’51 PANHEAD & ’65 BONNEVILLE
There seems to be a commonality throughout issue Number 005, in that most of the stories involve a father’s passion for motorcycles being passed down, inspiring the bikes that are shown within these pages. This feature about Joe and Adam Pratt (father and son, respectively) isn’t much different, but let’s double up this time around with two different bikes from two different manufacturers—Harley and Triumph.
Things got started at a little chopper shop in Rochester, Pennsylvania during the 1970s, where Joe’s friend bought a 1951 Harley-Davidson FL. It ended up being stored at Joe’s place for a long time before he finally bought it in 1990. As Joe puts it, “The guy that originally had it was a big time biker. The Harley was made of all parts he had laying around. It had a ’51 engine, a ’52 transmission, a ’58 frame, and a ’49 front end. When I bought it, the bike was in pieces and had to be put back together.”
Joe’s son, Adam, started learning how to work on bikes because of this old panhead. The engine was rebuilt a number of times, eventually being bumped up to a 96ci bore. Over the years, they added a new electronic distributor, S&S carburetor, a RevTech transmission, and more. Almost every year the two would tear it apart and redo the bike in a different way. As Adam got older, he took on the role of painter. “I would keep what I was doing a secret from my dad. If I told him then he wouldn’t let me do it,” he recalled. “So, I would show up with my crazy paint schemes. One of his rules when passing the bike on to me was no goofy paint jobs.”
The moment Adam first rode it was something he won’t forget. “I was a kid into dirt bikes when my dad had the panhead. His deal was that if I could start it, then I could ride it,” he recalled. “I could never get it started. Then one day in high school I pulled it out of the garage to wash it and finally got it. I rode it down the street and back but never told my dad about it. Later on, once he saw me riding jockey shift on the Triumph, he finally let me ride the Harley.”
That brings us to the second bike featured here, a 1965 Triumph Bonneville T120 bobber. Adam explained the backstory, “It was about nine years ago, and I couldn’t afford a Harley. So, I figured a Triumph would work. I came up with what money I could and found this in boxes at Youngstown Cycle Supply. After I brought it all home, it took me about two and a half months to put together.”
To keep the old school look when building it, Adam worked with dated 1970s tools and a drill press from his grandfather. He also made the battery box from his grandfather’s World War II first aid kit, an item that was given to him as a child.
There’s a lot of little details throughout the bike, including a tail light from a 1935 Chevrolet and a rear fender cut from a Harley front fender they didn’t use on the panhead. The color theme of his other grandfather’s 1984 Cadillac Eldorado was used as inspiration when painting the fuel tank. Instead of buying an aftermarket brass knuckle kicker pedal, Adam took another piece from the second World War, machining a military trench knife to fit.
The Harley and Triumph have been through many changes since both starting as complicated box projects. Joe handed over the panhead keys to Adam this past year, but the two continue to shift attention back and forth between both bikes, changing things up or simply putting in the necessary effort to keep them running. Quite some time was spent on both machines, but there’s a lot of meaning behind the work and no shortage of great memories either.