A Work of Intricate Mechanics & Creativity
There’s something about steampunk design that seems to fit well with Pittsburgh’s history. The retro-futuristic industrial style was glorified during the twentieth century through science fiction and fantasy and often represented with the likes of gears, brass, and Victorian-era influences. Although the stories were typically set in the wild west, the gritty mechanical theme just feels like a possible parallel universe of the Steel City.
While it’s not powered by steam, the ironhead chopper from tattoo artist, Ray Morrow, was originally born from an idea for the ignition but snowballed out of control into what you see now. Morrow explained, “I had the thought of doing a skeleton key ignition motorcycle but became obsessed with it. After building the mechanism, I started acquiring stuff from there, and the steampunk theme just sort of happened. I saw the hand-built bikes from guys like Indian Larry or Billy Lane and wanted to take that route with something between the old digger look and a chopper. It had to be stretched and low, so I modified the frame to get that long look.”
Morrow worked on motorcycles before this build, but it was the first undertaking of this magnitude. With a background in airbrushing and tattooing, he got into bikes as an alternative creative outlet and eventually started making bike parts for other people. “I can’t tell if it’s a compulsion or what. I just get these ideas stuck in my head, and they bug the shit out of me until I do it,” he said. “I feel like every bike I’ve owned is completely different from the last, but this was fun because there were a lot of different challenges involved.”
All of the work was done in his garage with a timeline of roughly four years on and off due to many problems along the way. The bent frame was the biggest issue, causing almost a year-long setback. At that time, Morrow ripped the whole bike apart and started over from scratch, deciding to change up a number of things, including double twisted down tubes, a custom oil tank, and an abundance of other parts and pieces too long to list here.
The impressive paint and etching were done by Morrow, while TE Customs did the pinstriping. Hellbent Creations made some leather pieces, including the seat and leather straps on the oil tank. The shifter mechanism, forward controls, and oil tank holder came from Mike Chapel, who also helped with the engine.
Morrow mentioned that his favorite part of the build was seeing the finished chopper. “That feeling you get when you’ve had a vision and obsessed over it—putting in all that time and effort to see it finally come to life. There’s nothing that compares to working that hard towards a goal and accomplishing it. You get a little bit closer with every part you make and then sit back and get to see the completed project. It makes all of those late nights that I bled all over my garage or screamed at the wall worth it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of satisfaction.”