One Man’s Perfect Pan

Written by  Story By Fidel Sassoon Photos By Jack “Still Top Down And Loving It” Cofano Wednesday, 24 January 2018 01:19
Published in Vintage
   Every now and then I run into somebody’s custom street bike that says more about them than they’d ever verbally say about themselves. This absolutely adorable Harley-Davidson Panhead custom belonging to Steve Freels of Knoxville, Tennessee, is one of those bikes. First off, I’ve never met or communicated in any way with Steve, but just taking one look at his bike makes me think he’s a standup Harley guy with an eye for beauty and love of heritage. Plus he rides what he loves and not just a static display kind of guy. Far from it, his bike is set up for looking good and hitting the road.

    I doubt Steve had nothing in particular when he built this as everything looks particularly particular from the Low Rider frame holding the 1956 Motor Company Panhead engine to the Harley FL front end featuring a Hydra-Glide-style sheet metal surround behind the Bates-style headlight. Nothing is ridiculously stretched or raked as he obviously wanted to keep it a fun to ride anywhere bike. It still has usable suspension front and rear and there are disc brakes (genuine early H-D units) at each end too. I doubt this was intended as some modern retro special or some other theme, just a bike Steve’s had stuck in his head forever built around a Holy Grail of a genuine Panhead.

   The whole vintage Panhead customization holds together because the rest of the components around it really fit the bill. Good looking and reasonably-sized laced wheels wearing modern rubber do what they do best. Oh you know, things like steer, stop, handle and, frankly, do exactly what a good set of wheels and tires should do. Plus they’re something you could probably find at any dealer if you were out on the road and had tire problems. Sensible, but important stuff to a guy like Steve who rides this as a motorcycle, not a two-wheeled Faberge Egg that ends up being pushed around from show to show.

    If the bodywork looks familiar that’s because it is. Harley Fat Bob tanks still with the stock chrome dash look comfortable with the stock oil tank and the ducktail rear fender. Same goes for the louvered chrome battery box and especially the front fender. It’d be so easy to remove the front fender and be “instantly custom” like so many bikes we see now, but apparently Steve is concerned about rain and road grime and for that I give him two thumbs up. Even the seat looks like it was chosen for sitting more than staring and again, that’s perfectly fine by me. My ass cares more about comfort than aesthetics so I may be opinionated on this issue. It looks as right as could be for this application.

    One thing Steve absolutely had to have was a set of real apes and those high and wide bars bring on the attitude. And, apparently a lot of windblast at highway speeds, which Steve has gotten around with a smoke-tint windshield of all things. A bolt-on windshield on a custom bike? Is nothing sacred? Nope, Steve did what he wanted and damn any custom critics and their one-sided righteousness of what’s correct and what’s not. Obviously it works for Steve and I doubt he gives a sh*t what anyone else thinks of his choices. I do wonder if he’s having a bit of a laugh about the current custom bagger trend with the dual leather tool bags mounted on either side of the seat hump. Something tells me they’re full of tools as vintage bikes love tools, but is this the most minimalist custom bagger ever or did it just happen to work out that way? Only Steve knows for sure and he’s not saying.

    The Panhead engine itself is still that chunk of V-twin love that makes Harley freaks weak in the knees. Here it’s adorned with a classic Hypercharger with its chrome trap door and butterflies just waiting to suck in air and mix it with fuel before the burned remnants are dumped out the dual fishtails that look straight out of a Paughco catalog. Normally I’m not a big fan of fishtails especially when they’re on a late model Harley, but on a vintage Panhead like this, I’m totally okay. They fit this build slightly beyond perfectly and probably sound pretty damn good too. I do appreciate keeping the 4-speed tranny on board and with no wide open belt drive needed to spoil the vibe.

   All the rest of the bits and pieces fit right in from the controls to the floorboards. Although I’ll be the first to admit I’d never paint my bike with purple, pink and turquoise flames over a black base, it looks okay here. Kinda pinpoints when this was done and I’d have to guess in the ‘90s sometime as those were the unofficial colors of the day. It’s a time-warp look more than trying to be an Old School or retro or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days. If it was mine, I wouldn’t change it.

   Matter of fact, if this bike were mine, I probably wouldn’t change a thing. Just leave it like it is, maintain it and ride the living crap out of it knowing a 60-year-old Harley-Davidson engine was still banging away between my legs. Steve’s bike is full of style, practicality, and a rich history of six decades of motorcycling with more to come. Bikes like this never go out of style because they are style personified. Don’t change a thing Steve, just ride this into the future and never look back.

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