The Easyriders 18-wheeler was
passing through Dayton, Ohio, on its way from the Easyriders Rodeo in
Chillicothe, when the crew spotted a small herd of very unusual motorcycles.
Making a U-turn in a Mack trailer truck can be tricky, but the brightly colored
"buzzing bees" two-strokers were hard to resist. The three vintage
scoots were Harley-Davidson Hummers, hand-built in the 1950s by their owner Mike
Saunders, an engineer by profession, a bike builder by avocation.
As an engineer for Globe Motors in Dayton, he has access to a
CNC machine and the necessary computer software skills that enable him to
conjure up unique pieces for his projects. Mike, now 53, has been building bikes
since he was 14, getting into custom choppers back in the early '60s. His
talents eventually earned him a first place win at the 1977 Rat's Hole
competition in Daytona Beach with a bike called Spectro-Vision. He took some
time off to build his own house, an eight-year project. He has two great
garages, a machine shop, and a design studio. Mike fabricates almost every piece
on his bikes and also handles all the painting, each bike taking one to two
years to build.
Of the three Hummers seen here, the "Calypso Red"
1959 American Lightweight started as a basket case, then was restored as close
to factory original as possible. It features all the factory options Mike could
find, including the fire extinguisher, crash bars, luggage rack, fender tips,
saddlebags, front running light, and amp meter. Call it "fully
optioned." The single cylinder 165cc two-stroke with its three-speed tranny
will run 60 mph and provide more than its weight in fun, Mike says.
The little Harley Hummers used to be short-track raced in
California, which inspired Mike's 1953 "Cartoon Bike." It features a
"buzzing bee" color scheme that Mike chose because of the sound of the
motor. He added the decal from a Dodge Super Bee car to add to its special
"Bee Bad" character. The bike has vintage street and track Goodyear
Grasshopper tires plus a nonstock sidedraft Dell 'Orto carb.
The orange Hummer with the checkered flag design is a 1957
model that features a 1965 lower end; the top end runs a Pucket tmn-plug
high-performance head, the vintage part made by a Florida company back when
racing the little bikes was popular. Mike also adapted a vintage Joe Hunt
magneto to fit the bike, the component salvaged from a pile of Midget racecar
parts left over from his Midget racing days back in the '60s. Mike rides the
bike in Ohio, which doesn't require a headlight during the day. Once again, all
three Hummers are street legal, and Mike and his son, also Mike, often take them
out for day-long cruises.
Mike also builds big bikes as well, as illustrated by the
1943 vintage 45-inch Flathead that Mike originally acquired from his uncle, an
elderly gentleman who first time out rode it through a fence, prompting his wife
to suggest he sell it. Mike fabricated the steel fenders, all the spiffy brass
brackets, and rebuilt the engine. The name "Harvey" came about during
a garage gab session with friends, and stuck. Mike's been riding the bike since
1976. With the oddity of a hand-shifter arrangement that requires a cross-arm
shifting technique, Mike says, "You just have to be loose, and eventually
you get used to it. It does keep you busy. It's a handful."
A friend, Ernie Bach, made the hand- tooled leather
saddlebags based on Mike's designs and patterns. The artwork was inspired by an
artist named Froud and features medieval themes of knights of yore and surreal
images of the wind. Mike painted the bike in lacquer and semi-cleared it for a
wet black look.
The Flathead's wealth of detail and engineering expertise
would take a book to describe (or the video Mike made) as would Mike's
"Hybrid" electric start Shovel, called "Somethin'-Old-Somethin'-New."
The 1959/'67 combination features '67 running gear. The 74-inch motor, rebuilt
by Mike, benefits from an Andrews cam. While he often takes Sunday runs on the
other bikes, he spends most of his saddle time in the "Hybrid," for
which he made his own spokes. He also adapted a later model disk brake that
required swingarm modifications. "There's gobs of one-off, handmade brass
pieces on the bike," Mike says. "I had a gun engraver engrave the
brass side rails. The fender tip on the front tip is solid brass as well."
People wonder how many hands Mike has, what with a full-time
engineering job, building his own house, and several hand-crafted motorcycles.
"My philosophy is, I'll do whatever it takes to get the job done
right." From his big to his little bikes, he helps keep the world humming.