CRO Customs’ 1976 Harley-Davidson FLH | Hands-On Harley
How many times have you seen a custom motorcycle that was almost there but somehow missed the mark? How many times have you seen a builder take a bike to the limit, only to stop at a nine instead of reaching a solid 10? Face it, building a custom bike isn’t exactly rocket science. Almost anyone with welding torch and a credit card can hack off the back of a bike and bolt-on a bunch of catalog bits. The difference between good and great has always been measured in making something so complicated, yet look so simple. That’s the story of this ’76 FLH. At a distance, it appears to be a survivor that perhaps has been collecting dust in a museum. Take a closer look and you’ll notice all the one-off pieces that take this bike from good … to great.
Caleb Owens has been building bikes and operating CRO Customs for more than 10 years. He’s been around long enough to see the trends come and go but has pretty much stuck to his guns when it comes to his style of build. “Most of the stuff I build is vintage, older, chopper-style bikes, but I’ve gotten into just about anything nowadays. I’m partial to the early area V-twins from the ’30s-60s,” explained Caleb.
Caleb’s work has been recognized along the way winning the Pro Bike Builder during the third annual Born-Free show. Caleb was asked to return in 2012 and showed up with the bike featured here. “When they asked me to build the bike for a traditional chopper show, I figured most guys will build a ’60s-style chopper, which I really love and is the type I built last year. I thought most people are not that interested in the ’70s-era H-D bike. I wanted to build one of those to do something different and I wanted to do it in a slightly different style. It’s obviously a custom-built bike but I didn’t want it to be so overwhelming that when you first look at it you weren’t sure. I wanted it to stand-alone as a totally unique motorcycle. I built kind of a hybrid style. It’s definitely got some racer-style performance, but it has some drag racing influences as well. The idea was to try and build something that looks like it could have been a factory-style racer bike from that era.”
The mix of go-fast and good-looking didn’t come without lots of sleepless nights and busted knuckles. To achieve that look he wanted, Caleb handcrafted a good portion of the parts … and we do mean by hand. “When I considered something to be hand-made, it’s not punched into the computer where a machine lasers it out and you never touch it. It’s literally, I lay my hands on it. You start with a raw piece of metal and then you draw your design on it. It’s a lot like carving a piece of stone or a sculpture where you have to shape, hand-chisel, cut, and weld this raw metal into a shape that’s functional, beautiful, and organic that works with the bike. Anything that could be made pretty much was; the tank, rear fender section, oil bag, all that stuff is made from scratch. The foot controls are one-off too. The frame is shortened and lowered 1-3/4 inches. The frontend is shortened 5 inches, and the seat section of the frame is narrowed. The little covers on the disc and the little fins are all hand-machined. By the end of the day your hands are soar, cut up, and bloody. You literally add a lot of your blood and soul into it.”
It’s that level of skill that pushed this CRO custom to the top of the game. Don’t take our word for it because Caleb’s bike took home the honors of Pro Bike Builder for a second year in a row at Born-Free 4. But don’t think winning two years in a row went to his head. He explains, “The reaction was pretty amazing. It was very different from every bike that was there. By my amazement it won best builder for the show. It was pretty amazing and a huge honor to be voted on by your fellow builders. I have so much respect for those guys and the bikes they build were just beautiful. Any of those bikes were more than worthy of winning. I just felt flattered and honored that my stuff is even recognized. I don’t know why I won two years in a row. I just sort of do what I do and I definitely don’t do it win any awards. That’s just icing on the cake. It’s a real nice validation to be recognized by your peers that you think so highly of.”
“By the end of the day your hands are soar, cut up, and bloody. You literally add a lot of your blood and soul into it.”
|Build Time||Seven months|
|Primary Drive||1.5 inh HD/CRO|
|Frontend||1982 Sturgis H-D|
|Rear Shock||Works Performance|
|### Wheels, Tires, and Brakes|
|Builder/Size||H-D Morris, Goodyear, NOS|
|Builder/Size||H-D Morris, Goodyear, NOS|
|Hand Controls||Modified by CRO|