Now my geography isn’t too good but I’ve seen enough
of the Eurovision Song Contest to know that the United Arab Emirates
isn’t in Europe, so I was more than a little surprised when
I saw a bike from Abu Dhabi while wandering around the European
Championship of Custom Bike Building in Germany last year.
Then when I bumped into the builder Mario Kyprianides, who’s
originally from Cyprus, I got even more confused - until Mario
filled me in on his background.
“My parents moved to Abu Dhabi in the late ‘70s when
I was a youngster and now that’s home for me but I still
like to get back to Europe whenever I can, and as I knew the show
place I specifically flew the bike over to take part.
“The bike bug struck when I was small and as an eight-year old I
used to get my auntie, who lived in Wolverhampton, to send me copies
of English bike magazines and I got my first bike when I was just
eight years old. I’ve been building ever since.”
To confuse matters even more, the story of this bike starts in
the US - Sturgis to be exact. Mario was there for the rally and
met up with an American friend called Warren who was running a
Shovelhead-engined traditional style Bobber at the time. And he
was offered the chance to ride it. Having only run Evos and Twin
Cams before, the sound and feel of that Shovelhead had a profound
effect on him.
“The sound is, as you know, quite unique with that ‘potato,
potato’ sound that everyone wants,” says Mario remembering
that moment. “That’s due to heavier flywheels than
the newer bikes, so you can idle them slower and get that sound.
And of course the torque that they have at any rpm is great to
see when you ride behind one. You can hear them pulling away up
a hill, while you – on a new bike – have to start down
changing to keep up. I decided there and then that I needed to
have a Shovel as my next bike.”
Deciding that you’re going to have a Shovelhead as your next
bike might seem a touch ambitious for most folks, but then Mario
isn’t like most people. Over in Abu Dhabi he runs his own
chop shop – Chopper Kultcha.
In serendipitous moment Warren happened to mention that he had
a set of brand new Shovelhead engine cases, which he’d bought
in ’83 but had never got round to using, and before he had
chance to change his mind Mario had his cheque book out and his
hands on the cases.
Now a set of cases might be useful as a doorstop but you need
a bit more to make a motor but Mario has plenty of contacts in
US custom scene. It’s not like the UAE is overrun with custom
parts distributors, so he has to buy in a lot of parts from the
good ol’ US of A.
One of those contacts was BB Racing in New Orleans. Not only
did Mario ship the cases to the shop, he also went along himself
he could get hands-on with the engine build.
Knowing he was going to be using this engine in a bike to showcase
his shop, he went out with a shopping list that made his bank manager’s
eyes water. First stop was S&S for a set of flywheels, rods,
3-5/8in cylinders to give him a 93ci displacement, 8.5:1 pistons,
heads and Super-E carb. Then it was on to Andrews for a cam, Rowe
for the valves and finally Jims for the rockers, lifters and pushrods.
Once Mario had got the completed motor back to his shop in Abu
Dhabi he set about designing a frame to hold it. Paying homage
to the popular origins of the custom motorcycle, the frame combines
wishbone-style front downtubes with a three-inch stretched and
a modest goose-neck: there’s no way this would be mistaken
for a anything but a one-off. Having got the specs down on paper,
he sent the drawings off to Maximum Metalworks in Canada, to make
it a reality.
To keep the Old School feel of the build going, in keeping with
the character of the motor, a two-inch over Springer fork was ordered
up from Custom Chrome and bolted up to the frame. To get the project
rolling a call was placed to Sam at Ride Wright Wheels for a set
of Fat Daddy spoked wheels, making the most of the mix-and-match
service offered by Ride Wight’s, and he’s detailed
them up with the spokes copper-plated and the nipples plated with
Mario realised that there’s no point spending so much time
on the wheels and then not showing them off, so he’s used
a combined rotor and sprocket on the rear with a HHI four-piston
calliper and a second HHI calliper and disc on the front.
The same detailing was then carried through the rest of the bike,
although it’s probably worth pointing out that the style
was already predetermined: “When I decided to build the Shovel
motor, I wanted to use copper oil lines and brass fittings. Then
I made the wheels look like that.”
He’s got a thing for wingnuts – as you might tell at
a glance – and knew he wanted to use them to hold the flanged
fuel tank of his own design together, and to exaggerate the look
he used brass on one side and stainless on the other, further emphasised
by contrasting brass wingnuts against a stainless steel flange,
and vice versa. He continues, “after that, I really liked
the look of brass so I started to use it more and more.”
And, if that wasn’t enough, he then set about demonstrating
his metalworking skills, putting a dimple into each side of the
brass and stainless steel tank before moving on to the relatively
simple task of fabricating the matching rear mudguard and the oil
tank, hidden beneath the gearbox.
Where the oil tank would normally be found, under the seat, is
just a small box to house the bike’s battery.
That massive chunk of aircraft-grade 6061 billet, tucked behind
the motor when viewed from the timing side, is the hydraulic end
cover of a Baker 6-into-4 kicker gearbox, which is connected to
the motor by 2in Tech Cycle open primary belt, linked by a Bandit
The task of painting the finished bodywork was entrusted to Robert
Pradke back in the USA. All the parts were packaged up and sent
off with instructions: “vivid black with a very light reddish
metallic that you can only see under direct sunlight, and then
there has to be gold leaf and pinstriping”. The joy of working
with people you know is that they know how you think and Robert
completely understood what Mario was after, and that’s just
what he got.
Once the final build was underway, Mario started on a suicide
shift for the bike. The shifter’s pivot is concealed by an old
brass coin from a former brothel in Deadwood that carries the inscription ‘Good
for all night’ and this gave Mario the idea he needed for
the bike’s name.
Courtesan was originally used to refer to an escort or high-class
prostitute, who generally catered to wealthy people. “The
name fitted the style of the bike one-hundred percent” Mario
says with a laugh, “being retro, high-class and ready to
With the name decided, the Paul Cox air-ride sprung seat’s
thick leather cover was tooled by Duane Ballard in the US to feature
a courtesan, and the professional ‘lady of the night’ theme
continues to the belt drive, which carries the motto ‘ride
And ride it Mario does: “It’s a beautiful ride that
turns heads everywhere and above all you can never replace that
Shovel sound with anything else …”
It might have been his new ride when we caught up with him but
it’s only the latest in a long line of machines that have
been built by Mario since ’92 or thereabouts, his business
growing steadily over the years. It not a huge motorcycle market,
he reckons, but most of the people that buy a Harley over there
will modify it in one way or another.
“I think over the years people couldn’t understand why a bike
built by me would cost more than a Range Rover Sport, but as time
has gone by, the people that get in to it and want show bikes or
high-dollar customs know why they are spending their money.
“Unlike everyone’s misinterpretation, most of my clients
are not Sheiks or Royals – although I have worked with a
tells us, “The general client base is ex-pats with a high
disposable income… I’m very fortunate to get the chance
to work with things that in other countries would be rare or non-existent.
I’m also lucky enough to pick my clients and the projects
that I work on: if I don’t like it, I won’t do it!
I like to push them away from what is out in the mainstream and
into more unique or what something that stands from the crowd.”
With his intricate Courtesan, he’s certainly got that.
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