Rattlesnake: Matt Stephens' Custom 1974 Harley-Davidson Ironhead
Words: Matt Stephens Photography: Luke Ray
I have been around the car scene for a little while now, and I’ve had a few projects along the way. Always having one or two on the go (currently a 1930 Ford 5 window A-Coupe and a ‘64 Ford Ranchero), I was never afraid to get stuck into a project and have an attempt at doing as much as I can myself with the limited tools and space that I have. However, with this bike, I called upon one of our fellow ‘Reapers C.C.’ members and good friend Brett ‘Bone Yard’ Gear to lead me down the right the path, and to help create my first ever motorcycle.
The bike was an eBay find that I stumbled upon whist at work one day. A 1974 Harley-Davidson Ironhead ‘Sporty’. Only seeing photos on my phone, it was hard to see clearly what it was like, so I made the call got some more pictures of the bike. That was that and we made a deal! Three weeks later it showed up on a truck. After seeing how much oil it had leaked in its journey and how rough the bike was all round, I knew it was in need of a full build and not just the hard tail conversion and other small mods like we had initially planned.
After riding the bike a few times, and getting sick of calling my buddy with his truck to pick me up every time I took it out, I decided it was time to get a few of the boys together and get it down to Bone Yard for a tear down. The bike was stripped to a front loop in a matter of hours, with Brett donating his skateboard as my motor storage for the next few months (sorry about the oil). We cut back all the unnecessary crap that was added over its lifetime, and got it set up on the jig. Brett worked his magic installing the hard tail and other numerous mods to the frame. The amount of weight that came off this bike was ridiculous! I had an eBay sale and all the money from those nasty cheap parts went towards getting all the right gear to make ‘Rattlesnake’ what it is now.
The frame was all mocked up. With the rear guard and sissy bar now on, we put a 21 on the front hub and used the old 19 front rim and threw it on the back hub with a Firestone rear and an Avon front. The wide glide front end was ditched and taken back to narrow. Further modifications included the one off mid controls and suicide shift conversion, the two into one exhaust, a dished oil bag, hand formed air cleaner, the bitchin battery box, my 50c swap meet find shift knob, and a bunch of other small pieces that make the bike a little more ‘made with love’, rather than just a n online parts bike.
The front brake was ditched and the fork tubes were lathed down to get the lug mounts off. We fitted bars with built in risers, a sporty tank with beaver brown flake and fades with guard to match. An old friend, Rick Hayward, was called upon to hand draw the Rattlesnake art, and he and his partner sketched up the design for the tank. The seat pan was re-formed and given to Cameron from North Coast Custom Trim, who worked his magic to get it just right. I think it suits the bike to a tee! Various pieces all came back from the chrome and powder coating companies, and Rattlesnake was pieced back together to be what you see on these pages.
We only got it running minutes to spare before this shoot, and it was a great day to see it riding under its own power in all its new glory. This was my first bike build and will most definitely not be my last. I couldn’t have done it without the guidance and hard work that was put into this build from my good mate Brett Gear. Without him this wouldn’t be what it is, and I would still be sitting on the side of the road trying to kick start the old clunker that it once was.
I’m very lucky to be in a club where everyone is willing to give up their own time and commitment to pull together and make someone's dream a reality... Thank you to all the Reapers C.C. boys, to the girls for not cracking it when we had shed time (many beers), and last but not least to my beautiful and supportive partner, Jadey.
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 09.
Follow Matt: @immattstephens.