Saturday, September 21, 2024 ✦ Noon to 7pm

1956 Panhead Chopper

Words: Kurt Diserio - Photos: Alexa Diserio
  • 1956 PANHEAD CHOPPER
    Built by Harry Dykes
  • Shown at Glory Daze 2022
  • Published in Pittsburgh Moto - Issue No. 13
  • We’ve had numerous people over the years approach us about seeing cool custom motorcycles riding around Hookstown, Pennsylvania. As it turns out, no matter which bike it was, they were almost always talking about Harry Dykes. As someone who bought his first bike at age fourteen, it was no surprise to learn about the many classic motorcycles that have passed through his garage over the years. With its heavy paint flake and laid-back stance, the tried and true 1956 Harley-Davidson pictured here is a great representation of classic chopper culture that could have come straight from the 1970s. As you’ll read, that was exactly the result he was aiming for. We met up with Harry in the hills of Hookstown to hear more about his past and how the bike took shape.

    What impact did your childhood have on this build?
    Harry Dykes: Whenever I was a little kid in Hookstown, a friend’s aunt’s husband had a 1967 Triumph Bonneville chopper. I remember sitting on the bike when I was a kid, maybe as young as ten years old, and playing the whole motorcycle fantasy thing. There was a TransAm sitting next to it, and my friend would sit in the car while I was on the chopper. We’d just bullshit and hang out, kid stuff. The owner of the bike passed away, but I ended up with the seat, gas tank, and sissy bar from that Bonneville and held onto the parts for twenty years.

    I’ve had several bikes through the years, starting with British bikes—a few different Triumphs, a BSA for a while, a couple of ironheads, and a shovelhead that I’ve had for ten to twelve years now. I told myself that I’d eventually build a panhead and use those pieces, and here it is. It took twenty years, but those parts were off of the bike that first got me into choppers.

    How did you get this build rolling?
    HD: My dad was looking for a trike, and I knew a guy selling a 1947 Servi-Car. He also had a panhead engine, and I ended up getting him to throw it in on the deal. My original plan was to just toss a quick chopper together, but then ended up splitting the cases, hand sanding and polishing everything, and it just kept snowballing from there. The first night that I started sanding it, I asked myself, “Why the hell did you do this?”
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    What did the process look like once you got into it?
    HD: I had countless hours hand sanding and polishing everything until my fingers were gone. The original paint job was commissioned, but after seeing the painter do another identical bike, I figured I’d just do it myself so I had something that was one-off. I wanted it to look like you pulled it off of a 1970s chopper.

    That’s a Jammer frame that I molded. I figured that if I was polishing shit, then I might as well start molding, too. It was beat up and in rough shape when I bought it from a guy in Akron. I used to run a 20-over P&P girder, which is what was on it for Glory Daze 2022. It rode decent at highway speed but had tire flop when riding around town. I ended up finding that 15-over front end and threw on an 18-inch wheel. It rides like a dream. You can take your hands off the bars and light a cigarette going down the road.

    What attracted you to building a bike from this period?
    HD: I was brought into motorcycles by a bunch of older guys that were into bikes when I was younger. They grew up in the 70s riding shit when it was first coming out. That’s what got me into riding and enjoying bikes. I’ve always been partial to the older choppers because I’d hear them reminiscing about riding their bikes to California or pogo-sticking across two lanes of the highway. Well shit, I want to do that.

    Nobody in my family was into motorcycles, but when I was fourteen, I bought a 1959 Triumph Daytona that was chopped out. This was the pre-internet era, and I went through hell getting parts for it. I’ve had a bunch of different style bikes but just can’t seem to get away from choppers.
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    What does the bike mean to you now?
    HD: It used to have a telescopic front from the 1960s, but I picked up this Denver’s Choppers front end from Cycle Warehouse in Butler, Pennsylvania. My brother and I went up there in the winter one year, and after looking around, I saw that they had a bunch of springer front ends on the wall. I took some measurements on my bike and went back in the springtime. It was still there, and I got a better deal by waiting. It was perfect for the bike. I didn’t really want to run a 21-inch front wheel, but it gives the chopper the right stance.

    What are your typical rides like?
    HD: I try to keep it mostly local but will run a couple of hours in any direction. As far as long trips go, I try to but it’s hard to get anyone that wants to join in. Personally, I just like to get out and ride, whatever the destination.

    Anything else you want to say about it?
    HD: That engine is kind of the reason I stuck with the show bike thing. My dad passed away, but he would always break my balls and say I would never finish it once I started polishing it. So, I wanted to prove that I could do it.
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
    1956 Harley-Davidson panhead chopper Harry Dykes Glory Daze Pittsburgh
  • 1956 HARLEY-DAVIDSON PANHEAD CHOPPER
  • Built by HARRY DYKES
  • instagram/dykesharry
  • Originally published by PITTSBURGH MOTO
  • Words by KURT DISERIO
  • Photos by ALEXA DISERIO
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