Sugar Bear on the cover in...
Sugar Bear on the cover in 1972 for the first time.
1n 1969 where were you or how old were you? Did you see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon or were you out on some farm in upstate New York rocking out at Woodstock? Maybe you were home watching ABC's new show The Brady Bunch or you could have been luckily spending $1.50 to see the Easy Rider premier in 1969? What does all of this have in common with each other? Well, this was the same year a new magazine called Street Chopper hit the newsstands.
Most of us trying to recall experiences 40 years ago are like having a memory with as many holes as Swiss cheese. But then you run into guys who were around that time and say things like, "it seems like it was just yesterday" or "it was such a good time, it's forever etched in my mind." Then you have someone like the one and only Sugar Bear who was not only around at that time but can remember things pretty clearly and is a great story teller, Sugar Bear was also there since the birth of choppers and has witnessed the evolution of these bikes.
If you ever get the chance to sit down with Sugar Bear and ask him about the bikes and frontends he was building in 1969, you might be surprised to find out that they are the same style of choppers and forks 40 years later. The motors might be a little different, but the bikes are still the long, low, rideable choppers that Sugar Bear became known for. Leading the way are Bear's Springer frontends with his hard-to-miss rockers, which without a doubt, are the most recognized rockers in the industry.
Sugar Bear with a 60-over...
Sugar Bear with a 60-over Springer frontend he had just finished for a build.
One of his original Street...
One of his original Street Chopper ads.
In 1969 Sugar Bear got the bike bug and started building a 750 Honda chopper, and this build lead him to meeting and becoming a lifelong friend of Ben Hardy. Needing some help and advice on his build, Sugar Bear was around when his friend and mentor, Ben, designed and built the two most famous choppers in the world that were seen in the movie Easy Rider: The "Captain America" and the "Billy Bike." The experience and love for building choppers is what influenced Sugar Bear to want to start his own shop.
In 1971 Sugar Bear opened his shop doors in Los Angeles, California, where he perfected his frontends. Then in 1972 when most Springers were tubing, Sugar Bear made his out of solid steel. This enabled him to construct a quality Springer to achieve a strong and long look that his customers were after at the time. Sugar Bear's first Springers were made in lengths up to 18 inches over stock, and throughout the decades he mathematically tweaked and perfected his work from short to long-length frontends to extremely long fork lengths, and he eventually made a name for himself with his signature Springers.
It was just about that time Sugar Bear was seen for the first time on the cover of Street Chopper just cruising down the road on his Honda chop.
The front of the new shop......
The front of the new shop... still no sign.
The bike known as "Gorjus...
The bike known as "Gorjus."
Sugar Bear with Ben Hardy's...
Sugar Bear with Ben Hardy's last bike at the old shop.
Over the next 20 years Sugar Bear worked on and built bikes and frontends for people looking for choppers that could be ridden with one hand with no bounce and zero flop, the kind of bike that you ride all day and feel comfortable on. His list of customers kept growing as did the list of different bikes he built. Sugar Bear worked on all things chopper from Hondas to Harleys and anything else that could be bolted in between the framerails. Almost all of Bear's work came by word-of-mouth. He said he was not trying to get famous, but he was just trying to make a living doing what he loves.
In 1995 one of Sugar Bear's long-time customers told him that he seemed to be one of the few people that were still building choppers the same way as he had from the beginning. It seemed most of the bikes seen in the magazines and at shows were low, fat, Pro-Street style bikes, and Sugar Bear just kept making choppers the same way he always had.
In 2003 Sugar Bear took a trip out to Las Vegas to attend the Artistry in Iron show. It was a good feeling for him to be invited to the show for the first time, and he went back three years in a row. For Bear this was a great way to get more people to see his work and keep the business coming to his shop. By 2006 the shop was going strong and there was a long list of customers waiting for Sugar Bear frontends and full bike builds. The builds take up a lot of time and there isn't much room for profits but this is where Sugar Bear loves to get creative. To help out with the workload, it even became a family thing. Sugar Bear's son Turk (or Little Bear) started at the shop in September 2006 to see the Sugar Bear Choppers legacy carried out.
In October 2007 Street Chopper was lucky to have both father and son on the cover once more with a story talking about Sugar Bear's shop, his background, and legacy. As far as the bike features went, the story covered one of my favorite bikes, his 1948 rigid Panhead named "Gorjus." I can't tell you how much I love this bike! The second chopper featured was owned by a lady by the name of Miss Glodean White, wife of R&B singer Barry White. The most significant thing about this bike is Glodean is the first female rider with a complete Sugar Bear bike, not just one of his frontends. Both choppers were so nice to see and photograph and to get a glimpse of past and present bike styles incorporated in these rides.
Standing with the banners...
Standing with the banners that hung at the H-D museum.
On November 13, 2008, Sugar Bear was invited to speak at the Harley-Davidson Museum where he was voted Man of the Year in motorcycling. He talked about his first introduction to the motorcycle movement in the '60s to opening his own shop in South Central Los Angeles in 1971. Bear also recounted his story and memories of Benny and everything he remembered over the past 38-plus years in the business as well as what he looks forward to in the next 40 years (at least we want him to).
Sugar Bear told us it was like he was now rediscovered all over again. These days business is going well for the King of Springs. "I need more time in the day to get all this work out the door but I'll find it," Sugar Bear said. He did have to move shops just about two miles up the street to a bigger place with still with no sign out front. "That is best, I don't need it," Sugar Bear said. The shop is more then double the space from 2,000 square-feet to over 5,000 square-feet. This allows him to have all his bikes and photos on display. As Sugar Bear called it, "It's my museum giving tribute to my past and all of my friends that got me where I am today so much history hangs on these walls."
Wrapping up a customer's ...
Wrapping up a customer's build.
What is next for Sugar Bear? We were told he is working on a book that tells his story and those of many others who are part of the history of the industry, and it will also feature never-seen-before photos. He also has a radio spot on the Open Road Radio Show on XM satellite radio Thursday, Extreme Channel 5:00 p.m. EST. And, of course, Sugar Bear is always manufacturing parts like handlebars called "Bear Bars" along with the signature Springer frontends from 2 inches over to 18 over, all the way up to what you need.
Sugar Bear and his choppers and infamous Springer frontends have stood the test of time. Sugar Bear is a true chopper-culture icon. His influence through the evolution of the custom motorcycle industry has left a mark and long-lasting impression on riders and chopper enthusiasts alike for decades past and for many years to come. As an individual and devoted bike builder who has been there since the birth of choppers, it is with great pleasure to have Sugar Bear's contributions help shape chopper history and his legacy to continue and flourish.