It’s easy to forget in this highly commercialized, profit obsessed era of the motorcycle industry for many people, riding is a way of life. It’s a deeply rooted culture, a brotherhood and a sanctuary from mainstream America. Owning a V-twin means something much deeper than merely a television show with a popular logo, a climactic hour-long build-off, or insane looking customs parked unridden beside well-marketed “celebrity” builders throwing T-shirts out to starstruck crowds at events.
For Chico Cheatham of Lexington, Kentucky, riding and building motorcycles gave him a sense of identity after coming home from the Vietnam War. He told us that he just needed some space where he could “be himself” and the motorcycle community gave him that place he was searching for. Chico’s been building his own bikes for over 30 years, traveled all over the world with his rides, and watched the motorcycle industry evolve. He still prefers his community old school and speaks with fond respect for the greats like Arlen Ness, Dave Perewitz, and Donnie Smith, to name a few. The type of builders that have been doing this as long as he has, established their careers on decades of solid, quality work, but still have the time of day to have a decent conversation.
The bike featured on these pages was supposed to be Chico’s last build. Of course, he’s already working on another bike that he (again) swears is his last. This ’01 H-D Standard dubbed Mona Lisa was built for his girlfriend Vicki “Miss Iron Butt” Kincaid, a woman very deserving of her nickname. Chico proudly explained the registered nurse puts more miles on her bikes than he does and is just as ingrained in the lifestyle. Because they both intended to take this bagger out for a lot of long rides, Chico made the decision to go against one of his typical building preferences. Chico said he normally uses anything but stock parts because he likes to build his own engines, but with a bike he intended to take on 200-mile treks, he wanted reliable. That meant using a reasonable 88ci H-D motor, and not some performance-heavy beast hopped up on cubic inches. Reliable also meant sticking with parts that were born to work together, something Harley Davidson has got down pretty well these days. With the exception of a Ness air cleaner, an S&S; carb, and Bassani pipes, Chico kept things pretty standard. A wise decision on Chico’s part–Vicki herself said the ride handles like a “Sportster on steroids”.
What he did mess around with was the appearance of his Mona Lisa. Chico relies on the help of good friends like Art Dailey to make his projects realities. The pair got to work on making the FL look like something “Miss Iron Butt” would be proud to be seen on. They stretched the Standard out a bit by lowering the front end 2 inches and extending the bags and H-D gas tank. Being a fan of Arlen Ness, it is no surprise Chico went with Ness handlebars/risers, mirrors, controls, fenders, and taillight. The intention with all their modifications was to make the bike look as sleek as a bagger can. Art mounted the turn signals into the fairing so that they are not seen until they are in use. All the gauges are digital courtesy of Dakota Digital. Chico also went to Washington, DC in nearly blizzard conditions to have the Bell’s seat custom-made.
A lady always looks good in classic black, but it doesn’t hurt to give her a little decoration either. Art handled the glossy black base coat and layed down the candy red, blue, and green graphics to jazz it up. Speaking of little extras, the 18-inch Covington spinner wheel the bike sports up front might not be the newest thing out there to some, but Chico said you don’t see too many out in Kentucky. Covingtons Cycle City provided the back wheel, calipers, and rotors as well.
Chico told us these days he often feels like he’s “bringing a jackass to the Kentucky Derby” with all the tricked out customs that are overwhelming the events and bike shows. It’s hard for the guys working on just one bike at a time to compete with the builders that have the funds and access to parts to make insane creations. He still does it though, fueled by a true love of the art form. He’ll continue to keep “scratchin’ and diggin'” because it’s about something much deeper than all the hype–it’s life.
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