Click here to watch a short film on the Air Force Tribute Bike built by Billy Lane
Photos and article are courtesy of Billy Lane, Steven Broyles, and The Horse Back Street Choppers Magazine
Once we got the green light to begin the Rolling Thunder build with Billy, we wasted no time in flying down to Florida and meeting with the Warden, his staff and of course, Billy at the Avon Park Correctional Facility. Warden Chapman has been very supportive of this project and hopes to use this build as a pilot for future programs that help inmates re-enter civilian life with useful skills and confidence. Warden Chapman has made our job easier in solving many of the logistical challenges normally associated with such a project, considering the apparent constraints.
To recap, Rolling Thunder, along with Jay Allen, asked if we would support and cover Billy as he built a bike for the Memorial Day’s Rolling Thunder in D.C. We of course were honored to work with Rolling Thunder and our good friend Billy. Other bike shops are building bikes for each of the services and selected magazines have the exclusive rights to cover those builds as they progress. We were fortunate to cover Billy as he pays tribute to the Air Force.
Steve Broyles has been extremely instrumental in securing many of the parts and components Billy needs. Billy and Steve sat down for about three hours mentally building the bike from the ground up, accounting for each and every nut, bolt, washer and fastener. Billy is as sharp as ever and very committed to seeing this project through. As we discussed the build, we could have been in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Salisbury, oblivious to our surroundings and limitations, off in another place and time, just focused on this project and keeping our cups filled with optimism.
Ok, no one wants to hear me talk anymore. This is Billy’s build and these are his words:
Rolling Thunder’s 25th Anniversary
By Billy Lane
Even when my belief in the cause may have been less than complete, I’ve always found it absolutely necessary to show my support and appreciation for our nation’s active duty servicemen and women, and especially for our veterans. I had planned to attend the Rolling Thunder event in 2006, since I’d never been before. My trip was contingent on one or both of two other events not materializing: filming a Biker Build-Off Television Show versus Russell Mitchell for the Discovery Channel, and a USO Tour overseas to visit our deployed troops and their families. It turned out to be a busy summer. Prior to leaving the States, the USO arranged for me to visit wounded veterans at Walter Reed Military Hospital and the Fisher House in D.C.
The filming of the Biker Build Off was book-ended by Myrtle Beach Bike Week in May, and the Smoke Out in June. Only home a few days from the Smoke Out, I found myself preparing to head to Germany for the week long USO Tour. I would have to put off Rolling Thunder until the next year—or so I thought.
Nearly five years later, I was approached by the administration at Avon Park Correctional Institution about participating in Rolling Thunder’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary by building a custom motorcycle to represent one of the branches of our Nation’s Armed Forces. Other than the fact that the bike would have to be completed in time to be transported to Washington D.C. for the Memorial Day 2012 event, very little detail was presented to me. Because it means so much to so many, agreeing to be a participant in this year’s Rolling Thunder gathering is an enormous commitment. And, as commitments go, those a man makes in prison are entirely irrevocable. Despite the many challenges a project like this presents within prison walls, the will of instinct compelled me to step up and agree to do it.
Avon Park Correctional Institution is located on property that is part of the largest Air Force Bombing Range east of the Mississippi River. It is not uncommon to look up and see attack helicopters, transport helicopters and planes, A-10 Warthogs, and FA-18 fighter jets flying overhead. When the bombs hit the range, the percussion is indescribable. And so it’s only fitting that I would request to be able to represent the United States Air Force with this build.
I love the influence and styling cues that racing motorcycles have lent to customizing. Not much else embodies the combination of raw power, light weight, and agile handling as a 1930’s alcohol burning Speedway Racer, which is the style I have chosen to roll into my creation for Rolling Thunder’s milestone event. The simple plan is to incorporate Speedway styling with design elements found in some of the Air Force fighter planes and bombers, while avoiding the traditionally followed and well-worn paths of ornamenting the machine with faux bombs, missiles, Gatling guns, and nose art. Nose art is great, but there will be no place for it on this bike.
To achieve the ambitious goal of keeping the weight around—and preferably under—three hundred pounds, I will have to take advantage of as much lightened aluminum construction and aluminum components as possible. My expectation is that the 93-inch S&S K-Series Knucklehead engine will produce around sixty horsepower. Even if I exceed my target weight by ten percent, that would be the equivalent of having 120 horsepower available at the right-hand grip of your everyday Fatboy or Glide.
A modified Evil Engineering belt drive and Baker six-speed gear box will put the horsepower to the rear wheel. With the short wheel bearing, and the light weight, unstoppable torque of the S&S Knuck, the front fork will double as landing gear. V-Twin/Tedd Cycle provided a replica Knucklehead springer fork, ride control and related parts, other chassis components to guide and land this machine. To minimize weight and create a favorable combination of fork rake and trail, I will likely have to modify the springer fork; possibly quite heavily. With these major components supplied, I will have to hand-make most everything else.
The Florida Department of Corrections has embraced this project and pledged its resources and backing to Rolling Thunder’s goals of lobbying for veteran’s rights and raising awareness for American prisoners of War and Missing in Action personnel. My personal commitment falls right in line with that thinking. And now, the Horse Backstreet Choppers is in it, bringing the collective support of many at the core of the motorcycle industry. When this bike arrives in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day, it will proudly display our combined efforts. By next issue, you will be able to get a sense of how this bike will look.
• TRANSMISSION: BAKER SIX-SPEED OVERDRIVE – HYDRAULIC CLUTCH
• PRIMARY DRIVE: EVIL ENGINEERING 2″ GUILLOTINE
• FRAME: SPEEDWAY BY BILLY- 26″ RAKE
• FORK: SPEEDWAY BY BILLY
• FRONT WHEEL: 23″ SPEEDWAY
• REAR WHEEL: 22″ SPEEDWAY
• SEAT: ADAM CROFT – LAST RIDE CUSTOMS
• PAINT: DARREN WILLIAMS – LIQUID ILLUSIONS
• CHROME/POLISH: SPACE COAST PLATING
• ENGRAVING: HEATHER- NEW LINE ENGRAVING
• ANODIZING: ANODIZERS, INC.
• GRIPS/PEGS: CHOPPERS, INC.
• GAS TANK: BILLY- 3. 75 GALLON, ALUMINUM
• OIL TANK: BILLY – SQT. ALUMINUM
• BRAKE: BREMBO CALIPER- RUSSELL ROTOR
• FENDER: BILLY
• TAIL LIGHT: HARLEY VL – TEDD CYCLE
• HEADLIGHT: BILLY
SPECIAL NOTE: This bike was built at Avon Correctional Institution in Florida. With limited tools and strict hours, world famous bike builder, Billy Lane, was able to accomplish a breathtaking build to honor the Air Force. This was a government approved project and was completely sponsored by the motorcycle industry and Jay Allen.