Sunday, 20 March 2011

The best kind of project

Last year I mused (here) about customising my ride and what I could do that was truly unique. In the H-D world, the derby cover is a common way for the owner to announce his/her interests or allegiances – like a mini-billboard on the side of your ride – so that seemed a reasonable customisation target.
As the objective was for something unique, that eliminated the ubiquitous “Live to Ride” messaging, the flames, the skulls, and the American flag (me being Canadian and all). But I did like the patriotic flavour associated with flying the flag so I decided to play around with that concept. Besides there were no manufacturers of derby covers (that I could find) who offered any variation of the Canadian flag, which would make my cover even more one-of-a-kind.
Not being much of an artist, it took me quite a while to come up with a layout that I liked. Dozens of different mock-ups were printed, cut out, and taped onto the cover to see how they looked. I considered coloured and monochrome, simple and complex, large and small images before finally deciding on a simple, monochromatic graphic.
I still wasn’t too sure how it would look in the end so, reluctant to invest too much in the project, I scoured eBay for a suitable used derby cover as my canvas. And I got lucky, finding a nearly new polished aluminum cover for little more than the cost of shipping – a far cry from buying new.
Now the only challenge that remained was finding a way to transfer the image to the cover. At first I considered having it cut in, but after visiting a few machine shops that option went away because of either technical or cost issues. I tried engraving shops but decided I didn’t like the effect where the image was basically cut in multiple passes resulting in a grooved pattern. Chemical etching was a possibility, but again very expensive unless you’re prepared to do it yourself, which I learned is not a simple process.
But then I found a small local shop that could do laser engraving. They couldn’t cut directly onto a curved surface either, but they were able to cut a template for me out of an adhesive-backed material that would withstand sand blasting yet still be easily removed.
One template, a bag of good quality blasting grit, and many test runs later I now have my one-of-a-kind cover. It was a fun project to do, I learned a lot about what is and isn’t possible, I met some good people, it was relatively inexpensive (in dollars if not in time), and I’m very pleased with the results. Now if only every project ended this way.
     Derby 2


  1. That's very subtle - a stunning piece of work. Way, way better than any silicon-enhanced schoolboy fantasy, or the cliche'd snakes and skulls. Unique, and understated. Well done - I bet you feel good about that.

  2. Congratulations, that looks excellent. You are right about it being better than the Live to Ride, skulls etc.

  3. Richard, Gary - Thanks for the compliments. It turned out even better than I'd hoped, so I am pleased.

  4. Great look and I'll bet you get a lot of "Where did you get that?" questions.

  5. AZHD - Thanks. I guess we'll see once the snow's gone and riding season begins.

  6. Dear Canajun:

    There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from having a one of a kind "signature" bike. I think you did a very nice job of this, and may bring a lot of business to that small shop.

    Fondest regards,
    Jackl • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  7. Jack - Thanks. I love finding those small business owners who will take the time to consider what you need instead of just what you ask for, and then help you find a solution by thinking outside the box. And while I say small business owners, I've had it happen with large businesses as well if you happen to find the right person. They're the folks who set the service benchmark in my opinion.

  8. Very inspiring piece of work. Well done!

  9. Very cool both the end result and the experience.

    Being from Texas, I have been tempted to go with a Lone Star to Texas flag something on the bike. So far, I haven't seen or thought of anything that really made me say "have to have it."

    I have heard it said that buying a Harley is like buying a blank canvas that, over time, you then turn into a reflection of your spirit or soul.


  10. Buddha - The Lone Star is an iconic image and would be a great addition. But I agree that finding the right variant can be a challenge. I wanted something more subtle than what's commercially available so I went the custom route. I know a casual observer might not even notice, but it suits me.

    And your comment about a blank canvas is absolutley correct.


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