Building the Web Surfer, Pt. 2

Nothing’s simple when you start from scratch.

Building the Web Surfer, Pt. 2

Editor's Note: I asked the Web Surfer's builder, Richard Pollock, to write this installment of the bike's backstory. He's the guy, after all, who combined a 1972 frame with a 1993 motor with a Ducati front end with a dirt-track swingarm. As you can see in Pt. 1, the end result is beautiful, but at times the process was ugly. Used parts sometimes turned out to be more used than we thought; eBay descriptions were, er, optimistic; even perfectly good parts like our Öhlins shocks needed to be persuaded into place. —David Edwards

When this project idea was first hatched, the concept—low budget, do-able by almost anyone with basic skills and tools—was clear, and I had a few of the major components already in hand. Those would be the frame, wheels, tank, forks and engine. As it turned out, almost all those key components conspired to spoil the project!

I guess the one most important component required in a project of this scope is resourcefulness. You either got it or you don't. All obstacles were cleared in due time, but every small detail seemed to put up a fight.

Take the shocks, for instance. While my head was saturated with solving big problems—the motor doesn't fit in the frame; the $60 eBay forks have ugly rust pits under the leaking seal slime; the motor looked good externally but is round-file material internally, including the cases; the used aluminum fuel tank has a leak at a ground-down weld joint—I hadn't even thought about shocks or lots of other small details. That's when David called to say he'd scored a beautiful, like-new set of Öhlins piggybacks for less than half of retail. That would be $600! When he brought them to my shop for inspection, they looked like new and would be perfect for the project. The bike had no swingarm yet or even a plan of what it would look like, so making the Öhlins fit could easily be worked into the design.

On early Sportster frames (ours is a '72), there is a large stepped bolt/stud that goes through a hole on each side of the seat/fender mounts protruding to the rear of the frame. New, stronger ones were machined from chromoly and welded into the frame. This gave us a shock mount of the perfect diameter to match the top eye of the newly acquired Swedish dampers.

I assumed I would put the lower shock mount at roughly the same distance from the swingarm pivot behind the motor as the stock Sportster unit, as I was intending to use a swingarm of stock length. Now I just needed something to attach the bottom of the shocks to, something like say...a swingarm. The stock arm was out of the question, weight-wise. This frame is of an antique design wherein there are cast lug joints with tubes sweated into holes. Most likely oven-brazed, but I couldn't say for sure. The stock swingarm is of this design and somehow ends up with a lot more casting than tubing, so weight suffers greatly. One of the small design errors I will readily admit to on this project was my commitment to keep some of the classic "cast" personality of the swingarm. To do so, we retained the front 2 inches of the original swingarm, the pivot area, which houses twin tapered roller bearings. Whatever attached to the rear wheel and shocks would be married to the original cast pivot area.

In an attempt to stay with the concept, I steered clear of fabbing up a new rectangular-tube flat-track-style arm. The idea was that a guy in his garage would have an easier go of it adapting existing parts found floating around on the web than he would building up elaborate weld fixtures for swingarms and frames.

Then—lightning bolt comes out of sky—I remember that out in the shed there's an old swingarm from a Knight flat-track frame. This was a long-lost project wherein I had purchased a Knight frame and swingarm with the intent of mounting a four-cylinder Honda CBR600F2 motor and setting the street-tracker world on fire. I cut the bottom of the frame out, had the motor bolted in, converted the swingarm from twin shocks to center-mount monoshock...and then tossed everything in the corner to collect dust. Now unsellable, with no cradle for the motor it was originally built for and no rear seat loop. I could easily be persuaded to trade the frame for a large breakfast burrito.

But here was our free swingarm. Rectangular tubing, lightweight chromoly, minor surface rust and it was close to the right length. I trimmed the mount/pivot section off the front, welded in a spacer of rectangular tube between the arm and the cast Sportster pivots, affixed generous gusseting and the Web Surfer swingarm was re-born.

Now, since the stock lower shock-mounting points would be well forward of the original Knight design, and the weight of a street-tracker with an Evo Sportster motor would probably be twice that of a Knight-framed Honda 500 Single, a doubler plate was cut out at a length to go from the axle holes to a point about 2 inches ahead of the shock mount. I drew these gusset plates up and took the drawing to the machine shop, where they were cut from plate stock on a water-jet machine. Cost $6 each, which was cheap and saved a ton of work. All welded in place, we now had somewhere to mount the bottom of the shocks.

The shocks bolted up perfectly to the frame and swingarm, though you can see in our mockup photos, without our trick RK chain in place. Zooming way ahead in the build, everything was almost done when Murphy mucked up the process yet again. Prior to final assembly, I had never actually had the chain mounted with the shocks in place. The chain hit the spring. Damn! Quick thinking and a quicker drawing, and I was off to the machine shop again. I designed a bottom spring spacer that was much smaller diameter than the spring, which got the chain some clearance. And by moving the top clip and spring retainer up several positions, the whole spring moved upward an inch and a half. Our preload was unchanged but now the chain wouldn't rub the shock.

So, the Web Surfer's rear end may look simple, and the parts were bargain-priced, but getting everything to work together was pretty complicated and more than a little labor-intensive. See the photo gallery for this and other details.

Öhlins 36PRCLBs may be the most advanced twin shocks on the market. New, they cost $1300! Ours came from former Norton revivalist Kenny Dreer's garage, half-price.

Final assembly and, Poway, we have a problem. Chain interfered with right shock spring, not good. Remove and fix.

As it sits here, mockup totals about $4500 in parts. There would be alterations amundo, though, before the finished bike hit the road.

The solution was to craft alloy "inverted-hat" spacers for both shocks that moved the spring up out of harm's way.

Rolling mockup looks even better. Note rear disc, a 1970s Hunt plasma-sprayed roadracing unit had for $23 on eBay.

Early Evo 883 required mounting tabs on front downtubes; these would have to be altered when we retrofitted a newer five-speed motor.

Rough mockup and everything is looking good and workable.

Old streetbike pivot eyes meet less-old short-track swingarm.

The completed wheels, splendid in gold powdercoat and ready to mount at a fraction the cost of the real thing. Recently, newly recast Morris mags were going for $3500 the pair.

Our modded frame with new steering head, raised, reinforced backbone and longer rear downtubes in place so Evo Sporty V-Twin would fit. Too bad the $1360 eBay motor turned out to be wasted inside.

Close-up of the beefed-up backbone. Nice welding job and way stronger than stock.

Almost-done swingarm with reinforced shock mounts in place.

Another lesson in used parts buying. Beautiful Storz aluminum tank nicked us for $700, some $400 under sticker for a new one. Too bad we didn?t discover the pinhole leak before our $600 paint job was applied...

Rescued from a shed, monoshocked Knight swingarm cost nothing, rust included.

It may look like an expensive Morris mag, but rear wheel started out as a Japanese 19-inch front (foreground) as seen in the 1980s. Buy 'em all day long on eBay for $50-$75.

To fit a meaty rear Maxxis dirt-track tire, the rim had to be widened, done for $450 by the experienced crew at Kosman Specialties.

An eBay success story: New Screamin' Eagle 1200cc big-bore kit for $800. Intended for a Sportster Custom, it's got chromed rocker covers, a bit showy for a Pollock street-tracker, but the price was right.

Looking better with Pollock's superstructure cut off, ready for mating with stock Sportster pivot.

Building the Web Surfer, Pt. 2