EL JEBEL — Why settle for a hog when you can ride a
tiger? The fellas at Bare Bonz Choppers in El Jebel designed a
bizarre-looking bike that incoroprates the skull and bones of a
saber-tooth tiger into its design. The lethal cat was good enough to
take second place Aug. 9 in the “most unusual” category at a custom
bike show competition at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
“I always wanted to be different and stand out,” said master blacksmith
Vaughn Shafer, who came up with the design, along with partner Bill
“Bonz” Rathbone and their team.
The Sabertooth Tiger Chopper
features a skull, complete with 6-inch power canines, menacingly glares
from the front of the handlebars. The spine and rib cage protect two
lung-shaped gas tanks. Hipbones, femurs, tibias and fibulas fill out
the chassis. The kickstand is a lower leg bone with paw. The
transmission linkage is radius and ulna bones.
“This is a collage of all our imaginations. There were a lot of good ideas and a lot of ideas thrown away,” Shafer said.
The “skeleton” is actually metal formed into the shape of bones then
covered with a powder coating that gives it an eerily realistic
appearance and feel. Shafer and his wife, Lori, run Iron Arts and
Interiors in El Jebel. Shafer incorporates replica skeletons of elk and
other big game into the sculpture and pieces he creates for the
business. That inspired him to pursue the saber-tooth design for a
The scale of the skeleton on the chopper is in scale
with the extinct cat, and it is anatomically correct, Shafer said.
Their mechanical collaborator, Glen Niemeyer, incorporated a 120 Ultima
engine and six-speed transmission into the pro street model bike. The
engine and tires were the only part of the bike that wasn’t handbuilt.
Ivan Sorensen, a blacksmith, rounded out the Bare Bonz core team, but
several of their friends helped out, including their wives, who put up
with them spending long hours in their workshop in the heart of El
The Sabertooth took three years and roughly $50,000 to
create. All the primary builders have day jobs, so they worked on the
chopper during evenings when they could. The creators wouldn’t hazard a
guess of how many thousands of hours of labor went into the bike.
Bonz hauled the Sabertooth Tiger Chopper to Sturgis in a glass-sided
trailer that looks like President Lincoln's hearse with Grateful Dead
décor. Travelers would zoom by him on interstate highways, do a
double-take then slow down to gawk.
Once at Sturgis, the bike
was often displayed in the trailer with special effects from a fog
machine and lights. “The joke was if we left it out at night it would
chase deer and rabbits,” said Bonz. “And small children,” added
Sturgis is to cycling what Aspen is to skiing.
Hundreds of thousands of riders and spectators converge on the South
Dakota town each August for the rally.
Winning a top spot in the
custom-bike show sponsored by a bar called Rat's Hole guarantees tons
of exposure, particularly in the “most unique” category.
Bare Bonz team said tens of thousands of people checked out the bike
while it was displayed at Sturgis. They became celebrities of sorts
once the 25 judges awarded them second. “I was taking pictures of
people taking pictures,” said Niemeyer.
The men felt they had a
winning entry for the custom-bike show. They were aced out only by a
sleek cycle called “The Time Machine” that was entered by a team from
Rest assured the Bare Bonz Choppers team
tipped a few beers to celebrate their strong showing. “Rock stars
partied with us, seriously,” said Bonz. The metal group Poison, one of
the performers at the show, invited the team backstage. The ZZ Top
dudes, famous for their flowing beards, also checked out the Sabertooth
during the rally.
The celebration party continues in El Jebel
this Sunday, Aug. 26. The chopper will displayed at the Short Stop bar
in El Jebel from noon until 7 p.m.
The winners of the competition didn't earn cash. “That's more for bragging rights,” Niemeyer said.
But the exposure could turn the Sabertooth Tiger Chopper into a money
maker. The Bare Bonz team was invited to compete in the Thunder in the
Rockies custom bike show in Loveland, Colo., later this month. That
competition and others they hope to enter pay cash prizes.
“We all stuck our necks out — forever — it seemed like,” Shafer said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org