Influence always comes into play when a builder lays out the plans for a new project, and John Little’s Sled is no exception. This bike is a study in retro ’50s and ’60s hot rod mixed with a little classic Schwinn bicycle.At 16 years old, John quit his extracurricular activities at school, taking a job in a shoe factory. Once he had his first $300 saved up, he went out and bought a Triumph, which he promptly chopped and threw a 16-inch Harley rim on. He became the only kid riding to class on a custom chopper. John’s buddy’s dad had a foundry, so John hung around and picked up some tips in the welding trade.
After high school he went to art school and picked up his first Harley, a ’61 Sportster. Pretty soon he had Sportster parts spread out all over his dorm room floor. At the time he happened to be taking a sculpture lab and his teacher dug what he was doing with the bike, so John was allowed to work on it during class.
About that time Ed Roth heavily influenced John. Not many people know it, but Ed Roth got into the motorcycle scene in the mid-’60s and put out a few small do-it-yourself booklets about chopping Harleys called California Choppers. John had a bunch of them, and one issue had the blueprints for chopping a ’52 Panhead 8-inches over in the front, with a 19-inch rim-basically a ground-up chop. So John got himself a ’52 Pan and got busy. In the early ’70s, Ed Roth disappeared from the scene, not to turn up again until much later.
In ’74 John finished art school and got involved with racecars, eventually inventing the four-link rear end for rear engine drag cars. Racecars became his passion, and bikes faded into the background while he honed his technical and fabrication skills. Not only did he build racecars, he was also crew chief for a number of teams.
About eight years ago John rediscovered riding, and then four years ago got hooked up with Jeff Kessel and Jimmy Winebrenner of Independent Cycle East. Jeff and Jimmy’s shop was right down the road from John’s racecar shop, so it was only a matter of time before they got together for something. At first John did sheetmetal fabrication for them, and eventually got into design as well. Today he does a bunch of work with ICE, so it’s no wonder he turned to them for help when it came to building his personal bike.
John wanted a retro bike that looked like a ’50s-style hot rod mixed with an old Schwinn bicycle, but wanted to incorporate the use of big pieces of sheet metal. He wanted to tie together all his influences, from Ed Roth to Russ Tom, a builder in Seattle that John noticed five years ago, a guy who pushed John into a different way of looking at things. Russ Tom was the first builder John had seen use big sheetmetal, and John knew if he built a bike, it would be like that.
John and the guys at ICE decided to start things off with an Independent Lowlife frame with 40 degrees of rake and 7 inches in the backbone, to give the bike a long and low stance. Then John got busy with the sheetmetal. He fabricated everything on the bike from flat stock, and there’s a ton of metal on the bike. He also hand-built a girder frontend with a Legend air shock from a V-Rod, and used a Legend air shock in the back as well. He had to have a kickstand, but wanted something a little different, so he fabricated a center stand with a small activator knob to raise and lower the stand hydraulically. All the aluminum trim work and the running boards were hand-milled. No CNC machine was used on the build.
For the powerplant, they decided on a 124-inch S&S; with Arlen Ness pushrod tubes and rockers. For the transmission, they used a Primo Rivera six-speed with an open primary. On the side of the primary John put a plate with Rat Fink #393 written on it, his official membership number for the Rat Fink Club. He became a member back in ’86 when Ed Roth appeared on the scene again, and has been one ever since. They decided on Performance Machine wheels, 18 inches in the front and rear, with a 300mm tire in the back. The rear taillight lens is from a ’54 Chevy.
The bike handles pretty well. It is a 300mm tire bike, after all, but rides like a dream on the highway. John took it through a construction zone in D.C. a while back and it got kind of hairy, but he made it through. The bike tends to get a lot of attention. “A lot of people don’t like it. I had a guy the other week look at it and say ‘that thing’s ugly.’ I just smiled. The car guys always love it.”
The bike won the Master Bike Builder Show in Daytona at the Speedway, took Eighth place at the Rat’s Hole Show, and won the Boardwalk Show for Extreme Softail. It also won best hand-built at a local show in Pennsylvania.
|SHOP||Independent Cycle East|
|YEAR/MAKE/MODEL||’05/Independent Cycle East/Sled|
|BUILD TIME||Two years|
|ROCKER BOXES||Arlen Ness|
|PUSHROD TUBES||Arlen Ness|
|AIR CLEANER||So. Cal – Sromberg|
|YEAR/TYPE||Primo Rivera/six-speed R.H. Drive|
|PRIMARY DRIVE||Independent Cycle|
|FRONT||Hand-built girder with Legends Air|
|WHEELS, TIRES, AND BRAKES|
|CALIPER||Performance Machine 6 piston|
|ROTOR||Performance Machine 11-inch|
|COLOR||Euro red and black|
|PAINTER||Custom paint by Skip and Cliff|
|GRAPHICS||Skip and Cliff|
|MOLDING||Skip and Cliff|
|POWDERCOATING||Maryland Ind. Coaters|
|HAND CONTROLS||Arlen Ness|
|FOOT CONTROLS||Independent Cycle|
|TURN SIGNALS||Hot Dots|
|LICENSE MOUNT||Frenched sheetmetal|