“Jon works in the rail industry. By day, he modifies Land Rovers for use in railway maintenance. But once the day’s work is done, he turns straight to his other tasks – his bike projects”
Words and images by Christian Gallagher – TWOSTOREYSHED
The working week winds down with a mild and sunny Friday afternoon. As commuters creep in their long lines out of Leeds, heading back to the estates and suburbs that encircle three sides of the city, I jump in my old Civic and join the slick, upmarket traffic heading north on the A61. This is my kind of commute – through blinding, acid-yellow fields of rape, laid like bright silk over the green hills, and ultimately on to North Yorkshire, to an out-of-the-way farm in a wooded valley.
You can’t fix stupid, they say. Nor can you buy clever. This month’s visit is to Jon Lindley, a shining example of the latter who has consented to be interviewed by a modest example of the former: I know bikes but hardtail chops are a new world to me. His Sportster, which he’s bringing to the show, is parked outside when I arrive – it gets ridden to work every day – so I shrewdly look over the bike before going in, to get a head start on this one. The first impression is that barring the engine and (almost) the tank and seat, the whole thing is hardly any wider than the length of your hand. You could hide it behind a greyhound, if you could get one to keep still. The bike is all in bare steel, minimal even by chop standards, and is legal in the same way that somebody wearing a thong is dressed, but that’s about it. I know enough to get that it takes a lot of work to make something look this simple.
Jon works in the rail industry. By day, he modifies Land Rovers for use in railway maintenance. But once the day’s work is done, he turns straight to his other tasks – his bike projects – in the company’s fully-equipped workshop. He’s working as I enter, head down over the bench, so I quietly put my bag down on the seat of a fork lift and wait for him to finish. I greet him when he pauses, and he walks over shakes my hand and offers me a cup of tea. We’ve only got a couple of hours: for Jon, because he’s already worked all day, and for me because the late afternoon light is warm and glorious, but won’t last. Still, we chat about bikes for a while before getting down to photos and specifications. He’s owned and ridden all sorts – a CBR600 as a runabout, and “a little Honda with clip-ons” – and has that simple love of bikes that needs no explaining. He’s a friendly guy – happy to chat, intelligent and thoughtful, whose fabrication skills (more of which later) are of a degree that would enable him to build more or less anything he wanted to. So I wonder: where, in this intersection of high technical ability and modest presentation, does the full-on hardtail outside fit?
“I want to get rid of stuff”, explains Jon, “keep it to a minimum.” If minimal is your thing, then the naked steel whippet outside the door is about as far as you could take it. It’s a “91-ish” 1200 Sportster motor, with a modified kicker kit, homemade pipes and various upgrades to the S & S carb: a Superbowl accelerator pump, an extra Thunder jet and a modified air bleed. “It works properly now”, is Jon’s comment. It has also been converted, or reverted, to points, which tickles me; I ask if this is for the low-tech ease of repair, and he nods. “I like things to be simple – if the ignition goes wrong, I can fix it.” Elsewhere on the bike, though, he’s added a modern electronic touch – I spot a twin-USB charging socket tucked in behind the tiny moped gel battery, all that’s needed to run the minimal electrics. I laugh at this unexpected touch, and Jon says “you need to charge your phone sometimes”, with a shrug, “it’s got to be practical as well as stupid.” He grins at this casual revelation of his approach to building, as I quickly write it down.
The frame is one aspect of the build he’s most proud of – fabricated in cold-drawn seamless tubing and designed to follow the contours of a seat that he liked, given to him by a mate. It’s frankly bonkers to pour hundreds of hours into a build based around an old seat, and I think he’s fully aware of this. That said, the frame is beautiful – as slim as it could be with a minimum of bracketry and lugs. There’s almost nothing to it. “You can pick it up with one hand”, says Jon, making a gesture like he’s picking up a bag of shopping. The front end features Sportster yokes, narrowed by an inch, and forks from an unknown motocross bike, with a very neat fork brace on which no fasteners are visible. “It’s an interference fit”, explains Jon, and continues: “the forks were leading axle, so I chopped off the bottom of the legs, fabbed up new ones, and welded them on.” He points to a very faint line about two inches up from the end of a fork leg, where you can just about make out where the work has been done. This same style – clever metalwork revealed by faint traces, like scars – is visible elsewhere. The Sportster tank has had a new tunnel and been narrowed, not with straight cuts, but by removing a wedge-shaped section, nipping its rear tightly in. This too, can be detected in faint deformations of the buff finish of the steel, though Jon doesn’t mind: “I could smooth it out if I wanted to, but…” Personally I like these touches, or omissions, for the handmade feel they impart to the whole. Completing the front end are a 21” wheel from Newark autojumble, a mate-donated headlight from a 1950s pushbike with a 55W halogen bulb fitted, and a pair of grips from a ladies’ bicycle.
Around the back, there’s a front Harley rim laced to a 1970s Talon speedway hub, under what was originally a front mudguard from a Shovelhead FXE, and with a brake disk from a Guzzi Le Mans on a hanger fabricated by Jon. There’s an elegant arrangement of detail here – a pair of four-pot Grimeca calipers from an unknown moped grip the disk, in the limited space where the two frame rails meet at the neatly-slotted rear axle mount. A tidy numberplate mount shares their bracket. Over on the right side of the wheel, it’s been converted to chain and sprockets.
What stands out most, looking over the build, is the quality of the fabrication. It’s clean, well-considered and beautifully executed. The welds look perfect, way better than most factory jobs. There’s a scratch-built stainless oil tank, stainless foot controls and a combined gearchange pivot / left footrest setup, a 1970s Arlen Ness influence. Then there’s the bits that need pointing out, even though you’ve already looked at them: the top engine mount is slightly tapered, and the headstock is waisted, with no steering stem inside, just a 10mm studded bar nipping the bearings together. Now we’re getting down to what makes the man tick. “It’s just detail that I know that I did. Nobody else would notice it’s there, but I do.” More visible, but equally simple, is the clutch cable tensioner – an adjuster from a yacht.
By the time the photos are taken, and the specifications have filled three pages of notes, evening is approaching and we both need to get moving. I ask Jon what his plans are for the bike. “I’m going to Denmark on it, to a show” he grins. That’d be a fair ride on any bike, but then he does ride the Sportster every day, and his phone battery won’t die, at least. I ask if he has another build planned yet, and he tells me “the next one will be short, fast and rideable, ‘cos I haven’t had one like that for a while”. Whatever it turns out to be, I want it already.