On a nondescript suburban street in the nondescript but perfectly nice city of Poway, California, sits a perfectly normal ranch house with a completely abnormal two-car attached garage. Inside it you’ll find, more often than not, Richard Pollock, the Mule behind Mule Motorcycles. If you haven’t heard of him, you haven’t been paying attention. Racer, rider, fabricator, dreamer, doer – Richard builds some of the finest custom motorcycles money can buy.
10. T-handles, Wall o’ Sockets
When you get a lot of T-handles, what do you do with them? They’re a mess. And normally everybody’s got all their sockets packed into a drawer. Space is tight in here, it was a two-car garage, so I put this aluminum L-bracket on the wall. Down here’s American, all that side is metric. People who use tools go, oh man, why didn’t I think of that? So I have all these different-size T-handles, but the only ones I ever use are the ones with the socket-mount ends, in ¼-inch, 3/8 and ½-inch sizes, because the sockets are so easy to get to. It saves tons of time.
I’m really weight conscious. Scales keep me honest. Should I use a titanium bolt? Sometimes you can take a steel bolt, drill a hole down the middle of it, and it weighs less than a titanium one and costs nothing. So I weigh tons of stuff with this. I think I paid a hundred bucks for it. I weigh hardware, I weigh washers. What I really like to do is… here’s a foot peg plate. We start and it’s 1100 grams. We trim it, we mill it down, we drill holes in it… we get 40 percent of the weight off it. The scale lets you know if you’re going forward or backwards. A lot of times you think some trick part is really cool and find out, shit, it’s actually heavier.
8. Cast Brake Arms
This is an aerodynamic casting off an old ’60s BMW. It’s just a brake arm, it’s no big deal – but look at all the effort they put into the thing. I can hold this and it makes me happy. So I had it polished and anodized.
And this one, I’ve had since 1976. It doesn’t look like anything either, it’s just a brake arm. I bought a Penton brand new, a 125 Penton. I rode it in the dirt, I did a desert race on it, I did a short-track on it. I roadraced it for two seasons in the 125 Production class, got third for the year. One race, I went to Ontario, got 2nd in the 125 class: We took the steering damper off, went to Elsinore, and got 2nd in the Pro class that night on the same bike. So it was kind of like a motard, Superbikers kind of bike, in 1977. I took the thing all apart after the motor blew up, and I just parted it all out. But the brake arm, it’s such a beautiful casting I hung onto it for like 35 years.
Finally I said I’m going to polish it and anodize it. It’s just a cool piece. This one makes me happy, like real happy. They’re just silly little parts. But when you make stuff, when you make tons of stuff – when you see something that’s made really cool – like I couldn’t make this, I couldn’t make an aerodynamic foil brake rod. Who’d do that much work for what it does?
7. Tricky H-D Sportster primary cover
Michelle DiSalvo is this really good flat-tracker from Lodi, California. She was complaining that her Sportster clutch cable, since it enters the cases down there right on the bottom, was digging in the dirt and getting all bunged up. So we rotated it up to where it’s out of harm’s way. A bonus of that is now a Buell cable is long enough to fit, a much better cable and lever. And while I was at it, we cut out a window so you can turn the engine over to set the timing with a T-handle, instead of the old pain-in-the-ass way of having somebody turn the rear wheel while you try to find the timing mark, which is just stupid time-consuming.
6. Carbon-fiber Tank for Flat-tracker
So a flat-track tank like this is $300. Oh you want it in carbon? That’s an extra $200. So then we get it from the supplier, and it looked like it had been run in the mud. Then it was about another $400 to get it sanded down, cleared, get the bubbles out, get it finished off. I’d sold it to the guy on the project with the idea, ‘this’ll be so trick because we won’t have to spend money painting it!’ – but of course we wound up spending like a thousand dollars on it. But isn’t it beautiful? I love it. I get a woodie looking at carbon. If I see something made out of carbon, I pull out my credit card so fast it, like, turns into plasma. Carbon is the bomb.
5. Handmade Aluminum Airbox for the Top-Secret Bike Nobody Knows About
I gave my fabricator a set of throttle bodies to make this fit just like the plastic airbox piece on the stocker, then I put it back on the bike – then started adding pieces, trying to get as much volume as possible without running into stuff. These little horns had to go on to get air in, but when I put them on I had to thread it in, then they’d interfere with different stuff. So then we had to cut it up and rearrange things – and, I guess that’s why the factories don’t make airboxes out of aluminum. Later I realized I could just unbolt the radiator and slide it in a lot easier and make the airhorns way bigger – so that’s what I’m fixing to do. Airbox Part 2 …
4. Now all that’s left is a photograph: Custom H-D Short-Tracker
One of the first bikes I had an order for was this Harley. We’d done a four-speed Sportster, and the guy didn’t like the way the frame tubes go. So I say, ‘oh, ok we’ll do another one, a little different style.’ And I go, ‘Oh, by the way, do you have a 4-speed or 5-speed?’ Oh 5-speed. And I say, ‘well this one’s a 4-speed frame so it wouldn’t’ve fit anyway.’
So I had this frame left over and all this crap so I start piecing together a bike for me, my own Harley. I’ve got a bunch of trick bits, ten grand in the motor, crank with Carrillo rods, headwork and all this cool stuff. So we paint it all up, build it just the way I want, CBR900RR forks, TZ rotors, blah blah… take it to Long Beach Show. I come back Sunday night to pick it up and they tell me your bike didn’t win. OK, whatever. But the good news is we want to feature it in Big Twin magazine.
Bitchin’! Cool. So Allan Girdler calls me up, we’re going to go to Ken Maely’s Ranch and we’re going to have you slide around do some wheelies – if we can get a good shot, it’s cover material.
Bitchin’! So we show up at Maely’s, Jeff Allen’s there, takes a bunch of stills – bitchin’, bitchin’ pictures. We wait for the sun. My friend’s got a video camera, so I tell him, ‘video every bit of this, don’t turn the camera off.’ So he’s taking pictures. I go to put my leathers on, all I’ve got are these old Yamaha ones, a copy of Agostini’s like he wore when he won Daytona in 1974. Bitchin’ big red Yamaha. Somehow I knew that wasn’t going to fly.
So Allan looks at that and says, “Hey, this is a Harley magazine, you can’t wear that.”
This is all I got.
So Allan goes over to his truck and gets out this Harley Factory Racing team jacket, he got it from Corky Keener or Rex Beauchamp or somebody like that, and I go ‘holy crap’ and I put it on and he gives me the kiss of death, “Don’t screw up my jacket.”
He had another one, but his first wife burned all his stuff when they divorced, so this one’s twice as priceless to him. So I put the jacket on, the track’s really dry – dry slick it’s called, like cement with sand over it, hasn’t been prepped at all. At the time the bike had 18-inch rims with street tires. I didn’t realize until I got into the heat of battle that I didn’t have nearly enough fork lock. So I go down to the end of the track and roll around, and Jeff’s walking down the hill to set up the camera. This thing made about 100 horsepower, a lot on the dirt, it was a 1200.
I’d been racing a 250 two-stroke, and I did pretty well on that. So I go in like I would on that and whack the throttle – and I’ve got like 25,000 laps at Maely’s – so here I come back towards the camera, give it a big handful, and find out I can’t steer into the slide nearly as much as I need to. I’m midway through the corner, here I go, full throttle, with one handlebar in my armpit, into the wall I go, a 4×8 sheet of plywood with dirt piled up behind, like concrete, pafoooom! The bike goes end-over-end over the wall, I’m trying to get away from it but I’m all tied up in it… so I tumble and I’m hurting real bad. The bike’s upside down, wheels going chug chug chug, and the thing is like, laid against the wall. So I stand up, and both of my thumbs are dislocated and I go OOooooooo… this hand’s looking like a tomato, I’m seeing spots, I’m in sad shape. And the first thought I have is that the dignity of the bike is gone. It’s upside down against the wall, humiliated. So I walk over. I don’t have an ignition switch, so I pull a wire. The pipes are straight up in the air. There’s a big gouge across the beautiful paint from the hot shoe. The AFAM bars are bent and they’re unbendable. The tank’s still good. So I’m standing here looking at the bike. And then I think of the jacket. I look down at one sleeve, it’s ok. I look at the other side, the sleeve’s ripped off at the shoulder and it’s all slid down and bunched up like a bracelet on my wrist. The jacket is toast.
Allan walks up and says, “Straighten out the pipes and we’ll shoot it again.”
I am done.
My buddy who was shooting the video, just when I start to fly out of the saddle, the camera goes from the track to his foot and you hear him say, “Oh shit.”
When I told Allan about that later, he said, “that’s the difference between a photographer and a guy with a camera.”
I think his next wife sewed the jacket back together, but I still owe him a nice jacket. But I talk to him a lot, and he’s never mentioned it again.
3. Mule Custom Front Hub
This is for all the Triumph stuff I do. It accepts Ducati rotors. It’s the perfect width, and if I want to build a café racer, a street tracker, a dirt bike, a sport bike, anything with wire wheels, a chopper – and it has dual-disc capability. If I want to run one disc, whoosh, you just buzz the lugs off one side, now you’ve got a single-disc hub. Really good bearings, it’s just something I came up with, and I’ve got 40 on the way. It’s not superlight, it’s 2024, which is like 7075, real strong. Everybody talks about 6061, oooooo aircraft. It’s to the point where you’d think you’ve got two basic elements on the planet: 6061 and dirt. I just started building these. Ducati rotors are real easy to get, on eBay and wherever.
I have a lightweight rear hub, too, but they’re all out getting anodized. That, on the Triumph, with my hub, aluminum sprocket, my cut-down disc and an aluminum rim – takes 14 pounds off a stock Triumph rear wheel.
2. Plain Geometry 101: Custom frame
The street-tracker thing I do, which is a dirt-track-looking bike you ride on the street, well, dirt-trackers don’t work on the street. More trail means more stability, more offset on the triple clamps is less trail. The first street-trackers I built, I used dirt-track frames and dirt-track clamps, and you couldn’t keep your hands on the bars at 70 mph, they wanted to toss you off. The reason being that when you lay the bike over, trail increases. And when it goes past the sweet spot and becomes too stable, when you hit the throttle the rear end wants to step out and throw you off. Having a ton of offset and less trail keeps the front end loose so you can steer with the throttle, you can do a big controlled slide.
When guys slide on the road, it’s usually right before a high-side. The forgiveness range is very narrow. If you get on a dirt-tracker with a lot of offset, you can control it really good. I know this because the first short-track bikes I built, I was using streetbike clamps and streetbike forks, and they were real twitchy because the front end was so planted.
I found out over a dozen builds that we had to shorten the triple clamps, but the wheels had to stay out here, clear of the motor. So we had to start moving the steering head forward, a gooseneck thing, instead of bringing the triple clamps back; now they’re stable.
A stock Triumph has too much trail; they steer really, really slow. The sweet spot is like 95 to 100mm trail; the Bonneville’s got like 120mm. When you get into the 75-80 range, you’re coming off. What I generally do is shorten the forks and jack the back and it has the effect of pulling the front end in slightly. I make them with eccentrics, too, so you can adjust the offset, but not many guys do. I had one at (Wayne) Rainey’s house, and Roberts was going on about, “Oh, you have to have an adjustable steering head, you’ve gotta be able to adjust the angle…,” and this other guy, Nakajima, who’s the guy who designs all the MotoGP bikes for Yamaha, he’s looking at it too. And he says to Kenny, “What are you talking about? You don’t know how to ride.” Mr. Nakajima really liked that bike.
1. Not-a-Buell Blast Single-Speed Short Tracker
This is basically an 883 with the crankcase cut off, and it’s got a speedway Jawa layshaft, just a shaft with a countershaft and a clutch on it. You adjust it like a Triumph or an old Norton primary. The back half is a C&J Rotax monoshock frame, with left-side shock. The motor’s going to hang from the front, one speed, one cylinder. One shock. One purpose! Short track! This is going to be extremely trick. People say “oh it’s a Blast.” No. It isn’t. This is a 600. This has a Branch-O’Keefe head with a 2-inch intake valve. It has a 47mm S&S Super E carburetor. It has big lumpy cams, a big high-compression piston. This thing will be a beast—a 600cc beast, and it’s going to weigh nothing. The frame weighs about as much as a bicycle frame. Every piece of hardware is going to be titanium. I’m going to go stupid light. I’m silly like that.
On the West Coast, it’ll be able to run in the Pro class. If I get 60 hp or 55, which is doable, it’ll have 70 foot-pounds of torque. It might be hard to keep the front wheel down. It’ll make power from 500 to who-knows how many rpm. A Buell Blast runs a Sportster primary and clutch, which is hugely heavy. So there shouldn’t be any comparison to a Buell Blast. But, of course, there is. We’ll see. When you spend all your time building cool shit for other people, you want to build something cool for yourself.
But wait that’s not all! Bonus stuff:
Crème de la crème: MV Agusta adjustable shift lever
Bolts right onto the Triumph. Eccentric adjustable toe piece even. Is that freaking beautiful? The MV piece is cheaper too. A shop in Escondido bought all the spares from Harley so they wouldn’t have to be shipped back to Italy. I also have a whole drawerful of Ducati switches, and they’re bad-ass. They’re really nice, and I got them way cheap.
Say, where’s those scales? MV Agusta shift lever: 70 grams. Triumph Bonneville shift lever: 156 grams. You just made your Triumph 3.07 ounces lighter. Bitchin’.
MV Agusta brake adapters
These go right onto Yamaha R6 conventional forks, and use six-piston MV Agusta calipers, with a 320mm rotor. Why six-piston MV calipers? I bought a crapload of ’em for a really good price, and they work bitchin’. I’m doing a Triumph with the same set-up.
Akront rim Spoke Nipple tool
A friend of mine got this from Bob Hansen’s estate, who just passed last year. I guess you put it in a press, it puts the rim at the right angle and you bang away. It looks like it was barely used. What a bitchin’ thing. It’s a good conversation piece.
Stay tuned. Mule never rests.