Tribute To The Motorcycle Digger Style And To Its Original Builders

Digger00Digger0 Digger3Although Bob McKay at McKay Cycle Creations has been customizing and building one-off motorcycles since 1969, he never built until now a Digger bike, a style extremely popular at the time he began his career in the motorcycle industry. When it was not a Chopper, the ultimate custom bike of the 70’s was a Digger. At that time, Arlen Ness, Donnie Smith, Barry Cooney and Dave Perewitz are some of those who were excelling in this styling genre. For reason of nostalgia and of friendship with some of this 1st wave of custom builders Bob decided it was time to pay tribute to both the customizers and the type of machine that they were building.

Digger5Digger6But what is the definition of a Digger? Of course, like a Bobber or a Chopper, you know it’s one when you see it… But definition of style getting easily distorted and corrupted by new generations, what specifically made a Digger a Digger? Let me just say that 40 years ago the Digger was inspired by Drag Racing bikes and are a sort of adaptation to street custom motorcycles,. They were using long and low rigid gooseneck or straight frame, most often equipped with a Springer or Girder front end and featued Prism, Diamond or Rocket Sportster gas tanks. At that time, the carburetors of choice were the Webers or Dellortos, Rajays turbo or Magnuson superchargers.

Digger4Digger7Digger8To stay faithful to the 70’s spirit and style, Bob McKay contacted Arlen for the “Hardhead” frame specs and modified his in the same style Arlen was doing it, using a forward backbone stretch and dropping the neck for a pure Digger attitude. He even used the same exact top frame motor mount and neck gusset. The Ness Narrow Springer is an original part that McKay tracked in an old shop through a web site in California. For the rollers, Bob used in the rear an original 15″ aluminum Performance Machine wheel and in the front an 18″ American Racing magnesium wheel previously converted for motorcycle use by Dick Allen.  The “Rocket” gas tank came from Donnie Smith who had gotten it from Ness who had it fabricated by his long time fabricator Bob Monroe. Donnie also supplied the Smith Brothers & Fetrow Spring Struts and a NOS rear fender using a NOS Drag Specialties “Knight Light” taillight. Back then, Paughco was the vendor of most Diggers’ custom pipes and they were able to supply him with an old set.

Digger10For upholstery, Danny Gray was the man to go to. McKay fabricated the seat pan and Danny Gray wrapped it in leather using old style stitching and buttons. For paint, he called Andy Anderson from Nashville who has been painting since the 60’s and who was one of the very first to master the art of applying gold leaf in pintripes. In pure Ness Style, McKay built the oil tank from a battery compartment. For the final Digger touch, the covers on both sides of the engine were engraved with scrollings by Heather New from Newline Engraving. Regarding engine, “hexing” the cylinders was a must. McKay thought that “hexing’ was done on a mill, but both Dave Perewitz and Donnie Smith assured him that it was done with a big hand grinder. So that’s the way he did it and the job came out excellent. Still owning a couple of his old Diggers, Perewitz provided the correct tire information . Original Ness Tiller bars couldn’t be tracked, so McKay fabricated his own set in his shop in Ontario. Many other parts and accessories are period correct pieces that have survived more than 4 decades, like the Digger style. McKay Cycle Creations.

40 Responses to “Tribute To The Motorcycle Digger Style And To Its Original Builders”

  1. 1 E'Ville Twin Motorsickle Co. ( Miles Brown ) Sep 23rd, 2013 at 8:29 am

    CONGRATULATIONS BOB ! MAGNIFICENT JOB ! I had the pleasure of seeing this build via e-mail photos when Bob first started construction and I have been waiting to see the final results . Gotta say Bob you have done a SUPERB job bringing back the Digger style . Like Bob , this style of custom was popular among builders when I was a young guy in the industry . It’s really fantastic to see what was once popular come full circle once again . BEAUTIFUL JOB BOB! SPECTACULAR WORKMANSHIP ! Extra slice of raisin pie for sourcing the correct period Original manufacturer parts , and EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS for making me feel like a young man again and bringing back memories of days gone by !
    You are indeed one of the best , and I’m proud to say I know you .

    Very best regards to you and the missus………

    Miles and Lorrie Brown E’Ville Twin Motorsickle Co. Eckville Alberta Canada

  2. 2 Braddy Sep 23rd, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Very kewl

  3. 3 Shifter Sep 23rd, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Baby boomer nostalgia. Love it.

  4. 4 domino Sep 23rd, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Aaahhhhhh… those were the days….

  5. 5 Sharkey Sep 23rd, 2013 at 9:13 am

    What a class build from a class builder…like the engraving too; goes well with the paint. Looks soo much more “purposeful” than some of the boom-box 30″ front wheel bagger stuff we see today…

  6. 6 Jay Horton's Private Shop Sep 23rd, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Super sweet…. Used to lust for those things back when I was mowing yards to buy Custom Chopper, Big Bike and Street Chopper (magazines). Later Jay

  7. 7 T.D. Sep 23rd, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Great looking machine and details are amazing… Love the entire build!

  8. 8 Rick Fairless Sep 23rd, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Great job Bob & Andy! RF

  9. 9 Terence Tory Sep 23rd, 2013 at 10:12 am

    It’s go no brakes,SO where’s the parachute? Orange crush tribute? Looks good.

  10. 10 Jeff Keizer Sep 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am

    In this case, old is refreshing. Congrats to the builder.

  11. 11 Kevin Baxter Sep 23rd, 2013 at 11:32 am

    As expected…awesome bike Bob!

  12. 12 A 1 MIKE Sep 23rd, 2013 at 11:52 am


  13. 13 Terence Tory Sep 23rd, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    A 1 MIKE. Like I said “no brakes”.I didn’t say none.Rear XL drums are the only brake I’ve ever had to drag my boots to “kinda” stop at a stop light.Without a doubt the worse brake I’ve ever “used”.

  14. 14 Bruce T Sep 23rd, 2013 at 12:37 pm


  15. 15 Charlie Sep 23rd, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Canadian Godfather of Custom Cool!

  16. 16 Freddie Sep 23rd, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Great piece Bob!

  17. 17 JSDiamond Sep 23rd, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Diggers are my favorite, especially with invaders; those things look like jewelry spinning.

  18. 18 Scott Sep 23rd, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    ^^^^^I’d be with ya if they weren’t made by Dick Allen, check him out on MC Art. The man used mag wheels, ran belt final drives, developed the “cobra trike” with Ed Roth, fabricated his own springer forks, and was ultimately ripped off in the end by many. Def. an interesting read, fathered and fueled the whole SoCal chopper movement.

  19. 19 Blackmax Sep 23rd, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    remember seeing these type bikes in Easyriders
    & wishing that someday I have enough $$ to get one.
    Now all of these years later, I’m a “bagger” guy cause I need those “creture comforts”
    Ah, but those days & those dreams

  20. 20 Woody's Sep 23rd, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Great build, great memories. BTW, please don’t forget some of “Lowrider Tommy’s” (Tom Summers) contributions to this genre. Love these bikes!

  21. 21 Scott Sep 23rd, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I love it. Great job, especially taking time to tie in all the history, and do it right.

  22. 22 Iron Horse Sep 23rd, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I absolutely love the Halibrand 12 spoke look-a-like wheels. Someone should tool up and start making them for bikes again.

    Cool looking bike too!

  23. 23 Bob Mckay Sep 23rd, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Thanks for all the positive comments. This was a fun build for me, glad to see there is still an appreciation for the old style bikes. Scott, the tank that I got from Donnie had a Tommy Summers paint job on it but it was too far gone to reuse. I sent some pictures of it to Tom to verify he had done it.

  24. 24 fuji Sep 23rd, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Don’t forget the late Jeff McCann [ RIP 2012 ] painter extraordinary as meticulous as they come was heavy into painting and owning several Diggers. I believe the guy who designed the Arlen Ness logo and did much of his painting.

  25. 25 gene slater Sep 23rd, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Great build bob.
    Amazing paint andy ….as aways

  26. 26 bigalyts Sep 24th, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Nice Memorabilia.Back in those days, sorry to say that in my World it was about Jap Bikes. I thought that the American slogan was “Let the Good Times Roll”.How young I and shallow I was back then. Imagine Haley and V-Twins were Chicks were Sisters that taught us well, another kind of Lessons!

  27. 27 smithncustom Sep 24th, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I never did understand the appeal to this style. oh well oh well

  28. 28 Martin Twofeather Sep 24th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Bob it’sPerfect and beautiful,and great paint Andy..

  29. 29 Wayne Sep 24th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Old is refreshing for a change Bob. I’m pretty much sick of looking at baggers with 26 inch wheels.
    A true testament to the original style we all loved

    All the Best
    Wayne McArthur

  30. 30 morpion Sep 24th, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    genuine canadian builder from Ontario,,,,,,

  31. 31 Sam Mladineo Sep 24th, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    that bike is plumbers bum ugly

  32. 32 Bill Schwab Sep 24th, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Way to Bob Very Cool!
    Missed ya in Sturgis this year buddy

  33. 33 nicker Sep 24th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    “…never did understand the appeal to this style…”

    Well, you probably have no interest in drag bikes either…….


  34. 34 Woody's Sep 24th, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    @Sam, these bikes were first made when rail dragsters looked like this and hopefully you can see the connection. Just a snapshot in time.

  35. 35 Grady Pfeiffer Sep 25th, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Bob, great bike. You just keep doin it. Hope to see you in Sturgis next year.

  36. 36 Marilyn Stemp Sep 26th, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Get the full story with Bob’s insights into the project – plus beautiful images – in the November IronWorks!

  37. 37 Joe Mielke Sep 27th, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Great job Bob! Love all the history behind it.

  38. 38 ger Sep 27th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    was watching the build pics of this on facebook
    top class job as expected bob.
    love the painted and engraved motor

  39. 39 nyc choppers Sep 28th, 2013 at 11:03 am

    As usual awesome job by BoB

  40. 40 ray c wheeler Dec 16th, 2013 at 2:12 am


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Cyril Huze