nicholas hopkins

Ken Craft Memorial Bike

On a cold, dark February night, nearly five years ago, a good man lost his life. Ken Kraft was involved in a fatal accident on his way home from work. Even though he never pulled into the driveway that Saturday night, his friends and family know he died doing what he absolutely loved to do; ride his motorcycle.

Before the accident, he rode his Harley Softail every day through rain, wind, blistering sun, whatever the conditions. Often, he would ride with his brother, Dave. The two were born just eleven months apart and were very close.

Despite the fact that he loved his Harley, Ken’s dream was to build a custom motorcycle from the ground up. He had already picked up the engine, the frame, and the tank and had sculpted the fenders himself. He was almost ready to have the bike painted, but his dream was cut short that night, and he never got the chance to finish his bike.

Despite the grief of losing his brother, Dave knew what the project had meant to him, and he was determined to keep Ken’s dream alive; but the work didn’t begin right away. After the accident, the bike, disassembled and incomplete, bounced around between family members for a while. The component parts began to rust. Then Ken’s children, Jill, Casey, Chris, and Ken got together and graciously decided to give Dave the parts so he could finish the project. When he finally got all the pieces back together, they needed a lot of re-welding and re-fabrication.

For the next year and a half, Dave worked seven days a week at his job as a machinist at Harris, working on the bike as time allowed. Not an easy task when his mother’s long and stressful battle with advanced Alzheimer’s was taking place. Since then, he’s done what he can by taking over her mortgage payments, providing her the help she needs, all while maintaining his own house payments and trying to spend at least some time with his family.

But somehow, Dave has worked it all out. He’s had to. His brother’s dream had become his own, and he had some definite ideas on how to finish the bike.

He machined or fabricated a lot of the parts himself, and those he didn’t make, he bought and tweaked for his own uses. For example, he modified a high performance, Suzuki six-piston brake system and installed it on the bike. He machined all of the electrical boxes himself, as well as the rear drive pulley. In addition to the functional parts, there are quite a few decorative spikes on the bike that he machined himself. Some of them are so sharp, they’ve produced some substantial cuts for Dave while he’s worked on it, so it’s fair to say he’s put his own blood, sweat and tears into the bike. 

One very cool feature of the bike is the air ride suspension system. At the touch of a button, the entire bike can be lowered or raised, depending on the conditions. That’s like, James Bond cool.

Dave formed the seat pan himself and had PDQ do the upholstery. (They’ve also done some work for the big boys, like Billy Lane.) It’s got a carbon fiber, leather finish, with two layers of gel padding, so it’s a comfortable, stylish, yet functional seat.

Initially, the handlebars didn’t quite do what he wanted, so he machined some custom kick-downs, bringing the sweep of the gorgeous wide-arc bars down, very impressively toward the rider. The sculpted fender, over the big, fat 250 mm back wheel makes for a muscular look, which nicely compliments the wide glide 21 inch front wheel with the chromed, twisted spokes. Very nice.

The original pipes wouldn’t work with the customized forward controls, so Dave ordered a set of Big Bear Choppers pipes. The curves of the relatively short, beefy pipes really hug the 96 cubic inch Ultima engine, (with a six speed tranny). With nearly 100 cc’s of pure, unadulterated power, this bike has some get-up-and go, and it sounds as nice as it looks, thanks to those sharp looking pipes.

Space Coast Plating did the extensive chrome work, all of which sets off the silver paint job to create an eye catching color scheme. Though there’s not really a paint theme to the bike, Dave has some ideas to play off the many machined spikes he’s created and the paint may be changing in the near future.

In the last few months, Dave has entered the bike in three competitions and taken first place in two out of the three. Not bad for a machinist, working out of his garage, who’s never built his own bike before. 

Even though he’ll always be making small changes, for the most part, this bike is finished. At least he’s stopped working on it, for now. Since he’s done so well with it, what are the chances he’ll dive right back in and build another bike from scratch? “I’ve got some ideas, some visions of other projects, and even though my wife, Jill has been really supportive with all of the time and expense this project has taken, she’d probably shoot me if I started another bike.” Good point. He might want to wait a few months before starting his next one.

Standing there, looking at what is obviously a labor of love, you can’t help but notice all of the customized aspects of this gorgeous motorcycle. But of all the intricate, unique parts on the bike, none of them reach out to Dave more than the dedication plaque on the handlebar neck. “Custom built, in memory of Kenneth J. Kraft. 1957 – 2004”

Dave will tell anyone who asks, “That really says it all, because that’s what the bike is all about.”

We couldn’t agree more and somehow, we’re pretty sure, Ken is still looking over Dave’s shoulder, riding with him and his friends, immensely proud of the bike he started and of the brother who finished it, keeping his dream, and his spirit alive.

Copyright © 2018, Nicholas Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.