Von Dutch earns its stripes

I was ready to rumble. Bring the bike on Wednesday, I told the guy. Noon. I'll be waiting in the empty parking lot at 45th and Figueroa.

The driver from Von Dutch Kustom Cycles was late, but when he wheeled the Dutch Angel into the lot, all was forgiven. The behemoth 113-cubic-inch V-twin was tricked out with slick candy-stick pin-striping, a high-end racing motor and enough chrome for a lady to check out her helmet hair.

If I were a guy, I would've whistled.

The frame wasn't stretched like Silly Putty. There was no J-Lo tire out back. That's because the Dutch Angel is a bobber — a '40s-style bike that's replacing the chopper as the latest in old-school cool. Less extreme and more ridable than the choppers that have been terrorizing city streets these past few years, the bobber doesn't sacrifice any of the requisite outlaw cred. Its shortened (or "bobbed") rear fender, along with its rigid frame, solo seat, mid controls and narrow back tire, just make it more of a nostalgia trip.

The Dutch Angel, like many modern bobber interpretations, is a retro tribute rather than an exact replica. It tweaks the vintage styling and updates the technology. With its compact size and feline curves, the bike has the look of a vintage cruiser, but it's also a sport bike — a custom power cruiser, if you will. A top-of-the-line billet-aluminum Patrick Racing motor gives the bike a lot of giddyap. Pulling in the reins is a pair of fast-acting Brembo piston-caliper brakes. Both are chromed, along with the exhaust, transmission, primary drive cover and everything else under the hand-crafted saddle.

All this name-dropping comes at a price: $46,600.

Firing up the Dutch Angel goes against standard operating procedure. The ignition is hidden off the transmission just below the tailpipes and operated with a cylindrical tumbler key to prevent joy rides or an unwelcome take-away to the chop shop. Before hitting the start button, there are two others to push — one on each of the cylinder heads to release compression and get the monster pistons cranking inside this four-stroke powerhouse. (Forget, as I once did, and you'll pay the price with embarrassing backfires — the motorcycle equivalent of farting on a first date.)

The first words I heard after flipping the switch were "Go, girl!" as two cholitas floored it out of the parking lot in their beat-up sedan. They were the beginning of an onslaught of attention. Sure, the "49-state friendly" pipes blowing exhaust at an illegal volume prompted mothers to draw their children closer and Prius drivers to pretend I didn't exist, but everyone else loved it. The chromed engine and "Von Dutched" fenders and tank were all affirmed where it counts, with young ruffians nodding their approval from sidewalks and yelling, "Nice bike, homes," from car windows.

Personally, I've never felt so much like a neon sign — a neon sign that screamed, "Look at me! I'm on a Von Dutch!" It isn't just the signature pin-striping. The words "Von Dutch" are literally all over the bike. They're stamped into the metal of the tank tags and floorboards. The Von Dutch "flying eyeball" appears no fewer than 15 times — on the air box, swing arm and gas saver, among other places.

Von Dutch, for those who don't know, isn't a fashion brand, as the millions of trucker caps and tees might suggest. It's the trade name of Kenneth Howard. The legendary SoCal pin-striper was best known for inspiring the Kustom Kar craze of the '50s and '60s, but his earliest work was in the '40s and on bikes.

The Howard family has nothing to do with Von Dutch Kustom Cycles, however. After Von Dutch died in 1992, his children sold his name. A decade later, a number of builders competed for the license to build bikes under the Von Dutch moniker. Alex Mardikian, 35, who designed bikes for Patriot and Ultra before striking out on his own, won — and in 2003 set up shop as Von Dutch Kustom Cycles.

The Dutch Angel is a fairly compact bike. Instead of adding inches to the down tube, Mardikian took it down a notch, squishing it an inch closer to the ground. Then he stretched it out — not eight inches, as is standard on a chopper — but three inches along the backbone to accent the feminine arch of the tank. With a nostalgic, spring-mounted seat pan, I felt more subtleties of the pavement than I was expecting for a softail. On one ride, I caught such major air on a minor bump that I actually whooped out loud before dropping back into the saddle, which was, thankfully, not so nostalgic. It was cushioned with gel beneath the hand-tooled leather.

The riding position was upright and comfortable; at least it was comfortable at low speeds. Without a windshield, my body took the blow at anything over 60, making me feel as if I was going at least 20 mph faster. And when stopped, the pipes were so hot and the primary drive cover so wide that I felt like a Vegas showgirl when I kicked out my legs to clear them.

Other examples of fashion superseding function: The digital speedo was unreadable in sunlight, the teardrop mirrors were too small to see anything more than a single car, there wasn't a logical place to carry luggage and the right turn signal was on the right grip — an annoying Harley-Davidson throwback that was difficult for me to operate without rolling off the throttle.

Those aren't deal-breakers. They're just hints that the Dutch Angel is more of a showboat than a long hauler. I probably wouldn't ride it to Sturgis. Without a windshield, I'd age a year from the wind damage. And with a four-gallon tank and gas-gobbling engine, it might take me that long to get there. I'd trailer it, making sure to angle the bike so I could admire it from the rear view.

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Contact Susan Carpenter at susan.carpenter@latimes.com.

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Von Dutch Kustom Cycle's Dutch Angel

Test price: $46,600

Engine: Billet Patrick Racing, four-stroke, V-twin, air-cooled

Displacement: 113 cubic inches

Transmission: Six-speed

Bore and stroke: 4 inches x 4.5 inches

Maximum torque: 125 pound-feet

Seat height: 23 inches

Dry weight: 486 pounds

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