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WLA Harley Bobber

Posted on May 2, 2012 by Scott in Bobber, Classic. 46 comments

Buying expensive things on ebay can be very dangerous, especially if you’ve been consuming a few too many beverages. We have all been there. We talk ourselves into needing the thing so badly that we make a spontaneous decision to buy the thing before someone else beats us to it. Russell Lowe had one of these experiences. He was so excited about leaving New Zealand for the sunny shores of Sydney that he thought he would buy a new motorcycle for the new country. “I decided not to ship my current bikes (Moto Guzzi 850t, Sunbeam S7 and a 1920 Douglas 350) over with me as it gave me a great excuse to get another one” he says. So after looking through bike magazines and on ebay he admits he “got a little crazy about finding something”. Then this Harley WLA appears on ebay and he knew he had to have it. Russell impulsively hit the ‘buy it now’ button in fear of missing out on it. Then around a week later the Harley was delivered from Melbourne and he got the shock of his life…

“When it showed up a week later I was gutted.” says Russell. “The last owner clearly wanted a “Big Twin” and had it all done up with skulls and shit all over it. If you stepped back 20 feet, closed one eye and squinted with the other it kind of looked ok but the closer you go to it the worse it got. Not just from the skulls either; brackets looked like they were cut from sheets of galvanised tin with an axe, the old disc brake master cylinder looked like it had been dragged down the road to make it fit the 1” handlebars, and the gearbox (an early BSA M20 one) had snapped itself from the shitty mounting bracket holding it to the frame.”

For a couple of years I worked on it in the car park in my apartment building. I covered the shitty pipes with pipe wrap to hide the atrocious welds then fitted a 500 x 16 Firestone on the back. Which is when the real work started happening. The rear wheel was about an inch from the centre of the frame. I asked one guy how he might fix it and he said to cut the frame off and extend it by 4”. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I used a lathe at work to turn down the hub (on the CB550 rear wheel) and got a guy to make up a custom offset sprocket for the gearbox. So after a bit of drama the wheel was in the right place.”


“I covered the shitty pipes with pipe wrap
to hide the atrocious welds”


Soon after this I started renting a workshop with an Industrial Designer mate of mine (I’m an Architect by training). We started off with a few benches and some shitty hand tools but within a few weeks we got given a whole bunch of stuff from a workshop that was closing down. It was like winning the Lotto; we got a big lathe, a big milling machine and loads of heavy duty equipment. We had to wire the workshop up with 3 phase power and pay some massive guys to help us get the machines into place, but it was like being in heaven. I’ve added a tube bender (which I used to make the handle bars, 1” is the only formers I have so far) and a TIG welder which I’ve been learning how to use for the last couple of years. I think I might have cracked it. All I can say is it’s a step up from Arc and MIG welding in terms of skill development, that’s for sure. I used the lathe to make the axle and spacers for the XL500s 23” front wheel, that took two attempts and taught me how important 0.1 of a millimetre is. It also came in handy to make the brake stay, the mid mounted controls (with a BSA footpeg on one side and a Harley footpeg on the other) and a new intake manifold.

I finally got rid of the pipes it came with by making my own from a reproduction set and some U bends. It took a bit to get them lined up, but they make such a difference to the look of bike. They also make it start a whole lot better. I think it must be because they offer a little bit of back pressure (the old pipes were straight through); now it’s a two kick primer, one kick starter. Even after two weeks sitting it’ll start right up. With the four speed box it cruises really well at 60 mph. The M20 originally towed a side car, so the really low first gear means you can gear up the rear sprocket and still get off the line ok.”

So now it’s finished Russell is placing the bike back up on Ebay and is hoping some trigger happy guy hits the ‘buy it now’ button so he can use the cash to finish building his next project. It’s another WLA engine, with a Big Twin 4 speed, Springer forks and a custom frame he has made himself. “I made the drawing over 5 years ago, so it’s about time I got onto it.” Chop, chop.

  • That’s fugly. I usually like something about most bikes posted on here. This is the total antithesis of what a bike should be in my little world. Basically, if a builder did the exact opposite, he would have the perfect bike.

    I’d like to say he was drunk when he did this (kinda like some choice women I’m sure most of us would like to forget,) just to excuse what happened. But, that’s the great thing about Pipeburn; we get a wide variety and for that single reason, I appreciate this bike, even if it is one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

    • 444

      Nice try, previous owner of the bike

      • lol. If I built it, I’d stand proudly next to it! It’s funny, though. I have considered coupling a knobby with a street tire.

    • You have heard of a thing called “rat” style, yes?

      • It’s not even about the “rattyness” of it. I like rat as much as the next guy. No, the problem I have with it is the poorly conceived lines from the oversized front wheel up to the goofy bicycle bars back to the cropped off rear fender shoved in the frame. If one is going to cobble together disparate parts into a rat ride, at least make it look good.

  • Evan

    Are headers usually attached with a single screw through the side?

  • Guest

     My issue is ergonomic in that I am not comfortable arms/feet
    forward and bent over my bladder. That having been said, bobbed and café racer
    motorcycles possess a type of post WW II wrecking yard/GI-surplus inventive,
    creative, as well as individualistic desire to have something that one might
    otherwise not afford; not real slick but balanced and sturdy. I see this machine and feel comfortable with
    the old Industrial/Agrarian aspect that was once at the edge of our frontiers throughout
    major outback-continents, where cobbling loose parts into daily use resulted in many items that brought out  respectful admiration from equally hardy onlookers.

    • Nice to see that someone gets it…

      • Guest

        Thank you for the broad-minded and thoughtful presentations.

      • Not liking it doesn’t mean one doesn’t “get it.” I’ve seen the worst crap in the art world touted  as great while those who don’t agree “don’t get it.”

        • SmokeyTheBear

           I’m with you. If this is an improvement id hate to see what it looked like before! Its not the fact that its a rat bike, its the fact that its lines are horrific. On the plus side I really like the 23 up front and the overall stance of the bike (ignoring everything attached to the frame) is nice.

        • davmo

          The entire Warhol catalog comes to mind…consider this a Kostabi. Thanks, Tony.

  • I just can’t get my head around why anyone would mount a rear fender like that but other then that I dig…

  • Randy D

    best ive seen on pipeburn in a while, a mans cruiser. no frills.

  • Carpetted

    I love the backwheel.

  • Tigger

    Totally love the placement and method for the rego sticker :]

  • Jello

    I dunno why people are hatin on this thing, but its personal preference for anyone. i really like it! 

  • KP

    I absolutely agree with Tony Stark – this is fugly. If “rat style” is total disregard for aesthetics plus poor execution, then this is ratty indeed. Carpetted’s comment is great – “I love the back wheel” – congrats on finding something complimentary to say. But as they say, “to each his own”.
    Thank you Andrew and Pipeburn folks for the work you do – for bringing us our daily dose and allowing us to make our little comments. Keep it up… Please.

    • Emp

      Having seen this bike in the flesh I can say that it is a very well executed example of a rat style bobber. Most of the negative comments here seem to be from guys with a bit of fear of creativity.

  • JimmyR14

    I like how it challenges preconceptions – at first glance I though that rear fender is really ugly but now I kinda “get it”.  I’m not about to copy it but it’s quite clever.  I like it.  I like my bike better, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?  🙂

  • MotoTrooper

    Beautiful engine.  All I can say.  It holds everything together.  It should let the rest go.

  • SportsterMike

    I hadn’t realised you could fit the BSA box into the stock frame – have seen many 45s here in England running Triumph gearboxes in hardtail frames.. so good to know you can keep the stock looks and have 4 gears – never could get on with the hand shift foot clutch on them either…. Shame I passed on the last one offered to me cheap…(and it was running)

  • Russell Lowe

    Hi Andrew and All,

    Thanks Andrew for posting it up, nice to know it’s been immortalised at

    Yeah, Tony, the rear mudguard is a bit confrontational … but I think if you stand back a bit (squint your eyes) and consider the bike as a whole I think it works with the bars to make the bike look a bit more compact. It was absolutely an aesthetic judgement on my behalf. As was the 23″ on the front … I think that when you take the front mudguard off and have a 16″ on the back the standard 19″ looks a little small, like the bike is going downhill while standing still.

    KP, poorly executed is a bit rough … just to clarify, the screws don’t hold the headers on, there is a hidden bracket under the footrest that does that … all they are doing is filling some holes in the cast iron that I didn’t feel confident enough to weld up. They are rock solid. Same with the rest of the bike, rough to look at but properly engineered (keeping in mind it’s 70 years old this year).

    SportsterMike, the BSA box fits well … you do have to cut the bottom mounts off it and weld on some new ones though. Other than that it does give all the advantages of a ‘normal’ setup.



    • To each his own. I’m sure if I ever have a bike on here it will get its cheers and jeers. But as I originally said, I appreciate Pipeburn for being willing to post a variety, not just one or two preconceived notions. When all is said and done, I would have rather seen this bike than not.

  • PGearbox

    Took me a while to work out the half black and silver thing. Didn’t know if it was a before and after thing. Thanks for presenting another unique bike. As long as the builder loves it and it generates interest, keep it coming:)

  • PGearbox

    Don’t mind the rear fender. Very whacky racers……

    • lol. What is it with wacky racers and custom bikes on here???

  • P.J. Flyer

    I have to agree, if you stand back and squint your eyes, it does look better. But if you squint hard enough to close them it looks even better! All jokes aside, I helped a friend restore one of these that he found through the classifieds. Someone had done his thing also and then we brought it back to factory specs. It was a much better bike the way the factory intended it.

  • Asshole welder

    I totally disagree with most of the comments. In my eyes, thats what a bobber should look like (no bells wistles or glitter). maybe the knobby tire is a bit out out of place, but the 23″ gives it a nice stance.      

  • Willy…..

    The overall aesthetics take attention away from a lot of cool little details on the bike. 
    It looks like its running an amal carb(?) and the Brit gear box is tits. Just wished they would have stayed away from the 23″ and the over used jap influenced rear fender idea  

  • snuk_me

    The more i look at it the more it sort of sits fine with me, the rear fender as a few have commented on is  a bit unsettling, I just with i was so handy to actually do half the stuff he did with the bike!

  • Mdock138

    Id hump it.

  • Jed

    Fuck yes. This is killer.

  • metric-wrench

    I hate it… not wait, its kinda effing cool!  That rear fender just smacks you in the face, but I can deal with it.  When something is just so prominent and jumps out at you, its hard to get past, but as Willy… and Asshole welder did they looked past the shit details and got to the heart of the bike and its pretty damn cool.

  • Iwasthefritobandito

    I signed up just say that I’d fuck this bike if I could.  

    Sincerely, the Frito Bandito 

  • Russell Lowe

    Hi Guys,

    … there’s probably not many 70 year olds that would get these comments aye.

    Willy, yes that’s an Amal 932. It goes really well. When you say “they” it’s actually just me. And yes, I am overly influenced by the Yokohama chopper scene; those guys take it to another level.

    Scott from says he might swing past on the weekend … he might report back.


  • Cleonarrey

    This bike looks amazing! It looks solid as a rock and minimal, exactly what a bobber should be. I’m not into Bobber style bikes much, but if I were to build one, this is a good peep at what it would look like. Good job. Hell, makes me actually want a Harley now… 

  • Honestly? I dont think this bike deserves to be on this awsome site!

  • Car2nst

    I guess with out trying anything edgy we’d all be stuck with the same stale look of UJMs but this is a total whiff, I respect the work and all, but it looks more like an after thought,

  • Frank

    I like it! It is a kind of unpretentious “chrome don´t get ya home” ride. Sure enough I would have done some details differently, but who wouldn´t? 

  • Ive got an awesome idea! All the people that continue to throw negative comments at all bikes that feature on pipeburn submit their own rides for a blog about haters and the bikes they ride… something tells me the majority of them dont own a bike and like to suck off goats.

    • Asshole welder


  • Classick_moto

    It’s hideous…….but i cant look away……….

  • Nomad Ryder

    Art is subjective, much like choice of women, whiskey and cigars. I’d like to ride it, just to check it out, but I think that license plate is a Bowie knife up there, and why would someone mount a biasply street tire on the rear with a dirt tracker tire on the front. I also agree, all you haters, what have you BUILT lately?

  • Russell Lowe

    Hi Guys,

    Just so you know; the WLA Bobber is now up on

    Larry; to answer your question, the Firestone has a nice tall side wall so it has plenty of flex when I’m running 15psi (the only suspension it has in the rear) and the dirt tires are the only ones you can get for that 23″ front wheel. You can get a 120 wide street tire in 23″ but it’s way too wide. Feel free to contact me for a test ride before it is sold.