The Four Fifty - Items filtered by date: April 2014

Build Van

This week has seen Natasha and The Four Fifty in the spotlight somewhat. Dutch from The Bike Shed ( posted on his Facebook page the time lapse video of Natasha's build last Saturday. In five days it's received 5218 views from around the world. The Facebook post got 1200+ likes and was shared 360 times. My own Facebook page for the Four Fifty has increased it's 'likes' by five times... and counting. And the best is yet to come: In the next week or so Natasha will be featured on his blog, so a potential second wave of interest will occur.

It's all quite amazing having Natasha out there for the world to see. I've always viewed this website as a place for me to organize my thoughts about the build rather than an actual place to get attention to what I am doing. Sure, there are small daydreams about someone commissioning me to build a bike, or for this pastime to evolve into a profitable business, but I am realistic with what could happen. In my own mind I am at least ten bikes away from claiming to be a custom bike builder. I want to learn how to make my own parts in a CNC mill; I want to fabricate my own tanks and seats; get comfortable with an English wheel; and handle a TIG torch like it's an extension of me. There is still so much to learn about engine tuning, suspension artistry, frame design. At this point I know I can make a good looking bike, but that's only half the process. Isn't the whole cafe racer style focuses on function over form?

For the keener eyed among you it would be clear that I am not working out of a conventional garage. When I started rebuilding Natasha I was working as a surveyor in Pennsylvania on gas drilling rigs. I was constantly moving from location to location every few months as the rig moved to new pads. I wanted to have a mobile workshop, and after looking at a trailer type workshop that I could tow behind me, I stumbled upon the idea of using a FedEx style step-van.

I cruised through Commercial Truck Trader and found plenty of half million mile vehicles, then I went to eBay and found an old Snap-on tools truck for sale in Arizona. This would eliminate the need to install an interior and electrics into a raw van, as the Snap-On tools would be custom built with all these features already there. I was the only one that bid on the auction so five days later I was the proud owner of this vehicle.

After driving it back home, I got to ripping out the old interior of one million bits of elastic (these held the tools up for display), building a workbench, installing cupboards, a new interior, moving the lights around, and laying a new floor. Once all that was done I had purchased a small but effective bike stand for me to raise Natasha up to a workable height. After years of being bent over, trying to do oil changes half on the ground, this single purchase is something I will now always have in my workshop.

I drove it out to Pennsylvania some five weeks later, straight onto the location I was working at, and then began the rebuild of Natasha. A couple of months later I took an office position, and parked Misha (the van's given name) at the back of my house. Here he sat patiently while Natasha was rebuilt.

Current circumstances mean that I really need to sell Misha, so he is available for purchase. The proceeds of which will probably go towards that CNC mill I am lusting after. He was the most perfect vehicle at the time, now I need to let someone else take care of him. Of course if he doesn't sell I may just keep a hold of him for when I start club racing again in some years. :)

(Don't worry dear daughter, I think it'll be Vintage class instead of 600 Superbike this time.)

Here's the link to Commerical Truck Trader advert.

Van Details:

Year: 1996
Make: Chevy P30/Grumman Olson
Class: CLASS 5 (GVW 16001 - 19500)
Mileage: 148620
Horse Power: 200 - 300

1) Supports both line power (110V) or runs from bank of deep cycle batteries. Built in 2500W inverter.
2) Battery monitor and built in charger to maintain battery bank from line power.
3) Extensive 12V Fluorescent lighting means there's never an issue about not having enough light.
4) Plenty of sockets on the walls and in the roof means never having to worry about extension cords.
5) Built in propane heater/tank and thermostat keeps you toasty in the colder days.
6) Roof mounted fan for removing fumes or keeping you cool.
7) Potential to fit AC again. I removed the head unit, with the plan of replacing it with new one. Outside intercooler fans are already installed and functional.
8) Great Sony sound system with external amplifier that also runs off iPhone/iPod, Pandora, or Satellite Radio. Dock connection for XM Radio. Also accepts external audio inputs.
9) Built-in computer with two (one at either end of van) wall mounted 21" LCD monitors, with hi-gain wifi antenna to pick up the weakest of wifi's in the area. Wired & wireless keyboard and mouse. Stay on top of your business emails while you work. Windows XP installed.
10) Twin backup cameras and 7" LCD screen. One looks behind as rearview image, the other looks down for reversing.
11) Reversing floodlights to make sure you see everything at night.
12) Hella driving lights and fog lights mounted on custom made nudge bars. Lights up the road like it's daytime!
13) Comprehensive security alarm system (with motion sensors) is installed but not functional. Needs new backup battery and some tweaking. All doors have dead bolts for added security.
14) Aluminum lift elevator with fold out ramp.
15) Extensive lockable storage at head height.
16) Fantastic built in tool drawers.
17) Custom made bench seat with removable/washable cover.
18) Aluminum workbench with aluminum back-splashes; heavy duty vise.
19) Bench grinder with stand.
20) Roof rack with multiple strapping points.
21) Set of snow chains, used once.
22) New set of van batteries installed this month.

PRICE: $14,000, or make me an offer.

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So sometimes the universe works in my favor. I was just starting to think about finding a model to shoot Natasha with when this young woman emailed me through Model Mayhem. This is a website where models, MUA's, and photographers can connect for projects. You build connections and 'friends', post casting calls, or generally search for a specific look. As luck would have it Katty was exactly what I had in mind, and so we met for coffee, she signed release forms, and a time set for the following day.

There is a current trend it seems in custom motorcycle photography to use industrial settings to shoot motorcycles in. I can see the appeal; the textures and shapes of a disused factory provide an excellent juxtaposition for a completely rebuilt custom motorcycle. And had I access to something similar I would probably do the same. (Actually, I have a vision of shooting in an empty parking garage. Not any garage but one I found myself in a few months ago while visiting friends in Oklahoma City. It was amazingly pristine inside; the walls were totally white and uniform. It could easily be the inside of a modern art gallery.)

But I live in Friday Harbor, which is an island in the Pacific Northwest, so it made sense to look for something near water. A beach shoot would have been fun, if perhaps hard to move around in; the beaches here being less sandy and more pebble strewn than anything else. So I found a location near Jackson's Beach where there was a suitable stable bluff further inland to shoot on.

It was incredibly hard to edit down to these final twelve images. Katty did a great job battling with the onshore breeze that constantly blew her hair out of place, and the low morning sun was hard to squint against, but I think she did pretty well. Her and Natasha make quite the striking pair.

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Rebuilding, restoring, and recycling classic bikes into unique custom-made cafe racers.


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The Four Fifty

170 John Street

Friday Harbor, WA 98250

United States

(360) 298-2374

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