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Erik Christensen's 1964 Harley-Davidson Panhead

Motorcyclist logo Motorcyclist 2017-08-16 Erik Christensen
1964 Harley-Davidson Panhead with rider Erik Christensen. © Michael Porterfield 1964 Harley-Davidson Panhead with rider Erik Christensen.

This Panhead Harley spent 30 years in a shed, but now gets ridden regularly.

I grew up around people who appreciate old stuff. My dad collected barber chairs and crank telephones. He bought an old hotel just to pull out valuable items so they didn’t get destroyed. Being around this stuff gave me an appreciation for old things. The stories that they tell stop me in my tracks.

I come from a multi-generational insurance-agent family, and I fought that job for as long as I could. I flew airplanes, collected skydives, and hurt myself BASE-jumping. I traveled—a year in Japan and six months in Australia. I was out in the world and not restricted to the island of Ketchikan, where I grew up.

But that desire to find and restore items that shaped history was always in the back of my mind. Now that I have a career and a family, I’ve started to explore that appreciation in earnest, especially my fascination with motorcycles. I live 10 minutes from my office, so I figured a motorcycle would be a great commuter.

My first three builds made me realize how much I enjoy having my kids with me in the garage. Café racers displayed in my office became conversation pieces that led to more barn finds. I had to find a way for my family life, work life, and personal hobby to overlap. That’s how Alaska’s inaugural vintage motorcycle show was born.

In the days leading up to the show, my garage was transformed into a staging area. One of my neighbors walked over holding a sticky note.

"The digger runs like a top now. It’s more reliable and leaks less than my British bikes. My heaven is 55 mph in third gear."

“I grew up with this guy,” he said. “He has MS and isn’t able to ride anymore.” Then, he handed me the note. On it was written: “1964 Harley Panhead Arlen Ness Chopper.”

In Alaska, anything worth saving is going to be in a shed or garage—someplace not exposed to the elements. If you meet the right people who help you uncover cool stuff, that stuff is probably going to be on the good side, great even, of whatever it is. And it’s going to have a unique story.

I drove out to look at the Panhead. The bike had been chopped in the late ’60s or early ’70s. It had a magneto, cloth-wrapped plug wires, lacquer paint, and a juice brake with a raked-out 12-over front end. It was period appropriate with a coffin tank—a time machine. I knew I had to have that bike.

You can imagine all of the issues that come with a bike that had been idle for 30 years. We started chipping away and slowly brought the Panhead back to life. With help from Ron Harvey at Harvey’s Custom Classics, we got it back on the road. The digger runs like a top now. It’s more reliable and leaks less than my British bikes. My heaven is 55 mph in third gear.

I’ve met some unique characters who have helped me uncover some cool stuff. With my kids now involved in restoring pieces from the past, I hope that they, too, grow up with an appreciation for old stuff. Only time will tell what they do with that appreciation and life lessons learned in the garage with dad.

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