Harely Davidson Sportster at P&D Bikes
Normally, people are either surprised or impressed by the studio lights, powerful portable battery packs and an assortment of expensive cameras and lenses that the AAH photographer lugs around. But that was not the case at P&D Custom Bikes, where Toby Phillips was taking pictures of a 1996 Harley Davidson Sportster V-twin with 1200cc conversion.
'Where's the model?' called Dave Batchelar from inside the small unit at the Lyons Farm Estate in Slinfold, as he held up a copy of 100% Biker magazine.
was draped seductively over the frame of the same Harley. Over no less than eight pages inside the leading customised bike magazine, the model demonstrated various ways of showing off the motorbike without
actually riding it.
Whilst not immediately catching the eye, it was the words that provided an insight into the reputation of this small Slinfold business. The magazine stated that 'P&D Custom Bikes is about the closest thing we have to a national treasure it this country's custom scene.'
There's been change at the company in recent years. Dave Batchelar, who has built up a fine reputation after 40 years customising bikes, has passed over the reins to Chris Nichols, a fellow Harley enthusiast.
Dave said: "I had a plan of what I might do with a chap who used to work for me, but he left and set up his own
business, and I was out on a limb. I was 65-years-old and thinking 'What the hell am I going to do now?' "Then Chris came to me and said 'I'll buy it!'
To nobody's great surprise, Dave was not quite ready to take up golf and enjoy a peaceful retirement, so
returned to P&D in a consulting role. Chris said: "Dave has always worked on my bikes. I have quite a few - perhaps ten or twelve. I'm not sure where they all are actually!
"I've always had a fascination for custom bikes and no matter what has happened to them Dave has always done a good job on them. I came in just over a year ago, but there was no need to change anything. If it ain't broke don't fix it. We are always busy because Dave's reputation precedes him. Some customers have been coming to P&D Bikes for 40 years.
"We still like to stick to Harleys, as we know our way around them, but one of the things we are now trying to do is to have a project of our own on the go. as often as we can."
It is one of these projects that caught the eye of AAH, as well as 100% Biker magazine. Three years ago, Dave took a Harley Davidson Sportster as part exchange for building a frame for a customer. But without the time to work on the bike, it gathered dust in the corner of the workshop, and Dave found he couldn't shift it for love nor money.
After Chris had bought the business, he decided they should spend some time on the bike, and just six weeks later a bike worthy of magazine covers was wheeled out of the workshop. The headstock of the bike had been extended by three inches and a new rear section was fabricated and welded. To maintain the look of a 1970s-period Californian style bike, it was fitted with a set of DNA Custom wheels with Zodiac discs and RevTech calipers.
A sportster tank was narrowed and fitted to sit high on the top tube, whilst a new oil tank was produced in the workshop. The dramatic pearl yellow paint job was created by Keith Baker, based on the same industrial estate at Classic Cycleworks.
But they had to go a bit further afield for the intricate engraving work. Dave said: "Keith did a lovely job with the paint work, and when it came to the engraving there was only one man to call.
"Don Blocksidge is in his eighties now, and he engraves old Purdey guns, knives, bike parts and jewellery too. He has a little table about three-foot long with a light in his garage, and still works with a mallet and chisels. We had the parts powder-coated and sent them to Don with a note saying 'Engrave these nicely, Don!'
"When he had finished the job, he had the parts all packed up and ready to post, but we went to collect them as we wanted to meet him. We drove for about three and a half hours to get there, and Don he made us a cup of tea and was a very pleasant, modest man. He did a great job for us.
"Now the bike is finished, it is probably worth about £20,000. They are not cheap to build, and you wouldn't want to look at the hours you put in to these projects as you'd realise you're losing money! But you do it because you love it, not because it pays well."
Chris believes that the market is leaning back towards the distinctive Californian styles of Socal and Norcal, and that is helping the bike turn many heads.
"Over the last few years, the café racer bikes have been fashionable," said Chris. "I can see that coming to an end soon, and something else will take over. Everything goes in circles in bikes, like it does in fashion.
"We've been to a few bike shows recently and noticed a vogue for fantastically over-engineered motorcycles that are very technical, with people spending thousands of hours working on them.
"But they are often unrideable, and the best thing you can do is hang them on the wall and look at them. It is motorcycle art. Some are fantastic but they are not practical bikes. So we thought 'Let's show them what you can do with not a lot of time and not a lot of money.' Lots of people have commented on how lovely it looks, and now it's on the cover of 100% Biker.
Another bike here is on the cover of the next edition of Back Street Heroes. We're taking over the world, starting with Slinfold!"
Call P&D Custom Bikes on 01403 791038