Twenty-year-old Makai Wink and family build a Harley-Norton Featherbed barn special!
The legendary Norton Featherbed frame has its origins in Northern Ireland during WWII, where brothers Cromie and Rex McCandless developed a rear subframe for their racing motorcycles that incorporated a swingarm and the spring/damper units from a Citroen automobile — a far superior design to the hardtail frames of the era.
In the postwar years, the McCandless conversion caught the attention of Norton’s director, who contracted the brothers to develop a new frame for the Norton Manx:
“It was at the Silverstone track in 1950 that works racer Harold Daniell made the now famous comment that the new McCandless Manx was like riding on a ‘feather-bed.’ The name stuck.” —Motorcycle Classics
The Norton Featherbed frame would become legendary for its sweet handling, spurring the creation of hybrid specials like the Triton, Norbsa, and Norvin — shed-built cafe racers with Triumph, BSA, or Vincent engines swapped into Featherbed frames, creating machines with performance superior to anything that could be bought from a factory or dealership.
Enter our new friend Makai Wink of the Netherlands, a 20-year-old chap who grew up in a family of motorcycle riders:
“I grew up with my grandpa, grandma, dad, and my mom all riding bikes. I always said, whenever I grow up, I want to build and ride something as well.”
When Makai’s grandfather was clearing out his garage, he came across a 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA “Liberator” engine — the famous 45 cubic-inch flathead V-twin of the WWII era, which earned its nickname rolling across occupied Europe with the liberating American soldiers.
Makai says his grandfather got the idea to swap the WLA V-twin into a 1967 Norton Atlas frame he had — the last of the iconic Featherbeds. The swap would take the better half of a year, says Makai — a whole winter. And the old flathead wasn’t a stock unit. It was a modified Liberator race block, outfitted with 1200 inlet valves, KR750 exhaust valves, a balanced crankshaft, and a 1200 carburetor — one hot Harley flathead. Says Makai:
“When I was 15, I wanted to start building a bike as well and bought the parts from my grandpa to continue building the NorHD.”
Makai says his father and grandfather helped him along the way. His father was instrumental in wiring the bike, which turned out to be a bear given the American-British coupling:
“I have no experience with that so he taught me. The scheme for the wiring harness you could throw away, because it’s an American engine in an English bike. And for an English bike, it’s a positive (+) on the frame, and for an American bike, it’s the negative (-) on the frame. So we call it, Swearing in church.”
They also converted the bike from 6v to 12v while they were at it. Makai created the dashboard and battery box himself, using cardboard models, and handled all of the paint and pinstriping as well. The young man learned a ton in the process, though he still hasn’t gotten to enjoy the full fruits of his labor:
“I’m actually 20 years old and cannot legally ride the bike myself yet. In July, I get my first motorcycle lesson, because in the Netherlands, you get like three licenses for different heavier bikes and stuff.”
Below, we get the full details on the build from Makai himself, as well as more stunning shots from photographer Noortje Blokland.
NorHD: In the Builder’s Words
I grew up with my grandpa, grandma, dad, and my mom all riding bikes. I always said, whenever I grow up, I want to build and ride something as well.
My dad and grandpa have been collecting bike parts since they were young. So some of the parts used on the bike, I just found them in the garage. We actually call the bike ”SO” — in Dutch, it’s short for Schuur opruiming, sloop onderdelen. Translation: Barn clearance, demolition parts.
The original idea for the bike came from my grandpa. He was selling his house and clearing away the garage and found the Harley engine, along with some parts. That’s when he came up with the idea of putting it in the Norton frame. He spent half year, the whole winter fitting the engine into the frame. When I was 15, I wanted to start building a bike as well and bought the parts from my grandpa to continue building the NORHD.
Along the journey from the past until now, my grandpa and dad have been helping me with the bike. My dad did all the electrical work for the bike. I have no experience with that so he taught me. The scheme for the wiring harness you could throw away, because it’s an American engine in an English bike. And for an English bike, it’s a positive (+) on the frame, and for an American bike, it’s the negative (-) on the frame. So we call it, Swearing in church.
We transformed the whole bike from 6v to 12v — dynamo, ignition coil, and battery. Because I just wanted a tighter design with some LED Lights.
The engine is a modified Liberator block. It has 1200 inlet valves, 750 exhaust valves, 1200 carburettor, and a well balanced crankshaft.
For the fitment, we used the interior of the transmission, and we welded a pulley to the exterior so the gearbox and engine fit together with a belt.
We actually didn’t do any cutting to the frame, so if we ever want to change it back to original, we can.
My grandpa made some custom gusset plates out of wood to fit the engine into the frame, because the engine and the gearbox needed to be exactly in line. Whenever the engine was 100% in line with the gearbox, he made them from metal.
The bike has original Norton drum brakes. The rev counter is a Smiths and I got that restored because it was all beaten up. The dashboard and the battery box, I made them from cardboard first.
All of the spraying and piping of the parts I did myself, mostly in the summer. Some parts I did 4/5 times because I’m a crazy for precision.
I’m actually 20 years old and cannot legally ride the bike myself yet. It is finally done after all those years. In July, I got my first motorcycle lesson, because in the Netherlands, you get like three licenses for different heavier bikes and stuff.