A Touching Tribute to Three Generations
There are bike builders, and there are great bike builders. Steve Zagorski from Long Island, NY is clearly one of the greats. I met Steve almost ten years ago when researching bike builders for my book. What blew me away with his bikes was that nearly everything was fabricated from scratch. His elegant frames, forks, and tanks were unique enough, but the real eyecatcher was his choice of engines. Steve adapted industrial engines, like Kohler engines, to his many designs; ranging from board track racers to bobbers. The bikes are exceptional around-town machines, capable of effortlessly exceeding speed limits while being comfortable and easy to ride. Further examination shows the wealth of custom-made components...the details are endless.
Steve's latest project is certainly a culmination of all his artistic and engineering skills, but with one very special story behind its creation. It is a tribute to the love of a child. Please read his story below and contact me for how to get in touch with Steve if you want to learn more.
Big Z Special by Steve Zagorski
I built my first bike, a 1966 Triumph Bonneville 650 Chopper, within the attic of a frat house during the winter of 1975 while attending college. As a result, I was hooked for life. From then on, I have built or restored over 26 motorcycles. This became such a passion, that back in 1995, I quit my job as a successful VP of marketing and sales, for a large medical software company in favor of taking a sales rep job in the power sports industry.( Boy was my dad pissed at me.“ You’re doing what?!”
Over the next 15 years, five of my creations were featured within various magazines.
Two were actually featured in a book, Discovering the Motorcycle, authored by Armand Ensanian in 2016.
Of all the bikes I have built, this particular bike is very special and will forever remain
close to my heart. It’s a bike with a story that actually connects three generations. That being myself, my son Dan, and my grandson Jack.
Back in 2008, my wife Jean and I came to the realization that our son Daniel, had
become one of the many nationwide to become addicted to opiates at the age of 24. He had been straight and productive throughout high school, but in his early twenties, was unfortunately introduced to drugs most likely by some of his peers.
During this time, I found my prior enthusiasm and creativity in regard to building
another bike, came to a screeching halt. The wind was taken out of my sails, and I found myself paddling in a stagnant sea of frustration and despair.
It is a long story that preoccupied eight plus years of our lives. Jean and I found
ourselves immersed and drowning in total misery and despair watching our only son taken over by the evils of addiction.
Moving forward and bypassing five of those years, in 2013, Dan arrived home following one year in rehab. We recognized an improved change that indicated Daniel was finally on the road to recovery.
Since Dan had been around motorcycling his entire life, and still had a strong interest, he proposed, and I agreed, that a father and son build would help keep him focused and on track, while at the same time, repair our relationship that had been drastically affected by his addiction.
We initiated our project by fabricating a frame. Its style would resemble a combination of an early teens “Board Tracker” and early 30’s Harley VL “Bobber”. I’d already designed and built versions of a Board Track style frame for my prior “Old Field Motorcycle Mfg.” project. This frame would utilize some of those styling ques but would have a lower seating position, increased rake and utilize an 18” rear wheel and 19” front as opposed to the 21” wheels used on my prior Board trackers. In conjunction with the frame, I designed the short girder fork assembly which would utilize a set of billet aluminum triple trees and leading links that I had previously designed and incorporated on my “Old Field” builds. Once we mocked up a rolling chassis, Dan and I came to the conclusion that the prior steel tubular fork legs proved too short due to the increased rake on this particular frame. This necessitated a redesign with a 3” additional length. Instead of tubular steel, the legs are now five access cut, CNC milled aircraft aluminum. While at it, I increased the fork width by 2”. Both the frame and the forks are “One Off” items. The entire fork assembly required over ten separate blueprints that I drafted to cover all the necessary components.
The frame was then finished. Most of the fork components were machined and finished with the exception of the legs. This is where we got sidetracked… my machinist landed a number of government contracts, thus forcing the fork leg work to be put on hold. During this time, Dan had actually landed a job at the same machine shop. My friend John the owner, offered to teach Dan how to take my original hand drawn blueprints and convert them to CNC drawings, as time allowed. That was until Dan went off the wagon and started using again. Subsequently, he went back into rehab for another year and the frame ended up hanging in the rafters of my shop.
Upon Dan’s completion of rehab and return home, it looked like we were on the right track once again and about to pick up where we left off the year before. Dan met a girl, got engaged, and they ultimately had a son. Jack Vincent Zagorski was born on September 20th 2015. (The day that my wife and I celebrated our 35th anniversary). We felt truly blessed and Dan beamed as a proud loving father. Life was good again. Things were going so well that on July 4th 2016, I looked out the window and couldn’t help but have a big smile as I watched the two of them play with 10 month old Jack. That evening over dinner I told Dan how proud I was of him.
Later that same evening, I was tinkering on my Panhead when Dan came out to the workshop to chat with me. Afterwards, as he went back to the house, I remember looking up at that frame hanging in the rafters and thought to myself “maybe it’s time we got back on that build project”.
Little did I know that was to be our last conversation and that the devil would come calling that same night. We would lose Dan to an overdose of heroin mixed with a lethal dose of fentanyl. His death was especially heartbreaking after being straight, on the right track, and having a son the doctors said he would never be able to conceive. Over the course of the next year and a half, there were multiple times that I almost cut up the frame out of anger, frustration and despair. On one occasion, I even came close to selling it.
Then out of the blue, I received a call from John, the machinist. After five years of unforeseen delays, the fork legs were finally finished. He wanted me to come over and get them. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said, “You owe nothing except a promise that you will finish the bike that you started with Dan”.
That was the spark I needed to finally complete the vision we shared years before. It would soon become a legacy to honor my son. The tank graphics are “Big Z Spl.” because that was the nickname Dan’s friends referred to him. He loved the nickname so much that he had it tattooed on his arm. The top right side on the gas tank also has a small graphic “1 of Ones”. Here’s why….
The reason is that I had designed and built the frame, gas tank, forks, seat, handlebars, timing cover, exhaust, battery box, fender struts, primary plate, chain idler arm adjusters, electrical box, gauge cups and over 45 brackets. Additionally, the heat shields and also the chain guards. (made from sections of an old dog cage). Each of these components are separately “1 of one”. Then there’s the transmission, which is a CCI 6 speed prototype for 1964 and earlier Harley models. I had a hand in the final design and was gifted the tranny as a result. Due to CCI’s financial crisis it never went into production, and thus this prototype is also, “1 of one”. The motor is also “1 of one”, considering it started off as a stock 625CC, 20HP Kohler industrial V Twin. That was until Julian at Mid-West Super Cubs (MWSC) bored and stroked it out to 854cc’s.
The cylinder heads were ported and utilize high performance small block Chevy valve train components. Additionally, the heads were swapped front to rear which changed the exhaust ports to the right side which is more in line with a traditional V-twin motorcycle engine. I also grinded, sanded, polished and painted the cast MWSC valve covers. Lastly, the engine utilizes a MWSC ram air style intake manifold. When finished, it dyno’ed out to 50 HP at 4300 RPM and 65 Ft lbs. of torque at 3500 RPM. Right smack between an 883 and 1200 Sportster. That is until you consider it hits 60 Ft lbs. of torque @ 2500 Rpm which puts it comparatively in the ball park of an 80 Cu. inch Evo Big twin. Considering the bike weights approximately 340 Lbs. it should be a blast, especially when compared to a modern Sportster which weighs in at a minimum of 470 Lbs.
Note: The dyno figures were attained with a 38mm Bendix carb. The finished bike now sports a 38mm high velocity Lectron carb, so I’m expecting a decent level of improvement from the original dyno figures.
It’s not hard to notice the various brass parts. However not all of them are actually brass. The Bikers Choice wheel rims and hubs, kicker spring, throttle plate on the carb, Avon grips, upper gas tank mounts, forward seat mount, rear master cylinder cover, headlight mount, various pieces of the Kuryakyn mirror, Motion Pro cable separator clamps, primary drive front sprocket cover, and clutch spring were all transparent brass powder coated. Furthermore, the stepped exhaust was Jet Hot ceramic coated.
Lastly are the multitude of subtle details, such as that the frame “seat post”, seat shocks, rear fender struts, and rear section of the primary support plate which are all on the same angle. Or, that the front portion of the seat mimics the curvature of the gas tank and frame.
My grandson Jack ( now at 3 ½ years old ) helped me do various things from drilling holes ( his favorite pass time) to actually turning wrenches throughout the mock up and final build, including the final polishing of the various aluminum parts. Despite his young age he has already proved to be quite a natural and is astonishingly accomplished with tools and their usage.
All three of us had a part in building this bike. Dan was definitely “1 of One” and Jack and I are each “1 of One”, and certainly the bike is “1 of one” as outlined. Thus, the graphic on the gas tank.
Regretfully Jack will never actually know his father other than maybe experiencing a fleeting memory. Hopefully this bike will help bring Dan’s legacy into focus as the years go by and Jack embarks on manhood.
As for me, I’m back under full sail, on a straight course and on a good tac with the wind in my face. There will always be those emotional moments that creep up on you when you least expect. Such as experienced while writing this.
In closing I hope there will be more projects between a young man and his grandfather. Whatever comes, I know that Dan will be watching and smiling as Jack continues on his life journey.