From BMX Racing to Choppers
One day before leaving on an epic chopper road trip around the country last year, Tyler Valentik was kind enough to meet up at South Park’s county park for a feature on his 1998 Harley-Davidson Sportster, a motorcycle that he originally purchased for a measly five hundred dollars. As you can easily tell from the photos, the bike didn’t stop there.
Before we jump directly into the bike, we need to first discuss the South Park BMX track located next to the skatepark on East Park Drive. The track played a big part in Tyler’s life and is loosely responsible for the development of his interest in motorcycles. Constructed in the year 1978 by Bob Tedesco of the National Bicycle League, it was the first BMX track built in Allegheny County and became somewhat of a blueprint for other tracks throughout the globe. The location is quite popular nationwide, even being voted as a top track in the country and sometimes the world by leading BMX publications. Numerous televised events were shown at South Park BMX, including both national and international races and jumping contests. If you weren’t previously familiar, it’s a pretty big deal and something for us to be proud of.
“I was raised in South Park and raced at this track since I was around five or six years old,” Tyler told us. “My dad, Bob, also did BMX racing when he was younger. We traveled a lot for events; he would take me all over the place to race.” While his interests shifted for a couple years towards other sports, Tyler eventually got back into BMX after more parks started popping up around the Pittsburgh area.
“Growing up, my dad had a motorcycle, so I’ve always been around them. I think it was fitting that it was the next thing I got into. When I slowed down on the BMX, I started riding motorcycles more. I got the same joy out of motorcycles as I did from racing,” he said before mentioning that his first motorcycle was a Suzuki GS500, and when riding BMX, he would strap his bicycle to the back of it and head to the track.
Tyler now works at Steel City Harley-Davidson in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he had a few of the technicians help out when he got started on the Sportster chopper. It was his first true build. With limited knowledge he learned quite a lot from those around him.
The only thing used on the bike after he bought it was the motor with an updated cam, the rest of the bike was parted out. He went with an extended Paughco frame built with a thirty-five degree rake, a Paughco exhaust system, and a Mick’s Chop Shop 18-over springer front end. He said of the build, “BMX bikes are so basic and simple, and I needed that look for this chopper. I always liked really narrow bikes and wanted an 18 inch rear wheel, so I took the stock hub and had it laced to an 18 inch hoop. The sissy bar, handlebars, and top motor mount were custom made. The goal wasn’t a show bike. I wanted to build something I could ride all the time.”
Tyler credited his friend Josh Berklovich for helping out tremendously on the chopper, along with Kevin and Adam from the Steel City Harley crew. He explains, “Josh helped me a ton with all the fabrication work—handlebars, sissy bar, motor mounts, and mock up. Kevin made me a battery box and then Adam showed me how to rebuild the motor and wire the whole thing up.” Tyler Elliott from TE Customs did the paint work. Nick Leone wrapped the seat pan in leather. Conveniently, he knew both Nick and Tyler from their days riding BMX together.
There’s a lot of commonalities between building custom motorcycles and BMX, especially in Tyler’s case. The South Park track was only the beginning. It brought together friends and helped mold his interest in two wheels, whether it’s a twenty-five pound bicycle or a five-hundred pound chopper. As far as the road trip, Tyler left the next day for Tennessee, then headed further south to Texas, and eventually made his way to the California coast. Although there was some snags along the way, an unpredictable chopper adventure to different parts of the country is a great way to really know your bike and a trip he’ll never forget.