Fly­over Coun­try. The Rust Belt. No Man’s Land.

Noth­ing to do, noth­ing to see, noth­ing to miss.

Cycle World - - Feature Lowbrow Customs -

That about sums up the Mid­west for the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who don’t call it home and don’t un­der­stand why some do. Th­ese ideas aren’t wrong, but they are per­haps too sim­ple, too eas­ily di­gested, and ac­cepted as fact. So I trav­eled to Ohio on pur­pose, as a des­ti­na­tion, with low ex­pec­ta­tions and an open mind.

It helped that I wasn’t in search of the fastest road, the most jaw-drop­ping scenery, or re­ally any­thing that will gain ac­claim on the in­ter­net or in the “real” world. I was just here to ride.

Luck­ily, I ended up rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle well out­fit­ted for that sim­ple goal.

To find that ma­chine was the rea­son I’m in Ohio in the first place, specif­i­cally Lowbrow Cus­toms’ “Pan-amer­i­can.” The bike is an el­e­gant mutt: a ’79 FLH frame stuffed with a 93-inch S&S Panhead in­stead of the Shovelhead it rolled out of the fac­tory with.

For those who don’t wan­der to the cus­tom side of the cul­ture of­ten, Lowbrow is an e-com­merce store for parts, ac­ces­sories, and fab­ri­ca­tion pieces. But there’s noth­ing sim­ple about be­ing in the busi­ness of cus­tom. You can’t just sell stuff. You have to be in­volved with the com­mu­nity by sup­port­ing it with time, ex­per­tise, and pas­sion.

Lowbrow is steeped in the scene. It spon­sors grass­roots events, throws its own, sup­ports builders, and builds its own bikes, prof­it­ing from the scene but also grow­ing and fos­ter­ing it at the same time.

Founders Kyle and Tyler Malinky have used Lowbrow to su­per­charge their own bike-build­ing ef­forts, in­clud­ing a slew of chop­pers and more than a few

land speed bikes. But there was some­thing miss­ing.

“I have Flat­heads, old Tri­umphs, and the like, all awe­some, but no real road-trip bike,” Tyler says. “I wanted some­thing I could just hop on and ride.”

Stuck in an un­re­lated web­brows­ing hole, Tyler stum­bled upon the Pan-amer­i­can name, and ev­ery­thing came to­gether: Build a bike that can do all 50 states, be as bul­let­proof as pos­si­ble, and not be an over­wrought tourer.

In a puff of smoke and sound, S&S Cy­cle ap­peared like a fairy chop­per­mother to make it hap­pen.

S&S Cy­cle de­vel­oped a new pro­gram in which it ap­proaches a few of its fa­vorite builders and asks: “Bud­get is not an is­sue. What bike do you want to build and why?” If S&S likes the an­swer, it sup­plies the mo­tor. The builder sup­plies the rest.

In Tyler’s case, S&S liked his pitch, so a fresh P93 Panhead, an en­gine that flouts tra­di­tion­al­ism to open up a world of re­li­a­bil­ity, power, and long-range dura­bil­ity, was dropped at his shop.

The strong­est orig­i­nal Panhead dis­placed 74 inches and put down 60 hp and 65 pound-feet of torque. S&S Cy­cle’s mod­ern take is up 19ci and puts down a claimed 62 hp and 84 pound-feet.

En­gine ar­rived, Lowbrow got to work, fit­ting Cus­tom Cy­cle En­gi­neer­ing cast en­gine cov­ers and mat­ing the pow­er­plant to a Baker 6-4 trans­mis­sion with a heavy-duty Rivera Primo in­ner pri­mary.

The bike’s bull­dog stance comes from W&W Can­non­ball MAG-12 wheels that crib the look of mag­ne­sium rac­ing wheels of the ’60s. Lowbrow’s new WX split tank, which pays homage to vin­tage WR rac­ing tanks, was in­stalled, and the bike re­ceived a dunk­ing in black paint and pow­der­coat.

The rest is an amal­gam of H-D Moco and af­ter­mar­ket parts. An early Wide Glide front end with new Pro­gres­sive springs is com­ple­mented by Pro­gres­sive shocks. Per­for­mance Ma­chine four-pis­ton calipers front and rear of­fer a sig­nif­i­cant boost over ’70s-era stop­ping power. Vin­tage Buco bags run on mounts fab­ri­cated by The Gas­box, who also made the ex­haust, adapted a Fat Boy front fender to fit, and sup­plied the bolt-in oil tank and car­bu­re­tor mount.

The re­sult blurs gen­er­a­tional lines into one co­he­sive piece. It’s a slinky black num­ber that is both resto­mod and cus­tom, with the com­po­nen­try and re­li­a­bil­ity to gob­ble miles.

Break-in was done last year on the road from Lowbrow HQ in Brunswick, Ohio, to Born-free out west in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and then Tyler got mar­ried on it. And now I get to ride it.



The Pan-amer­i­can was rolled out of the back of Lowbrow's build­ing. Ohio gave me two story an­gles to work with: ur­ban or ru­ral. For the ur­ban ver­sion, we would trek out to an aban­doned dragstrip in the north­east, take grungy chopper pic­tures, head to Cleve­land, get more grungy chopper shots, and then es­pouse about how Cleve­land is re­bound­ing and not bad, and look at all th­ese farm-to-ta­ble restau­rants and new apart­ments filled with mil­len­nial artisan ve­g­ans. Blah, blah, blah.

The other an­gle was to take the bike west­ward, mo­tor down Ohio’s ar­row-straight roads, get cof­fee in Ober­lin, roll through corn­fields, hit Amish Coun­try, re­spect­fully buzz pass some bug­gies, and then re­turn.

Fir­ing the bike up im­me­di­ately made the de­ci­sion for me. It all hap­pens in slow mo­tion. You turn the key, there’s a churn­ing of me­tal, and then noise oozes out. It’s sub­dued, lop­ing anger and not a del­i­cate, highly wound ur­ban weapon. This bike was meant for big, open spa­ces—as Tyler in­tended.

Cleve­land would have to wait for an­other day and an­other bike.

“It’s cold-blooded,” Tyler of­fers. It was, tak­ing a while to warm up on this cool, rainy day.

“Neu­tral is hard to find too,” he adds. An un­der­state­ment.

He didn’t men­tion the clutch has a mi­nus­cule en­gage­ment band, but I found that out quickly and in front of ev­ery­body in the of­fice.

Ev­ery­thing on this bike fol­lows in that vein: hefty, rugged, stiff. Ev­ery­thing gives lit­tle feed­back and is high ef­fort. Op­er­a­tion is heavy in the way of an­tique ar­tillery and vin­tage ma­chin­ery—over­built and dense. Oh, and ev­ery­thing vi­brates. A lot. And I for­got to men­tion the best part. The tires are hor­rid in the wet. They’re All­state Di­a­monds, de­signed to look old and per­form like new. In some non-rain­ing uni­verse that could be true. They are ter­ri­ble in the wet.

With the heft and avail­able grip, the Pan-amer­i­can takes a co­or­di­nat­ing jig of machi­na­tions to op­er­ate. Sit­u­a­tion: You’re pulling up to a stop­light. Pull the clutch, rev slightly, shift to neu­tral, ap­ply rear brake, ap­ply front brake.

Rear be­gins to slide.

Ease off of rear brake.

S—t, not in neu­tral.

Pull clutch back in, shift down then up.

Front be­gins to wash.

Re­lieve pres­sure on front brake. Reap­ply rear brake.

Still not in neu­tral.

Stall. Barely stop at stop­light. Ex­hale strongly.

Then it sinks in that this is Tyler’s “com­fort­able” bike. With 84 pound-feet of torque be­ing vi­brated through the rear tire, ev­ery stop­light and cor­ner was a kind of gam­ble. Then the gam­ble wound up snake eyes as I washed the front and tipped over through an oil spill at a stop sign. Blam­ing the tires is clichéd, I know.

Ob­vi­ously, tires don’t crash them­selves, so an at­ti­tude ad­just­ment was in or­der—and a new shift lever.

The Pan-amer­i­can is not a bike for mass con­sump­tion. It’s not en­gi­neered to pan­der to or flat­ter your skills like a mod­ern ma­chine. It’s de­signed how Tyler wants it to be—and mated to a 38-year-old chas­sis and tires de­signed to look even older than that. The re­sult is you will go slower than what you’re used to, or else. So I let the bike lead. And the day got bet­ter. The power de­liv­ery seems more serene once the scenery be­gins to dry out. The en­gine surges slowly, surely, through­out the rev range, sort of like be­ing pulled up to the top of a roller coaster, with a gritty res­o­nance up top as it lunges to­ward red­line. Torque is the star of the show, and its abun­dance scrunches you back in the seat and shoves the bike for­ward with au­thor­ity.

Han­dling is, well… Har­leys have come a long way since 1979. And even with this bike’s fancy sus­pen­sion you tip­toe through cor­ners bal­anc­ing on the edge of those tires, tak­ing your time, planning your next move, and wrestling it the en­tire way, as you wal­low be­tween tar snakes and trenches in the pave­ment.

Four-pis­ton calipers front and rear ob­vi­ously im­prove brak­ing over stock, but slow­ing down re­quires time. You make de­ci­sions a quar­ter-mile ahead of time and for­get about fine mod­u­la­tion. You have the op­tion of re­ally stop­ping or not, noth­ing in be­tween.

The road stretched on to Ober­lin as I ad­justed to the Pan-amer­i­can’s per­son­al­ity.


Ober­lin is a quaint lib­eral arts col­lege in the mid­dle of Ohio. Tran­quil and small, it's built for the per­fect cof­fee break and stood as an oa­sis be­fore we en­tered the even more tran­quil and quainter fields of Amish Coun­try. And I needed a pump­kin spice latte as we were rid­ing in the be­gin­ning of fall, af­ter all.

We stopped for pho­tos when an in­quis­i­tive, mus­ta­chioed se­nior with a blue Shovelhead shirt walked up.

Spend any time around bikes and you learn quickly that when peo­ple walk up to you when you’re on a mo­tor­cy­cle, they’re look­ing to talk about theirs. For hours. I knew then I would not have time for my latte. “Why’s the gen­er­a­tor like that?” he be­gan, in that chilly Mid­west way that says, “Why are you here?”

He didn’t give me time to an­swer be­fore he be­gan again. (Note: There’s an in­ter­nal al­ter­na­tor and the “gen­er­a­tor” is now the oil fil­ter.)

“I’ll never buy a new Har­ley. The EPA took all their per­for­mance parts.”

This is not true, of course, but my new friend was busy tak­ing out his phone to show me his Elec­tra Glide and orig­i­nal flat­head.

They were bikes tied to sig­nif­i­cant mile­stones in his life, the flat­head his high school years and the Elec­tra Glide his lat­est new bike in 2007. But with the dis­cus­sion of the Mil­wau­kee-eight, he made it clear he had no plans to up­grade be­cause, “You can’t work on them any­more.”

I tried to steer the "con­ver­sa­tion" back to this par­tic­u­lar bike, but he was not in­ter­ested.

And with the clo­sure of our chat, it was time to head to some­where even more change-averse— Amish Coun­try.


Not a gauge in sight, the clas­sic, min­i­mal­ist view of the bike is com­ple­mented by the some­what pinched “in” feel­ing rid­ing po­si­tion that strikes a bal­ance be­tween com­fort and steeze, pres­ence and stance.

And as the miles poured on, the al­lure be­gan to make sense.

The Pan-amer­i­can is a sen­sory fun­nel. Sights, sounds, and views are gath­ered up and con­cen­trated by the drama and fo­cus re­quired from the mo­tor­cy­cle.

On the Mil­wau­kee-eight I’d re­cently rid­den, I could cruise with al­most no ef­fort. I could screw with the ra­dio and cor­ner with one hand, all while per­fectly com­fort­able. Brakes and sus­pen­sion are en­gi­neered to down­play harsh­ness for my heinie. Power de­liv­ery is smooth, ef­fort­less, and rich. Fair­ings block wind.

The Pan-amer­i­can does none of those things.

There is no ra­dio, no turn sig­nals, not a speedome­ter, tachome­ter, odome­ter, nor wind­shield. Ev­ery­thing is also heav­ier around the edges and re­quires more fo­cus to ride two steps ahead of the sit­u­a­tion at hand, lest you over­shoot a cor­ner or stop sign.

It’s a pack­age that makes you re­al­ize that go­ing long dis­tances is sup­posed to be hard. And it used to be harder. You used to leave to go cross coun­try and end up lost in the Rock­ies with your friend’s ribs be­tween your teeth.

So the Pan-amer­i­can sits in the mid­dle be­tween pan­der­ing and hard-core trav­el­ing, and the fo­cus the bike re­quires makes av­er­age rides bet­ter be­cause of it.

There was no land­mark of note on our way to Amish Coun­try. In fact, it was all straight roads and wide-open ex­panses. But as speeds creep to 75 and you click into over­drive, the world slows down as mo­tor, brain, and body be­come synced at the same fre­quency.

At th­ese speeds, the mo­tor is in its sweet spot. The heft and han­dling of the mo­tor­cy­cle is not an is­sue as you waft thickly down the road.

It’s serene. And you feel as if you never have to stop un­til you hit the ocean of your choice. East or west, it doesn’t mat­ter.

Corn­fields, aban­doned farms, and the in­fi­nite stretch of land be­come more in­tense in color and scope since you’re pay­ing more at­ten­tion in­stead of “brows­ing” by them.

Noth­ing of note came from that af­ter­noon of rid­ing, no amaz­ing pho­tos, no back-road bomb­ing, noth­ing to brag about at all. But it was still a peak ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the bike is such a vis­ceral ma­chine. We didn’t even make it to Amish Coun­try. It was a mem­o­rable day of do­ing noth­ing at all, on a ma­chine that chal­lenged me and forced me to slow down and en­joy the ride. On any­thing more re­fined I would have been bored to tears.


The Pan-amer­i­can stands in sharp con­trast to mod­ern bikes. The Mil­wau­kee-eight­pow­ered tour­ing ma­chines be­ing a prime ex­am­ple of this. The Mil­wau­kee-eight is an en­gi­neer­ing project with many mas­ters rang­ing from the EPA to clas­sic Har­ley-david­son cus­tomers to the week­end en­thu­si­ast to the newer rider. It’s a mir­a­cle that it pleases those di­ver­gent au­di­ences. But through that, it be­comes di­luted. Like most mod­ern bikes.

This bike an­swers only to Tyler’s whims. This sin­gu­lar fo­cus and un­couth at­ti­tude is a lux­ury in an era of mass, ac­ces­si­ble per­for­mance. Out­fits such as Singer (Porsches) and Icon (Bron­cos, Land Cruis­ers) have known this for a while on the car side: Peo­ple will pay to trade con­ve­nience for sen­sa­tion. The Pan-amer­i­can, although a one-off, is a prime mo­tor­cy­cle ex­am­ple of this model. It blends a vin­tage tem­per­a­ment with mod­ern re­li­a­bil­ity and ex­cep­tional fin­ish­ing.

It’s not built to carve roads but to ob­serve them. And for straf­ing Ohio, it’s the best tool for the job.

Be­cause if you’re go­ing to go straight and slow, you might as well do it in style and en­joy the show.

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