The mechanics of motorcycles led Paul Buffoni, a retired Marine, to found Bravo Company Manufacturing in 2006.
“I started riding when I was about 10 years old and raced motocross on CR80s, 125s and 250s. I was always working on them, and it developed my mechanical skills from an early age. My first Harley was an FLH Basket Case,” Buffoni recounts.
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Buffoni, who rides between 15,000 to 18,000 miles per year, finds many parallels between his military life and motorcycle riding.
“Your bike is very similar to your kit. How you set it up is very individualized and suited to your physique, skills and preferences. On a bike, you are usually alone and without doors, locks or a bumper. Many of us also carry a firearm or two for personal protection, so there are quite a few similarities,” Buffoni says.
Motorcycles are also part of the lives of many BCM employees. Some businesses install vending machines, a basketball hoop or even a mini-gym. However, Buffoni keeps a corner of the company’s warehouse as a dedicated bike shop. Workers can use company tools to work on their motorcycles during breaks or after hours.
Buffoni’s current Harley is a blacked-out 2013 FLT, and he has added several Harleys to his collection as BCM has grown. The most notable, however, is a 1951 custom bike designed and built as a modernized replica of the Harley-Davidson WLAs used in World War II.
Harley-Davidson produced nearly 60,000 WLAs in its Milwaukee plant for military use, and in BCM’s new Hartland, Wis., facility, the walls are adorned with large vintage photos of the U.S. Army’s motorcycle corps soldiers with aviator goggles, leather helmets and Thompson machine guns.
Buffoni sought not to make a museum piece, but rather to create a safe and reliable ride with some modern touches that paid homage to the WLAs.
For the hard- or impossible-to-find original elements such as exhaust and fuel covers and low-visibility washout lights, Buffoni sourced local custom fabricators to build the parts from scratch.
For enhanced stability and reliability, he added an LED headlight, custom spoke wheels and disc brakes, and a dual sport front tire.
There are also several vintage touches such as a parade fan, an ammo can saddlebag and a side-car mount as well as a modern Safariland holster mount. To finish the look, the motorcycle received a matte gray paint job with BCM’s star insignia.
Many of the modern American motorcycle clubs started after World War II. Their members were largely veterans, particularly those trained to work on service-issued Harleys.
Part of the military rider’s training included a weekly overhaul of their engines so they would be able to repair and service their machines in the field. Primarily assigned to carry messages where radios weren’t always reliable, the soldier’s motorcycle was the modern version of the old cavalryman’s horse.
After the war, many of these soldiers were drawn together both by their similar life experiences and love of riding. In some cases, their past cast a shadow over their new lives, such as during a 1947 hill climb and drag race at the San Benito race track in Hollister, Calif., where riots broke out that made national news. The event shed light on the underlying challenge many veterans-turned-motorcycle-club-members were struggling with: adjusting to civilian life in a modernized, post-war America.
Sadly, and not unlike today, most of America’s concerns were focused elsewhere, and some of the more disgruntled members and clubs morphed into the Hell’s Angels and 1%ers linked to criminal enterprises. But the highly publicized acts of a few individuals do not reflect the larger population of bikers. In fact, the name “1%ers” came from a comment by the American Motorcycle Association after the San Benito riots that “99 percent of motorcyclists were law abiding citizens.”
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These days, however, many 1%ers simply consider themselves part of a brotherhood of riders that subscribe to a riding lifestyle.
During and after the Vietnam War, the numbers of motorcycle club members swelled again for the same reasons. Vets needed to find a way to adjust and reconnect with a brotherhood.
The Rolling Thunder Run was born out of this generation of veteran motorcyclists, and since 1988 has staged First Amendment Demonstration Runs in Washington, D.C., to protest the fact that POWs and MIAs were left behind in Vietnam and to ensure it never happens again. The appeal of this sort of riding is broad, and no particular membership is required to participate in the run.
Its first run had 2,500 riders, but today the Rolling Thunder Run is the world’s largest single-day motorcycle event with more than 1 million riders and spectators combined. In addition to the POW/MIA mission, the Rolling Thunder Run has evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country.
So the next time you pass a motorcyclist on the road, remember that it might be a veteran enjoying the freedoms they defended as much as getting from one place to another. If you see one at a gas station, ask them about their bike. They’ll enjoy talking about it. If you are stuck in traffic and the same rider zips by, splitting lanes, be kind and don’t open your doors.
For more information on BCM, please visit BravoCompanyMfg.com.
This article is from the spring 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. To subscribe or purchase individual copies, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.
SPECIFICATIONS: Paul Buffoni’s Harley WLA 1951 Panhead Repro
- Chassis: 2002 Harley Softtail Standard
- Front Suspension: Cross Bones Springer
- Axel Shaft: Custom quick-detach
- Engine Upgrades: Big bore kit, Harley cooling fan
- Cam Cover: RSD
- Gas Tank: Custom
- Fenders: Custom
- Handlebar Risers: Custom
- Sidecar Mount: Custom
- Off-Road Guards: Brake reservoirs, belt drive, calipers, headlamp, skid plate
- Rocker Box: NY Choppers
- Holster: G-Code RTI
- Wheels/Tires: 17-inch laced rims with dual sport tires
- Storage System: 5.56mm ammo can
- Exhaust: Custom