It amazes me that in today's information age there are still thousands of Chopper enthusiasts who don't know who Dick Allen was. This little section of the site will hopefully help to give this man the credit he richly deserves and educate newcomers in some of the historical information that surrounds our shared interests. Dick Allen was truly a legend in his own time and you can't say this about to many people.
Note that most of the images embedded in this article came from Darcy Allen (Dick's daughter), The Shamrock Fabrication site by Irish Rich, from his 'Applied Machete' blog and the Motorcycle-Art Webzine (motorcycleart.blogspot.com) owned by Chris Kallas.
Darcy came down to California this year (2014) and managed to meet a lot of people that worked with her father. She's shown below sitting on Joe Hurst's 'Chrome Bike' (formerly Dick's 'Wheeler Dealer'). Unfortunately I was in Texas so we only communicated by telephone. Needless to say I was surprised as hell that Dick had a daughter as all I remembered were his two boys. It was an honor to talk with her especially since she plans on continuing to explore her fathers legacy in whatever way she can.
Darcy met the current owner of Dick's 'Locomotion' frame and is in the process of trying to buy it back so it stays in the family. At least they let her hold the old (repainted) gas tank for a few minutes.
The last I heard the frame 'deal' was a 'blind leader' and proved to be nothing more than 'talk' which I'm learning fast is pretty much typical when it comes to anything Dick Allen related from some folks who claim to have been his 'friends'.
After talking with Darcey I began calling everybody I knew who had contact with Dick over the years. I'm going to give her the old fork set her Dad built for me in 65. They are in horrible shape so I called Irish Rich to see if he can find time to schedule them in for 'refurbishing'. Darcy rides her own Harley on a regular basis and spends most of her time doing volunteer work for veterans groups. Hopefully someday she'll be riding her fathers old bike and spreading the 'Allen Gospel' around the country.
Dick Allen was born in Rockford Illinois in 1937. Like a lot of young guys he was drawn towards anything that 'rolled' and it wasn't unusual that he ended up working in a cycle shop when he was only 13 years old. The old shop was at 3042 Kishwaukee in Rockford and there still is a shop there but it specializes in imports. Unlike a lot of young guys Dick's interest however went beyond just wanting to go fast in a car or on a bike. He was fascinated by the mechanical aspects of virtually anything that you could possibly imagine. Basically he was a self-taught engineer and mechanic with unusual creative talents. Some say that he verged on being a genius with respect to machines of any kind. The first time I met him we ended up having a 6-hour conversation that encompassed a whole range of subjects starting with cars and bikes but extending into speed boats, airplanes and shop-built tools.
When Dick was young he was actually a straight arrow character and a grade A-student. Hard to believe but he was also a Second Lieutenant in the ROTC when he graduated from West High School and was looking forward to a career in the Navy.
Dick was married for the first time around 1955 and had two children Richard Jr. and Drew who as far as I know still live in Rockford.
There is a myth that Allen came to California in 1965 as an 'outsider' from Illinois but in reality he was well entrenched in the California bike culture since enlisting in the Navy. Nobody knows for sure what he did for the Military. His first post was in Panama but it appears that he was later stationed at some remote site between the El Centro air base and what eventually became Vincent naval air base near Yuma. Dick was honorably discharged in 1959 and lived near the base in the small town of Winter Haven where he met and married Mary Benton that same year (his second wife). Dick perfected his machine trades in the military and coincidentally Mary was also a machinist and they met while working for the same shop. They had two children, Tracy and Darcy. Dick worked on bikes in a shop behind their house and was quickly developing a reputation as a good builder, mechanic and pretty radical 'Biker'.
For those folks not to familiar with Southern California Interstate 8 that runs from San Diego to just south of Phoenix was originally state highway 80 started in 1912 to connect the old Yuma marine base to the 'modern' world. Since the highway basically paralleled the Mexican border it's no wonder that it's a stretch of road very popular with biker gangs going all the way back into the fifties. Most of the land north of road belongs to the military and most of land south of the road is basically uninhabited desert. This is where Dick Allen started his career. There have been major bike runs on this stretch of highway going way back into the fifties. I think the Yuma Prison run still happens every year. Back in the 'old days' there was a notorious 'house of ill repute' that some say was 'sanctioned' by the military but it was the only biker hangout north of the border. I'm not sure but if I remember right it was called 'Imperial Gables'.
Dick and Mary moved to Bakersfield around 1960 and then later moved to Winnebago Illinois around 1961 and divorced the next year. Dick then married his third wife, Marge, and they and their two children, Clinton and Lee moved to Lawndale California in 1965.
Cinton passed away a few years ago rest his soul.
This is the point for most people where Dicks history as one of the South Bay builders begins.
Very few people know that Allen was as much into cars as he was into bikes and in fact almost all of his early frame fabrication work involved dragsters, a lot of that work took place when he was living in Rockford. Here's a rare picture of him at the Oswego drag strip in 1961. He's driving the black Chevy.
At first glance Allen was a pretty intimidating looking guy. He was far from being 'handsome' as they'd say in 'Gentleman's Quarterly' and was well over six-feet tall and probably weighed around 250 when I first met him. He didn't take kindly to 'strangers' but if you bothered to introduce yourself you'd soon get a big smile and a firm handshake. You immediately knew that you were meeting somebody who had no 'veneers'. What you saw is what you got and it was all genuine with no ego involved. I don't want to sound to 'Emo' here but he was about as close as I've ever come to meeting somebody who had an almost 'Zen' like quality in their personality. Dick was only around 28-years old when I first met him but he already looked like he was forty. I've been told that he had a 'hard' life but I think maybe it was more like a 'fast life' as a lot of us had back in those days.
Some folks have faulted him for personality quirks because Dick basically lived his life for himself. He didn't care what others thought and for this reason he was often seen as being somewhat 'aloof' or 'distant and uncaring', maybe even selfish or self-centered but I never saw that aspect in the man. If anything it was the reverse. He was passionate about everything and everybody. He was especially passionate about bike runs and parties.
If he had any faults, more than what most of us have, it was that he 'compartmentalized' virtually everything. This is not an uncommon trait seen in people that are consider 'gifted' or 'eccentric'. Dick had a 'compartment' for everything and I think this let him organize his life as he saw it. He had several 'extended' families but they were always 'separated' and 'compartmentalized' and it wasn't until long after his death that a lot of these people finally found each other.
Darcy sent the snapshot above that shows her Dad in 1966 behind the house in Lawndale. This may be the oldest photograph anybody has ever seen of Mr. Allen sitting one one of his bikes. This is the original 'Chrome Bike', a 54 Pan. Many people have told me that this bike was the one that eventually evolved into 'Wheeler Dealer' many years later.
This is the same bike in it's later incarnation with Sportster forks as it existed between 66 and 67. The photo below was taken by Dick's close friend Chuck Pilkington. This is a magazine scan from a1983 article about Dick published shortly after his death.
The image above is the same bike in it's third iteration, named 'Wheeler Dealer' by Roth for the magazine article in 1968. Dick didn't really do much different to the bike except install the extended Indian Girder, sissy bar and pipes. The original Pan motor was swapped for a Shovel. The tank remained the same throughout the bikes history. Just a note to the reader about Roth. I think he must have been related in some way to George Bush as he had a habit, maybe a compulsion, to give everything and everybody around him a 'nickname'.
If you showed Roth a picture he'd 'name' it. If you showed up in his shop he'd give you a 'nickname' (if he liked you). If you brought in a car or a bike he'd give it a 'name'. He called me 'Smiley' because he never saw me smile. He called Mike Vils 'Fass Mikey'. Mike thought he got the name because of his fast bike but Roth told me it was because of his hair that looked like it was going fast standing still.
Believe it or not the old Wheeler Dealer frame still exists after having been bought and sold about five times over the years. Joe Hurst is currently rebuilding the bike having owned it two times himself (see the first picture on this page for the current configuration).
This is a shot of Dick's house on 167th street in Lawndale. The bikes are 'White Bear' owned by Joe Hurst and Dick's 'Locomotion'. Rumor has it that this place was basically a home away from home for dozens of bikers and several of Dick's friends lived here on and off for several years.
The house is still there today but it looks like somebody subdivided the lot and built apartments in the back where the old garage used to be. That's Dick's two boys Clinton and Lee by his third wife Marge from Rockford seen in the background.
If you've done much reading about Chopper history you're probably already familiar with the parts and components that Allen became famous for. He's credited with developing the 2 into 1 exhaust system, first using disk brakes on bikes, first using automotive 'mag' and aluminum rims on bikes and developing improvements in belt-drive systems. Many people credit him with being the first guy to run a primary belt drive made by using belts from the old 6-71 dragster blowers on his own machined pulleys while living in Rockford in 1963. I've also been told that he was modifying car wheels and tires to get that 'wide-tire' look back in 64. He actually came up with a lot more than these few items and invented countless 'small' innovations for bikes that have become almost commonplace today. In general most historians also credit him with being a significant contributor to what became known as the 'South Bay' chopper 'style'.
This shouldn't be confused with the other 'South Bay' style that originated up in Frisco. What we're talking about here is a style of bike that first started to appear between 1959 and 1962 in that area of southern California bounded on the north by Segundo Beach, on the south by Redondo Beach and on the east by the 605 freeway. This area was literally the birthplace of the classic 'long-bike' as most of us know it today. The region includes the communities of Maywood, Gardenia, Redondo and Manhattan Beach, Compton, Bellflower, Lawndale, Lakewood, Torrance and Hawthorne. If you extend the imaginary northern boundary by about two miles it also encompasses the shop owned by Ben Hardy and the old shop owned by Ed Roth. This is where chopper history gets interesting because a lot of the 'legends' only lived a few blocks apart from each other. There was a continual exchange of ideas between these people and an almost 'communal' sharing of resources, parts, materials, labor, services and even complete bikes. It was a lot easier to get things done back in those times, in that environment, than it is today where every shop and every builder almost seem to be odds most of the time.
I first found Dick Allen in 1964 because I needed somebody to extend a set of old Indian 640 Scout Girder forks and his name came up as the guy who did this type of work. I lived in Kansas at the time and he was a little far away. Things didn't come together at the time and it wasn't until a few years later that I finally managed to hook up with him. This time I came with an introduction from Ed Roth and had no problem actually finding the man who wasn't all that easy to find in the first place since he didn't really have a 'shop' at the time and worked out of about three different places in Lawndale. Like a lot of us he held down a 'real' job during the day and did his own work after hours.
I showed him my forks and told him what I needed done. He took the forks over to a bandsaw and chopped them into six pieces and handed them back along with some tubing while he made a sketch on the back of some take-out menu. He told me to just follow the 'instructions' and weld everything back together per the dimensions he provided and then I'd be good to go. No charge.
Needless to say it didn't work out to well for me once I got back home and I ended up butchering those forks from lack of talent on my end of the equation. Years later I did rebuild those forks once I learned a little more and as far as I know somebody is still using them on some bike out there somewhere.
A few months later I needed to have a stock Harley Springer 'narrowed' and Dick Allen was again the man to see. In fact Dicks 'main claim to fame' was in narrowing old stock Springers. This isn't a simple job and basically involves completely 'de-brazing' all the fittings in the stock forks and then cutting, bending, modifying and re-welding everything back together again. Dick Allen literally became 'famous' for doing this chore but few people realize how significant this simple fact is. Ten hours and two cases of beer later plus a twenty dollar bill and I had a nice set of narrowed forks and a ton of new 'knowledge'.
The picture below is Dick's first 'house/shop' behind what used to be Ken's Trans-Way transmission shop where he worked from 65 to around early 1967 when they moved down the street to new digs..
Keep in mind that back in 1965-66 nobody had yet come up with the idea of building narrow forks from scratch. At least nobody but Dick Allen. While he was working on my forks he was telling me how we could be doing this easier and cheaper if we just shit-canned the old forks and started from scratch and built a Springer from tubing just using the old rockers, springs and spring perch from the stock forks. I had no idea what he was talking about but it sure sounded good.
In 1967 I had a chance to see his first set of tube forks based upon this concept and I was immediately sold on the whole deal and bought parts for two forks sets to take back to Las Vegas plus some sketches he made so I could build more of my own. We used these sketches to make some of the drawings for what we call the 'Rude and Crude Old School Springer' plans. Ironically Dick didn't bother to actually put his own plans into action until around 1968.
The ad below, from 1968 in Roth's little magazine is the first ad Dick ever ran for any of his products. The forks are his 'early' version of the straight-leg idea and utilized the stock Harley spring perch and upper tree.
Fast forward to 1971 and Dick Allen publicly announces the first ever 'completely custom' built narrow Springer forks.
This might not seem like a big deal now but his offering of these forks literally changed the entire concept of building a custom bike for the average guy on the street who prior to this invention had to either extend a stock Springer or modify their old hydraulic forks.
Dick advertised the forks as being $395, as seen in the 1973 ad above but in reality if you went by the shop before he went 'public' you could pick up a set in the 'raw' for $100. This might seem unrealistically cheap but keep in mind that you could buy a fairly decent used Big Twin for $600 at the time.
Ironically, even though Dick Invented the 'mass-produced' custom chopper Springer in the mid sixties, by the time he started to run ads several other companies were already selling forks of similar designs based upon his prototypes which he didn't bother to keep 'secret'. This really didn't bother him since virtually everybody still knew that an Allen Springer was the best you could buy so he never wanted for business. In fact he had to much business most of the time and routinely sold off parts to other builders. I bought his parts and I know that Al Myer (Sugar Bear) also bought components from him. I'm sure other local builders did the same. There was plenty of work to go around and Dick didn't have an 'ego' problem to stand in his way.
It's worth pointing out at this point that there was, back then, and still is today, an entire Chopper Industry made up of individuals and small shops who never bother to advertise their products or services yet they're all overloaded with work. The business model is simple. It's called supporting your local craftsmen. Stop by the shop, bring some beer and lay out your specifications for what you need made, or better yet make it yourself if you have the skills. It just kills me to see people talking about building a 'custom' bike but they buy everything on the Internet with a credit card. They end up with what I call a 'Bolt-on Special'.
Almost all my contact with Dick revolved around front-ends, either Girders or Springers so that's what I want to talk about here because I don't know anything about the other aspects of his work. We did compare notes on frame building and we had some agreement on certain aspects but a lot of disagreements on other aspects. At one time I had a copy of my old frame blueprints that he 'marked-up' to show me how to run what was called a 'raised transmission' but I lost those a long time ago.
With respect to Springer history I do think that Dick Allen was, without a doubt, the definitive originator of what most of us call the 'California Ultra-Narrow Springer'. We even have to go a little beyond that statement because the Allen Springers, in any of their various configurations, actually 'worked' and worked exceedingly well. He really didn't have any competition in this field at all and no matter how many companies sprang up making forks the 'Allen Products' fork set was never equaled.
The main reason for this wasn't because he made nice hardware. In fact his forks from a quality standpoint were about average. The big difference was that he understood Springer geometry and tuning and nobody else realized the importance of this simple fact. Even the factory mechanics didn't understand how to properly tune Springers.
If you do a lot of reading you've no doubt seen where many of Allen's 'ideas' were pirated and marketed by other companies and some of this is true and some of it is false. Dick had a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of friends so he often developed an idea, made the pass, and then let somebody else carry the ball. His exhaust systems were made and marketed by E.M.E. and this was all on the up and up. He let several people build Springers virtually identical to his own without asking for royalties. His attitude was basically that whoever actually fabricated something got the pay for it. That's not to say that he wasn't ripped-off. Every time he was in jail and then again after the bike accident his shops were pretty much 'cleared-out'. Sometimes he was forced to sell parts and tools to cover legal and medical expenses but a lot of people took advantage of these situations. He never cried over spilt-milk and just keep moving ahead.
Before we switch to the second page of this article I'd like to just post some photographs from other sites that we've mentioned earlier. Please visit these sites as they have a ton of good worthwhile info about Dick Allen for those interested in the man.
The first shot is from the Chris Kallas blog and it shows Dick (on the right) on a typical ride but what's interesting is that he riding two-up with a 'guy'. Nobody but Dick Allen could get away with doing this and to top it off that guy looks to me like Bruce Parrish. Maybe I'm mistaken but it sure looks like him. Could also possibly be David Mann if this pic is of a Hangmen ride.
If anybody knows the particulars on this snapshot call or email me as I'm sure there is a ton of history behind this particular run. One of Dick's 'business' problems was that he liked to ride more than he liked to build. In fact he preferred to build and work on what we call 'rider bikes' far more than fancy show bikes and this inclination alienated a lot of the so-called 'custom builders' (and potential customers) that were his peers.
(UPDATE: I did receive some info about the photo above and it was taken at a funeral in Santa Cruz and is actually a 'still' taken from a movie made by Gary Partlow and John Carney).
Dick and some of his friends would occasionally ride up to Searchlight Nevada on Friday nights back in the early sixties for a little party time at the Casino. Vegas was not a biker-friendly town (still isn't for choppers but baggers welcome) so if you wanted some of the freedom of Nevada but you rode a bike you usually stopped short of town at Searchlight and visited the El Ray for a little action.
The El Ray and a lot of the other 'clubs' were officially closed somewhere around 1965 when Searchlight was sucked-up into Clark County but all they really did was go underground. I actually moved way out on Blue Diamond road south of Vegas proper just so I'd be closer to Searchlight since this is where most of the Bikers would congregate on weekends. I met my first wife there, but at a burger drive-in and not the El Ray.
Actually the ride up from Los Angles to Vegas is a truly incredible bike trip and one that can typically made at 'full speed' so that stretch of highway was basically a race track for guys with hot bikes. Back in the day, once you crossed over into Nevada there was no speed limit so it was 'balls-to-the-wall', may the fastest iron horse win. Dick's regular crew on some of these runs was Mike Vils, Chuckie, Buzzard, Foot and Tiny.
I don't want to break away from writing about Dick Allen but but when I was contacted by Darcy I broke open some old boxes that had stored since the early seventies and the memories started to flow back into my mind. Sometimes we get 'dulled' by the passage of time and forget what the 'old days' were really like.
Looking back now, that period of time for me, as a baby-boomer', from 62 to 65 was an almost 'perfect time' to be alive. There was nothing that we couldn't do and the 'Man' pretty much turned a blind eye to it all. Things started to change in late 66 or early 67 and paranoia started to set in everywhere. If your were a Biker in 65 you were 'cool'. If you were a Biker in 67 you were 'meat' for the political grist mill. In 67 The city of Hermosa Beach actually tried to introduce a complete ban on motorcycles within the city limits. It only got worse as time moved forward. By 70 if you rode a 'modified' bike you literally became a moving target for law enforcement. By 1973 I personally believe that most bikers were routinely stopped just because they rode motorcycles. If you just so happened to also have 'long hair' you were shit-up-a creek.
I was almost beaten to death by a Cop in 69 just for parking in the 'wrong' spot but a few Angels helped me out otherwise I wouldn't be here today. I wasn't even riding a chopped bike as all I had then was my 'commuter', a small Triumph. A lot of people, mostly the Chopper magazine folks, still today, try to 'smooth-over' the issues between the law and Bikers that existed between 67 and 74. The younger guys today have no idea of how lucky they are to have missed all of that drama. We had cops bust into one of our camps in Big Sur and burn our bikes with the excuse that there must have been a fuel leak that got into the campfire. The men were taken to court, charged with violating the ancient 'Mann Act' of trafficking young women for prostitution across state lines. The women we had with us were charged with prostitution. Fortunately all charges were dropped in court and our 'gang' was dropped at the state line with no bikes and no money.
This wasn't an unusual situation for Bikers back then and I'm sure almost everybody who lived through those times have similar horror stories they can recount.
Allen was trying to do business right in the middle of this period of so-called 'social transition' and Dick Allen was not what you'd call a 'politically correct' type of guy by any stretch of the imagination so he had his ups and downs with law enforcement over the course of several years. Probably the worse run-in occurred in 1973 when he was busted for riding around on one of his Cobra Trikes than had a pot leaf laminated in under the clear-coat. He ended up serving six-months of a five year sentence for 'possession'. That kind of gives you an idea of how bad things were back then between the law and Bikers.
This next shot is a classic and it's been spread all around the web. I suppose the guys at the boutique discussion boards would call this 'Grunge style' so it could be properly classified. I'm still not to sure I understand some of these various 'boards' as they seem to be caught up in styles and fashions more so than in building or riding bikes but I guess I'm just behind the times.
As you can see Dick did not have a big ego and he wasn't much of what we'd call a 'fashionista'. For folks that never knew Dick in person you can get a slight inkling of how big this guy was when you look at the size of his hand over that grip handle and size of his boot.
Joe Hurst used to call this 'iteration' of Dicks putt, as seen above, the 'Rat Fuck' bike. This has to be a relatively 'late' photo as it clearly shows the 'fully-developed' concept of his early production version of the mass produced Springer. I'm guessing this is from 1968 or 69. Somebody has to know the history behind this snapshot and I hope that they'll send me an email. This is probably the first version of the bike that came to be known as 'Loco-Motion'. One tell-tale is the swastika clutch pedal. Even though this is a black and white photo you can easily see that the 'chips' on this frame match the 'chips' seen in other pictures of what people call the 'red' frame' bike. There is the big headlamp, the 'Z' bars, the band where the tie-wrap used to be located and biggest tell-tale are the cheap aluminum foot pegs.
This this next photo was taken in the shop around 1970 and clearly shows one of the Cobra trikes being mocked-up about a year before it supposedly existed. What's interesting is the bike frame sitting on top of the trike frame.The whole cobra bike thing kind of went down the drain when Dick was arrested and did time for 'distribution' because he laminated pot leaves into the clear-coat on the bikes bodywork. Roth picked up up the project from then on.
This particular Trike was never finished and I haven't run across anybody who knows what happened to the motor. The bike on the right is one of the various incarnations of 'Loco-Motion II', still wearing the old tank paint from Nasty Nez's (Nez Nesbit of Phase III) original 'Loco-Motion'. Fortunately this is an old Polaroid so we have a date stamp of November 1970.
There is some controversy over this particular frame. Some have said this frame actually became 'White Bear' owned by Joe Hurst while others have told me it became 'Loco-Motion'. I'm inclined to believe that the former story is true since Joe's bike had the sidecar hoops cut and molded while Dick left them stock on his frame. Whatever happened we know that both Joe and Dick road this bike, as seen here, on several occasions. I think I've seen Joe quoted as saying that it was basically a 'shop bike'.
Here's a shot taken from another web site and credited with being Joe Hurst 'jamming' on the 'Rat bike' and it's pretty easy to see that it's the red frame bike.
But here's another picture of a bike that people also called Dicks 'Rat' bike and it's the cradle frame bike with the black tank seen sitting on top of the trike frame.
The red-framed bike with Nez's old tank on it was Dicks 'Research & Development' bike and it went through a bunch of evolutions over time. The picture below shows it with a Vincent motor installed.
For fans of Dick Allen there remains some controversy about 'Loco-Motion' and 'White Bear' with respect to one another since Joe was quoted at some website as saying that Dick 'liked White Bear so much that he copied it'. I seriously doubt that Joe actually made that statement since it's fairly obvious from the record that Loco-Motion was being ridden by Dick before White bear came into existence. At one web site Joe is quoted as saying that they stopped along the way during one of their cross country trips to give some guy a deposit for building the frame for White bear. This is another 'story' that gets changed around depending on who you're talking with as several people have told me that the frame for 'White Bear' was the same frame that Joe used on his older 'Hustler' bike.
What a lot of people don't realize nowadays is that most builders back then took in almost any type of fab or welding jobs that came in the front door just so they could do this kind of stuff at the backdoor. Even the best fabricators could not make a living just by building bikes and if you were lucky enough to get a job at one of these shops you'd likely be welding bumper-hitches or making BBQ grilles to pay the rent. The 'good' work usually happened 'after hours'. Dick's sign outside his first two shops simply said " Dick Allen, Choppers and Welding".
Allen never saw a bike as being a 'Bar-Hopper'. For him riding was serious business and long distance riding was one of his passions. He 'invented' the auxiliary fuel tank for long-haul runs and the well circulated photo below shows his 'rig' on Loco-Motion sitting out front of the shop in Gardena around 1975.
At one time Allen and some of his friends started riding to Sturgis via Rockford, which a pretty long detour, but it became an annual run and eventually one of the cycle magazines teamed up with him and they officially called this the 'Dick Allen Dash' which became a fairly significant long distance endurance run. Dick actually missed the start of the first run and had to play 'catch-up' with the rest of the pack only to end up having his bike stolen in Denver. The magazines never the less credited him with winning the competition. The real winner isn't known to this day.
Dick even 'invented' a whole bunch of specialized tools but he actually tried to commercially sell his version of an engine/tranny work fixture. Like everything else he did it was copied and made and sold cheaper by dozens of other people.
As far as I know Dick was never a member of any official 'club' but if anybody organized a club ride Dick Allen was usually invited. He was one of the few 'Lone-Wolves' who was seldom alone on the road. From what I gather he had some close friends in the Hangmen and El Forastero clubs. I know several of the Hangmen had his front ends on their bikes. Of course looking back now I suppose anybody who was serious about riding back then had one of his forks sets.
Dick Allen's memory seems close to most of us builders today who knew him as a friend but we need to keep in mind that most of us who knew him, those of us who are still living, weren't actually part of his original peer group. Allen was a product of the Bobber and Chopper builders of the fifties, not the sixties as we normally associate him. He started building bikes in 1950. This is a fact a lot of us tend to forget. By the time the sixties rolled around he already had a lot of experience and by the seventies he had firmly established his own unique 'style'. For many of us 'Boomers' Allen was a living legend, a mentor and a friend who always had time, to give you some of his own time, which is a rare thing.
This is one reason that Dick seemed to 'attract' a huge following of 'up and comers' way back in the old days. A lot of these 'youngsters' would eventually become legends themselves thanks, in part, to some of Dick's wisdom.
Here's a great picture of Dick taken around 1971.
The guy with his back to the camera is Randy Smith, when he was working for Custom Chopper Magazine under the pseudonym of 'Bud Wiser'. That's Randy's press camera that Dick's holding. Dick's wearing another 'shop' shirt. I don't think I ever saw him in a 'civilian' shirt but he seemed to have an endless supply of uniforms from a variety of 'businesses' for some reason.
While we're on the subject of Dick Allen and the media I think that folks need to understand once and for all that chopper magazines exist for only one purpose and that's to make money from advertising. The mags don't care one bit about the 'content' that goes into the rag so long as each issues sells more advertising revenue. That's just a fact of life.
When it came to Dick Allen however many, if not all of the stringers, photographers, staff writers and even some of the publishers were drawn to him like a magnet even though he usually refused to do any significant advertising of his products. His shop became a hang-out for media types over the years because they got to see the so-called 'Biker lifestyle' lived out before their very eyes. Keep in mind that the vast majority of magazine people back in the day didn't even ride bikes. I think I remember about tree staff writers who actually owned a motorcycle. I know of several articles written about some of Dicks products and related work that have never been published simply because he wouldn't pay for advertising space in some magazine. From day one Dick always felt that the best advertising was via 'word of mouth' and he stayed with that concept to the very end.
One ex-magazine guy I talked with said his old outfit probably had over a hundred Dick Allen related pictures in the archives that will never be published or released to the public.
Another interesting thing about Dick Allen was that he never really 'promoted' his own business, at least not within the time period I knew him. I never saw any Dick Allen 'bling' like decals, shirts or hats. In fact he seldom ran any magazine ads, beyond the few other people have posted at various sites. On the other hand he was pretty active in promoting other businesses owned by his friends and even had their shop decals on a lot of his builds. You'll never find a 'Dick Allen Products' decal anywhere because he never made any. You won't find any 'Dick Allen' shirts or hats anywhere because he never made any. The vintage ones you find today were made by people who did so without Dicks endorsement. As far as I know nobody making some of this Dick Allen bling nowadays has even asked the family permission to do so.
Most, if not all, of Dicks original group of friends are long gone and those of us who remain and had a chance to ride with him were his second tier of friends, the younger guys who hung around the shops in the late sixties and early seventies while he worked on our projects. This is one reason that there are two different levels of old stories about Dick. One level, almost mythic, are the stories handed down from the 'old guys' and then there is the second level that a lot of us can recount from first hand experiences. Interesting is the fact that you can ask a single question to a group of his surviving friends and get numerous completely different answers.
Some of this dichotomy can be laid directly at the doorstep of the Chopper Rags back in the day who literally 'made-up' many of the 'stories' they published. These 'Mags' also stirred up the shit when they could and a good example of this was an article about Dick Allen challenging anybody anywhere with any type of bike to race him cross country from L.A. To Chicago. Needless to say this stirred up the pot in the motorcycle industry and a lot of people were just looking to get some good publicity from beating Dick at his own game. I need to inject some preamble here as Dick had a reputation, for decades, of having the fastest bikes on the planet so he was always a big target of the so-called 'performance crowd' in the industry. I can say from personal experience that he did have some incredibly fast bikes but it was actually his riding style that won him races against much faster bikes. To put it simply he just ran 'flat-out', 'balls-to-the-wall' on any and all roads and in the twisters he usually beat his competition by shear 'guts' alone.
I have no idea who actually won that race as it eventually disintegrated into just a big party but by mid point Dick was already a full day ahead of the rest of the pack despite getting started a day late.
You can click on the picture to see a larger image of the magazine article.
Even today, for his friends, it's sometimes hard to separate myth and legend from fact largely because Dick's life was almost mythic even while he was still alive. This is in stark contrast to what you see today concerning other 'famous' builders who will probably never be remembered for doing much of anything except building a couple of show bikes on some television program.
What is somewhat ironic is that a couple of people I've called to gather more information about Dick actually want to be 'paid' to tell their 'stories'. I seriously doubt that these types of people could have really been his friends but who knows.
Darcy summed it up perfectly when she told me that Dick experimented, improved and then built Choppers so that other people could ride and enjoy having a properly modified bike and not some monstrosity built by a celebrity. He cared not for fame or fortune and sought out neither during his lifetime. He didn't run a shop that sold glitz and bling for inflated prices. He didn't rip people off for 'services' and basically he lived by the 'Golden Rule' of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Dick was into bikes for the pure joy and excitement of the 'Ride' and this is probably the real reason he became a legend. Somebody in the industry was once quoted as saying that Dick's 'Word' was better than any printed legal 'guarantee' offered by any manufacturer anywhere at anytime.
After a wild and exciting life Dick Allen died peacefully in his sleep at Chuck Pilkington's house on August 20, 1983 as the result of a brain injury received in an earlier auto accident and then aggravated by his1981 cycle accident. He is missed by literally hundreds of people.
Darcy has started a non-profit organization called "The Dick Allen Memorial Foundation" and funds raised by the group will go towards helping Bikers and families of Bikers who have had an accident or other bad runs of luck. If you'd like to donate anything to the group contact Darcy via email at email@example.com Donations can be in any form including cash, goods or services and will be tax deductible. Darcy is also putting together a book about her father so anybody who knew Dick and has a story to tell should contact her. The objective is to prepare a biography where each of his friends will have a separate chapter so the final work will be a testimony to Dick's life and the lives of those who rode with him.
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