Having eight-thousand pounds of steel crush your legs is something that would almost certainly stop the average biker from ever ripping down the highway on a chopper again. As gruesome as you can imagine, this happened to local rider Shawn Holbrook a couple of years ago.
The news of the incident scared the hell out of his friends and sent waves of concern through the local motorcycle community. Don’t worry, there’s good news. Through surgeries, therapy, and determination, Shawn is now walking again and even finished building the menacing shovelhead chopper you’re looking at right now.
Can you explain what happened with the accident?
Shawn Holbrook: The shortest way to describe it is that I was working at this fabrication shop and an inexperienced apprentice was operating a crane. There was a pile of four 2,000 pound I-beams that he tipped over on top of me that crushed my legs from the knees down. I got very lucky because there were two 4x4 blocks of wood where I was standing that stopped them from completely chopping my legs off.
How long did it set you back?
SH: I was in the hospital and nursing home for forty-five days and couldn’t walk for three months. It’s going on two years now. I’m still doing physical therapy and have two herniated discs, so I’ve only been able to ride my bike a few times since. In fact, I was right in the middle of building this when it happened, so I had to finish it with two leg braces and a walking cane.
What’s it like riding this thing through the streets of Pittsburgh?
SH: It’s basically a fucking nightmare. For one, it’s a ninety-six inch motor with a foot clutch. The handlebars are roughly ten inches wide. Whenever I ride with other people, I usually try to tell someone that if we have to stop on a hill, bump your front tire up against my rear so I can use your brakes.
How did you originally get into bikes and where did you find this shovelhead?
SH: I lived in Pittsburgh for a few years but went home to where I grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, where my mom convinced me to get a motorcycle. She said, “Why get a car, just get a motorcycle.” So, I found a Honda Shadow 750 that I later hard tailed with the help of others. That was my first chopper. Then I started trading bikes, eventually picking up an ironhead before getting this shovelhead from Shaun Kostek in New Kensington years ago. It was my first shovelhead and the same roller I’m using now. I had never kickstarted a bike before, let alone rode a foot clutch. As you can imagine, it took me forever to get it home.
What’s all involved with the motor?
SH: It’s almost entirely S&S at this point—a ninety-six-inch stroker motor with ported and polished heads that’s in the neighborhood of one-hundred horsepower. The transmission has an Andrews gear set and main shaft. I’m using a Cycle Electric generator. Basically, the only OEM Harley part left is the transmission case.
As far as the rest of the build, what other work was involved?
SH: The tank was painted by a buddy of mine in California, Taylor Crawford. I made the exhaust and molded the frame and fender with metal and lots of grinding and blending. When I was working at Roll On Cycle, Phil painted the frame and fender, and someone else there did the bondo work. Love Ear Art in Japan made the custom gas cap. Renegar in Las Vegas made the twisted chrome shift arm and had a glassblower make the knob for it. The trees were machined by a guy in Italy. I think they were originally from an XS650, so there was an issue with the riser spacing. I used handlebars from Detroit Moto that I cut and narrowed to fit. The fork tubes and lowers were a mix of Kayaba and Showa, so they had to be massaged together to work. I made my own rebound springs and fork stops, so now it functions as a decent front end.
Are there any fun stories since you’ve started riding again?
SH: When I was riding with some friends this year, one of the nuts came off a plug wire. It started running on one cylinder before dying off. Nick Miller conveniently had a bread tie with the little metal wire in it. That held it down and was conductive. It fired up and made it home, but I forgot about it when I was later riding through the Southside during the recent protests. The cops were blocking off all of the alleyways, and my bike died after I couldn’t get out. Eventually, I lifted my seat and realized the nut that was holding down my negative terminal had broken off. Then I remembered the bread tie, so I broke half of it off to wrap around my ground wire. It somehow fired right up. That little bread tie wire saved me both times.
Check out the rest of Shawn's feature in Pittsburg Moto Issue 008, which is available now!
S&S / HARLEY-DAVIDSON SHOVELHEAD
Built by SHAWN HOLBROOK / Instagram
Words by KURT DISERIO
Photos by ALEXA DISERIO