Monday, November 21, 2011

Willow: A lesson in Evolution

 I've been threatening some features for a while now and really have been working on them, the trouble is I'm a reactionary writer...meaning I need something to riff off of instead of being able to pull stuff out of the ether like truly talented pensmen can.
With that in mind I cried mercy and begged for outside assistance. Once again and without access to a computer Mike D. stepped up and ran with the ball.   
Thanks pal, the tail light is all you!

A bike called Willow
Words by Mike 'VonYinzer' D.
Pics and videos by Troy Helmick and Associates 
Formatting and editing by a talentless monkey that looks like me.

     Todays world is a one of consumerism and waste. It’s a place where throw away culture has overwhelmed and digested the ideals of the craftsman. There are still those amongst the Bluetooth wearing, plastic and happy, that cling to the ways and skills of the past. Most don’t do it for the (sometimes very little) money that can be made, or any sort of recognition. It’s a calling of sorts. A cross wired DNA strand maybe. It’s an obsession at worst. One of those so inflicted is Troy Helmick, of West Virginia.
     A photographer, farmer, motorcyclist, community leader, husband and father; Troy is a busy man. No matter how little time left in his day though, the draw to fashion a motorcycle that fit his image of machine meets art meets history was too strong. He has ridden his entire life, but none of those bikes fired up the synapses in the manner he longed for. In rolls a half wasted, long forgotten Honda Cb360. It was rescued from a grassy, shallow grave and dragged home to be reborn.

A few times actually.

     The first iteration was as a lean and minimal café racer. Troy handmade the rearsets, seat, and a fitted a 70s CB200 tank as well as other bits for the 60s era racer throwback before assembling the once tired Honda. Once finished, it was a study in function. Superbly done in blue and silver, the CB360 was the target of awe for all who saw it. All but Troy. Into the garage it went, again nearly forgotten and unused.

Light, agile, pretty and fun!

The motorcycle sat like that for a time, before Troy was struck with the need to create once more. The Honda was pulled from the cobwebs, the café parts sold off, and the skeleton prepped for a second rebirth. This time was as a stretched swinger, low and skinny bobber. The original tank was pulled off the shelf and painted a beautiful metallic brown with gold lace work panels. Brass accents were added tastefully. A couple different sets of custom handlebars were installed during this period.

Low bike.....big damn dog!

Again though, the end result hadn’t pushed the envelope enough for Troy. So, our intrepid builder tore the old bike down once again. 
FU baby......FU!

While the above is not a heavy rework, the visual effect is significant to say the least!

This time the modifications were a bit more severe. A bit more, as in the frame was cut to bits and welded back together as a classically styled chopper. Troy as always performed all of the work himself with help along the way from various friends and associates. The classic Hodaka tank was located and mounted. Another set of custom, high rise “FU” bars were fabbed up and bolted down. The wheels were further modified, and a simple yet effective sprung solo seat was created to keep ass from floor. Fenderless, loud and mean as a drunken billy goat, the once rusted commuter bike rolled back into the world. It wasn’t quite what Troy had envisioned, but dammit, it was getting closer.

The 'Hodaka Tank Period' when she was still called 'Beat the Clock' was one of my favorite iterations of this motorcycle. One off frame, unique collection of parts and those bars all added up to a good deal of style.
    After a season of abusing the 360 in this form, inspiration struck in the form of 1920s board-track racers. That was the Eureka moment. The light that shines from on high. Again, the saw-zall and tubing bender were warmed up and the Honda was rolled onto the work table. A long cold winter of late nights after long days later and what you see before you was created. Willow.

Nothing like knocking it right outta the park!

     The rolling representation of one mans will and vision. Its beautiful frame, with the art deco lines was hand formed and welded. The flowing and organic fuel tank was shaped from high tech materials, in the most low tech way; with a persons hands. Just as the frame and tank were created in a manner not unlike those days of long ago, so was every other possible part. The handle bar clamps were machined by Lee of Homage Moto Works in Oregon. The seat pan was covered in an aged leather by Jim at Alchemy Upholstery in Pittsburgh and mounted to a heavily modified leaf-spring and then to the frame. The copper velocity stacks were made by the “Canuck Plumber” from (you guessed it) Canada. Everything else came from the small unheated garage Troy called home every night for months, upon months.
           In the end, the rolling vision in these photos truly speaks for itself. The combination of one hundred year old design, modern materials, an abandoned Japanese commuter bike, and one mans several year exercise in persistence to build what he saw in his own soul. Awards have been won, and jaws have been dropped by Willow but to hear Troy talk of the feeling he gets simply turning the throttle on HIS motorbike I think he’s found the center of his soul. That place that all of the members of the oddball group of humans out there who still know how to use a tape measure properly, or that change their own oil all aspire to find. Ride on Troy.

Looks like art to me......

Not much more Mike or I could add at this point so I'll just let these last few shots speak for themselves. 

I would like to thank Mike Dock for taking the time to write the words and Troy Helmick not only for his patience with my slow pace on this but also for creating a true gem of a motorcycle from what others would just wander past without a second look. Fools all......

Ok how about some videos?