2006 Ashcroft Flyer | Feature
Lynn Ashcroft Creation
Of all the reasons that lead to the creation of a custom motorcycle, those behind the birth of the Ashcroft Flyer rank among the most unusual. Its gestation was inspired, in large measure, by Lynn Ashcroft’s desire to provide a rolling canvas—if that term may be applied to a creation hewn of various alloys, rubber, and resin—for artist Mitch Kim.
Lynn Ashcroft with the eponymous Ashcroft Flyer. (Click image to enlarge)
“What Mitch does with brush and paint is, frankly, not humanly possible,” Ashcroft says. “When I delivered sheet metal, frame, and wheels, I placed no constraint on him and merely asked him to ‘go crazy.’ He surpassed my expectations, as he always does.” Kim certainly did not spare either the brushes or his imagination in laying out and applying the finished scheme; it is a riot of stripes, surrealistic yet coherent. In deserved tribute to Von Dutch, the legendary Californian whose vivid striping and images defined one of the seminal looks of hot-rodding in the 1950s, Ashcroft refers to Kim as “Von Mitch”.
The canvas chosen is a perfect complement to Kim’s artistry. The Flyer’s finish is unusual, captivating, and understated. At first glance, one would say it was painted a matte black, with red accents finished to match. But, as is true of the ornamentation, this subtle satin paint scheme reveals unexpected nuances with each successive viewing. A careful blend of flat black, red, and silver pearl creates a beautiful, otherworldly mood.
None of those involved—Kim, Ashcroft, painter Joe Miller or metalworker Joe Kopp—would have applied their skills to a store-bought cruiser. The Flyer’s frame, handlebars, tank, fender, headlight, and taillight were all built in the Ashcroft shop. The 41-degree springer front fork came from V-Twin, while S&S provided the heads and barrels for the 95 cu in Panhead V-twin motor. The traditional 4-speed transmission case has 5-speed internals, and is shifted by Ashcroft’s own version of the classic “suicide” shifter—made from a ’53 Chevy truck shift lever—which adds a clutch release lever to the unit. There are no foot-operated controls.
A prime criterion for all Ashcroft motorcycles is that they be as useful as they are eye-catching, and the Flyer—also known as Hellbilly II—is no exception to the rule. It receives, and thrives on, road time. To treat it as a pedestal-worthy object is to miss half the pleasure Ashcroft bikes can deliver; they are truly worthy of admiration as objets d’art, but are also fully functional, stripped-for-action bikes that look their best in motion. (Click image to enlarge)
For the last decade or so, Ashcroft’s passion has been motorcycles. He began as many enthusiasts do, buying a ready-made example—in this case, a Harley-Davidson—and adding custom touches. Most people would have stopped there, but not Lynn Ashcroft. After a year, the H-D went into his garage; only the engine and gearbox came out, surrounded by a bike of Ashcroft’s own design. A second custom was built a year later. The business grew over the years, ending up in its current building where Ashcroft and his five-man crew continue to turn out his iconoclastic creations and the occasional restoration, like his immaculate 1918 H-D board-track racer.
Calling Ashcroft Motorcycles a business may seem odd. How many companies can exist wherein the proprietor tends to refuse commissions that don’t allow him the freedom to build what he sees? And how many would survive when the boss decides he needs to do the majority of the hard labor—in this case, welding, machining, and metal shaping—himself?
If that is not enough, Ashcroft also does the design work for his bikes. In some cases, this involves bringing in an artist to put his ideas—expressed in detailed verbal descriptions—into illustration form, but just as often it means picking up a piece of suitable material and forming, by hand, the vision in his mind.
The Flyer/Hellbilly II followed the latter path. Basic elements were assembled with nothing more than mental blueprints as a guide. This initial mélange proved satisfactory, after which the fabrication, machining (the headlamp assembly, for example, was carved from an aluminum billet), and finish work was done. To Ashcroft, the result looked and operated as he wished, and no changes were necessary. (Click image to enlarge)
In most cases, what Ashcroft envisions is what he prefers to call hot rods. By any name, they are lean, mean, and stripped for action. And not meant to be appreciated from afar: “My personal mantra,” Ashcroft says, “is ‘details, details, details.’ A person can make a showstopper out of a perfectly ordinary vehicle by merely paying attention to the details.”
While most of the Ashcroft bikes built to date show a predilection for hot rods and Harley-Davidson parts (or their aftermarket equivalents, such as S&S V-twin powerplants), Ashcroft is not wedded to that genre. In fact, his current vision is of a street-fighter bike, and for that he plans to use a Ducati engine. “I think the Ducati represents perfection,” he says, “and when I think I can improve on it, I’ll start building.” (Click image to enlarge)
The wonder is that Ashcroft has time to build any motorcycles at all. One might expect that his other lives—a cursory glance at his résumé reveals that he is managing partner in a law firm, serves as a Circuit Court judge pro tem, and has risen in his military career to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve—would be sufficiently demanding of his energy.
But a relentless creative urge drives him to transform his visions into three dimensions. Two new motorcycles are nearing completion. One, like some predecessors, seems to have been inspired by a single evocative word. The Flyer, for example, drew its form and appearance from the word mood. One of the newest Ashcroft bikes springs from the word patina. (Click image to enlarge)
Both are typical of their breed in that they were built by Ashcroft to suit his own tastes. If they ultimately end up in other hands, it will be because the new owners share his vision and passion, and because he has moved on to new designs; his relentless imagination has not yet begun to approach its limits.