I walk up to a garage and I’m
not sure I’m in the right place, but then I turn the corner to see that it is full of half built motorcycles and crates of parts galore. I am definitely at Ironside Customs and Sheet Metal. Owner, Jason Henry, warmly welcomes me with a strong handshake.
I found out about Ironside Customs through a Facebook post with a picture of a beautiful custom bobber. After talking with Jason I found out that this was a prize winning bike and that he does custom builds of more than just motorcycles.
Rock|Life: What was your first exposure to motorcycles?
Jason Henry: I grew up on the back of my dad’s Goldwing. My grandpa and my step dad had always had bikes, so it was something that was always around.
RL: And when did you start working on them?
JH: My first bike I ever did was a ’78 CS750, I made it like an easy rider kind of bike. It had eight inch extended forks, those were on it when I bought it, but it had no seat and the tank was all screwed up. So that was the first thing I ever did with body work, straightening metal, or anything like that. I had the bike for quite a while, because it didn’t run for a long time and then it kind of got pushed in the back when I started getting mini-bikes and snow mobiles in between there. When I
was fifteen or so, I started really getting into it again and I tore the whole thing down, replaced all the bushings I could, and all the wear items I could afford. I made my first seat, which was out of pretty much plywood and I used fiberglass for one part of it, but I made a big king-queen seat, where it’s like a huge sissy bar on the back and…well…it was just gnarly, haha! I actually loaded it up on a trailer when we were moving, being younger and everything, I strapped down the bike myself and I compressed the forks down pretty much as far as it would let me. I was going down the road at highway speed and I heard something, so I looked in the mirror and I had seen a headlight just dragging in the road. The eye bolts on the trailer snapped off! The eye bolts were just bad to begin with, but with that much spring in the forks it pretty much just threw it right off the back of the trailer. The back strap was the only thing hooked onto it, so it was dragging down the road for a little while…the bike was trashed. The forks were twisted, the case of the motor was cracked open, there was oil everywhere, the seat was broken in half, everything I did to the bike was ruined. So, we put it on the trailer and brought it to the scrap yard.
RL: Oh, man! That sounds devastating.
JH: It definitely was. I was so upset that I just kicked it of the trailer at the scrap yard and couldn’t look back.
RL: Okay, that was the first bike you worked on, which didn’t end well. You did a build on a bike that you named “Bittersweet” that won Best in Show. Can you give us the story on that bike? How did you acquire it, how did you build it, and where is it now?
JH: It’s a 2003 Kawasaki Vulcan 800. How I got that one, was I bought an SV650 rocket that was all cobbled together. It was totaled out, it had a salvage title and everything, but it ran, and I got it for $800, haha. I turned around and did a bunch of stuff to that bike, just to clean everything up and make the wiring look nicer. I repainted it, it was just rattle-canned black, so I repainted it white and made it look nice. When I first got it, my neighbor right across the street had the Kawasaki, which was completely stock and I really wanted to do this kind of build. I liked that chassis because, believe it or not, it still has all factory suspension on it. It’s still a full shock and everything in the rear, and it’s a mono-shock rear, so you can’t see it. It’s one shock underneath, so that’s what’s really cool about those chassis is that they don’t have the big two shocks on the side that you can see. You can make it look like it’s really low and it’s a hard tail and everything else…so…I really wanted to do it, so I offered them a trade when I first got that other bike. The SV650 was all crusty-looking, and I knew I had just paid $800 for it. He was like, “Oh I don’t know, it’s a pretty shitty looking bike.” So I was like, “Oh that’s fine, whatever.” So…I did my touches to it, I actually put some dirt-bike handle bars on it and made it look like a street fighter. I rolled it out of the garage and all of a sudden he comes walking over and he’s like, “That ain’t the same bike.” And I said, “Yeah it’s the same bike.” And he’s like, “Do you want to trade still?” So I said, “I don’t know, yours looks kind of roached-out and ratty.” Hahaha, so we did the trade.
My first step in the build process…hmmm…well, I sat at a desk and took two broomsticks and put them up and asked a guy to grab a protractor and tell me what angle it was because that was what was comfortable, hahaha! I found a piece of bar sitting around that I thought was going to be the right length, and I made some handlebars. That one took me about two hours to make them total…and those are the handlebars on the bike.
The front fender on the bike is actually two other fenders welded together.
The pipes were actually slash cut, cobra pipes, and I just flush cut them off. I just like the look of flush cut. They were stock offset pipes, so for the bottom pipe I added a piece of pipe to make them even and welded it on there to redo the bottom exhaust pipe.
I did all my own paint on it. For all the black on there, I had free access to powder coating, so I took advantage of it. The wheels, the air cleaner cover, the bars, everything that’s black on there was powder coated besides the frame. The frame was already painted black in the factory, which was nice.
RL: I’m sure your custom sheet metal fabrication business really helped you out with the custom brackets and whatnots that you needed to complete the build with your vision as well, haha.
Can you tell me about the completion where you took home this giant trophy for Best in Show for “Bittersweet?”
JH: A car dealership in town here had a car show that they sponsored out at The Moose Lodge. I had never put anything in a car show yet, so I asked my buddy that had the bike if he was doing anything and he said, “actually I’m going to be out of town.” So I said, “Perfect can I come pick up the bike and bring it to the car show? I’ll be by it all day.” And he was like, “Yeah.”
So I brought it out there.
RL: There were celebrity judges, correct?
JH: Yes. American Restoration’s Tyler and Ron came out. Them guys doing what they do (they restore anything from old Coke machines to Motorcycles) they have a passion for cars and all that kind of stuff, and I kept hearing rumors that they were just drooling over my bike. I wasn’t expecting to win a trophy or anything like that…I mean I just liked to have it there and have people staring at it and that’s good enough for me. You always hope to maybe get something out of it for validation, but when they were like, “The Best of Show for Bikes” and they called off my bike. …I was just like, “Get the fuck out of here!” So I’ve got a three foot trophy in the house, hahaha. The two guys from the show actually came up to me after I got the trophy and looked the bike over with me. They know what something looks like when it’s been through and english wheel, so they’re picking out stuff that they know that I did custom on it, which was pretty cool.
“Bittersweet” is actually named that because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep it. The bike belongs to someone from town, so at least I get to see it every once in a while. As soon as I acquired the bike, someone bought the build from me…before I even started working on it, haha.
RL: That’s pretty awesome! Hopefully you can keep getting custom bike projects commissioned for you. If a reader wants to commission a custom build from you, how would they get ahold of you?
JH: I am in the process of getting a website built for my custom projects, so in the meantime people can reach me at the Ironside Facebook page.
RL: What’s the most interesting build you’ve done?
JH: Well…it’s not necessarily a straight forward build project, but my grandpa gave me his ’84 Honda V65 Magna. He knew I was getting into custom builds, so when he gave it to me
he made me promise him that I wouldn’t touch it, that I wouldn’t chop it up or anything like that. In my eyes, this bike was like an icon to my family, so I never intended to do a build with it. I found another one, identical to his bike, another maroon ’84 V65 Magna. So I picked that up and started chopping it up. Once I had it all torn apart, with parts laying everywhere, I took a couple pictures of it and sent it to my grandpa. I got a very angry call from him because he thought it was his. Haha! He told me he was going to drive up here to kick my ass and take his bike back, or at least all the pieces of it. I let him go for a little while and then he actually hung up on me. Eventually I told him what I was doing and showed him pictures of both the bikes. He of course called me an asshole. Haha. Once he realized it wasn’t his bike, he was all for me doing a build with the other Magna.
RL: That is a pretty great prank! It’s kind of amazing that you were able to find two of the same bike in similar condition that weren’t customized at all.
JH: Yeah. I was looking at them side by side and I looked at the odometer on my grandpas and it was like 36,200 miles or something like that and the other one was like 32,600 miles. So there was like a 400 mile difference between these two bikes that are 30 years old. I got to looking at it a little closer, and I looked at the VIN and the last three digits were not even 300 numbers off from each other. So, I’m guessing these bikes came off the line within the same week, so it was pretty cool that they ended up in the same garage together.
Jason Henry is the owner and operator of Ironside Customs and Sheet Metal. If you are interested in a custom bike build by Ironside, feel free to send him a message through the Ironside Facebook page.