Pat Dolan of Sportsman Flyer on the history of motordrome racing, how he came to build motorbikes, and why his vintage-looking saddles have leather flaps hanging off the sides. (Let’s just say the boys will be thankful).
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Sportsman Flyer?
Well, I have a back-round in welding and fabrication and have been working around equipment most of my life. I’ve been building and restoring cars since high school. I also enjoy sports, not the traditional team sports like baseball or football, but other sports like surfing, bike riding, flying, hunting and fishing. The Sportsman Flyer idea combines my interest in bicycles and the motor sports. Sportsman comes from the sporty nature of the bikes I build and Flyer refers to my time spent in aviation as a glider pilot.
How did you first get interested in building motorized bikes?
I have wanted a Whizzer, which is a vintage motorized bicycle, for years. Seems I could never find a decent deal on the right bike. A few years back my wife and I had been over surfing in Santa Cruz and we saw some guy ride by on a motorized bicycle. It wasn’t a Whizzer, but it was still pretty cool. That finally gave me the idea that I just needed the right bike and engine. I could combine the two and have my own motorized bicycle.
For someone who has never ridden a Sportsman Flyer, what do your customers say about the experience of riding their Sportsman?
They all say they find the experience pretty exhilarating. Especially the current bikes were building. It’s one thing to run around at over 50 mph on a motorcycle, but going that fast on a motorized bicycle is quite exciting.
How did you first find out about the motorbikes and motordromes of the 1920s?
I had seen a few vintage motorcycles and then the race bikes of the same era, the board track racers, at a couple vintage motorcycle shows and auctions in Monterey California. To me board track racers are just the coolest of the vintage motorcycles. Monterey has some of the best vintage motor sport events in the country and it’s a half hour from my house so I go every year.
It was a popular, and dangerous sport back then…
Yes, quite popular and very dangerous. The board tracks had huge banked corners. Speeds slowly crept up past 100 mph as engine designs advanced. Any sort of mechanical failure or collision could send the bikes flying off the track and into the crowds watching the race. Riders wore little in the way of safety gear. Crashing onto a wooden surface guaranteed at a minimum a serious case of splinters.
“I find sometimes that after all my hard work I try to convince myself that something looks good, then my brother or some friends will drop by and say ‘that looks lame.’ These guys are my harshest critics and I respect them for it.”
What’s your process for building bikes – strict pre-planning or making it up as you go?
I would say a bit of both. Because of my engineering background and drafting skills I prefer to hammer out the complicated details, off-sets, wheel base, rake and trail, on the computer first. Once I have a sound platform I build out the chassis and various components. From there I finish out the bike and stand back and take a good look. Does it look right? Are the proportions correct? How does it feel when I sit on it? Once I am comfortable with the overall look and feel I dress it out. Tires, grips, leather color on the seat, paint, etc.
As time goes on I continue to fine tune all my cad drawings. Some parts I manufacture have not changed in awhile, other parts, well I change every time I make another production run. You can have a perfectly engineered bike, but if it doesn’t look and feel right, what have you accomplished? I find sometimes that after all my hard work I try to convince myself that something looks good, then my brother or some friends will drop by and say ‘that looks lame.’ These guys are my harshest critics and I respect them for it.
“Our top of the line model, will cruise comfortably at 50 mph. Geared for top speed? Maybe past 65. You can go a long way on a gallon of gas. 50 – 60 miles.”
– pat dolan
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