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In a sea of custom choppers at the 2021 Fuel Cleveland motorcycle show, our Motorcycle & Powersports News team couldn’t look away from a number of different builds, but one in particular had us looking for an abnormally long time. Jesse Srpan’s custom 1950 Harley-Davidson Panhead had us double taking, drooling and walking circles around it. After getting a glimpse, it’s not hard to see why.
Jesse Srpan is owner of Raw Iron Choppers in Chardon, OH, a city to the east of Cleveland. Jesse made the short trip west into downtown to display the 1950 Harley chopper and check out his contemporary’s rides as well.
We got a chance to speak with Jesse about his custom build during Fuel’s setup day, and we quickly got all the juicy details. The bike, a 1950 Harley-Davidson Panhead, belongs to Srpan’s dad, who originally purchased and rode the motorcycle in the ‘70s and ‘80s. When Srpan’s dad bought himself a new Harley Cruiser, the Panhead was relegated to storage, collecting dust.
Not wanting to see a cool, historic ride go to waste, Jesse asked his dad if he’d be alright with him chopping the bike and creating something custom. The answer was a quick yes.
“I built this 1950 Panhead 10 years ago for my dad just for fun,” Srpan told us. “At the time, it was a boring Cleveland winter, but I very quickly got busy. My dad was really into deep sea diving, despite not being a diver. That obsession sort of came out of nowhere. It wasn’t a childhood thing, but that’s what inspired the look of the bike.”
The Harley is covered in nickel-plated chrome and brass accents to give the bike a retro look that’s both modern and steampunk at the same time. The paint job has a lot of deep sea nautical features, and the heavy metal flake looks like glistening water.
“That was the theme my dad wanted to go with and we utilized it,” Srpan says. “We went above and beyond on this bike. We went with a hydraulic hand clutch, as well as a dual brake, which controls front and rear. There is no rear brake and no proportioning valve because it’s pretty equal already.
“For the 1950 Panhead motor, there was nothing really crazy done to it. We did a mild refresh with new heads and rings and things like that, but nothing real high end. My dad isn’t a horsepower freak like I am. I’m the one who wants all the built motor stuff. He just wanted a mild setup, so that’s what we did along with some upgraded aesthetics.
“We put an SU carb on it for that antique look. The frame is the original wishbone frame, but we raked it out to about 40-degrees and used a Spartan Frameworks chromoly front end to again go along with that steampunk kind of look.”
Something else that’s neat and hard to ignore on the custom bike is the shifter. Jesse says he ran it through the mechanical brake linkage setup, which causes a lot of people to ask him why.
“Everyone always asks why you would take your hand off to shift, but if you speed shift, it’s not that much of a difference,” he says. “If you take your hand off the throttle, shift the gear and put your hand back on, it’s not too different. It’s one of those things we did ass backwards at the time, but it’s a common thing now. I’ve seen it on a number of bikes.”
In addition to the specs already mentioned, the bike also has some one-off goodies such as Raw Iron Chopper’s own hand grips and riser springers. Overall, Jesse ensured us it’s actually a relatively simple bike that’s really fun to cruise with.
“We live in the country on the east side of Cleveland, and it’s a blast just riding at 35 mph,” Srpan says. “The build was so fun, especially because it’s an heirloom. My parents had it before I was around and I got to chop it and have fun with it.”
It’s definitely a head turner, and for Srpan’s dad, it had to be one hell of a Father’s Day gift.
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