Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size image
The right equipment is just as important in a bik...
Flo Headworks developed the tool-finished port ye...
Vintage bike engines are all the rage these days,...
V-Twin Update: What's Up For Harleys
Just look out the front door of your shop on the first nice day of Spring (or even a mild winter day). You’ll see motorcycle enthusiasts returning to the street, eager to feel the wind in their hair. And many of them will need the skills of an expert this year.
By John Carollo
Last year’s Machine Shop Market Profile revealed that about 44 percent of machine shops build motorcycle engines. Accounting for just over 3 percent of the total number of engines rebuilt, it may seem that motorcycle engines are of little interest.
But just look out the front door of your shop on the first nice day of Spring (or even a mild winter day). You’ll see motorcycle enthusiasts returning to the street, eager to feel the wind in their hair. And many of them will need the skills of an expert this year. Will that be you?
We asked a few noted shops about how they do their thing these days. Their “thing” is V-Twin engines, particularly Harley-Davidson motorcycle engines. For these builders, it’s a whole new world when it comes to these famous engines.
Accurate Engineering of Dothan, AL is a specialized “engine-only” builder. “We sell to private citizens and pretty much everything we do is towards American V-Twins,” says manager Eric Dimi, who is clear when he explains: “We don’t build bikes.”
With the shop’s engine-only focus, including its Signature Series V-Twins, Dimi says, “We probably see a little more on the Panheads. We offer rebuild services and that helps us out quite a bit.” Accurate not only does the actual work of building but also designs many of the parts that go into those engines. One example is cases. The shop designs them in-house, has them made off-site, then machines and modifies each before assembly. Hiding things? You bet. “We don’t want to give away all our secrets,” Dimi says with a smile.
Many of the parts used in Accurate engines are designed and made by themselves. Dimi says, “We try to do as much as we can,” indicating that about 23 different components are manufactured in-house, including gaskets as well as CNC-made parts. “The number may be a little higher, maybe a little lower right now, but for the future of our own hard parts, a bigger CNC center is currently under construction at the shop.”
Despite working on “a little bit of everything,” (as long as it’s American muscle, Dimi reminds us) he says Accurate is best known for its Twins, Pans and Knuckleheads. Accurate engine builders employ a strong complement of machines, including a SuperFlow flow bench, a few Sunnen honing machines and a flywheel balancer that works by hand. It’s old school technology that still works, says Dimi. That tradition carries over to its build practices, as well. The protocol includes running every single engine before it leaves the shop.
Accurate is knowledgeable in many areas of bike motors for the street, but out on the Salt Flats of Bonneville, those motors are well into the 150 mph range and recently set and broke their own world record for 120-inch Panheads. That state-of-the-art competition technology helps them with all types of engines.
But state-of-the-art or yesterday’s legends, Accurate can handle it with ease. Accurate owner, Berry Wardlaw recently woke up a sleeping motor that hasn’t seen life for over 50 years. In addition, Accurate built the first running Crocker engine since ’41 and is still developing the project, so watch for it.
The shop is known for working with Orange County Choppers, supplying motors such as the one used on Jay Leno’s bike. The shop has done custom paint engines, dual carb motors and even a dual rear head motor (a twin block with two rear heads). But in Dothan, AL, the best isn’t necessarily the biggest. Sure, they build engines for racing and street, but they do have their limits. While Dimi says he has seen 114-inch engines, he explains “We won’t typically build anything bigger than 103-inches.”
Bishop’s Performance, of Redford, MI, is the shop owned by Bill Bishop, also known as “Hammer.” He has been riding, wrenching and drag racing motorcycles for over 35 years. Bishop’s is a full service shop catering to Harleys and Harley clones.
Hammer says his street performance and routine maintenance/repair work is split at 50/50. “We’re kind of a small shop and a lot of our work is of the one-off variety. Heads and manifolds are my performance specialty and that’s what we promote the most.”
One sales nudge to customers reads, “With proper porting, stock heads can outperform many ‘performance’ heads, yet you maintain a stock appearance.” This campaign appeals to the fan of the ‘sleeper’ style of engine.
“We do a lot of performance engines, as well as a lot of head porting,” Bishop says. “We send a lot of heads around the country and ship overseas, too.” To service most riders as a one-stop shopping store for Harleys, Bishop’s Performance maintains a full parts department.
As a full service shop, they work on the rest of the bike, too, Bishop says, which is where one of his big machines comes in handy. “A Dynojet chassis dyno helps illustrate the before and after results of our engine work.” Bishop is quick to explain that the chassis dyno is one of a number of machines that helps him build better engines. Boring machines, Wilton mills, Jet lathes, Sunnen hones, a Neway valve seat grinding tool, a resurfacing machine and a Superflow flow bench are all part of Bishop’s machine line-up, which explains why he pushes his head and manifold development expertise. Waking up a sleeping or tired Harley through porting improvements is no big deal to Hammer. He laughingly says, “Harleys are just like cutting two cylinders off of a V6.”
Another engine business big on headwork has that thought in its name and a lot of the Harley attitude to match. Flo Headworks, in Oceano, CA, makes this bold statement: “After 25-plus years of building Big Twins, from Bonneville record holders to supercruisers for celebrities, he’s got the know-how to get more horsepower per dollar out of your Hog than any other tuner in the business.”
The ‘HE’ is Perry Kime, who has a reputation as what many call, ‘The best Harley tech on the Web.” And why shouldn’t he brag about it? Kime writes tech articles for many of the HD publications. His Web site includes many of his articles on topics such as porting secrets, carb tuning tips, Detonation: the dual plug solutions and others impacting Harley-Davidson V-Twins.
Kime says his market is simple: “Street guys, pump gas that’s the bulk of it. Strictly Harley Davidson.”
Flo Headworks is also the home of the tooled-finish port, a technique Kime developed years ago. “We started out doing it way back,” he says. We do it with a die grinder. It’s coarse outside by the manifold. When we get to the bowl beneath the valve seat, it gets a finer tool finish. Once we get a 1/4˝ below the valve seat it goes up around the radius to the 45 degree angle. We use it on the intakes, too, and it’s a big factor on atomization. It’s designed to increase the atomization factor, and believe it it works. The engine takes on a smoothness and a noticeable decrease in vibrations.”
His valve spring compressor is somewhat unique, too. Calling it an “Ora Vasquez model,” Kime explains that “Ora is a veteran racer who, through his experience, came up with a line of tools for at-track work. This was a collaboration: I built the stand. It’s the combination of what we did that makes it unique. This compressor is really good pretty quick and accurate.”
Perry Kime also offers to blueprint 1989-to-present-day 40 & 44 mm Keihin CV carburetors with accelerator pumps. Additional services include dyno service.
B&B Racing, started in 1989, is located just outside of New Orleans in Metairie. And yes, owner Bill Combs says he spent some time recently learning what effect floodwaters have on motorcycles. “We learned a lot of things about underwater vehicles following Katrina.”
When not fixing water-damaged bikes, B&B’s specialty is vintage V-Twin rebuilding: mostly pre ’65 which is a surprisingly strong and rapidly developing aspect of the bike market. Combs explains the appeal of this segment of the industry: “You can get into the vintage bike market for under $20,000. Investment wise, it’s a smart thing to do. Not only is it’s easy, you can put four of them in the space of a car.”
The vast majority of B&B’s work is vintage with the remainder being normal valve jobs, head work and small routine restoration work. For the work, the shop has a healthy array of machinery. It includes three Bridgeports, three lathes, including an old American lathe from 1919 that was restored for a specific purpose. “We set it up for cylinders,” Combs says. “Sleeving is huge business now.”
B&B has an Omegasonics Ultrasonic parts washer, which Combs says solves a lot problems. He appreciates the milder chemicals used and avoiding the challenge of having to dispose of them. “In Louisiana, as elsewhere, it’s an up and coming problem. It really is the wave of the future,” he says.
“Because we do a lot of welding, we also have a lot of Lincoln and Miller welders; mostly TIG but some MIG as well,” he says. “Additionally, because we do a lot of valve seat replacement, a Sunnen valve seat cutting tool and Snap-On valve angle cutter are also used quite a bit”
Because B&B does mostly vintage, Combs says he has no real need for a dyno. But the shop has a test stand that is used for every engine., “We run the engine for over three hours before it leaves the shop,” Combs says. “And our crankshaft and flywheel balancing gives our restorations better performance than the originals had.”
Combs says the vintage market is already exploding, “Right now, it’s gone away from racing. Mostly it’s the antique stuff. And that demand is evident worldwide. We do a lot of business in Dubai we’ve found these people are really interested in American fashion.”
Back in America, the demand is really growing, and there is some mixing of genres, too, “We see a big trend of custom bikes with vintage motors. You’re going to see this get bigger,” Combs says. “Prices go up 10-15 percent at swap meets every year. Things that we threw away years ago are now being fixed. Parts that were doorstops are now prized.The fins on heads are being welded back on or replaced. I had a guy who literally dug a set of pre-’65 engine cases out from his back yard.”
Like cars, he points out, the small motorcycle shops are being squeezed out of business at least in the metric world. “You don’t see too many Japanese-specific shops catering to the imports.” Luckily, for American muscle, these builders say there’s still plenty of iron to pump.