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Best in show

By David Neely

Someone nicknamed Colin Watson’s bike, ‘Finn McCool, the Irish Chopper’ and when you look at the size of the rear wheel with its massive 330 tyre and, indeed, everything about the machine, it’s a moniker not wide off the mark.

It is a chopper, a hard tail one at that, and the bike has now made a major impression on the local custom scene because it carried off the top prize at the recent annual Belfast Custom Bike Show held at Custom House Square in the city and attended by almost 2,000 people.

Whether you’re into custom bikes or not you cannot but be impressed by the quality of the workmanship and the attention to detail that has gone into the building of Finn McCool. Easily hundreds of hours labour there.

Everything on it is a one off, from the crocodile leather seat to the instrument displays built into the two mirrors, right down to the foot pegs. Colin readily admits that it’s not really a machine for riding – it takes a bit of an effort to make it turn into right handers – but it’s unashamedly a bike for exhibiting.

Colin, 40, who lives in Co Antrim, told me he and a friend came up with the idea of buying a bike for ‘a bit craic, just to take to shows.’ He’s always been into bikes, road bikes, motocrossers and he used to spanner for a local road racer.

They sourced the bike from two brothers in England who had built an identical pair and decided to buy one of them. They haven’t looked back since.

The bike is based on 1990 Harley-Davidson hard tail chopper frame. The engine is a huge 2.1 litre S&S v-twin with enough torque -- bhp is 160 -- to pull the Giants Causeway off its site on the North Antrim Coast.

The power is harnessed through an American six speed Jims gear box with overdrive. The drive is three inches. If that’s not impressive enough the rear wheel is a 330/30/17 and the front a skinny 120/70/21, in keeping with the overall look of the bike.

All the parts are new and the unusual wheel design, again a one off, is repeated in the disc brakes, front and rear – surely the ultimate attention to detail. The front forks, by the way, are 3ft 10in in length, again fitting for a Finn McCool.

The tank is custom made, like everything else. When it comes to the wiring, even if you were to go over it with a magnifying glass, I defy you to find any. Obviously hidden, and very cleverly too.

The instruments, speedo and rev counter, are digital and are wired into the mirrors, very classy. The battery is hidden at the bottom of the encased down tubes and takes a socket fitting from a charger; no need to remove it and use the main leads.

There are a couple of areas on the bike that Colin is unhappy with, the rear lights set into the mudguard, for one, and he’s planning to do some work on them soon. The reg plate is positioned on the right hand side and is hydraulically operated so that it can be retracted for shows.

As you would imagine the overall weight of Finn McCool is considerable, it must be well over 300kg, so the stoppers must be good. The six pots were specially made by Harrison Billet, one of the best in the business.

Now this is not a machine for getting your knee down. Colin said: “On left handers it is not too bad because the drive belt with all the accompanying weight is on that side. But when it comes to right hand corners you nearly need to hang off it to get it to go around.”

However, when the machine was bought, about nine months ago he was not looking for something with the steering and handling of a race machine. He bought it for what it is, a custom bike.

The paint work is of the highest quality and the design and colour scheme was obviously given a lot of though to enhance the overall look and appear of the machine. Is it the best custom in these islands? I asked Colin.

“At present over here I think it is but if I were to take it to a show a England it would not be a winning bike. The design, development and workmanship of these bikes develops at a very rapid pace.” Well, Finn McCool looks good enough at me.

Belfast Telegraph


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