Son of the Thunderer

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Remember? I do. I was five. The year was 1977 and it was time for me to learn to ride a bike. We were poor. When I say poor, I mean American poor. I don't mean American poor like I had to sweep a dirt floor (I have actually done that) but I mean public housing poor. Don't weep for me, I am doing more than alright now. Back in 1977 my dad, who my mom divorced when I was two, must've been on a roll. He took us kids to see some movie about ancient history, called Star Wars. It was the only film we watched together until he got us something called a VCR and he gave us "The Color Purple" on VHS. When young Gig's 5th birthday rolled around the old man did not disappoint. Kmart or Airway Target must've had a closeout on a bike because the old man pulled his white over blue '73 Chevy van up to the apartment and unloaded a box that was bigger than me. "Huffy?" I wondered. What the heck is a Huffy (this was prior to my mastery of foul language)? The old man pulled out a set of wrenches. If you are wondering what he looked like imagine a black Humphrey Bogart but bald. He watched as my eyes grew wider. He smiled brightly as he said, "Happy birthday, son." Speechless, I kept observing him. The gratefulness was all in my eyes and body language. A boney five-year-old kid with combed hair (not by choice) dressed in hand-me-downs from head to toe, including my underwear, doing the same dance one does when he has to pee. My little bother - uh brother - joined us. At three he was interested because our dad was interesting. He joined me in being wide-eyed as his eyebrows rose high on his shiny forehead. I remember that crack of the box opening as the big brass staples gave way. That is when the heavens opened and a shaft of light shone down on my father as he presented me with a brand new Huffy Thunder Star.

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I think I was about six when this pic was taken. Although dad was a shutterbug, no pics exist of me with the bike. (I still don't like having my photo taken and I am a guy that shoots Christmas cards and head shots for others. Weird, eh?)

What a great gift! I was still writing the letter "S" backwards. I was still wetting the bed. I was still unskilled in bike riding. I was the luckiest kid in the world. Then again, I didn't know the world went past the Glenbrook mall. I helped my dad lift it from the box. I remember the black axle protectors. I seem to have those things a long time. I didn't own another bike that had them until I was twenty. Dad straightened the handle bars and tightened them down. He checked the front wheel and made sure it was bolted on tight. He then added the sparkling training wheels. I remember looking at them and thinking; "That ruins the look of the bike." Then he stood it up and we all stood back. My mom stepped out of the door with the rest of the family. She was really glad my dad did something besides hand me five dollars - a dollar for each trip around the sun. Various neighborhood friends joined the circle around the patriotic scheme the Huffy proudly boasted. Although, not a Buddhist then or now, I knew it wouldn't be without scratches for long. I wanted to jump buses like Evel Knievel. I wanted to find cinder blocks and discarded pieces of plywood and immediately begin jumping over things like logs, pop cans, buses, friends, and my mom. I was now initiated into a very elite group of children. I was a daredevil. Oh yeah!

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This rendering of my Huffy Thunder Star boasts a frame from a Felt "King Pin." It is another one of their Cruiselite models which doesn't have a center weld on the top tube.

Fast forward to 2014 when I am into buying, "Gig Matta-fying," and selling Felts. One of my customers was hanging out inspecting some bikes that I had and noted he was trying to collect a model of each Felt cruiser. He even remarked about some other important bikes in his collection, "I've even got a Huffy Evel Knievel bike." He just blasphemed! "You've got a Huffy Thunder Star?" I inquired. I looked over at my Abarth tribute Felt and thought, I'm going to build a Thunder Star but for adult me. Let the reader understand, that is exactly what I did. Knowing how far technology has come I chose not to stay entirely faithful to the original Thunder Star. I located a Felt King Pin in Corona, CA and drove way the heck down there to buy it. I chose disc brakes fore and aft. I went with a reliable Sturmey-Archer 8-speed internal gear rear hub. The original Thunder Star forks reminded me of the forks I had used on the Abarth bike so I ordered a second set from Chubby's Bikes. The factory Huffy Thunder Star wheels were not painted but even though I went with unpainted aluminum rims from Gary at Bicycledesigner.com I still disassembled the wheels and had the hoops, frame, fork tubes, fenders and chain ring powder coated pearl white. In addition to laying down some sweet pearl white, Torrance, California's Powder Coating Maniacs also shot Felt's low-rise cross bar handle bars in super chrome. I tried like crazy to locate the number plates with little to no luck. I tried buy an entire Thunder Star just for the plates but the expense was a real budget buster. I even found an original Thunder Star back in my Indiana home town but the man thought it was made out solid Mayan gold or something. eBay to the rescue. I bought three oval number plates for nineteen bucks. I figured I could mount two back to back to mimic the original. That worked out.

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The center "76" number plate is actually two number plates mounted back-to back." The clamps are from Luky's Hardware in Burbank, CA.


When it came to the front number plate I was certain that I would have to make one out of sheet metal. It's a good thing I was wrong. Ratrodbikes forum member, CCR, made this one. He made several but he sold out of stock. I bought this from another ratrodbikes.com member, Lopo68. There is a rapper out there called "2 Chains" and I wasn't thinking of him as I built this. I ordered the red, white, and blue KMC chain from Amazon. I was glad to get it but it was clearly aimed at BMXers because it was too short for my tribute bike. I had two order a total of two chains to get this puppy on pavement. Fortunately, it's the right look for this build.

I have my limitations. Each year, the mental ones get pushed back, and some physical ones creep in. I can do quite a bit in Adobe products like Photo Shop and InDesign but I know where I am beat. While doing this build I was lucky enough to call on the services of Miss Meara. Meara is a pro Graphic Designer that worked for the same company as me. I usually handle my own graphics work but I just couldn't re-create all of the decals for the Thunder Star. I looked at hundreds of photos and was even provided images of restored Thunder Stars and similar bikes to no avail. I brought her Felt's "Shorty" fenders, the three number plates and the frame so she could get her measurements. I also provided her with ample photographs. When she told me how much she wanted to do the job I didn't haggle. I figured if I had paid myself for my time I had already spent more than she was asking. I gave her cash on the spot. As you can see, Meara knocked the ball clear out of the park. The decals were printed by diylettering.com and they cost more than I paid for the bike initially. That is not diylettering.com's fault. I ordered multiple low-run custom designs at the highest quality level, with a short time window and I bought extras just in case. I've used them on every other Felt that I've built except for three. Everything still in inventory wears their goods apart for the Abarth bike. I'll be calling Meara back to help with the final stripes for that soon.

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As you can see there are a lot of decals on the bike. I even put them where Huffy wouldn't have bothered; the rims.

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I put two decals on each rim. They face opposite directions. This is something I will do in the future to make photo shoots simpler. It was nice just to turn the wheel a bit to get them in the shot from most angles.

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Felt Low-Rise with Cross Bar handle bars manage the steering input, the grips were eBay units the mimic the white grips that would've been original to the bike. My two main squeezes for the brakes are Amazon.com sourced XLC units.

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I got lucky and Felt got in a shipment of Berm Master 24" tires. I ordered three sets immediately. Chubby's Bikes, of Culver City, CA, provided the forks while the disc brakes came from eBay. Powder Coating Manics shot the Pearl White.

I called upon Studio Cycle Co., my local LBS, to lace the wheels. I got very lucky because I didn't need new spokes. The 24" heavy duty flip-flop rims from bicycledesigner.com laced right up to Sturmey-Archer's 8-speed hub. I used the spin-on adapters from bicycledesigner.com to make the front and rear rotors bolt on. I used their rear caliper adapter in the rear. This was a really great set-up. The bike looks great and rolls smooth down the street. I am very happy with it. I am going to add some of Jagwires stick-on cable guides and call it done.

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The fender decals were the hardest ones to apply as they follow multiple contours. I really took my time with them.

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Perhaps I left my shutter open a tick too long. I like the way it came out though.

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The seat is from a Matt Hoffman Evel Knievel bike. I have a white bread loaf seat that I painted white. It doesn't have the stars or a sissy bar though. It doesn't have too. This bike has the best seat in the house.

I get happy when I look at this thing. I remember when it was an idea. I remember thundering around my neighborhood on my Thunder Star which I rode countless miles. I jumped over logs, friends but not my mom or buses and I remember something else that happened before any of that. One day, I asked my dad to take off the training wheels from my Huffy. He did and the bike instantly looked better. The old man and I checked in eye-to-eye and then I stepped over the top bar. He could see I was having a bit of trouble so he balanced me. We exchanged wordless bursts of pride. "I'll hold you up, son," he said. Balanced, I began pedaling. We were just fifteen feet or so from the place where he unboxed it for me (see the first photo in this thread and find me standing behind his van on the very spot he gave me the bike). My spindly legs torqued the one piece cranks round and round. "You've got it" he shouted. He sounded far away. He wasn't that far away. I looked over my shoulder - dad had let go. "I'm doing it, daddy," I shouted at the top of my little young lungs. "Yeah!" he called back. I hunkered down my posture. It was time for some speed! That was a mistake I only made once. I fell with that bike so fast it was as if the Earth had rose-up and smacked me. Then, without a tear or fear, I looked at my little scraped and bleeding palms without a care. I don't remember if he asked if I was alright. I immediately got up and tried to balance myself. He approached to help me shove off. Once he did, I was off and riding. Triumphant!

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The 76 front plate came from a ratrodbikes.com forum member. The bike looks incomplete without it.

I am lucky enough to still have my mom. My old man passed away over a decade ago. Crying as I write some of this, I must mention that I have forgotten most of the bonehead things he did and forgiven him long ago for the rest. This build took a really long time. I missed a RRB build-off deadline. I've cared less about cars that I have restored. I call it, "Son of the Thunderer." I don't have kids, but if you do, know that when you build them a bike, when you add special little touches, when you make it unlike anything else in the neighborhood, just like the one you had when you were a kid, or just like the one you have now, you are giving them something they will truly cherish. The metal may rust, paint get scratched, and maybe the bike will even be given away or sold and all of that has to be okay somehow. Know that they have enjoyed the ride and it was all because of you. The memories, the love, the smiles, the scars are what last.

Happy New Year,

- Gig
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My first new bike was a huffy too I can't remember what model it was I got it for Christmas I think I was around 6 or 7 years old all I remember is it was black and beautiful thanks for sharing your story with us it was really cool sweet bike too


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Best looking Felt that I have seen. Amazing attention to detail. Plus I like the nice detailed writeup and story.
 

kingfish254

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You are the master of Felt builds Gig!
That is real high praise from you, Kingfish. Thank you. I have two more in the works. I am actually tearing down an orange one that I built. Everything is bolted on it new. It has no scratches. After 6 months I have decided that I had the color. I do think when I finish it (again) it will even eclipse my Purple Little [email protected][email protected] I ordered a 3G wheel and tire set from the forum today. The bike already had new wheels and tires, :)


- by Gigmata
 
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Incredible bike and a beautiful story.
Hey Chad,

Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate it. I am always grateful to share. I find this forum to be a tremendous gift. The many talented people that make up the forum save me time, money, and embarrassment by sharing with us. I am happy to reciprocate.


- by Gigmata
 
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Very nice bike! I was a big Evil Knievil fan back then, too. Cracked many a frame, bent rims, and cuts and bruises from jumping ramps. Great story.
 
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