“Get out and ride before winter ends!”
The Penton Mudlark is certainly a strange bird in the world of vintage dirt bikes. Originally known as the Penton Trials, it was champion enduro rider and legendary builder John Penton’s only real flop. As the story goes, Penton had used up his quota of race-spec Sachs “B” motors in 1973. Before selling any more of these engines for his race bikes, KTM forced him to buy a boatload of “A” motors, which had problematic transmissions. Penton decided to put these lesser engines into a trials machine, designed and produced by English specialty house Wassell. The Penton Trials weighed 190 pounds, had a 125cc Sachs engine, and one foot of ground clearance — sounds decent, right?
Unfortunately, what looked good on paper…wasn’t, not in real life. For assorted reasons, it made a terrible trials bike, so Penton renamed the machine the “Mudlark,” added lights, and marketed it as a dual-sport — a role in which it performed fairly well, sans the problematic transmission. Says Matt Cuddy of Super Hunky:
“Such was the Mudlark, about the only turkey the illustrious house of Penton ever produced. It seems John Penton had a lapse of judgment in letting an English specialty house design and build his ‘trials’ bike.”
Today, however, the Penton/Wassell Mudlark commands top dollar among collectors. Hell, even photos are rare. Fortunately for us, Christopher Tope of Utopeia Moto Company found this 1973 Mudlark outside Dallas, albeit in rough shape. He’d been invited to build a “Skinny Bike” for the Michael Lichter Motorcycles as Art show in Sturgis last year, and it made the perfect candidate. After building a surfboard bike, a café racer, and a desert sled, he decided it was time to build something a little more cold-natured:
“When riding season ends, that’s the ultimate time to break out this bike. It’s the first of my builds designed to be ridden on the ice.”
Aptly named “Ice Pick,” every feature of the bike has been designed to enhance the cold beauty of her nature: the iridescent paint by Krossover Customs, studded tires, moonstone-inlaid grips, diamond seat stitching, cold-rolled steel exhaust from Retrodyne, even the razor-like rear cowl — sharp as an ice pick. In keeping with one of Tope’s signature customizations, there’s a hobo coin worked into every build:
“A hand-engraved 1943 Liberty half dollar on the steering stem, portraying a motorcycle ice racer on a frozen mountain lake.”
Of course, there was the added challenge of finding, salvaging, and fabricating parts for such a rare machine. Not to mention that Christopher, a field biologist by day, built this stunning machine out of his 10×12 toy hauler, attached to the 44-foot travel trailer he lives in — a rolling shop!
Below, we get the full story on this cold-hearted stunner!
Wassell/Penton Mudlark Ice Tracker: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1973 Wassell Mudlark “Ice Pick”.
Although I would love to say bike building is my full time job, bike building is a hobby that has grown into a passion. I am a full time Biologist and Compliance Monitor working with energy companies all over the US. Due to the nature of my job, moving every year or so, I live in a 44’ travel trailer and built every one of my bikes in the 10 x 12’ toy hauler section of my trailer. I have never had any formal motorcycle training, I just owned and rode motorcycles when I was younger and slowly started building.
Why was this bike built?
I found a 1973 Wassell Mudlark in rough shape outside of Dallas, Texas which I had been following for a couple of years, but never pulled the trigger on the purchase. Then, when I was invited to build a “Skinny Bike” for the Michael Lichter Motorcycles as Art show in Sturgis, I knew this was the perfect candidate for my next custom build. I had previously built a surfboard bike, a café racer, and a desert sled bike, so I decided to build a bike that was meant for the cold, a different theme than my previous builds. When riding season ends, that’s the ultimate time to break out this bike. It’s the first of my builds designed to be ridden on the ice. Every aspect and design of the Ice Pick was to make you feel her cold appearance, from the iridescent paint, to the studded tires, to the super sharp rear cowl made to look like an ice pick. In order to create a slender profile suitable for the “Skinny Bike” show while maintaining ridability, I modified the suspension from a dual shock to a mono shock with an extended swing arm. Combined with the sharp, slender modification to the rear cowl, the bike achieved the desired streamline flow.
What custom work was done to the bike?
Every nook and cranny has been either modified or fabricated (build sheet below). One of my signature customizations is to incorporate a hobo coin, which on this build is a hand-engraved 1943 Liberty half dollar on the steering stem, portraying a motorcycle ice racer on a frozen mountain lake. The frame was modified to accommodate the conversion from a dual shock suspension to a mono shock as well as extending the swing arm.
The handlebars were tightened to create a slimmer fit along with fabricated steering brackets for the triple tree. Hours of hand metal-shaping went into creating the seat pan, cowl and frame.
Studs were added to the tires. The handle grips and valve stems were made from epoxy resin that mimicked the look of ice. The motor was restored and the frame, swing arm and handlebars were chromed. There are elements of ice on every place on the bike. The triangular headlight, moonstone inlaid grips ends and pegs, handlebar levers, even the diamond pattern stitching on the seat all combine to create the appropriately named “Ice Pick”.
• How would you classify this bike?
• Easy to find or was it a big challenge?
Trying to find Wassell parts is nearly impossible, especially the vintage custom parts. For majority of the general parts I found a couple of good sources around the country who had these in stock. For the parts I had from the bike, it took elbow grease and long hours to get them salvageable. For the parts I couldn’t manage to get a hold of, I fabricated myself.
Before the project, honestly, I had never heard about Wassell’s, which is funny because they partnered with Penton Motorcycles. You had always heard about the vintage TT and track bikes like Bultaco, Husqvarna, and Penton, but Wassell never really was mentioned. After the project and doing so much research, the Wassell Mudlark was known as a great bike minus the terrible transmission.
• Are you happy with the result? Would you do anything different?
I am very pleased with the way the bike turned out. It was challenging working in the small space of my trailer toy hauler room, if I would do anything different it would be to have a spacious shop, not on wheels. One can dream. Luckily, with the nice weather here in West Virginia, I was able to do a lot of the work outside. Overall, I enjoyed the challenge of the build and was satisfied with the turnout.
Owner: Chris Tope
Build Time: 6 Months 5 days, Felt like Forever
Shop: Fifth Wheel Toy Hauler
Fabrication: Chris Tope
Assembly: Chris Tope
Base model: 1973 Wassell Mudlark
Engine size: 123 cc Piston-port 2 Stroke, restored by Jerry Birky over at KTM in Ohio; covers, jug, and head fully polished by Steve Langston Elite Polishing.
Air Filter: Modified K&N Cone
Exhaust: Custom handmade expansion chamber exhaust from cold-rolled steel by Gary Braun of Retrodyne.
Ignition: High Performance
Fuel Tank: OEM, custom painted by Krossover Customs.
Gas Cap: Modified Mudlark gas tank with a custom painted gas cap to match the color of the bike along with incorporating two Ice Picks top with a British flag (origin of the Wassell).
Frame: Custom chrome plated fabricated frame. Fabricated chrome plated swingarm that has been extended 1.75″ and added gussets for extra reinforced strength.
Frame Paint: Chrome
Wheels: OEM, 21″ Front, 18″ Rear Polished with new Buchanan spokes
Tires: VEE Rubber studded (Front) VEE Rubber studded (Rear)
Front fork: Restored Ceriani 32mm
Shock: Swingarm model, Extended 1.75″ longer and modified from a dual shock setup to a mono shock setup. Used a mono shock from a Buell Blast.
Front Brake: Drum
Rear Brake: Drum
Rear Sprocket: Modified Chromed
Handlebars: Designed by Utopeia Moto and built by Josh at Crybaby Cycles, chrome 7/8.
Handgrips: Blue Ice Epoxy Resin with Mark Atkinson’s CNC sleeves, CNC bar ends inlaid with Moonstone gems.
Handcontrol: Kustom Tech Deluxe 7/8 Levels Clutch and Brake
Headlight Ears: Fabricated Ceriani
Headlight: Triangle Aris Style Headlight
Transmission: 6 speed
Footpegs: Fabricated and inlaid with moonstone gems.
Seat: Fabricated seat pan out of aluminum.
Upholstery: Vinyl white leather material, stitched up in a diamond pattern by Dane Utech (@plzbeseated).
All Chrome by: Atlantic Coast Plating
Painter: Kacey Elkins at Krossover Customs Paint