Sunshine In Chopper Form

Art Hendey knows Harley-Davidson Knucklehead motors like a pro

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in Street Chopper Fall 2006.
This is not the sort of ride you take out of the garage for that weekly run to the local Starbucks so you can feel hard-core. But if you’re the type of rider who wakes up after a hard night of drinking ready to ride, you may be able to relate to it. It’s a wild chopper from a time when there was no aftermarket and folks hopped up bikes on the fly.

And, yet, its handle says anything but “hard-core biker.” “Sunshine,” as it’s named, is a ’46 Knuckle rigid built by Art “Knucklehead Junior” Hendey of Banning, California, who wanted it to be a tough, outlaw’s ride. Art’s a die-hard Knuckle fanatic who builds his bikes from scavenged H-D parts wherever possible. He loves the work that goes into chopping and modifying stock pieces in order to make them truly his own. He did much of the work himself but also had a lot of input from his veteran biker compadres.

Take the motor, for example. Art started with a set of Knuckle cases he’d gotten at a swap meet 15 years back. Over time, he built the bike around them and his good buddies pitched in with the build. Clell Richards, for example, was the go-to guy for the motor work. He lent his valuable experience when it came to fitting the Flathead flywheels and Shovel pistons to the Knuckle cases to give the motor plenty of torque.

Sunshine’s mill wasn’t the only part Frankenstein-ed together from a variety of corpses. Three Harley frames from various decades donated tubing to give Junior the rigid chassis he wanted. His buddy, Negotiable Tim, hooked Hendey up with the back half of a ’39 rigid frame, a ’52 transmission cradle, and a ’64 Panhead wishbone with an open neck reminiscent of the old Denver’s Choppers’ frames of that era. Once they were all mated together, Art had the skeleton for his monster.

harley-davidson gas tank

Badass gas tank by Leon Dailey and Todd Long.

Mark Masker

valve guides

Briahna even assisted on the motor work by honing the valve guides and cutting the seats.

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harley-davidson knucklehead

Her love for Knucks must run pretty deep since she plans on building a ’45 with her dad, as her own daily rider—when she gets to high school.

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S&S Cycles air cleaner

You’d think that with such an old-school background Junior would have named it something badass like “Backbreaker” or “Mad Dog.” But Sunshine? What’s that about?

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poker hand detail

Aces and eights, the dead man’s hand. Legend has it this was the poker hand Wild Bill Hickok had when he was gunned down in Deadwood in 1876.

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harley-davidson knucklehead chopper

As mentioned, the bike’s name came from his daughters. “Even at their young ages,” Art said, “they could recognize how a wicked chopper could bring sunshine and happiness into a man’s life.”

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Avon tires

Art runs Avon rubber on his 4.25 x 18-inch Akront rear wheel.

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knucklehead primary

Even on the primary side, this Knucklehead is a treat for the eyes.

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Harley-davidson knucklehead chopper

Hell, even its scars look good.

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paint detail

This is a level of paint detail you don’t see on many bikes.

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Riding Harley-Davidson knucklehead chopper

Now that Sunshine’s done, Art’s going to do what he loves most—ride the tar out of it. He’ll ride all over California for certain and probably to Sturgis and back, like he did with his last chopper. After all, that’s what old outlaw bikes are for.

Mark Masker