The Road Test was combined with a wet plate/collodion photo shoot; here Paul d’Orleans is captured on MotoTintype

The new Crocker motorcycle was unveiled at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering last May, and Michael Schacht, who owns the Crocker name and built that first prototype, offered me a test ride next time I was in LA. Can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so I met Schacht last week at his warehouse/assembly shop, where sat the rough makings of the next 15 Crocker v-twins. Yep, he’s already making a limited run, ‘whether I have orders or not, I’m just going to build them’. Schacht has invested heavily in cash and time and reputation to make the patterns and cast the parts necessary to build a whole motorcycle, and that first Crocker Big Tank discussed here in Cycle World last May was made from the same batch of rough metal seen in these photos.

Michael Schacht with the cylinder barrel casting pattern for his Crocker

A deconstructed motorcycle is an excellent teaching device, and Schacht pointed out the changes Al Crocker incorporated during the evolution of his Crocker big twin between 1936 and 1942, when WW2 restrictions put an end to civilian motorcycle production. Schacht doesn’t make the first ‘hemi head’ type engine, the super rare first models Crocker built in ’36; while this variant commands the biggest dollars, issues with rapid wear on the valve gear means the later parallel-valve heads are more sophisticated (those first ‘hemis’ had open rockers, springs, and valves, while the later engine is totally enclosed). The ‘hemi’ cylinder head is the only non-option when ordering a new Crocker v-twin; the early ‘Small Tank’ frame with different steering head lugs and unbraced gearbox/lower frame castings are ready to assemble, as is the later ‘Big Tank’ style, which most newbies love as they’re more glamorous, while afficianados prefer the smaller tank, which really shows off that fantastic big twin engine.

The Crocker as captured by MotoTintype in the bare metal

Michael Schacht has something to prove. He’s happy to regale anyone in earshot with tales of intimidation from a few old-time Crocker collectors, who take serious issue with his style, his business methods, and perhaps the mere fact that he’s done what they said couldn’t be done. In a way, Schacht’s tales mirror the difficulties Al Crocker faced after building a better bike than Indian and Harley, the last two American motorcycle manufacturers left standing after the Depression. After HD allegedly threatened their wheel supplier (Kelsey Hayes) with a massive loss of business, Crocker suddenly found he couldn’t buy wheels for his bikes. Solution? If you wanted a Crocker, you had to supply your own wheels. Such tales, water under the bridge today, are meat and drink to Crocker lovers, who have embellished the reputation of their favorite machine to such effect that you’ll need $300k to buy an original.

While the machine is very low, it’s no lightweight at around 500lbs

Schacht is asking half that for his new machine. How does it compare? The test machine is completely paint-free, to show the world how it was built, and that it’s indeed all-new. It’s a Big Tank, with those lovely cast-aluminum pannier gas bags customizers have been copying for 70 years now. Same with the tail light; as seen on thousands of Harleys (ironically) and bobbed Triumphs through the decades. Like George Brough, Al Crocker was a masterful stylist; unlike GB, he was a trained engineer, and with the help of Paul Bigsby (inventor of the ‘whammy bar’ on electric guitars), he built his own engine and gearbox, which were an advance on anything available in the US at the time, even after HD introduced their Knucklehead (6 months after Crocker got the jump on big OHV twins).

Michael Schacht captured with this bike on MotoTIntype

In true American tradition, the Crocker is robust to the point of tankliness, with a cast-steel gearbox forming the under-seat frame, and everything overbuilt. Schacht chose ‘big’ for his first engine, which is 1800cc; Crockers were originally supplied from 1000cc upwards, and the dimensions of this engine are copied from Chuck Vernon’s original machine. In other words, it’s a monster, and I had no real desire to break an ankle starting it, so we used rollers. It fired up easily, with a healthy v-twin bark which does Not say potato-potato; once settled into an idle, the ground shook with the near-liter explosions going off in each cylinder. With right hand throttle and left hand advance, the controls are pretty conventional (Indians, with their reversed handedness, take a moment’s thought if you’re not used to them), and thankfully, the rocker foot clutch is fully sprung, and not a ‘suicide’ job like the previous Crocker I tested in August. The big Meissinger saddle and wide pull-back handlebars are pictures of comfort.

The Crocker prototype lives with the Crocker C4 prototype, revealed at the Legends of the Motorcycle Concours in 2006

Knocking the handshift lever into first, the clutch proved progressive and light, and after using it once or twice, its action was familiar and I never gave it another thought. Shifting was easy in every gear, there was no whine, and the clutch held firm, even cracking the throttle wide open from a dead stop. The upside of that move was serious acceleration. Weighing just over 500lbs, the Crocker is no lightweight, but the torque is fantastic, and the power addictive. Starts in second gear were no problem, and loping along in third gear meant 60mph at around 2400rpm. I didn’t try a full-throttle/top speed test, but my seat of the pants assessment is an easy 110-120mph top whack. The big beast is fast. Not just fast, but smooth; riding up and down the rev range never induced vibes, the big motor is well-balanced and surprisingly mellow.

Paul d’Orleans sits the Crocker, and wonders at the power of a very large v-twin

The chassis felt rock-solid because it is, and the handling was totally neutral, with zero waggles or wobbles or dropping-in or lagging on corners. My only criticism is the brakes; they suck, even for a guy who’s used to crap anchors. I would have been surprised if the left-hand front brake lever did much, but rear brakes on rigid bikes will usually leave a black streak if required – no way on this one. On such a fast machine, at least one good stopper is essential, but I’ll mark this citation a correctable offense, as I’m sure it can be sorted out.

Paul d’Orleans on his first Crocker test ride, in 2009, aboard a 1938 example

I could picture myself riding the Crocker a long distance, and having a blast doing it. With smooth, massive power, good handling, and a comfortable riding position, I’d be pig-in-shit happy to grind those footboards all day long, romping up mountains and leaving a fantastic sound in my wake. The other upside of riding a Crocker is looking at a Crocker. The bike, even (maybe especially) in the unpainted state, is simply gorgeous, that unique mix of tough and elegant which custom builders have always sought, and rarely matched. Is all that, the looks and the ride, worth $150k? That, indeed, is the question, one which builders of other ‘new’ old bikes (eg, Brough Superior) are waiting to hear answered. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of your thoughts.