“I fucking love chops – I chop everything.”
This is the first line I write in my notes when I meet Lloyd Williams, and as it sums up his whole thing. I arrive at his place in Bawtry on a sunny Wednesday afternoon to find him happily buzzing around in his garage making a set of pipes, with music blasting out, chopping everything.
He shakes my hand with a grin, turns the music down, and offers me a brew: the standard garage welcome. With a week off work and just a short time to go before Motorcycle Social, he’s got a good few jobs to do on his Halco-tuned XS650 to have it ready. After building a couple of Sportsters, switching around styles to suit whatever he felt like doing next, he started thinking about an XS, and this came up. He’s a lucky man. It’s actually a rare and desirable engine – the XS 650 motor was always a strong platform for tuning, and became the specialism of the late Tony Hall, hence the ‘Halco’ name. The company’s modifications included boring the cylinders out to 840cc, which in turn allowed high-ratio primary gears – five more teeth on the primary drive gear and three fewer on the clutch basket – resulting in a lower engine speed for the same power output, and a fat midrange. Hall also re-phased the crank from 360◦to270◦ to smooth out the inertia at TDC and BDC, and claw back the torque lost at these points. In short, it’s a beast. A flat tracker would give you his right leg for it.
But this build isn’t about engine tuning. Lloyd’s chatting and laughing, showing me his wiring diagram for the XS and comparing it to the neat relay panel made by a previous owner, an RAF guy who did a slick job on the electrics. More high-spec trickery landed in Lloyd’s hands and fed into that chop-loving, wire-stripping process. As we go out and look the bike over, he shows me a neat bit of tech of his own: the original frame’s been hardtailed and raked, so I ask by how much. “33 degrees”, he tells me. I ask him how he measures it, expecting him to produce some engineering tool that fixes on the forks or something. “Have you got an I-phone?” he says, “It’s an app”. He gets his phone out, opens the app, and placing the bottom edge of the phone on the sloping drive, he taps the screen. It reads 0◦. Then he puts the edge of the phone against a fork stanchion: the lower part of the screen is red, the upper white, and the line dividing them is level, like water in a tank. In the white portion it reads 33◦.Pretty neat.
The other bike he’ll be showing – a ’98 883 Sportster hardtail with a 6”-over springer front end – is already finished and sold to his mate Paul, who’s bringing it round soon for me to photograph. It was still Lloyd’s when we booked him in, but having been built and road-tested, it was sold on to make way for the next project. “When I build something, I ride it for like six months before I shift it on, y’know. Make sure it’s right.” Lloyd explains. When it arrives, it certainly looks right, like a well-sorted bike that gets ridden: it’s not spotless, and there’s the odd spot of corrosion here and there that tells of year-round use. “it’s the comfiest bike I’ve ever had”, declares Paul as he dismounts, obviously very satisfied with the ride. Lloyd is chuffed at this, too: I ask him later what he’s most proud of, and he says: “when I finished the seat… it looks like a really cool bike now.” He formed the base in fibreglass and handed it over to a local company, Doncaster Trimmers, for finishing: “I love those rolls; I said I want them really fat.” As we walk and talk around the bike, the tale of the build reveals that all the work has been done through Lloyd’s own network of family and friends: his wife made the battery cover from an old pair of jeans, Paul’s wife painted the tank, and a mate of theirs, Richard, made the frame for this 883, as for many of his friends’ bikes. It’s a good thing, in a time when many bikes are being ‘customised’ with standard aftermarket parts and high-spec components from well-known companies, to find someone working quietly (noisily) away in a small town, relying on local firms and people he knows to get the job done.
Paul’s Sportster has been converted to chain drive and geared down, which helps the less-than-lively 883 to pick up, as does stripping off all the unnecessary clutter. This one wears an American Metal Ironhead air filter and a set of open pipes by Lloyd. The tank is a repro Wassel – a trademark of his builds – and all the wiring has been hidden, another regular feature. He once told a guy who was looking the bike over: “if you can start it, you can have it”, then stood back and enjoyed his confusion and ultimate defeat, knowing that he couldn’t: there’s a row of switches fitted flush into a plate that follows the contours of the primary drive cover, but no indication of which does what. Also made by Lloyd are the sissy bar, with welded-in horseshoe, and rabbit ears to keep the whole thing as narrow as possible. There’s a scratch-built aluminium oil tank, too.
What really gives the bike its impressive stance is the 6” over springer front end, a proper 70s look. The forks hold a 21” Harley wheel from the same period with a single leading shoe setup, and I notice a brass “fuck you” dustcap made by TC Deathcat, which is a cunning bit of marketing by TC that seems to turn up everywhere. He gave me a set when I met him, and they’re going on my next project, too. The rear wheel and brake are 16” Sportster with a standard caliper, albeit with re-shaped mounts, beneath a cut-down, vintage Sumo mudguard. The tyre is an Excelsior, originally meant for a car; Paul laughs, describing it as “interesting” when you tip over its edge into a corner. All part of the chopper experience.
Lloyd got started in all this the same way as many others do – he first got the spanners out when he was a BMX kid. His dad is also into bikes, and there was welding gear around the place when Lloyd was growing up. He was naturally curious about the TIG equipment in the family garage, and used to ask: “Dad, can I have a play on this?” only to be told to “fuck off, you’ll waste my gas…” a decade or two later, though, both he and his brother Adam build and ride, so the passion for chops and metalwork seems to have rubbed off just the same.
Everybody builds for the love of it, but some also seek to make living from it – altogether a different venture – and I ask where Lloyd is on this scale. “I’ll build a Sportster and make a good profit on it,” he tells me, “and I can do three or four a year”, but there are no immediate plans to drop the day job and do this full-time. It’s a ‘bank of bike’ thing, I guess: do it because you love it, sure, but as time passes, the bikes, the garage full of parts, and the expertise accumulate to the point where you’re got a decent bit of material wealth behind you, as well as some valuable skills, without signing up for a pension plan.
I’ve been eyeing up the third bike here since I arrived, and it’s worth a mention: a scruffy 1200 Sportster with a Fat Boy front end. It’s a good look, this combination. It’s lean in some ways, massive in others. Lloyd’s brother has a similar bike, that also caught my eye when I met him. The XS and Paul’s springer both easily deserve their places at Motorcycle Social, but this is the one I’d like most as a daily ride. Lloyd laughs and explains the reason for its creation:” I’d just built a little skinny one – I’ll build a fat cunt.” It has the same repro Wassel tank, Fat Boy front end and wheel, homemade bars and pipes, and a standard frame with shorter shocks from a Shovelhead. The wiring’s been stripped out and an S&S carb with Crime Scene air filter fitted. As with many builds, there are parts that were “just lying around”, in this case the rear mudguard and light unit. No fussing around, just a skinny-hefty, fast-looking bike made from whatever was to hand.
Later, as more friends arrive and the cold beer is fetched, I realise that Lloyd’s having such a good time with all the company that he’s downed tools for the day. I am too, but I’ve done a corporate photo job before coming here, and so need to get home and crack on. It’s a shame to go: I’ve got the photos and words that I need, but I’m buzzing lightly from the beer I’ve had, the bikes are great, and I’ve had a blast chatting to Lloyd and Paul. Both are as welcoming as you could wish for. I’ve noticed all day, too, that neighbours passing us on the sunny street – with their kids and ice cream and loaded buggies – all stop and say hello. They kind of stick for a moment in the happy atmosphere. It’s stuck to me, too, as I drive off across long, flat fields in the warm early evening.
Oh, and when I see the XS a couple of weeks later, he’s nailed it. Right down to the paint.