Top 10 Custom, Rare and Exotic Motorcycles at Mama Tried

Brent Jaswinski
by Brent Jaswinski

Feast your eyes on some of the baddest and raddest bikes displayed by their owners and custom builders in Milwaukee last weekend

Started in 2013, Mama Tried is an indoor invitational motorcycle show that showcases some of the coolest, craziest, rarest and most unusual homebuilt bikes. Having only been able to drool over the event through Instagram from thousands of miles away in years past, I finally got the opportunity to check the show out in person, and holy smokes was I not disappointed.

Living in Southern California, we see bike shows all the time and there’s always cool custom motorcycles wherever you look, but Mama Tried is different… The Milwaukee based show features mostly builders from the Midwest, or tries to anyhow, and this is significant because unlike California, the Midwest has its winter. This means that builders and customizers have many months to really hone in their craft and turn motorcycles into complete works of art, unlike in California where we can ride year round. That’s not to say there aren’t incredibly talented builders in California – there are plenty – but California bikes tend to spend more time on the road and less on a lift.

Below are 10 custom built / unique / rare motorcycles that really tickled my fancy. Picking just 10 was hard; the list could have easily been 20 or more, but let’s see what you guys think… Also, the show was so packed on Saturday that it was impossible to take any photos. I had to come back early Sunday morning before they even turned the lights on, so apologies if some photos are a little dark. You can click and expand the images for closer detail.

10. Roland Sands Design “2 Stroke Attack” TZRD

Roland Sands calls it the TZRD because it’s a 1974 RD 400 motor that’s been shoehorned into a 1997 TZ frame. There’s no shortage of custom molded aluminum or carbon fiber parts, so you know this bike is as light as a feather. It has an Öhlins fork and rear shock, and a dry clutch. The wheels are magnesium race wheels pulled from Roland’s championship-winning 250 GP bike he both designed and raced on. I’d love to throw a leg over this thing to see what it can do.

9. Ben Hittle’s 1969 Pan-Shovel

The last year of the Pan/genny/slab/flatside/shovel motor before H-D introduced the “cone” bottom end in ’70, this motor was only made from ’66-’69 – which makes it quite rare and collectible. The mag-fired motor has been punched out to 93 inches, so not only does it look tough, it pulls hard too. It also has narrowed trees, super thin shaved lower legs and an ultra-rare Kimtab snowflake magnesium front wheel, and how can you not love the paint on the tank?

8. Retro Speed LLC’s 1990 RC30

Mama Tried isn’t just a chopper/custom motorcycle show. There were all sorts of beautiful varieties of bikes, like Brady Ingelse’s immaculate RC30 that he’s restoring for an old-timer who’s had it sitting in the back of his garage since 1994 (shame!). He owns and operates Retro Speed LLC in Belgium, Wisconsin, and restores all sorts of vintage motorcycles. For those who don’t know how cool and rare this bike is, there were only 3,000 of them ever made world-wide, and as you can imagine, even fewer made it to the U.S. To top it off, they sold for $15,000 back in ’87-’90, so they weren’t cheap either. Fast forward 30 years and you have yourself quite the two-wheeled gem.

The bike is owned by an older guy named Roman, who bought it in Sheboygan, WI, in 1990 and rode it a little for a few years. The bike’s odometer currently reads 2,778 miles. In 1994, Roman’s niece’s boyfriend or something or other asked Roman to take it for a spin. Against Roman’s better judgment, he let him take it out only to be returned high-sided, or so the story goes. Roman then pushed it to the back of his garage until his nephew realized what his uncle had sitting there for all these years – 23 to be exact. The nephew notified Retro Speed and Brady has since completely restored the entire motorcycle back to its former glory, taking apart every last bit. Sourcing OEM parts was no easy task. He’s just waiting on two decals to put on, and the bike will be completely showroom stock again save for the tires.

7. ThreePence Moto’s 1981 Ironhead

This Ironhead built by ThreePence Moto in Denver, Colorado, looks like a mini Dyna/FXRT/hardtail performance chopper. It has custom hand-made fairings inspired by a Conely’s or Memphis Shade’s gauntlet-style quarter fairing up front and FXRT-style leg fairings. The engine’s heads and engine cases, including the cam cover have been extensively machined and brought down to just about the bare minimum. The bike also has performance Lyndall brake rotors with Tokico calipers, not to mention a crazy gold-flake paintjob. Definitely a show standout.

6. James Balestrieri’s 1992 Honda NR750

Another ultra-rare vintage (can we call a 1992 vintage yet?) sportbike that in one way or another found its way into James Balestrieri’s garage, who lives in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Only 200 NR750s were ever produced, and hiding under its carbon fiber-reinforced one-piece tank, integrated seat and tail unit was a unique V4 engine with oval-shaped pistons that were each paired with two connecting rods and eight (8!) valves per cylinder… Crazy.

Each cylinder pushed out spent gasses through twin exhaust ports into an 8-into-4-into-2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system, which then exited above its single-sided swingarm. The motor’s power output was rated at 125hp and revved to an incredible 15,000 rpm. I wish I could have heard this incredible piece of engineering run. NR750s were priced at over $60,000 and it’s said that none were ever imported to the States – well, at least one was.

5. Chi-Jer’s Vintage Bike Works’ 1975 Can-Am TnT 250

Owned and built by PJ Grakauskas from Cleveland, Ohio, this 1975 Can-Am TnT 250 is pretty special, and just like many other bikes on this list, rare AF. Most of us know Can-Am to produce ATVs, snowmobiles and Spyders, but they also made motocross bikes and enduros between 1973-1987. Though this motorcycle now looks like some sort of tracker/café racer, it started life out as an enduro. The front end is actually off a Yamaha RD350 and the rear shocks are Öhlins. Most of the parts were found at swap meets and engineered to work together, in true custom chopper fashion. Also, I just have a soft spot for two-strokes – their simplicity, raw power and lightweight are things you just don’t see all that often anymore.

4. Jake Drummond’s 1973 Yamaha RD350

Surprise! Another two-stroke, but it was more of the little details of the bike that really caught my eye. Being a ‘70s air-cooled two-smoker, it has cooling fins surrounding the cylinder, but those cooling fins also inspired the headlight cowl/fairing-type deal that Jake created, somehow giving a 45-year-old bike a futuristic look. I also dig the slim solo-seat with the two taillights coming out of the frame rails and the dual-shock rear suspension. Also, the custom exposed throttle is super neat.

3. Mike Rabideau’s 1981 Shovel

Based out of Las Vegas, it’s no surprise Mike Rabideau’s bike is flashy, and I’m not usually a huge fan of flashy, but this bike does it in all the right ways… For starters, there’s nowhere on this bike that hasn’t been reworked somehow. The motor is machined and finned all over, but what really stood out is the paint – oh mah gawd, you could get lost in it. From there I really dig the chain-driven primary and the whole bike is internally wired – not one single exposed cable or wire. Foot clutch, jockey-shift and no front brake means the rear brakes better work, and this bike has two late-model calipers binding a single disc. Everywhere you look on this bike, there’s something to be seen.

2. Ron Weber / Dalton Walker’s Water-Cooled Knuckle

Pffff… Where do I even start on this thing? It’s a 70-year-old water-cooled, dual-carbed Knucklehead based of a Petruzzi racing engine that midget cars used during the 1930s and ‘40s. The frame was built from scratch to house the motor and has a grill-type radiator between the down tubes. It’s got an extended inline-springer, a custom rear wheel that looks like a repurposed slot mag from a ‘60s-‘70s muscle car and a paintjob with gold, copper and silver leafing. Gnarly. I’ll let you guys see what else you can find in the photos.

1. Christian Newman’s 1940 Knuckle

If the last Knuckle wasn’t crazy enough for you, here’s another. Christian Newman of Buffalo, New York, is a madman and built everything you see here besides the motor and outer wheel hoops – he even completely redesigned the transmission because it was too wide. Most of the entire bike is made from stainless steel and is completely designed and hand-built from scratch by Christian himself.

The girder front end is a masterpiece, so are the wheel hubs, as is the rear portion of the frame that has both the sprocket and brake rotor on the outside of the axle blocks. He remade the ratchet-top transmission case to make it narrower and also so that the kicker arm used a vertical compression-spring rather than a typical clock-spring – just for fun… Like a typical chopper, it’s foot clutch, jockey-shift, no front brake – but! – the front portion of the mini-floorboard foot pegs are also the levers to actuate the brake and clutch – unreal.

Brent Jaswinski
Brent Jaswinski

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3 of 5 comments
  • Ibjj Ibjj on Mar 10, 2018

    Scrap your crappy-assed cell phone and spend some of your beer money on a real camera if you're going to pretend to be a photojournalist. Better yet hire a real photographer who understands lighting, depth of field, f-stops, and the other nuances of the craft. I'm so digusted with the perennially sh*tty photography from "Motorcycle" and "Automobile"...and you tout yourselves as the "Premier" mags of the genre. Shame!

  • TonyCarlos TonyCarlos on Mar 10, 2018

    That NR engine is an engineering tour-de-force. You won’t let us build a V8? Watch this.