A Subtle Harley-Davidson Black Nickel Bagger

Subtle is as subtle does

John Rank’s black nickel-finished bagger is worth a second look.

Brian Blades

This article was originally published in the October-November 1998 issue of Cycle World’s Big Twin magazine.

If you attended Harley’s 95th anniversary blowout in Milwaukee, you probably wouldn’t have noticed John Rank’s bagger, even if it had been parked next to your ride. But all is not gold that glitters; sometimes, the most exotic customs are the stealthiest. Okay, so you might have made a remark about the bike’s black nickel finish; but more than likely, you wouldn’t have looked twice.

Your loss. Because this bagger is worth a second look.

Low-rise tourpak is the trickest rear trunk ever. It’s hand-formed of aluminum, electrically adjustable fore and aft, and can be removed altogether—along with the saddlebags—when not wanted or needed.

Brian Blades

Use a little patience and you’ll spot all the work that’s gone into this machine. Inspect it for latches and locks, for example; you won’t find any. The fuel filler cap, the saddlebag latches and the tourpak latch are remotely controlled by the rider via hidden switches. (We’d like to point them out, but then they wouldn’t be hidden anymore, would they?) Fuel is supplied to the S&S carb through an electric valve that is activated by turning the ignition key.

But that’s not the best part. Not taking a passenger this trip? Simply unplug the rear pegs, unsnap the rear seat from its moorings, press a button, and the streamlined, hand-formed aluminum tourpak moves forward on its mounts, backrest snuggling tight to the rider’s kidneys. Don’t need to take along anything more than a toothbrush? The bags detach in seconds, leaving the back of the machine as naked as a sport-tourer’s, with no ugly brackets or dangling wires anywhere.

When it comes to riding his bagger, John likes to ride solo.

Brian Blades

Don’t miss the details of John’s bagger.

Brian Blades

It’s great fun to park this bagger next to a stock­er and then compare. You won’t find two pieces that are similar, let alone identical. Every little part has been massaged, changed ever so slightly, to improve look, fit and function. Literally hundreds of machinist Henry Wehr’s hours went into making all the changes.

That coal-black finish on the pipes and other metal parts is a black nickel coating, a new process under development at Southwest Plating, which does a lot of work for Harley-Davidson. Will we see black nickel on The Motor Company’s bikes any time soon? Depends on how well the finish lasts on John’s bagger. At the moment, after a few months and a couple of thousand miles, the nickel still gleams. It’s better than the black chrome on his last bagger, the owner reports.

Henry Wehr operates out of his shop, called Autosport, in Santa Barbara, California. Rank, meanwhile, lives and works in Milwaukee, several bagger days away. But so high is the quality of Wehr’s hand-made parts that Rank was happy to have his bike built by remote control.

When it comes to riding, though, John Rank is quite pleased to do that all by himself, thank you very much. And although he’d like you to notice his very special bike, he won’t get upset if you don’t.

Name John Rank
Location Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Year 1996
Model FLH
Name Henry Wehr
Location Autosport Engineering 725 Union Ave. Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Molding John Rank
Painter Butch Brinza
Chroming Southwest Plating, Milwaukee
Year 1997
Model S&S
Builder R.A.S
Displacement 103 cu. in.
Cases S&S
Lower end S&S
Rods S&S
Pistons Wiseco
Heads Hemi Design
Valves Baisley
Cam Red Shift 655
Pushrods Crane adjustable
Lifters Jims
Ignition Crane single fire
Carb S&S
Air cleaner Autosport
Pipes H-D
Mufflers Autosport
Year 1996
Type 5-speed, backcut gears
Primary drive Stock
Clutch Stock
Year 1996
Make H-D
Type FLH
Modifications Chin fairing, bodywork frenched into lines of frame
Year 1996
Make H-D
Type FLH
Modifications Lowered 21/2”, Progressive Springs
Rake Stock
Year 1996
Make H-D
Type Stock air shocks
Swingarm Reversed
Modifications Rear lowered 21/2” by reversing swingarm & reworking mounts
Wheel Sturgis Wheel Co.
Tire Dunlop
Tire size 140×16
Rim width 5.5”
Brake 6-piston PM with 13” disc
Wheel Sturgis Wheel Co.
Tire Dunlop
Tire size 150×16
Rim width 5.5”
Brake PM dual-piston
Handlebars Stock
Grips Stock
Mirrors Autosport
Gas tank Stock, with electric petcock and remotely operated filler
Oil tank H-D
Front fender Widened and stretched by Autosport
Rear fender Widened and stretched by Autosport
Headlight Headwinds
Taillight Autosport
Turnsignals Blended into fairing and tourpak by Autosport
Electrics Internally wired
Speedo/tach Sportster electronic speedo, stock tach
Seat Autosport
Foot controls Autosport, handmade
Rider pegs Autosport
Pass. pegs Quickly detachable
Other Handmade, electrically adjustable aluminum tourpak, fiberglass saddlebags