Custom Bike Builders Find Consistency, Versatility in Miller's Millermatic 175 MIG Welder
The motorcycle culture thrives in California and much of that culture revolves around the bikes, their style and how they represent their owners. Viking Kustoms, builders of custom motorcycles in Corona, Calif., realizes their customers know exactly what they're looking for. The product they are looking to buy is essentially an extension of themselves. "We stand behind our bikes 100 percent," says Dwayne Erickson, custom car builder and an avid motorcyclist at Viking Kustoms. "We build to people's specifications and style - we specialize in bikes for the people."
Building bikes "for the people" is a tall order when your clientele are some of the most enthusiastic bikers in the nation. But it's not as simple as slapping some steel together, throwing on wheels and creating a natural speed demon. The right tools are critical. When Viking Kustoms needed a welding system they could depend on to weld drawn over mandrel (DOM) steel, they turned to Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
Burned Out Executive Hits the Road
John Wojcik, owner of Viking Kustoms, previously worked as an executive manager for one of the largest wholesale auto auction companies in the country. Wojcik took that management experience and struck out on his own: ten years ago he bought Dave's Muffler, a full-service muffler and hitch repair shop in Corona. Now, on a suggestion from Erickson (who runs a custom car shop of his own), Wojcik has incorporated the tools and labor he already had in his shop with his love for motorcycles to build bike frames for diehard riders.
"I'm just having fun with it," says Wojcik. "No pressure here, just what I put on myself."
Erickson, Tommy Scott and Rudy Gordinas round out Viking Kustoms' staff. Scott built frames for another company before joining Viking, and Gordinas is a 74-year-old retired Northrop industrial engineer. Each of them brings valuable machining and welding skills to the table.
Also on their table is a Millermatic 175 all-in-one MIG welding system. This portable welding unit weighs in at 73 lb. and was designed by Miller for maintenance, auto body, fabrication and farm applications. Its ability to weld materials as thin as 24 gauge makes the .120-in. wall DOM steel an easy ride when it comes to welding.
The 1-1/8-in.-diameter DOM tubing provides greater strength and flexibility through its seamless design. The process of "drawing" steel over a mandrel provides excellent surface quality and gouge resistance. DOM is used on the entire frame for its structural integrity.
Wheel to Wheel - Custom Bike Frame Construction
Before any portion of the frame can be pieced together, specifications need to be made, a jig needs to be constructed and all of the parts need to be machined. These functions fall into the hands of Gordinas. Enjoying his retirement by working, Gordinas joined Viking Kustoms after answering an ad in the paper seeking someone to machine parts for motorcycles.
"I'm in my seventies, I'm retired, but I love to work on and design this stuff," says Gordinas. "With my experience it's easy, and I'm having a great time." Gordinas' sage-like wisdom and skills provide an invaluable tool to Viking Kustoms: the ability to machine original parts at a fraction of the cost. For example, the gooseneck (the head tube that holds the bearings for the handlebars) would cost $100 if purchased from a supplier. Gordinas can machine it for $30.
"I lay the part out and make fixtures in the mill for the machining process," he says. "We've got a Victor CNC mill and a Victor 1840 S lathe - as long as you've got everything planned out, an idea of what you're doing and knowledge of how this equipment works, it's second nature."
Welding .120-in. Wall DOM Steel
Once all of the parts are machined, Tommy Scott's handiwork brings all of the pieces together into a custom cruiser. The entire frame, except for the 2-1/4-in. gooseneck, is welded with the Millermatic 175 before any of the engine components and accessories are added to the bike.
Viking Kustoms uses the Millermatic 175 for a number of reasons. The MIG (wire welding) process is faster than TIG. Infinite voltage control with wire-speed tracking provides a broader operating range with finer control by automatically increasing or decreasing wire-feed speed when voltage is adjusted - important in a shop where material type and thickness changes constantly. The Millermatic 175 also features Tip Saver Short Circuit Protection™. Tip Saver extends contact tip life (consumable cost savings) and protects internal components from damage (low maintenance) by shutting down the machine if the tip shorts out when coming in contact with the piece being worked on.
"This is a custom frame so the welds have to look really nice," says Scott. "With this MIG machine I'm able to burn hot and lay a nice bead. Turning the heat down and welding slow just leaves buildup, something you don't want on a custom bike frame. I don't have to worry about downtime and broken welders either."
With all parts machined, Scott moves front to back when making welds on the bike. Before any welds are made, however, parts are fitted into the jig to ensure that everything fits and has been machined correctly. The first things welded are the neck and downtubes that sit to either side of the front tire. Bent out of 1-1/8-in., .120-wall DOM, the downtubes are notched with a press grinder to fit the neck. Don't try this at home - Scott's experience makes this an easy task, but similar notches are generally made with a machine specifically designed for notching tubes. These downtubes are then tack welded to the bike's backbone (1-1/2 in., .120 DOM).
"Then I move on to the seat post, down to the front motor mount, rear motor mount, first and second transmission mounts. When all is said and done, I've performed about 20 welds on this frame. If all the parts are here at my disposal and bolted in, I can weld a bike frame in an hour."
Viking Kustoms uses a .030 ER70S-6 filler metal for welding their bike frames, a MIGmatic™ M-10 series welding gun from Miller on the Millermatic 175 and a 75/25 argon/CO2 shielding gas for reduced spatter. The ER70S-6 provides the best filler metal match for the DOM steel. The .030-in.-diameter wire makes welding the .120 DOM tubing easier, where a larger wire could lead to excessive deposition and a poor-looking bead. Before taking the gun to the frame, Scott tests on a piece of scrap metal to eliminate the possibility of a mistake.
The Millermatic 175's wire-feed speed tracking feature is also critical. It automatically adjusts wire-feed speed as the voltage level is adjusted for different material thickness.
The structural nature of tubing and the fact that the parts are bolted into a stationary jig doesn't allow for any one particular welding position to be used. The Millermatic 175's lightweight design allows for easy maneuverability around the shop (and stationary bike frames), especially when packaged with running gear, a cart that can hold the welder and a gas cylinder up to 7 in. in diameter.
"The running gear really helps us out in this shop," says Wojcik. "We weld on a number of items, from bike frames to mufflers (he also runs a muffler shop), so having that welder and gas cylinder mobile is handy. "
After Scott spends an hour welding the frame, it's time to tailor the bike to the individual rider. Erickson, who owns a custom car company of his own and expertly paints custom designs on the finished bike, knows the importance of matching the bike to the owner.
"Everybody's different," he says. "We want to make sure his or her personality is represented in their bike."
Viking Kustoms allows the customer to pick all of the parts and accessories from a number of catalogs and suppliers - though most come to the shop with a solid idea of what they're looking for.
"People buy a manufacturer's stock bike and then they decide they want different controls, different bars and different mirrors," explains Wojcik. "With us, you buy a bike as you want it and that's the end of the line. You get all the chrome and accessories you want right away for the same price. Nothing additional to buy."
In much the same way, Viking Kustoms felt the Millermatic 175 provided them with the options they were looking for: An all-in-one MIG welding system that burns hot enough to weld heavier metals yet could be turned down low enough to expertly weld sheet metal. Not long after Wojcik initially tested the machine, he bought it knowing it provided the versatility he was looking for.
"We had Miller equipment in the shop before. The equipment is versatile, easy to maintain and performs the tasks we ask of it."
The equipment is key, but skilled operators make all the difference in the world. Wojcik, Erickson, Scott and Gordinas combine years of welding, machining and motorcycle riding experience to build quality bikes for a segment of society that takes their mode of transportation seriously. It's nice to know you've got a solidly constructed ride when travelling down the open road - at any speed