Motorcycle Syndicate: Total Harmonic Distortion

Written by  Story by Buck Manning, Photos by Jerry Swanson Friday, 06 April 2018 12:00
Published in Choppers
There’s a lot of jibber-jabber lately about what’s really going on in the custom motorcycle industry and where it’s headed. Everything from the ever-tightening EPA regulations potentially strangling it, to lack of interest from the end result user and buyer (that would be you). Nattering nabobs of negativity are always the first to speak and usually the loudest while doing nothing different to make an end-run around problems they might face, real or otherwise.


Like every enthusiast-driven industry, there are going to be some ups and downs, but where there’s a will, there’s always a way. One of the more interesting trends I’m starting to see is the guy who’s not trying to make his only means of living out of building one-off customs, but is personally doing a few ground-ups or serious makeovers just for the learning experience and fun of it. Imagination and good taste can often prevail over professionally making the same universal custom over and over.

Take for instance, Las Vegas photographer Jerry Swanson, who has stepped from behind the lens and created his fourth ground-up custom, Harmonic Distortion, for your viewing pleasure. Building bikes has become an interesting sideline from portraits and weddings that lets his artistic side show through in 3-D for a change and allows Jerry to indulge in his lifelong obsession with two-wheeled vehicles. He’s one of the new breed of builders who can build what they want, the way they want, without having to answer to a daily business bottom line. The nice part of this one-at-a-time building approach is that if it doesn’t sell when you’re finished, at least you can ride it. Luckily for him, there’s always been a convenient buyer available and such is also the case with this bike which, after a year on the show circuit gathering its share of awards, was put in the hands of new owner, Mark Haldeman of Portland, Oregon. Yo Pacific Northwest, be ready as Mark, after enjoying just riding the bike, is about to start his own round of entering Harmonic Distortion in area shows starting with the Easyriders show in March.

Making a real world rider entails coming up with a basic package that works together to create something more than a straight-line Main Street cruiser. Jerry took an interesting approach to his bike’s foundation by starting with a frame and fork that were made to work together from the git-go. Reaching across the country to Killer Chopper Cycle Fabrication in Henniker, New Hampshire, Jerry obtained a frame and fork that were made to work in harmony to produce a good handling, great tracking bike that had all the correct dimensions built-in. “It’s one of the sturdiest frames I’ve seen,” said Jerry. “Their welds are always really good, a really tough frame.” The 38-degree rake frame features a 2” up, 1” out design that didn’t require additional rake in the trees to get a proper trail number. “It really handles awesome. It’s a rigid so you feel the bumps, but as far as neutrality around corners, it’s really balanced,” said Jerry. “I’ve had it up to 80-90 on the freeway, it’s solid as a rock.”

Keeping it handling nicely is the thoughtful rear tire choice of a 180mm Avon Venom sitting on an 18” 40-spoke wheel. Regarding super fat tires, Jerry said, “I don’t like how they make the bike handle. I think they’re a pretty played out look. Everybody does that.” Sitting up front is a style-matching 21” hoop with another Avon surrounding it. Mounted on that wheel is a rotor by Eurocomponents squeezed by an impressive 6-piston caliper from Midwest Motorcycle Supply. In case that isn’t enough to keep the party from getting out of hand, there’s a Eurocomponents sprocket/rotor aft in case you gotta throw out an additional anchor.

All this talk about stopping abilities sounds counterproductive to having fun, until you realize that an Ultima 113” El Bruto is the prime motivation of a fairly light bike. “I didn’t want to go too big,” said Jerry. “I wanted a good amount of horsepower, but not so big it was vibrating your hands off the bars.” Dennis Goodson of Goodson Air Cleaners must be working overtime providing his tasty air cleaners for the huge number of bikes currently sporting them and this bike is no different with one hanging from an S&S Super E. Simple straight back exhaust pipes muffle by wall thickness alone. “There’s no mufflers in ‘em,” said Jerry. “I was influenced by open motor hot rods of the 30s where the pipes just shot out the side. I like that look.” Keeping it simple is a 5-speed tranny from Midwest that gets its chain-spinning power from a BDL 3” primary with a clean cover keeping wayward pants from becoming shorts.

The complete handlebar, riser, hand control set-up is courtesy of fellow Las Vegan company, Custom Cycle Controls, with not a cable or line in sight. “Everything’s already built in, all the buttons are there, you just pull the lines through the bars, hook’em up to your components and you’re done,” said Jerry. “They’re so clean, people ask me when I’m going to finish it up so it runs.” Thunderheart controls give the rider’s feet something to do besides get in the wind.

The gas tank was fabbed by Jerry and slenderly provides a platform for the black base paint and classic scallops that accentuate the speed lines created by the exhaust. “My tank is simple, it was not a real complicated design, not too difficult to make,” said Jerry. “It’s a nod to the past.” The oil tank is from Midwest and joins in with the West Coast Choppers fenders in a giant chromefest. Jerry’s a fan of British bikes and said, “I like that look of the chrome. I’ve restored BSA’s in the past and I like that look. It’s a real timeless look.”

So how does this Vegas lensman rate his fourth build? “It’s a pretty simple bike, what you see is what you get. It’s all there.”


This bike feature originally appeared in Barnett's Magazine issue #55, May-June 2007.


Builder: Jerry Swanson
Motorcycle Syndicate

One more time there’s the continuing theme of a young builder growing up riding dirt bikes and later building custom American V-twins. Jerry Swanson of Motorcycle Syndicate is one more shrimp on the barbie as he said, “I grew up riding dirt bikes and always worked on my own stuff. Later I started riding Harleys and could never leave them alone. I bought my first Harley when I was 24, a 1970 FLH.” The transition from dirt bikes to street bikes seemingly leads them to building a bike instead of just riding a stocker. Even though they’re building ground-ups, this doesn’t deter them (or Jerry) from working on friends’ bikes, “I work on factory bikes, too. Anything that sounds fun, I like to transform things.” Jerry’s approach to a new build is fairly simple, “I have an idea in my head of how I want it to look and try to get as close as I can to how it looks in my mind. You have to be a little flexible though, your ideas are not always perfect.” Right now Jerry’s building a traditional chopped and channeled, low to the ground 1930 Model A two-door sedan, lakester-style, with Ford flathead power and also a bobber to match. His theory of making a cohesive design consists of starting off with a general concept and making sure everything he does after supports that. Would he take a commission? “Absolutely,” said Jerry. “If I ever come across people who are interested in what I’ve done, I’m ready.” Contact Jerry at 702-234-4183 if you need a photo or a ground-up custom or both.


Owner: Mark Haldeman
Year / Make: '05 Custom
Fab/ assembly: Jerry Swanson
Build time: 8 months
Engine: 113" Ultima
Ignition: Crane Hi-4
Carb: S&S Super E
Pipes: Jerry Swanson
Air Cleaner: Goodson
Transmission: Ultima 5-speed
Primary: BDL 3" belt
Clutch: BDL/ Custom Cycle Controls
Frame: Killer Chopper Cycle Fabrication
Rake: 38-degrees
Stretch: 2" up/ 1" out
Forks: Killer Chopper
Wheels: Midwest 40-spoke
Front Tire: Avon MH90H/21
Rear Tire: Avon 180/55x18
Front Brakes: Midwest 6-piston/ Euro-components rotor
Rear Brakes: Euro-components sprocket/ rotor
Fuel Tank: Jerry Swanson
Oil Tank: Midwest
Fenders: West Coast Choppers
Headlight/ Taillight: Midwest
Handlebar/ Controls: Custom Cycle Controls
Foot Controls: Thunderheart
Paint/ Graphics: Jerry Swanson
Seat: Jerry Swanson
Special thanks to: Aaron King at Custom Cycle Controls


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