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Just a couple of dirty old bikes

It seems, for whatever reason, that motorcycles are cool with celebrities once more, as evidenced by the likes of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and now, even, David Beckham riding around on custom H-Ds. I’ve thought about this a lot and come to the conclusion, why shouldn’t they? I mean, if I had the sort of spare change they have I wouldn’t hesitate to run out and commission someone to build me the bike of my dreams. Please don’t say I should build it myself, I have the mechanical aptitude of a gold fish.

So we can conclude that celebrity equals big money custom builds. Well what about a celebrity that’s built his own customs and for not a lot of money either?

The celebrity in question? Huggy Leaver.

Okay, so you might not recognize the name straight away but if you’ve ever seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking barrels, you’ll have seen him. He’s also popped up in Eastenders and in the movies Sommers Town and Freebird. Oh, and he’s appeared in print adverts for Warr’s Harley-Davidson. I think that qualifies as celebrity, don’t you?

Unlike some of the ‘names’ who are riding around on Milwaukee’s favourite export because it’s trending in OK magazine this month, Huggy has been a life-long biker. And one who’s been chopping bikes nearly as long as he’s been riding them.

“I’ve always been into bikes,” Huggy explained to me. “I’ve got a scar from when I crashed a scooter aged 12. To me Castrol R is the best smell in the world. I always loved speedway as a kid and that led on to the flat track styling of my bikes and then hill climbers and bobbers that I like.”

However, there’s the bit in between being an accident prone 12-year-old and riding a bobbed Flathead to deal with first to get an insight into how his tastes came to be formed and, in particular, the appeal of world-worn, well-aged patina.

“There was an old group of dispatch riders out of Shepherds Bush in London known as 666 Squadron who started the original streetfighter/mad Max style of bike building back in the ‘80s and I used to see their bikes about and just wanted one too. Me and an old mate, Dave Hurley, bought an old CB900 and basically stripped and ratted it,” says Huggy by way of explanation as to why his current rides don’t have the pristine paint and polished chrome you’d expect of a showbiz Harley.

“Then I moved onto a GSXR 750 which featured in the video for Iron Maiden’s ‘Here to Eternity’. That bike had twin headlamps mounted real high and that was influenced by Andy Sparrow, a friend of mine who drew the Blood Runners cartoon. Lots of people will claim to have started the streetfighter movement because they built bikes like those in the cartoon, I won’t but I was among the first. Though we were the first of the rat bike riders ‘cause we used to matt black the fighters we built ‘cause it was cheap. Every bike I’ve ever done has been dirty, that’s how I like my bikes and my women,” he chuckled as he told that last part.

Those early rat bikes evolved over time through use and wear and the same is true of Huggy’s Flathead. It actually began 15 years ago when he had a clean ’46 Flathead that he suddenly needed to sell to raise some much needed money and get out of a very deep hole. With just a weekend to sell the bike over, Huggy knew of only one person who might be interested and have the cash needed. At least that’s what Huggy thought. “The guy who offered to buy it off me didn’t have the money I wanted for it but he did have a ’39 engine in pieces and a frame so with a bit of cash on his part the deal was done. I didn’t really want a project at the time but it at least meant I still had a Harley, even if it was just a collection of bits. The money was immediately spoken for but at least I still had an engine and a frame.”

Unfortunately, it stayed that way for the next eight years. When you’re an actor there can be an awful lot of ‘resting’ between jobs and that activity, or rather lack of, doesn’t lend itself to financing bike builds. However, that didn’t stop Huggy from picking up bits and pieces on the cheap here and there on his travels. Among the autojumble and swap meet bargains were a set of RL forks that were converted to work on the Flattie, which led to a start on putting the bike together with the help of his old rat/fighter building mate Dave Hurley. Then time and money both ran out and once again the pile of parts was left in a dark corner.

Then fate stepped in by way of a divorce. Now, like any sensible bloke, Huggy immediately moved his mistress in – that mistress being the Flathead - and the build recommenced in his kitchen. Being on his own, it was also a lot easier for Huggy to get his mates round for a few beers and some work on the Flathead, which by now had become known as Stinky. Those mates included such notables as Paul Bairstowe, Tosh from Riverside Motorcycles and Nick Larkin of V-Twin Harley down by Rye harbour. With friends like those involved Stinky quickly took shape, that shape being the by now popular bobber style. At this point in the telling of Stinky’s story Huggy bristled, “I built it as a bobber ‘cause I’ve always built and ridden them. I built me first bobber about 20 years ago with Paulie and now it’s become the in-thing. We just did what we knew; ‘40s style choppers ‘cause really that’s what they are!”

While the overall look may be ‘40s there have been some concessions to modern life and the need to ride the bike daily on the streets of London. The heads for instance are aftermarket alloy ones, which allow Huggy to fill the tank with unleaded without worry. Similarly, the Mikuni carb is simply more reliable that an ancient Linkert and while an open belt primary would never even have been dreamt of in the ‘40s, it works, the price was right and, more importantly, it’s reliable.

One change that is period correct is the use of a magneto that allows Huggy to run the bike without a battery. Once again this means less to go wrong, as there’s no worrying about having a flat battery when trying to start the bike. It also means Huggy can use the space where the battery would have lived to carry his tool kit.

Another neat touch to make Stinky useable as an everyday bike is the old leather belt riveted along the length of the rear mudguard. It’s not there just for decoration, it keeps Huggy’s panniers in place.

The fact that a pair of panniers get thrown over the bike should give you a clue as to the fact that this bike gets used and on occasions Stinky has objected. Now you’d be thinking that what I mean is that the bike would simply stop or refuse to start. Not this bike, I’ll let Huggy explain. “Me and Stinky have a lot of history. I had a drunk walk out in front of me one night and Stinky took his life. Another time I was riding along Charing Cross road in London’s West End when an American tourist ran into the road without looking and pushed me off the bike. That time Stinky took two fingers from them. Despite being a bit of a naughty bike I love it. I’ll take it off the road occasionally but never for long it’s just great as a daily rider around London.”

Now I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted when I say that the optimum number of bikes is the bikes you already have plus one more. Well Huggy is no exception to that rule. Not content with owning a bobbed Flathead, Huggy had a hankering for another bike, a hill climb special. One day while hanging out at Warr’s H-D on the Kings Road, Huggy shared his idea with Fred Warr. “I said to him my dream was to build a Knucklehead hill climb bike. He mentioned that he might have one available so naturally I told him I’d have it. I was prepared to sell everything I’d got just to get a Knuckle.

“I sold a load of parts and got the money together but when I phoned to tell him his wife told me he’d sold it. There had been a mix up somewhere along the line, it was no-one’s fault. However, when he heard about my phone call he promised he’d see me right in the end and a while later he got in touch to tell he’d got a Knucklehead motor and a frame for me.

“When I was about to pay him for the package he asked me if the bike was for me or if I was planning on building it to sell on. I told him it was for me, it was a dream bike I’d long wanted. The engine he let me have was the last one built by Gerry Tobin, the Hells Angel who was shot on his way home from the Bulldog Bash.”

The frame and motor that Huggy got from Fred date from ’42 and have been left just as he got them with the engine just as Gerry built it after he had learnt the art of a reliable Knuckle from Fred.

Now, just like Stinky, the Knuckle has its own identity – Bumpy. So called because if it was used for its intended purpose, hill climbing, it would be a bumpy ride.

Similarly, just like Stinky, Bumpy was built up from parts that Huggy got wherever he could, whenever he could, or as he puts it, “The bike is made up of parts I’ve begged, borrowed or stolen from around the world.” Among the internationally flavoured parts are the wheels, which were built up from a set of hubs that were given to Huggy by members of the Red & White club in South Africa, with whom he became friends while he spent time working in Cape Town.

Now perhaps the most striking feature about Bumpy is the paint, or rather the patina that the paint has acquired. Indeed, it was this that first caught my attention when I saw the bike at the Ace Café Custom show at London’s Ally Pally back in 2010, when the bike went onto win the ‘Old School’ class. Patina is currently something of a pretentious issue, especially in the modified car world where numerous vehicles are being adorned in fake patina and it’s certainly something Huggy takes umbrage with. “The patina on Bumpy is not faked even though the build is new-ish. When it came to the build, although I primed everything, I didn’t use etch primer on the bare metal so some of the paint has peeled off.

“Then it’s just a case of riding around London the whole time, I’d rather be out riding the bikes than wasting time washing them. If it’s sunny I want to go riding not be stood there with a bucket of soapy water. Every hour spent cleaning is an hour of riding lost.”

However, when he does take a break from riding and isn’t working on another film project, you’ll find Huggy in a workshop building another bike. Though he promises this one will be a shiny one. Why shiny? Well it’s based around the Zero Engineering frame he got for winning the Old School class with Bumpy at Ally Pally. You never know, once it’s finished it may well appear on the pages of this magazine too. Well that will be if I can pin Huggy down long enough to get it photographed. After all it only took me 18 months to get these two bikes photographed due to a combination of my regular job taking me away at times and Huggy being busy with his latest film project – Gangsters, Guns and Zombies. You never know, if the film’s a success then the new bike might get built even quicker ‘cause Huggy will be able to buy new parts rather than use whatever he can lay his hands on...

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