From the desk of Bear Haughton:
I'm always stoked when friends that run shows seek leads on builders from me. Especially when it's one of the best shows in the country. I'm just a regular guy that loves every kind of motorcycle and runs a parts slinging business but one of the biggest joys of my career is when I get the opportunity to shine a light on deserving souls.
Having been an independent and an underdog for most of my career, I have a soft spot for the under-appreciated. So needless to say I was delighted when Mike and Grant asked me my thoughts for Born Free builder selection in 2019. Mike was interested in getting some more names out of the midwest and I used the opportunity to make my pitch for small displacement Japanese builds. "Not everyone can afford a knuckle or a panhead, I said. Japanese bikes are a part of chopper past, as some of my heroes like Mondo of Denvers choppers chopped bikes like the CB750 when they were new in the '70s more or less right off the showroom floor or when only a few years old. I added, more importantly, they are part of chopper future as cheap and plentiful raw material for young up and coming builders! I did admit this was a little self-serving as we specialize in 70's Japanese parts, but regardless of that, I was really behind the idea and would love to see an unproven, unknown talent with an alternative build get a shot... Mike said: got a name? I jokingly said why of course, our very own Zane Cook... and then went on to give him a list of some more established midwestern builders like Austin Martin who often dabbles in the Japanese segment, and two, stand-out midwestern American builders Mike from Chop Machine & Pat from Led Sleds to round out my choices.
Though I knew Mike agreed that vintage Japanese and small displacement were a neat trend that was more accessible to young builders, I never could have expected what came of the conversation months later. Honestly, I didn't think much of dropping my protegé and right-hand man's name as I really was half-joking. The day the Born Free builder list came out, Zane's mind was as blown as was mine and we knew immediately he had has some big shoes to fill. I committed to paying for the donor bike and any resource he could possibly need. It was the least I could do as the bike would represent the company well, and I was the one that got him signed up for a ton of work and late nights.
I am so proud of the result and the fact that he learned every skill needed, and redid some parts 2 or 3 times until they were worthy of a major show like Born Free. He far surpassed anything I had ever done and produced a small displacement Japanse bike based on a KZ400 that stood tall in the shadow of bike's that cost 5 times as much to build. It's gone on to show at Fuel Cleveland, Glory Daze, and will be at the next Mama Tired Show. I tip my hat to my "Little bro" for running a touch down with the ball fumbled to him. Here are a few questions I recently asked him about the experience.
What did you think when you were selected as a born free builder?
I'll never forget the day I got the email from Mike & Grant. I woke up Tuesday October 1st, grabbed my phone to check emails, the subject line on one email read "Welcome Born-Free 11 Invited Builders". Confused by this I clicked into it and there was a graphic with my name on it along with 29 other builders... I audibly yelled out "What the fuck". My girlfriend looked at me and asked what was wrong and I proceeded to tell her I was selected as a builder for the 2019 Born Free Motorcycle Show. I was completely shocked by it, never in a million years would I have thought that I would be building a motorcycle for Born Free.
What was your first build?
My first build was 1977 Honda CB750 Cafe Racer, It was a very low budget build but it definitely sparked something in me. It's been non stop building since that first bike.
(Zane's First Build, 1977 CB750)
The build quality is at a high level what drives you to put in this amount of effort?
Well, when you're building for Born Free you have to execute things at a high level. I wanted to build something that could fit in with all the crazy knuckleheads, panheads and triumphs.
Tell us about the donor bike or starting point for this build?
It started out as a bone stock 1976 Kawasaki KZ400. We purchased the bike from a guy who taught his wife how to ride on it. She rode one season on it and then it sat for a few years. Filled with old gas and freshly charged battery and it fired up. It ran pretty rough though, but hey a titled and running bike for $800.. Hard to beat.
What makes this bike different, can you tell us about any special details?
Hmm, I'd say the first thing that makes it different is the fact that its a KZ400 chopper, it's not a super common platform in the chopper world. The mix of parts and custom made stuff that went into it also makes it different from most. I did a lot of reading and measuring and cross referencing to make things work on this bike. For instance the front forks are off of a K model sportster with Mullins super narrow trees. The rear hub is made after a Triumph T120 with a Panhead brake crossover.
Does the bike have a name? If yes how did you arrive at it?
Yes, Triple Threat. In the early stages of designing the bike the #3 got stuck in my head for some reason. I took that and ran with it, Triple became the theme of the bike, like the fender, headlights, 3 ribbed front hub, the 3 white stitches on the seat, etc.
What was your inspiration for the build?
The inspiration for the build was to inspire the younger generation of motorcycle enthusiast. At the time of building this I was 25yrs old with crippling student loan debt and couldn't afford to buy a new bike or build a shovelhead or panhead or whatever was perceived as "Cool" in the chopper world. I wanted to show people my age or younger that you can build a bad ass bike without breaking the bank. There are tons of these small displacement Japanese bikes out there, that are solid runners and under $1000. They're the perfect starting point for a custom build whether you want a chopper, cafe racer, tracker or whatever it may be.
Custom motorcycle builds tend to teach us things what did you learn on this one? Any new skills or personal experiences that stand out? Maybe both?
One of the most rewarding parts of this entire build process was learning. I'm by no means a expert, and like many garage builders I ran into issues that I hadn't encountered before that I needed some guidance with.
I'd say the biggest thing I learned was tig welding, I went into this build with very minimal welding skills. I had a buddy (Ryan) come over and give me a crash course on tig welding, took some notes and over the next few weeks would practice welding pretty regularly until I felt ready to dive into actual fabrication on the bike. 5 months of building/fabricating on the bike and i've honed this skill into something I can use for the rest of my life.
What's your favorite thing about the bike?
Hmm, that is a tough one. I'd say the fender and the electronics tank are probably two of my favorite things on the build. That fender just stands out so much, every time I see the bike it catches my eye and makes me smile. The electronics tank was my first big fab thing I did, It was essentially what I learned to tig on and it came out a million times better than I could've imagined.
Is there any special skill you have that you want to tell us about or is there a new skill you want to add for motorcycle experience?
I don't know that I have any special skills that make me different from anyone else. I grew up as an artist/creative so I try to take what i've learned over the years of creating art and put that towards building motorcycles. As for skills I want to add, i'd love to start shaping my own metal.
Any future or current build plans?
I've have a couple projects that have been collecting dust over the last two years. I recently pulled them out and started the build process again. One is a full fairing CB350 road race bike and the other is a purpose built CB350 flat track bike. I grew up racing dirt bikes and it's time to build a fun vintage bike to get back into my roots. You can follow along the build process on my Instagram @zanecook
As they say "it takes a village" who would you like to thank?
It's a long long list, but first and foremost I have to thank Bear and Old Bike Barn for backing this build and making this whole thing possible. It's been a true honor to work here and represent the company and build a bike that embodies what Old Bike Barn is all about! Next I have to thank the crew behind Born Free, Grant and Mike gave me an opportunity of a life time and I can't thank them enough for having me be apart of such an epic show. Thanks to Derek @electricsoulcycles for constantly lending a hand throughout the build. Kacey @krossover_customs has become a really good friend over the last few years so he had to have a part in this build, he's one of the best painters around and he absolutely killed it with the paint on this bike. A big thanks to Ryan for playing teacher and showing me the ropes of tig welding. My buddy Phil @phil_6thcitycycles did a record turn around with all my powder chrome. My new pal from the land down under @hypnicjerkcustoms knocked out an incredible work of art for my taillight, stoked to have one of his pieces on my bike! Wes over @counterbalancecycles knocked it out of the park with my seat, top notch quality and the turn around was quick!! Big thanks to the good people over @paughcoparts for supplying a Build Your Own Pipe kit, this kit made building my exhaust sooo easy! Big thanks goes out to @lowbrowcustoms @biltwell @jumpstreetcustom @mullinschaindrive Thanks to my lifelong friend Brandon for helping document the build and help with final assembly! A huge thanks goes out to my dad for getting me into motorcycles at a young age and always helping out with bikes and driving out to Cali for the show! And finally thank you to my awesome girlfriend Olivia for continually supporting me through my chaotic adventures with motorcycles.
Photos by: Zane Cook, Mike Vandegriff, David Carlo