David Mann’s Ghost Rider bike on the road again
It was one of the few cold days in January of this year that Bob Keener, a longtime Valley resident, accidentally knocked on the wrong door of a residence near Watkins Glen. But it was a combination of the cold weather that day, and pure luck that led Keener to a once in a lifetime dream, and a vision that will be shared with many for years, and possibly decades to come.
Keener, at that time, was working for an investigative unit that served to repossess motorcycles. Describing that day as cold and blustery, Keener, who stands over 6-feet tall and has a large build, was working with another repossession employee of the same stature. They traveled to Watkins Glen that day to take claim of a motorcycle that had suffered default in payments, but accidentally knocked on the wrong door, and were subsequently invited in.
As a conversation ensued with the owner of the residence, and talks of motorcycles naturally unfolded, it was then that they made the discovery of a gem that was sitting quietly in this man’s possession.
Unable to believe what they had found, Keener described it with the enthusiasm of one who had just realized a dream.
What was sitting in the home, for storage purposes for its rightful owner, was a motorcycle built from the frame up by Jay “AJ” Felli. What was unique about the motorcycle, Keener noted, is that it was built by Felli as a replication of the motorcycle in artist David Mann’s Ghost Rider painting. The motorcycle, he added, was built by Felli as a tribute to Mann.
Mann’s Ghost Rider painting, according to Keener, and as featured in a 1983 publication of Easyriders magazine, was his most famous artwork.
Complete with a customized seat and sissy bar, and other parts that needed to be re-welded and fabricated, Mann’s image was even included in the chrome.
According to a feature on the replicated motorcycle that was published in Easyriders Magazine in September of 2005, “It’s rare that someone would hunker down to build a live version of the bike from the painting.” This feature first introduced the motorcycle to the magazine’s riding audience, and affirmed that what Keener had just stumbled upon was the real deal.
Easyriders magazine described this artwork as “one of the most popular motifs for not only garage walls across the country, but also motorcycle tanks.” Keener described it as famous as well, but also hard to come by.
But the story evolves from here.
It was shortly after this chance encounter that Keener was invited to the home of the motorcycle’s creator, Felli, also living in Watkins Glen.
Much to his surprise, and upon this visit, Keener soon learned of Felli’s interest in selling the motorcycle. Felli had been thwarted previously from these thoughts by offers that did not do the motorcycle justice.
“He told me he would rather give it to me then accept those offers,” Keener said.
By the end of January, at an undisclosed price, Keener, Randy Wilcox of Wilcox Automotive in Dushore, and Carl Bird made an offer to AJ that he didn’t refuse. In no time at all, the motorcycle was transported in an enclosed trailer to an undisclosed location.
Keener noted that after that encounter, he also discontinued his job doing repossessions. “I didn’t like taking motorcycles from brothers,” he added of that job.
As former owner of BBC Services in Athens, Keener joined on with Wilcox after he closed his shop in 2008. For the two bikers, who sport an Indian and a Harley Davidson during the warmer months, this transition was a perfect fit.
But now, with their recent find of this fine buried treasure, they are inspired to do more, and to continue the dream and promote the legacy of Mann and his famous Ghost Rider.
Starting immediately, the new proud owners were invited to an Easyriders show held in Ohio in February. According to Keener, the show, which was attended by approximately 80,000, offered a display of the replicated motorcycle, with various photos and images of Mann’s artwork over the years displayed behind it.
“People liked it,” Keener said.
Following the show, the bike was transported back to Wilcox Automotive, and cleaned up. They also noted that the motorcycle has never been started.
“Because of its notoriety, we don’t want to ride it,” Wilcox said.
But with motorcycle season already under way, the owners of the bike are now moving forward and making constructive plans for its use.
On March 31, the motorcycle will be taken to an American Legion Riders Swap Meet in Horseheads, N.Y. The event according to Wilcox, will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are also planning on taking the motorcycle out to the annual Big Brothers/Big Sisters event that takes place at Sherwood Groves in Wysox each June. They will also be taking the motorcycle to an upcoming Relay for Life event in Wysox in June, as members of Amvet Post 187.
But the three owners, have bigger plans.
“It would please AJ if we do the right thing,” Keener said of prospective ideas for the iconic motorcycle. He added that they are in no hurry to sell it.
“When I saw the bike,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it. You can’t set a price on this.”
And the now proud owners are unsure of where the motorcycle will end up, or for what cause. Keener said that he would like to think that the motorcycle could end up serving as a charity for Mann’s widow, Jacquie. Mann died a day after his 64th birthday in 2004.
Just before his death a custom motorcycle was commissioned in his honor from Orange County Choppers, to be featured in an episode of the reality television series American Chopper. The “David Mann Bike” featured custom artwork in Mann’s style, but Mann died before it was completed. The vehicle served as a posthumous tribute to the artist, and his work was featured on the show.
Then in 2005, the motorcycle, now owned by Keener, Wilcox and Bird, was introduced as a tribute to Mann’s artwork, and specifically his Ghost Rider.
And with newfound excitement, the bike owners will start their new journey through assisting local organizations.
“We’re just going to see how it happens,” Wilcox said of this prospect.
Initially, for a small fee to cover expenses, Wilcox said they would be willing to consider bringing the motorcycle to various events. Wilcox Automotive, he added, currently sponsors many activities that benefit the community.
Keener, who has high hopes and big plans for the motorcycle, stated that he intends to live by the words presented to him by the bike’s creator, Felli: “All right Bob, let’s make this happen,” Keener recounted of AJ’s final words in their transaction.
To learn more about the motorcycle, contact Wilcox by calling the shop at (570) 363-6419, or by contacting Keener at (607) 425-2898. You can learn more about Mann’s artwork by visiting www.davidmannart.com.