Bad to the Bonz

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EL JEBEL - Master blacksmith Vaughn Shafer rests on
the rear seat of his custom motorcycle trike, surrounded by a few of
his Bare Bonz Choppers crew.

Some have tattoos and sip cold beer from cans.

All have grease under their fingernails.

Shafer's
wife, Lori, and the Bare Bonz guys talk excitedly about their recent
trip to South Dakota. At the 67th Anniversary Sturgis Rally Aug. 6-12,
Bare Bonz's latest creation - a hand-forged, custom sabertooth tiger
chopper - received plenty of attention.

At one glance, it's obvious this is no ordinary motorcycle.

A closer looks shows that it's part artwork and part science project.

The bike's kickstand replicates the delicate bones of a sabertooth's foot.

Its coil cover is a metal heart painted with blood-red veins.

And the gas tank is surrounded by a "rib cage" - metal finished in a powder-coat paint technique to resemble curved bones.

"It's anatomically correct to the T," Shafer said, of the sabertooth's fabricated skeleton.

Creativity
is what sets this chopper apart, Shafer says. Craftsmanship helped it
place second in the world for the most unusual bike and sculptures of
steel category at Sturgis.

"Every bit of it was handmade - even
the rims were handmade," he said. "It's the old-school craftsmanship.
It's original and art."

The sabertooth tiger bike is a sculpture on wheels.

A 900-pound, internal combustion-powered work of art, three years in the making.

The product of the Bare Bonz crew's blood, sweat and tears.

"The
creative juices and the collaboration of our team - we all
collaborated," Shafer said. "We're wore out. A month before Sturgis we
were working 18 to 20 hours a day - all of us - we were doing it in
shifts."

In preparation for Sturgis, there were a few all-nighters.

If there was time for rest, crew members slept in the shop.

After
one especially long night, Billy "Bonz" Rathbone and his wife, Andrea,
slept in a hearse - the bike's hand forged trailer with Plexiglas
windows that put the bike on display, even on the highway.

"My wife said, 'This is the first time I've ever slept in a hearse,'" Rathbone said. "I told her, 'And it won't be the last.'"

The
20-man Bare Bonz crew take their work seriously. But they also know how
to laugh, coping with the stress of building a chopper when it reaches
full throttle.

"We spent every day together," Rathbone said. "We always make it work. We come together, hug, pray."

Standing
in Shafer's Iron Arts blacksmith shop, the Bare Bonz Choppers crew are
visibly proud of their award-winning creation. They all share respect
for the art of hand forging metal.

Especially Shafer, a third generation blacksmith.

"Once
you get the metal and coal and smoke in your blood, it doesn't go
away," he said. "It's an art that has just been misplaced, and it's up
to us to pass it on. We're the next generation."

Many of Shafer's friendships have been forged through metal work.

"Anybody
that dabbles in metal keeps in touch," he said. "It's really important
all these boys who are standing here right now know that if it weren't
for them, we couldn't have built this thing."

Contact April Clark: 945-8515, ext. 16601

aclark@postindependent.com