For years I dreamt of a cross-country road trip on my chopper when I retired from the Navy back to my hometown. Fellow photographer and ChopCult Contributor Liam Kennedy and I talked about us making this trip at length. He made his journey happen, and so did I, albeit slightly modified. I came into town with my two kids in the car and my chopper on a trailer. Of course this would be right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic so the riding was great but socially there wasn’t much to do. I had packed all of my camera gear and was hoping by the time I got there we would have flattened the curve but as we all know we’re still rounding that corner a year later. While I was there I reached out to a few people about meeting up (practicing safe social distancing, of course) and as usual Lisa came in clutch. I had also reached out to Max about meeting up but I think the call from Lisa really sealed the deal and I got the invite to check out 4Q, which I can assure you, is located in Oakland. Funny enough, Max’s shop is just a couple of blocks from where my old house was and I knew the building well from living in the neighborhood.
Max is somewhat of a motorcycle counter culture artifact collector and the best way I could describe his shop is that it’s like a museum exhibit. Sort of like Wheels Through Time in Maggie Valley, you’re always on the verge of being over-stimulated, at least I was. Everything in the shop has a story and Max, one of the greatest story tellers I have ever met, shared a few with me. I couldn’t be more grateful.
After talking for a while the topic of shooting a bike came up, which was the purpose of my visit, at least officially. The bike that really caught my attention, the one that I wanted to share with you, the ChopCult reader, is at first glance a humble period custom, but if you peel back the onion and really scrutinize the details, this understated 1969 XLCH may just be the archetype of the Northern California Custom.
Sportsters, particularly in NorCal, cemented their place in both outlaw and popular culture in the 60’s and 70’s and were a popular platform for both performance and customization. If you don’t believe me watch the first episode of Then Came Bronson, which aired in 1969 and prominently features a 1969 XLH riding from San Francisco down the West Coast, and you’ll see what I mean.
One day Max’s neighbor told him about an old Harley being sold at an estate sale just over in Berkeley. He didn’t have a lot of details to go on, but figured it would be worth checking out so he and Taj went to check things out. When they got there he learned that it was an estate auction so Max asked what the current bid was and placed his bid and waited. He wasn’t given a lot of information on the bike up front, but it was complete and clean. It wasn’t until he won the auction and the paperwork was done that he received all the documentation on the bike that he found out the motor had been overhauled by Hannan’s, a shop located in Hayward that had been in business since 1956 (as of this writing it just recently closed). Hannan’s was known for building fast bikes back in the day. It was obvious that the bike had been well cared for. The paint was done by Horst, a legend, who has been painting custom motorcycles in the Bay Area since 1970. Flip through any Easyriders Magazine from the ‘80’s and you’ll see some of Horst’s work. The paint has held up well over the years, which is further proof of a well cared for and loved motorcycle.
Max didn’t do much to the bike, as he wanted to preserve the history, so he made just little changes as he rode it around. The gauges were removed to clean up the cockpit area and a Superior S bend pipe was carefully fitted to get the exhaust tucked up behind the shock. It’s a subtle touch that doesn’t jump out at you but lends to the overall sleekness of this XLCH. The finned air cleaner was used to match the design of the cam cover. The Bates seat is an original and the Sportster rides on the locally preferred 18” rear and 21” front steel rim combo with 4” over 33.4” front tubes. The stance is classic NorCal sportster without being a caricature of a "Frisco Chopper ''. There are no future modifications planned for the Sportster.
The generation of bikers who loved and sometimes feared these machines are being replaced by people that came up in the Evolution era, and now the myth and legend is being replaced with derogatory terms like “half a Harley''. Most of us that have ridden an Ironhead, one that actually ran well anyways, have fond memories of it. They’re damn fast, feel even faster but at times they can be cantankerous.
The years of skateboarding and riding choppers have taken their toll on Max’s body and one thing about kick only Sportster he'll tell you is that they’ll humble you. Sportster knee is definitely a thing, when it kicks back on you you’re going to feel it for a few days. Not to mention that one time the magneto came loose and jumped a tooth on the Bay Bridge and he had to push it the rest of the way, to quote Max “That was intense”. To quote an old greybeard, “On an old Ironhead every ride is earned, not given.”
Despite that it’s one of Max’s favorite bikes for joy rides or running errands. Sometimes people are surprised to see Max ripping across town on an old Ironhead when he’s got the Holy Grail of big twins (a pre-unit Ironhead if you will) at home. I’m guessing they’ve never ridden a sorted out Ironhead. All I can tell them is "Well, hang in there".
I’d like to thank Max for meeting up with me, all the great stories and doing the shoot and would also like to thank Lisa and ChopCult for their continued support!-Derek
Owner / Location: Max Schaaf, Oakland, CA
CC member: 4Q69
Bike Name: Shorty
Make and Model: 1969 XLCH Stock Frame 4" over, 33.4 mm frontend :-)
Chassis mods: just paint
Tire/wheel 18", 21" steel rims
Fav Thing: It was cheap at a garage sale, it's a blast to ride, it's unmolested and always been in the Bay Area.
Other mods: paint by local legend "Horst", the high pipe, original bates seat
Riding story: one day the magneto came loose and jumped a tooth on the bay bridge. had to push it the whole way. that was intense.
Be sure to check out Max's blog and give him a follow on Instagram.
Derek Sikes / @shitcreeknopaddle / @intheweedsphotography / @birdneckcycle1984
All black and white photos were shot on film, home processed and scanned. Special thanks to Liam Kennedy at Decorum Studios in Nashville, TN, for the photo edits.