Char­lie Stock­well Takes a Dyna to the 1970s


Many years ago, when I was in art school study­ing to be an an­i­ma­tor, one of my teach­ers told us, “The worst thing you can say about a piece of art is that it’s in­ter­est­ing. At least if some­one hates your work, they were af­fected enough to get mad at it.” In other words, “That’s in­ter­est­ing” was po­lit­i­cally cor­rect for “Who gives a s—t?” Tak­ing that idea a step fur­ther, if you didn’t feel a per­sonal con­nec­tion to what you made, no one else will ei­ther. That idea has held true with me for a long time, and I think it ap­plies to cus­tom mo­tor­cy­cles too. When you phone in build­ing a bike, it shows. When you put a lot of your­self into a scoot you love, that comes through also.

I’m pretty sure you can guess which of those cat­e­gories Char­lie Stock­well fell into when trans­form­ing a 2017 Street Bob into the awesomeness that is the Moon­light Chop­per be­fore you.

He first got hooked on his two-wheel ad­dic­tion back when he was 11 or 12 years old. Grow­ing up, mo­tor­cy­cles weren’t part of the fam­ily. That is, un­til his older sis­ter start­ing dat­ing a dude who rode one. “I was the rebel of six kids and thought that guy was re­ally cool,” Char­lie says. “He taught me to ride.” By the time Char­lie was 14 or 15 years old, he was hooked, and when he was 16, he got a Satur­day job at the lo­cal deal­er­ship mak­ing the techs cof­fee and tea. He also did that while in col­lege. The univer­sity ex­pe­ri­ence wasn’t for him though. He was an art ma­jor, but the school en­vi­ron­ment was too re­stric­tive for his lik­ing. “You can’t grade my art, so I’m not go­ing to univer­sity to force me to change what I make,” he says. “Af­ter that, the boss took a chance on me mak­ing a cus­tom bike. It sold im­me­di­ately and snow­balled to 30 bikes a year.” He was of­fi­cially home, ar­tis­ti­cally speak­ing. Char­lie also loves to race. At one point, he went through a road-rac­ing phase, and now he’s into flat track.

All of which brings us to cre­at­ing what you want, not what’s ex­pected. His Moon­light Chop­per cre­ation here is all about that. It’s a 2017 Dyna with mod­ern per­for­mance up­grades and 1970s chop­per looks. These are not three things that builders typ­i­cally bring to­gether in a sin­gle bike.

“The whole project was en­joy­able,” Char­lie tells me. “The cus­tomer is a good friend who gave me the chance to build a whole ex­pe­ri­ence for him. When I was a kid, a friend gave me [a copy of] Hot Bike Ja­pan, which gave me a taste for what’s pos­si­ble with a cus­tom. So I told him, ‘Let’s build a bike for the Mooneyes show.’” Said cus­tomer told Char­lie to build any style he wanted to. Stock­well de­cided to work on some­thing unique, to scare him­self into build­ing some­thing that might not be ac­cept­able for gen­eral con­sump­tion. As he puts it: “I wanted to build some­thing out­side my com­fort

zone and hope the Ja­panese au­di­ence liked it. The Moon­light Chop­per is the ’60s and ’70s chop­per scene mixed with my mod­ern per­for­mance style. And then do it on a Dyna. It was the chal­lenge of mix­ing three things that should never go to­gether with the hope that it did well in Ja­pan. The best part of all this was build­ing some­thing I shouldn’t, and tak­ing it to a for­eign land and hav­ing the whole thing ac­cepted.”

That’s a tall or­der. Char­lie had to make a stock Dyna chas­sis catch the chop­per vibe (from a time when Dy­nas didn’t even ex­ist) while blend­ing in the lat­est and great­est in sus­pen­sion and brak­ing parts for a fuel-in­jected Amer­i­can V-twin. Al­though he says the fab­ri­ca­tion of parts such as the tank and fend­ers was easy, bend­ing up an ex­haust that par­al­leled the bot­tom of the frame be­fore jump­ing sky­ward be­hind the shocks was tricky. The ex­haust was easy to build but hard to de­cide what route to take.

What re­ally gave him trou­ble was the elec­tri­cal sys­tem. Get­ting rid of elec­tri­cal com­po­nents on a Can-bus bike (like the switches) for chop­per min­i­mal­ism while keep­ing the bike a mod­ern work­ing Twin Cam was tricky. When you feel strongly enough about a work of art, though, you make it hap­pen.

All of that hard work was re­warded months later in Ja­pan. Crowd re­sponse was any­thing but in­ter­est­ing. At least, in the sense my old art teacher meant. Char­lie didn’t phone in this chop­per; he threw a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing he thought was cool into it, in a way we don’t see too of­ten. In my mind, that’s what cus­tom bike build­ing is all about. HB

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