Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rolling Through the Decades with Ron Finch

The absolute high point of my 70th Daytona Bike Week experience was an interview with legendary bike builder Ron Finch, published in a limited edition of the Daytona Beach Ratty Rag. The 20,000 commemorative copies disappeared into the wave of rally fans at the "world's largest rally."

But here is the entire article (c) 2011 By MJ Reynolds & RH Swan.

May 27, 2004 - Ron Finch, Billy Lane and Indian Larry leave Ron’s Studio in Pontiac to ride for 10 or so miles together with dozens of their friends and a film crew to Boomer’s Bike Night in Waterford a suburb of Detroit, Rock City – 1,000 bikes! The three famous bike builders are signing autographs with felt markers across tank tops worn by big-breasted young women. The place is packed to the rafters. Everyone loves them! Billy and Larry have just finished a couple of Biker Build-Off reality TV episodes and Ron is next up in 2005.

Here's Ron at home in Michigan with his Biker Build-Off bike, "Double Cross."

And here's the Boomer's Bike Night video - produced in Detroit City by Brad Bloch & Lyle Brous - Music by KISS

Fast forward to 2006 – Ron is rolling down the highway (at age 67) from Kansas City to Vegas in the cold rain with bike builder, Paul Yaffe and John Green after the Easy Rider Show. “You’ve gotta be tough,” says Ron. “I can put up with cold, but cold and wet is too much. I don’t have anything to prove anymore, so when our friend Bean’re had a bike breakdown, I rode with him in the truck for a hundred miles or so.”

Ron Finch launched his career back in the ‘60s about the same time that Arlen Ness and Dave Perewitz were starting to customize motorcycles.

“I was just doing my own thing,” said Ron. “I learned to pin stripe when I was a boy, living at home but spending a lot of time hanging out at Paul Hatton’s paint shop. I used to come home and pin stripe the refrigerator. I had a piece of glass that I used to pin stripe and then wipe off and pin stripe again. Later, I started striping for customers and working on their motorcycles. Until now, today, I can do anything with a bike – except, I don’t modify engines. That’s something Indian Larry did. On the other hand, I always encouraged Larry, and he was inspired to do a lot of metal work fabrication and metal sculptures by what he saw me doing.”

In 1969 - Ron built “Odin’s Axle,” which introduced the concept of asymmetrical motorcycle design. One side of the bike is completely different from the other side, including the front forks. Covering the bike’s sheet metal, he also introduced the 3-dimensional metal “rod work” patterns that have become his signature.

In 1970 - Odin’s Axle debuted at the Detroit Autorama in January 1970. Later that year by request, Odin’s Axle was exhibited at the Michigan Artists Exhibition in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the first motorcycle ever in a museum!

In 1971 - Motorcycle World Magazine named Odin’s Axle “Best U.S. Custom of the Year.” Restored in 2005, for Donna and Darryl Smith of Rochester, New York, Odin has recently traveled to shows and museums, including the Clinton Presidential Library in 2009.

Ron was a Rat’s Hole judge in the 70’s and 80’s. - Click bike images to enlarge.

In 1982 – Ron built “Aorta,” a custom 1970 Ironhead Sportster. The rods that make up the frame of “Aorta” were designed to flow towards the motor, the heart of the motorcycle like the main artery of the human heart. Ron also refers to this bike as his “suitcase motorcycle” because the frame is actually two-parts held together by the engine. It can be disassembled in three parts and literally be carried away in a suitcase. The rear fender houses the gas tank and is molded with flame tips and a “Frenched” license plate. The oil tank is a 1950’s aluminum cylindrical tank, modified to clear the one-off custom straight pipe exhaust. The front end is an old Harley JD Springer. The handlebars are custom made to eliminate the risers and stimulate a tiny windshield. The headlight is an unknown, purchased by Ron at an antique auction. The 1000 Cu. In. engine has polished cases, a Joe Hunt Magneto, S & S carb and Sifton cam. The air cleaner was hand formed in the shape of a heart with arteries made of metal rods. Leatherman of Flint, Michigan molded the leather seat in the shape of a human heart. The battery is incased in leather that has been dyed and molded to match the seat and the grips are braided in leather.

One Year After Serious Injury - Aorta was finished in the spring of 1982, one year after a serious motorcycle accident. The motorcycle Ron was riding was rear-ended by a drunk driver traveling 50 MPH. Ron suffered a crushed pelvis and a broken hip socket and doctors predicted that he would never walk again. Ron was walking and riding within three months!

In 1987 - Ron built “Loophole,” sourced from a 1973 Shovelhead – Evo Custom 96ci HD bagger. But after a long ride to Sturgis in 1989, Ron decided that he needed more power so he replaced the motor and added an S&S car and a Morris magneto. It features an exhaust system that loops through the cylinder chambers in the frame above the motor, a gas tank in the rear fender, and custom rod work over the front fender and floorboards. Like a loophole in the law, this custom motorcycle stretches the legal limits of imagination and creativity!
Loophole’s frame was machined with a milling machine in the neck and seat area for a layered look. Rod work forms the struts and wraps around the leather saddlebags. Chromed rods were used to create the headlight shroud and the front fender that is accented by blue stained glass facets. The seat mount, six-pack carrier, bag tops and footboards are chromed rod work for balance and contrast. Blue anodizing was done on the headlight; derby cover and shock mount covers. The blue theme was carried to the primary cover with the use of blue flexi-glass. The gas tank was built “Finch Style” into the rear fender. The oil tank was built like an old-style chrome cylinder with concave and convex ends. Finch finished off Loophole with a candy blue paint job with multi-colored blends on the rod work, with black to accent the layered frame.

In 1988 - Ron made his first trip to Europe with “Big Daddy” Karl Smith of Rat’s Hole Bike Shows to exhibit his bizarre 3-wheeler, “Trilogy” at bike shows in Essen, Germany and Paris, France. Trilogy is sourced from a 1971 Triumph Trident – 836cc and features triple gas tanks, triple rear fenders, triple exhaust, suspended handle bars, and a rare 5-speed transmission.

In 1993 – Ron created “Outspoken,” one of the first bikes in the US with 80-spoke wheels from Sweden. This would be Ron’s personal ride for the next six years. It features a 96ci S&S engine, chrome moly frame, gas tanks in the floor boards, and rod work fenders with stainless inserts painted in multi-colored candy paint by Finch.

The gas tank is in the floorboards are made from after-market Corvette exhaust covers! The filler cap is at the front of the frame. The covers also serve as exhaust guards toward the rear. The extended swingarm matches the frame with rod work between the tubes. It requires a 178 tooth belt, which gives the motorcycle an extra long wheel base. The shocks are early FLH mounted under the seat, providing a comfortable cushioned ride. The custom stitched leather seat and braided grips and cable covers were made by Leatherman of Flint, Michigan. The front fork is a stock H.D., with hand-made triple trees that are billet aluminum, machined at a 38 degree angle, making them parallel to the ground. These were made by Finchman, Chuck Kehoe. The headlight is hand-rolled into a cone shape and mounted on rod work between the trees. Finch used extruded aluminum to cover the oil tank and air cleaner. The bike has an overall “industrial look” with the black paint, stainless steel and aluminum. A special effect was achieved with tiny brass hands that hold the cables, made by jeweler, “Shamey” from Pennsylvania.

“This was the first motorcycle in the U.S. to have the large rear tire and the 80 spoke wheels,” said Ron. “Riding Outspoken is a whole different experience!”

In 1990 & 1993 – Ron made two more trips to Europe with Karl of the Rat’s Hole to exhibit bikes at the Essen Show. They also brought the bikes to Sweden and the Netherlands. The bikes chosen for the shows were “Aorta,” “Loophole” and “Outspoken.”

“I’ll never forget those trips,” said Ron. “We traveled all over Europe and drank beer in three different countries one day. It was before the Euro, which made it a mess trying to sort out the money – mostly coins. Me and Big Daddy went up in the Eiffel Tower in Paris together and we took the El train out into the countryside and had dinner. Another time, we were traveling for some reason with a guy named “Jumpin’ Jessie” who would literally blow himself up with dynamite. He was kind of a cool nut.

"We traveled up to Sweden, where they called him Yumpin’ Yessy. The first place we stopped was at the best clubhouse I have ever seen in my life. It was in Sofia and the club was Sofia Hogs. I still have the T-shirt they gave me. It was a place converted from an old horse farm with all of the stalls converted for use as custom bike building stalls. They had a party room, a fully equipped machine shop that all of the members could use, and a super-modern spray booth. They already had all of the emission laws over there that we are getting hit with now. I was almost ready to go over there to pursue a dream, because they were getting top money for their work over there.”

2005 - Competing with the top builders of today at the Biker Build-Off Finale in Las Vegas, Ron was awarded the “Biker Blacksmith” Award for extreme metal fabrication.
2006 - He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the V-Twin Biker’s Ball in Daytona Beach. He gratefully accepted the award, but assured the crowd that he has not finished building bikes.
2008 - He received the House of Kolor Prestigious Painter Award for the paint on his creation, “Finicky.”
2008 – Invited to display 12 of his best custom bikes in the in the Milwaukee Art Museum during the celebration of Harley Davidson’s 105th Anniversary and his METALife sculptures were sold in the Harley Museum store.

2008 to 2009 - Ron’s historic 1969 Panhead chopper, “Odin’s Axle” was exhibited in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas as part of a show that included many of the bikes that Tom Zimberoff wrote about in his books, “Art of the Chopper I” and “Art of the Chopper II.” His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and has inspired such headlines as “Michigan’s Mysterious Motorcycle Madman” (Ed Roth 1968), “The Fabulous Finch” (Cycle Guide 1969), “The King of French” (Custom Chopper 1973),”Finch Effect”(Bike Bible 1976), “King of Custom” (American Iron 1991), “Mad About Metal” (Supercycle 1995), “Michigan Magician” (Easyriders, Japan 1998), and “ Ron Finch is Nuts” (Easyriders 2004), “Finch Fest” (Easyriders 2007), “Got Finch?” (Tailgate 2008) and “Ron Finch Gets Finicky” (Barnett’s Magazine Oct. 2008).

His custom bikes have been appreciated in museums and art galleries, and in shows throughout the U.S. and in Germany, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Labeled as “too extreme” by some, the work of Ron Finch appropriately proclaims the freedom and individualism that is so often associated with the motorcycle lifestyle.

2011 - Ron's newest build is "Outsider." With all of these adventures behind him, Ron is currently showing off his first-ever side car bike, called “Outsider.”

It is an ultimate expression of his steel 3-dimensional rod work with the gas tank, oil tank, and radio hidden in the trunk. “There is a very good chance it will be at the Daytona Show,” he said… AND IT WAS!

Finch’s Custom Styled Cycles


  1. Great article M.J. . Ron is an artist who chooses to create motorcycle masterpieces. I have seen a lot of his work up close and you find it hard to walk away. Everywhere you look is something new to take in.

  2. I came across your page searching for someone..."jumpin Jessie" ....and it came up. I was told my biological father went by that name. Do you know his real name? My email is if you have any info on him pleaseeee let me know thanks

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