When a custom-built chopper is undeniably cool, it can stand on its own as a piece of art. But oftentimes, the story behind the build is as interesting as the hardware. When Jesse Swickard sent us photos of his latest build, we couldn’t help but admire his creation. As we learned more about its inspiration and the spirit behind it, we knew you’d enjoy the story too. 

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
Jesse Swickard’s latest build sitting pretty in Idaho. Photos by Mark Coffin.

The genesis for this project began during the Covid pandemic when Swickard got bored of sitting around and started on a new build in his fabrication shop in Oregon. 

“It was a bit overwhelming when the lockdowns happened,” Swickard told us. “Portland was shut down for about a year, and it was very strange. Instead of worrying about it, I purchased a frame and a motor and started this project.” 

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
Jesse Swickard has a lifetime of riding all kinds of bikes, from motocrossers to ADVs to hardtail choppers.

Jesse Swickard had previously built a variety of different bikes, but for this one, eventually dubbed “Riding Dirty,” he wanted to do an old-school hardtail with a Springer front end and topped with a Sportster tank. He initially thought he could complete it in a couple of months – “enough time to get through the strange world” – but supply-chain interruptions put regular roadblocks in his path.

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“In choosing some of the components, it really came down to what I could find during lockdowns. It was a pain to get anything.”

Case in point: the bike’s motor. Swickard originally wanted to use an S&S engine, but he was told they were all sold out. Instead of waiting, he settled for an Ultima 140 Evo powerplant and decided the focus of his project would shift primarily to its paintwork.

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
Swickard’s buddy Eddie Slepicka knocked it out of the park with his stunning paintwork.

For Jesse Swickard, there was no better choice for a painter than his buddy Eddie Slepicka at Bent Metal Customs, who has built an enviable reputation among builders in the region and has painted some of Swickard’s previous bikes. 

“I like to give him trust and freedom to create,” Swickard said, adding that he first met Slepicka on a chairlift while snowboarding. “I told him to make it retro 1970s, and we talked about a color range with lots of candies.” 

As for the metalwork, Swickard relied on his own skills. The rear fender began as a trailer flap and was sculpted into its simple slender shape. But simple doesn’t always mean easy. For example, the one-piece sissy bar took several attempts before Swickard got it right. 

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
Riding Dirty is powered by an Ultima 140 Evo with an open primary, a 6-speed tranny, and a belt final drive. Swickard fabbed the exhaust system himself.

“It was challenging,” he admitted. “I used a forge to heat the half-inch solid bar and carefully traced a wire jig I made, but the top point wraps 90 degrees back down, and it kept breaking during bending.”

Frustrated with the steel he was working with, Swickard switched to a solid bar of chromoly steel and annealed the bend section, which enabled him to craft it into the proper shape without splitting. 

Related: Something to Chout About: Vintage Indian Kiwi Custom

Building the bike solo, Swickard handled the wiring harness himself. With only a brake light, a headlight, and no turnsignals, it’s an uncomplicated system: “One light toggle with a run switch, single-fire ignition, and a starter.”

License plates don’t usually deserve an explanation, but the one on Swickard’s build does. He found an old Oregon car plate at a Portland swap meet, then cut and formed it to fit on a curved carrier. 

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
Swickward sourced the fat-spoke wheels and disc brakes from American Classic Motors.

“I’m native to Oregon, so it says something to me to have an Oregon plate,” he related, adding he recently has relocated to Idaho. “It’s not legit, and I don’t recommend this unless you are willing to take the consequences. An Idaho ticket for nonregistered motorcycles is only 45 bucks, so it kind of speaks to my rebel heart to take the risk and create a story with the bike.”

When Swickard finally received his painted tins, he was blown away by Slepicka’s artistry. 

“When I first saw the parts, I went into shock – like seeing your first naked girl! He airbrushed and hand-laid leaf, with lots of pin work. I’m firm in saying this is his best paint job yet.”

Swickard initially imagined it might take only a few months to complete the bike, but it turned into a much lengthier project.

Jesse Swickard Riding Dirty Chopper Lockdown Lowdown
The rear end of Riding Dirty is a source of pride for Swickard, who fabricated the fender and sissy bar. The license plate is a call-back to his Oregon roots.

“The ironic thing about the build is that I mentally wanted to stay busy through the Covid madness, but I’m now about two years into it!” 

When everything was bolted back together, Swickard was thrilled with the final result, and Riding Dirty now sits proudly in his Idaho shop next to his desk when he’s not riding it. 

“It becomes therapy working with your hands and building bikes. During hard times, bikes keep you focused, keep friendships together, keep great conversations happening, and motivate others to seek a project. 

“I’m not sure what life would be without a motorcycle or a project in my life or friends with motorcycles.”

More photos of “Riding Dirty” in the gallery below


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