“I think being an engineer helps me to bring my harebrained ideas to fruition,” explains custom motorcycle builder Christian Newman. “A lot of people have great vision, but it takes a certain type of mindset and training to be able to take an idea and turn it into reality.”
Newman is an Engineering Manager at the global Derrick Corporation in Buffalo. He has 20 years’ experience in the fine art of design, research, and new product development. When he’s not helping bring energy to your home and vehicles, he likes to spend his spare time riding dirt bikes and building extraordinary custom motorcycles.
Newman found himself in The Wrench: Scout Bobber Build Off at the Buffalo Chip during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There, he landed on the podium with the Indian Scout Bobber he had created for the contest, staying within the $10,000 build-budget rule. Although his resulting Scout Bobber doesn’t have a name, it is anything but impersonal.
Motorcycles have always been part of the Newman family.
“My first memories of motorcycling are a mix of my Dad giving me a ride on his [Honda] CB550, which I now own, when I was small enough to ride on the gas tank,” Newman explains, “and having him bring home a junk Honda motorcycle with a blown engine just for my brother and me to take apart on the back porch to see how stuff worked.”
“He also got me a dirt bike in 7th grade to rip around in the woods with,” he continues. “It was a 1979 [Yamaha] RD90 [two-stroke] street bike, but I rode it around the yard and in the woods. It was a street bike that I treated like a dirt bike. I remember longingly looking through the Dennis Kirk catalog and not understanding why I couldn’t get dirt tires in that size.”
The CB550 also kicked off Newman’s customizing career after earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University at Buffalo.
“I got my hands on my dad’s CB550 in 2008 or so,” Newman recalls. “A few years later, I started building some parts for it—bars, controls, exhaust, etc. I made it hand-shift, foot-clutch. I still have it, and it’s one of the bikes I’ll never sell. It’s a handful to ride because of the controls, but it’s fun to ride and looks cool. I’ve taught a few people how to ride a hand-shift bike with it.”
With a $10,000 budget for modifications, dozens of parts on Newman’s Scout Bobber build came from his garage, though not as many as he would have liked due to time constraints. There’s also the fact that he is an authentic hands-on fabricator with a spectacular old-world skillset, along with an appreciation for new technologies and techniques. The swingarm comes to mind immediately.
“The tubular stainless swingarm needed design work, fixturing, casting, machining, bending, welding, polishing. Just a lot of pieces that had to come together. I use a lot of pretty archaic tech, like Bridgeport [mills], torches, an old Andrychow lathe. I spend a lot of time cutting sheet steel with a bandsaw or angle grinder, but sometimes to speed up the process, I’ll send it to a laser job shop.”
Three items on Newman’s Scout Bobber stand out to us—the front wheel, the paint job, and the seat. We talked to him about each one.
As it turns out, Newman has a bit of a love/hate relationship with the 23-inch hoop leading the way.
Regardless, that doesn’t prevent Newman from getting seat time on his creation. “It rides surprisingly well,” he reports. “It’s fast, and light and nimble. My Panhead has the exact same tire combo, so I’m used to it. It gets a little nerve-wracking in the rain, but so far, no issues. However, I think I am going to change the 23 front for something a little meatier to give the bike a bit better aesthetic balance…an 18-by-4 up front would feel so much more right.”
It’s worth noting that the 23-inch Excel rim is shod with a Mefo tire, and those twin EBC discs were sourced from a go-kart. The calipers are vintage GMA calipers mounted on Newman’s handmade fork legs. “They work better than a drum brake, at least!” he modestly claims. In the back, you’ll note the Hoosier tire on a Weld Racing automotive wheel with a V-Twin Manufacturing drum brake. The shocks are Progressive Suspension 413 units.
After Josh Allison at Cry Baby Cycles hand-narrowed the tank, Newman sent it off to Christopher Galley at Devil Chicken Design. Galley is a visual artist in Buffalo who grew up appreciating Evel Knievel and Steve McQueen. “Together, we worked up the concept,” Newman says. “That’s Kali, the Hindu god[dess] of death on the tank. It was a play on words, really—the ‘other’ kind of Indian.”
The narrow stepped-seat is pure 1960s chopper, and the sissy bar is there for the passenger’s security. Yes, Newman takes his Scout Bobber out two-up: “Passengers generally just put their feet on the shock caps—works perfectly!”
Newman found much to admire in the Indian Scout Bobber. “I have a lot of love for H-D Sportsters,” he says, “and the Scout ticks most of the same boxes, so that’s pretty cool. I like small, compact bikes, generally. I will say that the bike was very easy to work on, or at least take apart.”
“After some tinkering, it was nice to be able to unbolt the whole rear subframe and bolt on a whole new rear section—can’t do that without a grinder and a welder on a Sportster,” Newman notes. “That could be a standard for today’s new bikes, I’m not sure, but when you get into some of the older H-D stuff, you can take a part off, put it on a table, then go to put it back on a week later and for some reason it no longer fits. I guess that’s a perk of a modern bike.”
However, Newman is frustrated by the Scout motor from the perspective of customization. “On an old Harley, you have a lot of different parts that bolt together to form the engine. It’s easy to change one piece for a whole new look—for instance, welding some stuff to Shovelhead rocker boxes, shave some fins off a cylinder, reshape, or change pushrod tubes. On the Scout, the engine is largely one big lump of aluminum that can’t be given a major makeover without some massive engineering. If I had more time, I would have wanted to engineer a kickstarter and at least cut off the front frame downtubes and narrow them a bit.”
Newman does admit to enjoying his builds getting public attention. “It’s always cool to have a bike shown anywhere. I’ve had a few bikes shown there [Sturgis], and they get a lot of great through traffic. The bike was also parked right on the main drag for a few days. That was cool, too!”
Despite Newman’s skill in both design and manufacturing by hand, he has no interest in making a career out of building custom motorcycles. This decision will no doubt disappoint many. “I like my day job, and it keeps the bike building fun and exciting,” Newman says. “There is sometimes pressure, but not a ton. I don’t think I would be a good businessman. I’d take too long building everything, and I’d never make it work financially.”
Although Christian Newman isn’t a professional builder, he has sold projects in the past. “I’ve sold my ’78 turbo Shovelhead and my ’40 Knucklehead,” he says. “The latter was to fund some major shop upgrades. I don’t regret selling them. I’ve never regretted selling anything. I’m not terribly sentimental, and what satisfies me are accomplishments, not the physical things I’ve built.”
Christian Newman Custom Indian Scout Bobber One-Off Parts List
- Brake distribution T
- Cable conversion
- Footpegs and shifter pegs
- Fork lowers
- Form stem with fluid pass-through
- Frame inserts
- Front and rear hubs
- Front brake lever
- Headlight support bracket
- Mid controls
- Narrowed tank
- Rear-axle and spacers
- Sissy bar
- Skidplate/radiator shroud
- Sprocket guard
- Stainless exhaust
- Triple trees