Retro Motorcycle Work of Art
As the saying goes, some like it hot. And Windsor, Ontario-based Tough Customs’ Rick Tomicic keeps the creative fires burning through those interminable Canadian winters. In 32 years of building drag bikes, racers and customs-including working with MotoGP World Champion Kevin Schwantz-Tomicic knows that the way to stoke the fire is to constantly raise his game. "I don’t like doing things the easy way," he chuckles.
With partner Clive Tregaskiss, and his son Kris as design guru, Tough Customs Precision Cycles has been making its name in the bespoke bike world since 2006. Its muscular machines sport monikers such as Hardcore and Tough Gun, looking every bit like hot rods from the Motor Cities of Windsor and nearby Detroit. But, though Tomicic and his crew might look blue collar, they are committed to creations that are blue chip. Their motorcycles, which fetch six figures, are a particular combination meshing superbike technology, exotic materials, obsession to detail and unfettered artistry.
Their latest, Pan Fry’d, will raise the temperature of anyone who loves the baroque side of big bad bikes. Tomicic sings the praises of scion Kris’s imagination, and Pan Fry’d is a feast of style and surface. Using copper as a central element, the bike throws a retro curveball at you-hypnotizing with engraved designs that evoke the art of 19th century England’s legendary William Morris. Retro touches, such as a reservoir shaped like a bicycle bell; the ivory-colored handlebars and wheels; a rear drum brake from a ’34 Buick; the front leaf spring; copper tubing and brass accents; and a beehive shaped oil filter, are just a few of the visual teases offered by Pan Fry’d.
The engraving alone is a journey of mad pleasures. The clutch cover, cylinder heads, disc surfaces, and seat cover are emblazoned with intertwining flourishes. "We found an engraver in Kentucky named C. J. Allen who is the only craftsman we know who can do this level of work. And when we turned him loose, he was ecstatic," says Tomicic, who notes Allen’s efforts ate up a full year.
The hand tooling on the leather seat and drive belt also required a plunge into Tomicic’s ever-expanding Rolodex. "There was a leathersmith we’d met in Daytona who did the work on the seat," Tomicic explains, "and we had the cross stitching done by Wayne’s Leathers in Maryland."
Tomicic treasures his relationships with these elusive craftsmen, likening the quality of their work-and that of his crew-to fine watchmakers and builders of musical instruments.
The question also arose how the team was able to make copper-a notoriously tricky metal to work-conform to their agenda.
Tomicic gives credit to SolidWorks Rapid Prototype software. "Copper is ridiculous to machine because it’s so soft," he says. "But using SolidWorks, we could make the part we wanted out of plastic, try it and modify it, and then have the CNC machine translate the final computer file solution into metal. That said, there were so many things we had to make from scratch, this bike kept us busy for a good two years."
He lets out a sigh as he recalls the construction of the copper gas tank, three-sixteenths thick and hammered around the edges. "We needed to find a special treatment for the copper surfaces, and the only source we could find was in the U.S. military," according to Tomicic. "So, after a month of phone calls and e-mails, we tracked down someone who was a biker and eventually agreed to assist. So we sent the parts out to them, and those parts don’t ever have to be polished again." Tomicic admits, though, that Pan Fry’d does require the care reserved for precious objects. "It’ll go like the devil, but it’s really more of a show bike."
The Tough boys parked an Accurate Engineering 93 ci Panhead motor with Mallory electronic injection and S&S velocity stacks-a six month build in itself-in their one-off chromoly frame. Their addiction to technical flourish manifests itself in the tiniest details, like the hollow head titanium bolts on the rear sprocket.
And, though Pan Fry’d looks like a hardtail, the truth will out. The ride is accorded the benefit of air bags, concealed with seditious invention, in a compartment beneath the seat that also grants some storage space. Rick Tomicic knows his clientele.
Like a Lucinda Williams song, the sophistication is dressed in denim. Pan Fry’d plays as well for the roughnecks at the roadhouse, as it does for the poseurs on Park Avenue.