Church of MO: Let There Be Big Photos

John Burns
by John Burns
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church of mo let there be big photos

And at some point, God said let there be photos on MO that you can click on to make them even bigger and clearer, and so it came to pass. But not by 2008, when we ran this 50th anniversary celebration of S&S Cycle. For the occasion, S&S handed out engines to a bunch of custom builders, which bikes were then photographed by the illustrious Michael Lichter, six of which are featured in this MO feature. Too bad the photos are so tiny, and even worse that when you click on them they stay that way. Little did we know that the custom cruiser Ice Age had already begun.

Let us give thanks and praise, brothers and sisters, for the evolutionary, I mean, let us give thanks and praise that the current interwebs and my big Macbook now render beautiful, full-screen images better than even the best ink-on-dead-tree products. And if you want a closer look at any of the following machines, a Google image search will likely produce them (which is exactly how I found the lead image). Rock on, oh Great Higher Being who doth make such brilliant technology not only possible but also portable into one’s chosen Reading Room, wherever it may be. Amen, and Full Props.

S&S 50th Anniversary Bike Show

S&S Cycle Celebrates 50 years in business

Photography by Michael Lichter Photography

When it comes to the American V-twin industry, it seems that companies come and go almost as regularly as the tide rolls in and out. It’s been that way since the beginning of the last century. When you look at today’s business climate you can expect that more companies will meet a similar fate. With that in mind it’s a breath of fresh air to witness a company that has not only been able to weather the storm, but set its own course on the way to becoming an industry leader.One such company is S&S Cycle of La Crosse, Wisconsin, founded by George Smith Sr. and Stanley Stankos in 1958. Cutting his teeth on the drag strips in the Chicago area, Smith became known as the go-to-guy for parts and techniques to help riders get their bikes down the track and come away with the win. Beginning some 50 years ago with not much more than a set of their own pushrods, S&S has guided itself into the enviable position of king of the hill when it comes to V-twin engine performance.

Today, S&S supplies everything from air cleaners, carburetors, exhaust systems, lifters, pistons, to complete engines and major driveline parts. One of the things that set S&S apart from many of their competitors is their racing heritage. You name the motorcycle-racing genre, and S&S has done it. It makes no difference whether you’re talking the drag strip or Bonneville, these folks have been there: testing, racing, setting records, but more importantly constantly improving their products.

‘You name the motorcycle-racing genre, and S&S has done it.’

To celebrate their 50th year in business, S&S, (still owned by the Smith family) threw a huge party in their hometown of La Crosse. The celebration held on June 27-29, 2008 brought out over 30,000 attendees to various venues. There were tours of the company’s La Crosse tech center, and the Viola, Wisconsin manufacturing plant, which still sits on the site of the original family farm. Other activities included racing and stunt shows at the speedway, a ride-in chopper show, a local radio station sponsored ride, a ride from La Crosse H-D to J&P Cycles in Anamosa, Iowa. There was also music, food and a trade show on La Crosse’s Oktoberfest grounds, but the centerpiece of the celebration was without a doubt the bike building competition sponsored by S&S.

Writer Howard Kelly and photographer Michael Lichter will be teeming up to produce a book published by MotorBooks International, commemorating the event. I’ve been told it should be out in time for the holidays.

To make this bike show a reality, current company president Brett Smith worked with S&S’s top management to hand select the finest bike builders from around the world. There were only a few requirements each builder would have to incorporate into their design. First and foremost each bike would be powered by one of S&S’s complete engines. Every engine sent to a competitor was serialized with a special commemorative number celebrating the event; the first number being 1958, and the last 2008. The finished bike would also have to display some sort of S&S logo, or artwork. Other than that the bikes were to be in running condition, ready to make the ride from La Crosse to Viola, and back. Unfortunately this ride was scrubbed due to thunderstorms and a hellacious downpour on the day of the ride. While many of the competitors were still willing to go on the ride, clearer heads prevailed. These machines had far too much time, energy, and expense in them to take a chance on the rain swollen roads.

Each of the fifty competitors was placed into one of six classes. Unlike traditional bike competitions this one was based on the bike’s engine configuration. S&S currently offers a P-Series (Panhead), SH-Series (Shovelhead), SB-Series ( Sportster), V-Series (Evolution), T-Series (Twin-Cam), and X-Series (X-Wedge, the companies newest motor design). Each class varied in the number of participants entered with the X-Series having 11 competitors, P-Series, and SH-Series 10 each, SB-Series 8, V-Series 6, and T-Series 5.

Judging was undertaken by the builders themselves, a handful of media types, and a select group of industry VIP’s. Tallying the votes was the responsibility of the folks from AMD, the same people who have been sponsoring the World Championship of Custom Bike Building. Just like any show, the competition was fierce and the judges had a very tough job when it came to picking the winners. Most judges spent over five hours to complete the judging; this was a tough assignment. As a matter of fact, I was asked to be part of the judging, but declined due to previous commitments that would have prevented me from spending enough time to judge, giving all the competitors a fair shake.

The following is a list of the top three finishers in each class along with the grand champion, and people’s choice award.

Grand Champion
Hot-Dock Custom Cycles
People’s Choice
Dougz Custom Paint & Fabrication
1stKrugger Motorcycles
2ndCory Ness
3rdHogtech Sweden
1stCook Customs
2ndSpecial Parts Supply
3rdCovingtons Customs
1stOdyssey Motorcycles
2ndCory Ness
3rdRedneck Engineering
1stNicolas Chauvin Design
2ndKris Krome Cycles
3rdArlen Ness
1stBennett’s Performance
2ndRick Fairless’ Strokers Dallas
3rdWalz Hardcore Cycles
1stFred Kodlin Murdercycles
2ndDougz Custom Paint & Fabrication
3rdKlock Werks

Considering the high-level of competition, picking a winner was no easy feat. Add to that multiple categories with a number of over-the-top entries, and I found myself going back and forth between various motorcycles trying to decide which one I liked the best. I’m sure I’m no different than any of the people who were actually involved in the judging; deciding between bikes often came down to splitting hairs. With that said here are my top picks, one from each category.

We’ve included one image of each of the bikes listed below. To see all of the bikes that were involved in the competition go to and check them out.

Cory Ness

It’s hard to venture out to a bike show these days without seeing the name Ness somewhere on the list of builders. This show was no exception. As a matter of fact six-percent of the motorcycles on display were built by a member of the Ness family. This particular softail-style Panhead was the creation of Cory Ness, his dad Arlen, and son Zach each had bikes on display as well, but this one really grabbed my attention. God, where to start? How about Cory’s use of a 20 plus year-old Ness FXR-style frame complete with rubber-mounting provisions to which he attached the 93-inch P-Series engine.

Going retro, Cory relies on a Morris magneto for spark, and Baker six-speed complete with a kicker, no electric start here. Over the past few years Cory has been building bikes with tall narrow tires, this bike would be no exception. But one thing he did change up was the wheels and that he did that in a big way, banging out a set of one-off 23 inchers, but not just any 23’s. Unlike any wheel I’ve ever seen (I don’t think these will be showing up in the Ness catalog any time soon) Cory went with a seven-spoke (per side) design, but instead of making the spokes run parallel with one another, these spokes arch outward converging at the axle, making for a long narrow hub. This gives the bike a very unique look as the wheels dramatically showcase each end of the bike.

Cook Customs

Dave Cook is no stranger to competing in elite bike shows; this has lead to many high profile magazine pieces both here and abroad featuring his creations. Even with this newfound notoriety Dave has remained true to his roots building motorcycles that convey his sense of good design, simplicity, and beautiful flowing lines. The bike you see here was tied in my mind for the top spot in this category and it just barley edged out the entry from Special Parts Supply.

Not only was this my favorite shovelhead, it was my favorite bike of the competition. Dave decided to work around a 93-inch motor backed up by a 4-speed transmission from a 1958 Norton, yes a British gearbox. A modified belt-drive system keeps the two spinning in harmony with one another. If the tires on this bike look like something from a steroid commercial your eyes are not deceiving you. Dave mounted a pair of 29-inch tall Firestone tires to a set of rims that he split, and then welded in two steel hoops to the original rim giving him the width he needed to make the tires look just right. Other stellar features on the bike include a softail section cushioned by a mountain bike shock, with a matched lighter spring version up front, a small steel hand-shaped gas tank that fits under the backbone, Cook’s inverted levers and perimeter brakes. The bike was then finished off with minimal black paint and copious amounts of nickel plating. Without a doubt, this is one stunning machine.

Odyssey Motorcycles

Simply put, this is one badass Sportster-powered motorcycle built by Odyssey Motorcycles of Toulouse, France. Builder Bertrand Dubet has created a motorcycle that just begs you to toss a leg over and go looking for some tasty roads where you can let out all the stops. The Sportster platform has always held a special spot in the hearts of many Harley owners. The powerful package that boasts an integrated engine, primary drive, and transmission, has long been a favorite of those looking for serious performance, due to its economic design, and four-cam driven valvetrain. The flowing lines on Dubet’s machine are accentuated by the large diameter frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. In doing so, the stout powerplant appears to be suspended in air with no visible means of support at the front or below the engine. Adding to the illusion of speed while the bike is static are the gracefully curved frontend, multi-tube swingarm and large diameter wheels fit with perimeter brake rotors machined to include the S&S Cycle’s logo. This bike ended up being one of the last motorcycles rolled on to the show floor after the show had begun due to being held up in customs for days. I’m sure I speak for a lot of folks when I say I’m glad the bike made it here!

Kris Krome Cycles

Kris grew up around racecars, his family raced oval track as far back as he can remember. Ever since his early days he has been wrenching on engines. This appetite for all things fast led to his opening a motorcycle shop that specialized in one-off customs, both metric, and American. When given the chance to help celebrate S&S’s past accomplishments on the track, Kris just couldn’t contain himself. He spent many, many hours trying to come up with a concept for a bike that would pay proper tribute to a great American company with a rich racing history.

Combining his passion for sport bikes and American muscle, Kris built this hybrid motorcycle that brings styling cues from many different genres and somehow combines them quite gracefully. For Kris it’s all about performance and nothing says that more than the 145-inch (the only one in the competition) Kendal Johnson built V-Series engine. A beautifully arched backbone not only helps frame the powerplant, but it serves as an anchor point for the sport bike inspired tail section. Hanging from both ends of the bike are Kris Krome originals; a billet girder front-end, and billet swingarm equipped with what Kris calls his elastamerick suspension. There are no shocks or springs either visible or hidden. Kirs’ dad came up with this system in which a combination of tubing, concealed square stock, and rubber combine to give what Kris tells me is a very smooth ride.

Bennett’s Performance

OK, right off the get-go I have to be totally honest with everyone out there. Bob and Eric Bennett are my buddies, but that’s not why they get my vote for the T-Series category. The reason I chose their bike was more about the type of bike they built, and how it goes straight to the core of what S&S Cycle is all about: performance and racing. When the Bennett’s were invited to compete, their first thought was “we’re not ‘Bike Builders’ we can’t hold a candle to the likes of the Ness’ or any of the other fantastic fabricators out there.”

Bob and Eric build engines that go fast, no, make that real fast. They hold records with their 100-inch Sportster at Bonneville with speeds in excess of 192 mph. So, they decided to build a second Bonneville bike, the one you see here, to bring out to the salt with the sole intension of coming home with a record that would put them in the elusive 200 mile-per-hour club. The 124-inch-powered beast is adorned with the names of George Smith Sr., his wife Marge and S&S’s first employee, Floyd Baker. Seeing the outpouring of emotion from family members as well as S&S’s past racers was truly a tribute to how much this bike means to S&S’s legacy. Only time will tell how they fare, but by the time the second week of September rolls around you can put money on where the bike and the Bennett’s will be… Bonneville.

Fred Kodlin Murdercycles

Fred Kodlin is without a doubt one of the brightest minds in the custom motorcycle industry. This bike is an exercise in absolute visual simplicity as it employees numerous technical details, which allow the bike to operate while at the same time creating a minimalist look. Just one glance at the single-sided swingarm, (it’s not really a swingarm but that is the easiest way to explain the look) er… um, “rigid frame components,” and the single-sided dual fork tubes and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice the primary drive is not located on the left-side of the motorcycle. Fred took the 117-inch fuel-injected X-Wedge powerplant and spun it 180 degrees positioning the output shaft on the right-hand side of the bike. The Baker six-speed tranny is also flipped to the other side of the bike and coupled to the engine by means of a shortened primary drive. At this point you might be asking yourself how the final drive works due to the engine spinning in the wrong direction. Speaking of the final drive, there is no evidence from either side of the bike of a final belt or chain drive. That’s because of the friction-drive Fred designed to take power from the transmission by spinning a roller tightly pressed against the rear tire, making it spin in the proper direction. With no chrome on this stunning bike you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that is not white, black, or polished aluminum.

Source: S&S Cycle
For more information contact S&S Cycle 608-627-1497, or visit

Looking at Steve’s choices I couldn’t help but note the striking similarity in the lines of most of the bikes. Interesting, eh? Be sure to visit the full selection of bikes that participated by following the link Steve provided, then jump into Reader Feedback for this story and tell us which bike was your favorite. Have a laugh and see my choice for most audacious, Fairless. I also like Ace-Café, Anthony and Flyrite.
-Pete Brissette

Related Reading
2008 L.A. Calendar Bike Show
Padova Custom & Chopper Show
2008 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance

John Burns
John Burns

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Join the conversation
  • Born to Ride Born to Ride on Oct 01, 2017

    Oh the excess of the pre-recession motorcycle culture. What strange days those were.

    • See 2 previous
    • Eric Eric on Oct 05, 2017

      Indeed. I actually think the custom bikes being built nowadays, with more restraint, perhaps due to budget limitations, etc., are much more interesting. Constraints often lead to better design solutions, both in the production and custom worlds. Well, that's what I think, anyway.