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Courtesan

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 was taking 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 the 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 so 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 24-carat gold.

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 lock-up clutch.

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 serve.”

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 me baby’.

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 few.” He 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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