RIDER: Pete McGill’s `79 H-D Shovelhead

Words and Photos: Pete McGill

I bought this bike as a fairly ragged bobber. The idea was to get it mechanically sound, make it look cooler and ride it on The El Diablo Run in 2015. 

The mechanical side was pretty standard. I took off the less than reliable stock electronic ignition and replaced it with points, re ran all the oil lines, rebuilt the carb, and a few other things. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from an old bike bought at a decent price. The look of it was a different story. I loved the old blue one stage paint on the split tanks, but had my heart set on a “skinny” bike. So I decided they may look better on the wall (at least for now), and cut the mounts off.  It also had a sprung seat on the swing arm frame, wide handle bars, and an FL front end complete with a giant headlight. All these things would have to go. I planned on a 35 mm front end that was about 4 over, skinny bars, a frisco tank, and a weld on hard tail. After a quick look at the calendar the hard tail idea was scrapped. But I was able to score chrome 35mm lowers and a set of 4 over tubes on the internet, it seemed like that would be easy enough. I got to work on mounting the tins to get them off to paint.

As my departure date got closer, things just weren’t working out. The narrow glide front end wasn’t lining up, the holes I drilled to in the tank tabs were too big, and the rear fender was just too normal. It became clear I’d be riding my daily rider softail to Mexico. EDR ’15 came and went, as did the next year and a half, and I hadn’t really done anything with the bike. It was time to get moving. I decided to start with a good cleaning since the tins were off. It was easier to throw the FL front end on it to roll it outside than to reassemble the narrow glide, so I did that. I also threw a set of Biltwell risers and bars that I had bought for my softail on before pushing it outside. After spraying it down, I really looked at the bike for the first time in a year and a half. In truth it may have been the first time I really looked at what was there and not what I thought a swing arm chopper should look like. I immediately took the headlight and Nacelle off. The wide front end started to look right.  I worried the skinny tank might not look right with the wider front end. Holding the tank in it looked fine, but was kind of hard to see. I re-drilled the tabs that my friend Alex Lopez of Born Free Cycles was kind enough to fill in for me. Once I mounted the tank it all started to make sense. I ditched the full rear fender that Joel at 845 Motorcycles had painted the same as the tank. While the craftsmanship was excellent, together they were just a little busier than I wanted, plus the fender wrapped too much for my liking. I grabbed a sportster fender at the Long Beach Swap, trimmed a few inches off the front, and rotated the fender forward. Joel kindly shot it with some clear.

Pretty soon I was up and running. I was on the bike every chance I got. Two things still bothered me a little. The first was that the rear shocks were a little rough around the edges (found them at the swap). The second was the left forward control was slightly bent. I decided I should change both. It was a decision that I’d come to regret. In the rush to swap the shocks I never actually measured the new ones or set them directly next to the old ones. Turns out, the difference was just enough that the new shocks would cause the taillight and seat hardware to rub on the rear tire at highway speed. By the time I got to Temecula, both the seat and the taillight were held on with bailing wire. Once across the border the taillight and license plate went in my bag.  Which is right around the time the shifter decided it wanted to pop off every few miles. Fortunately, my buddies Clay and Justin hung back by me while we let the rest of the group get to San Felipe. While it was somewhat nerve racking, it was nothing a pile of Tecate beer and a donkey show couldn’t fix. 

Once I made it home I put the crusty shocks back and finished all the other tweaks. Now she’s running, riding, and very ready for her next adventure.

Spec Sheet

Owner- Pete McGill


Make- H-D

Model- FXS



Type- H-D Shovelhead

Size- 80ci



Type- 4-Speed


Year/Type- Stock 

Rake/Stretch- Stock


Frontend- H-D FL

Rear Shocks- Swap meet special


Brand- Pirelli MT 90 up front Avon SM II in the rear

Size- 21” up front 16” rear

Calipers- H-D

Rotors- H-D

Sprocket- H-D


Painter- Joe Meyer-England

Graphics- Nope

Plating- No

Polishing- Never

Powdercoating- Specialized


Front Fender- None

Rear Fender- 80’s sportster

Gas Tank- Lowbrow Customs Narrow Frisco

Gauges –

Handlebars- Biltwell

Grips- Lowbrow Customs

Mirrors- LowbrowCustoms

Foot Controls- H-D

Headlight- Motorcycle supply co

Taillight- Cycle Standard Comet

Seat- Old Gold Garage

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