DEAL'S GAP ON A GOLDWING

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wild ride at 175mph

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TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN (TAIL OF THE DRAGON)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Building, riding motorcycles gives man perspective on life

Vincent Hann loves the feel of the open road, the wind in his face, danger nearby.
"Floating 6 inches off the road, I look down and watch it pass by under my feet and realize I'm close to death," he said.
Hann, 38, who lives near Spring Ridge, has been riding a motorcycle almost every day for 23 years, through rain, snow and even a flash flood one time near Point of Rocks, he said. He takes weeklong trips on back roads carrying little more than tools, racking up about 50,000 miles a year on his bike. He's even built his own chopper.
Hann doesn't like to be labeled a biker though, or a rebel. And he's no weekend warrior, sporting a $20,000 Harley-Davidson when the weather is sunny and warm.
His father, who Hann said could build anything, including the house near Spring Ridge where his mother lives, started him out on his own motorcycle at the age of 15.
His father taught him to ride and how to fix and build his own parts, but also encouraged him to channel his creativity.
Hann graduated from Gov. Thomas Johnson High School's gifted and talented program in visual and performing arts in 1987.
He painted and sculpted in school, and the inspiration to work on metal grew as an expression and extension of varied interests, Hann said.
In the late '80s, Hann, a metal worker who also teaches a medieval German martial art featuring swordplay called Kunst Des Fechtens, began to forge his own weaponry alongside parts to customize motorcycles. Hann said he has "chopped" almost every bike he has owned.
"Chopping," or modifying manufactured motorcycles so that only the essential parts remain, enhances speed and agility in addition to style, Hann said. The term harks back to the period after World War II, when pilots returning home bought Harley-Davidsons, which were less exclusive then, and stripped them.
They had been accustomed to traveling precariously at high speeds, and sought ways to relive the experience on fast, light motorbikes.
Working with stock motorcycles limits what can be changed, Hann said, from the design of a frame, to the way the wiring is hidden behind plastic panels.
"Mass production breeds compromise," Hann said.
One advantage, though, is that chopping a pre-made bike -- tweaking it here or there, depending on what he needed -- allowed him to ride every day.
Building a chopper from the ground up, a task he started in 2005, meant he couldn't ride until he finished.
It took him two years, and Hann said he almost couldn't handle it, but the sacrifice provided incentive and was worth the reward, Hann said.
There were no limitations, Hann said. He used his driveway as a workshop, setting up a metal table, a welder and an antique lathe, to machine all of the foot pegs and handlebars. He made the parts, assembled them and then took them apart to repaint and polish.
Hann's chopper has a "hard tail," or no rear suspension, a "suicide shifter," or hand-operated stick shift instead of the usual toe shifter, and a sloping, protracted front wheel without brakes that helps him see and feel each contour of the road.
"A lot of people build bikes to impress other people," Hann said. "I just want to feel happy when I ride it, and I do."
He said the bike turns a lot of heads, and he's spent as much as half an hour explaining details of its construction.
"It's really cool the people you get to meet," Hann said.
His brother, Shane Hann, a professional painter, helped him detail parts for his motorcycle, and they have discussed opening their own shop.
Hann isn't sure though, and said he also wants to start a Kunst Des Fechtens school in Frederick.
Mostly, he enjoys the perspective on life he gets from riding his chopper.
People are separated from nature in their cars, and feel impervious, Hann said. On a motorcycle, everything appears bigger -- the lanes and road -- and the rider is not isolated from the elements.
"You realize how small you are," he said.

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