Gangsters Choppers chopper like the bike John calls Shakedown started from a bunch of American-made tubing and went from there. The one-off, single-downtube rigid frame showcasing Harley-Davidson’s Evo engine is a tight design that looks ready for an instant getaway if needed. Mildly raked forks cradle a traditional brakeless spool hub laced to a regular old rim sporting a pretty knobby tire. I know John’s a wicked serious dirt biker, so knobbies on a street bike probably are no big whup to him so don’t get into being critical of that. If this was your bike, you could run whatever you wanted. Out back he’s running basically the same setup except for the wheel and tire size and that four-piston caliper grabbing the rear disc. Nothing deep, just very choppery.


  Same goes for the tin work. John took a 1989 Sportster tank and chopperized it until it bears nothing much with the original except that’s the way it used to be done. I was actually pleased to hear that it was originally a Motor Company part even though the Sportster tank is gone, replaced by a modified big tank with the spirit of the Sportster in it and that’s about it. Mounted high and at a radical angle requiring a gas cap at the peak so more than a gallon could go in and stay in, it looks perfectly choppery to me. The oil tank is a traditional horseshoe style that does what it has to and looks like you expect it to. All fine by me. No trailer is missing its fender as John made this jewel from sheet metal and had it deliciously chromed just like back in the day. M-m-m-m ─ chrome.


   The sissy bar is a vintage piece that’s been reworked and I’m sure, better looking and finished than it ever did. If there’s one thing that defines a true chopper to me is the absolute necessity of having a sissy bar (don’t you dare call it a backrest or whatever, it’s a sissy bar). Back in the day, sissy bars were like someone’s DNA in metal to me. There was always some kind of back story with it and for some perverse reason I liked that. Also very choppery is the two-up king and queen inspired seat on so many grounds. From what I remember (I’ve finally gotten as hazy about the past now as much as I tried to get hazy in the past) of choppers and motorcycles in general was that everybody always had a place for a passenger just in case they got lucky. My how times have changed.


  A chopper was also defined by its engine and if its bite wasn’t badass, its bark was. John being a performance freak couldn’t settle for just bark, he’s more of a biter. During the rebuild of the Evo engine, many pieces were ditched or modified for more spunk. The 80-inch Evo’s displacement stayed stock, but John pumped up the volume with high-compression pistons, an Andrews cam, adjustable pushrods, an S&S Super E carb, and a bunch more tiddly things. Unleashing the bark that goes with the newfound bite are a pair of long, upswept pipes sporting three brass rings each. It’s touches like that which make its ties to the old ways feel true and strong. Three brass rings ─ just because. And, that’s okay. The absolute minimalist (except for the engraving), really-open-as-open-can-be belt drive spins a Harley FXR 5-speed tranny before directing power via a chain to the rear wheel. Clean and simple and you guessed it ─ very choppery.


   For paint, John turned to his usual suspects at Copperhead Graphics in Cana, Virginia. Copperhead’s Chad McCreary turned out another of his striking paint jobs on Shakedown using PPG’s three-stage pearl and candy base paint called O So Orange. Mural gangster graphics on the tank combined with a tasteful bit of gold leaf and pinstriping does what it’s supposed to ─ grab your attention, but not overpower the rest of the bike. Because of the fit and finish of the paintjob which was just about impossible back in the day, I’ll call it Modern Old School. Nice job as usual Chad.


  There are tons and tons of nice little details throughout the bike from the mellow yellow headlight lens (fog light or French car headlight lens?) to the nutty cool taillight living its life on the sissy bar. Take the time and go through Señor Cofano’s photos for all the details. Maybe the man himself, John Dodson, summed this bike up the best when he said, “Shakedown was constructed to be the perfect chopper for long rides, taking that special passenger with you, and looking the part of a full on traditional chopper. Nothing super radical, but a bike that takes 25 years of building experience to perfect.”


   If you like what you see and a chopper is what you need, be sure to mosey on over to John’s website or visit Gangster Choppers Facebook page for more gangstery info. 

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