Duane Ballard's addiction to all things kitschy, creepy and retro is well known among his close friends. The Rat Fink back piece. The Herman Munster armpit tattoo. Revell models. Star Trek trivia. The slivers of dead cow all over his man cave. Equal parts Henry Ford, Henry Rollins and John Henry, ODB is a crazy cat.
DB's first hand-built death trap was the infamous Funkenstein. This gleaming digger with the chrome girder fork, groovy casket tank and fire-breathing CB750 mill has graced the pages of magazines on three continents, and established the leathercrafter as a serious bike builder in his own right. Following up such a wild ride wouldn't be easy, but a rivalry with Kutty Noteboom—another fan of Choppetown's Jive District—provided the inspiration both friends needed to give their oeuvre a new direction.
To keep their build-off lively, Duane and Kutty established some ground rules early on:
Each bike would feature a frame and fork built by the legendary digger maestro Freddy Hernandez
Both bikes would be christened with a name swiped from a teenager's lexicon of sexual double entendres
When I saw Duane's Freddy-built frame for the first time, I dubbed it and Kutty's Shovel-powered sibling the homoerotic lawn darts from space. Their long, lean profiles, monocoque top tube/fuel cells and razor-thin cockpits were outlandish, and just what both builders had dreamed of. The race was on.
The triangular monocoque top tube on Duane's Pink Taco holds over three gallons of fuel. Fuel that shoots out of the vented pop-up gas cap every time Duane stabs the super-powerful Hawg Halter front brakes. To minimize this dick-sizzling shower, Duane only tops off the Taco to two-thirds full. The rebuilt but essentially bone stock CB750 motor gets about 100 miles to a tankful, so its range is more than acceptable for a bike so wild.
The curved triangle beneath the seat and behind the quad carbs is the oil tank. Duane and his friend Alex Cardone fashioned this section with four pieces of hand-cut sheet metal, and welded it air tight at S&M BMX in Santa Ana. The fuel tank was fabbed in a similar fashion, but was crafted with a single sheet of 16-gauge steel. Duane accomplished this feat by first making a cardboard pattern, just as he's done a thousand times for customers' chopper seats. Cardboard, Duane has learned, is easier to tweak and cheaper to replace when screw-ups occur. Once Duane was happy with the fit of his four-sided fuel cell, Courtney Hallowell contributed tips and technology. Courtney is an old hot rodder and desert car fabricator, so his expertise was invaluable.
While Duane and friends did extensive shade-tree fab work on the Taco's chassis, a local Honda mechanic set about building its polished CB750 mill in the shade of his cluttered garage. Dennis Trudelle from Hemet, CA, is a stocky man who knows more than can be told about resurrecting and maintaining stock Hondas. Not all Hondas, mind you—just CB750s from '69 to '85. As Dennis will tell you, before that they didn't exist, and after that they didn't matter.
Because Duane's vision for his Honda differed immensely from the factory that gave birth to it, Dennis wasn't in charge of engine cosmetics—if Honda didn't do it, Dennis doesn't get it. The job of polishing fell to the hands of a man named Geronimo, the best kept secret in SoCal customizing. In a filthy little shop five miles south of Duane's home, Geronimo sanded and buffed and polished every surface of the Pink Taco's motor components to a mirror finish. The process took weeks and cost hundreds of dollars, but it was worth it. When Duane delivered the parts to Dennis for final assembly, Mr. Trudelle was speechless, a state anyone who has commissioned the ex-Marine's services will tell you is very rare, indeed.
With everything now on deck—the Freddy frame with Sonny Boy paint, the Dennis-built mill and all associated bits and pieces—it was time for final assembly. Duane gave himself three weeks to accomplish this task before the Pink Taco's unveiling at Las Vegas Bike Fest in early October, a steady target with little pressure, or so it seemed. Then the coils arrived.
Staring at the neon-pink, high-tensile steel phallus before him with one green coil in each hand, Duane realized no bracket for these essentials had been considered during the dry build. Never one to be bested by a mere machine, Duane found a scant two-and-a-half spare inches beneath the breathers where the coils could hide. A trip to the Murrieta scrap yard yielded a 1-inch wide x 1/4-inch thick strap of 6061 alloy from which Duane fashioned a rudimentary coil bracket. A visit to his friend Maximum Bob at Intense Bicycle Co. in Temecula provided the TIG welding Duane needed to dodge his brain fart in the eleventh hour, and one potential headache was avoided. With spark solved, Duane moved on to fire.
Because the quad carbs on his bike seemed well north of the petcock, Duane logically assumed an electric fuel pump and pressure regulator might be required. Fair enough, but where to put such a contraption? Why, inside the hand-made, mirror-polished wiring box behind the cylinders, of course. The box Duane and Alex fashioned for this purpose is beautiful, and provided roughly the same cubic volume as a small shoe box. Unfortunately the fuel pump, pressure regulator, fuel line, key block, light switches, starter relay and voltage regulator had the same footprint as three of Duane's own 13 Charlies. Roadblock number two appeared in Duane's nightmares as the quintessential blivet: 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. What next?
After considerable fidgeting with his fuel pump and electrical Rubik's Cube, Duane estimated that the former gizmo wouldn't be needed. This epiphany freed up more than enough room inside the stainless-steel light box, and the race raged on.
Kutty's Plum Smuggler eventually beat Duane's Pink Taco to the first test firing, but both friends rode side by side down the Vegas Strip for their double digger debut at Dino's Bar. It was a glorious occasion, and many friends and fellow builders were there to enjoy the show. The next day Kutty and Duane met Wes Drelleshak in the Nevada desert to shoot for Street Chopper magazine. With less than ten shakedown miles under its belt, the Pink Taco performed flawlessly at its media debut. The same could not be said for Kutty's finnicky Shovel-powered sex machine, but the friends pooled their talents to make sure both bikes delivered. Duane and his Pink Taco were riding a high all weekend until Bike Fest judges announced the winner in the metric custom class: a South-Beach style Hyabusa with neon lights and a chrome-plated mega stretch swingarm. Duane was disappointed with the results of the bike show, but he wasn't surprised. You know what they say about pink tacos: If they smell like fish, eat all you wish. If they smell like cologne, leave them alone. That Hyabusa had Axe Body Spray dripping all over it.
Don't sweat it, Duane—your Pink Taco tastes mighty sweet.