Article By: Chris Callen and Garage Builders Everywhere
Originally Published In The February 2012 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
So the times have well changed since the days of the milliondollar choppers when it seemed as if motorcycles were only part of the lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous. The baby boomers rocketed the custom motorcycle to the top of the public’s eye and shows like Monster Garage and American Chopper helped the biker culture invade the homes of John and Jane Q public. Even dealerships were selling motorcycles for thousands of dollars over list price and it seemed like it would never end… and then it did. A wave of change came over the whole thing like an overnight winter storm and no one knew what would happen next. Long time companies like Big Dog and American Iron Horse shut their doors, other companies sold, some were consolidated, and magazines folded; it was chaos. Many predicted that this would surely be the end of what they called the “motorcycle thing” but for a few of us, we knew better. There are those who don’t do this for any other reason than to not do it, would drive them absolutely insane.
The roots of what we do, the throttle jockeys and tramps, the travelers and the vagabonds, is a thing that has little to do with the business of motorcycling. It doesn’t depend on the availability of custom parts or the catalogue companies who sell them. There hasn’t ever been a TV show or a book produced about it; its lack of marketability would probably prohibit that. No, this is the soul of what custom bike building is about and it’s no surprise that after all the glitz and glam have cleared away, it’s what’s left behind. It’s still as raw and passionate as the day that first cat cut a bike apart to make it their own. We have decided that this year, for our annual offering, we’d dedicate an issue to the true motivating force behind what we do here: the garage builder. This all came to me a month or so ago when we posted news on the Cyril Huze blog about our annual “Year in Review” issue. There were a couple off-hand comments about our magazine and our trailer-trash friends; no big deal, to each his own. One thing led to another and there was a pretty heated argument going on about who was a professional builder and who was just doing it as a hobby. It was odd to me to read this as I had never thought about the difference. I mean, I know some guys do this for a living, but to me, anyone who even attempts to build a bike is diggin’ the same trip we’re all on. It hit me right then that this had all gone so far that some of us forgot about the day we all sat in the little space in our basement or garage and dreamt about building a far-out custom bike.
From those little spaces came some of the greatest parts, tech tricks and knowledge that have ever been. That’s what the garage was when I was growing up: a gathering place for people who shared ideas, helped each other work on cool projects or fix the things that were broken. It was a place where greybeards that knew how to do things taught us young bucks what to do. Most of these places are very meager in their construction and content. They usually contain a collection of tools and parts that have been handed down from other relatives and brothers as well as from swap meets and yard sales. Still, the innovation and creativity that has been produced is unmatched, and it’s still that way today. Due to the lack of space, tools are usually kept in order on rolling carts that can be stashed away until they are needed again. The refrigerator, that generally is as important as the main toolbox most times, has more tattoos on it than its owner. Stickers from rallies and shows, days gone by and shops long retired, cover almost every square inch of it. Across the ceiling and walls are the pages of magazines, past and present. They serve as much of a purpose for covering sometimes unfinished construction as they do inspiration for the long hours of working on bikes before we get to go anywhere on them. Trophies from previous victories, plaques from the occasional appearance in a magazine, every collectible item and memory from their time in the field is proudly displayed somewhere in that shop. For them, this is not just a place where the work gets done; this is where they spend the majority of their life around motorcycles. You see, the industry at large forgets that not everyone goes to every Daytona and every Sturgis, every year. The larger group of these people we all represent, make it once or twice in their lives if they’re lucky. For the most part, they spend time with friends and bothers in their own at-home facility building, bragging and telling the stories of the times that were. They dream of what it will be like the next time they roll out with their latest handcrafted sled, and to their credit, the passion and creativity is what keeps us all rolling.
Although it would be much later in my own life that I’d be lucky enough to have a space of my own, I still think back fondly to Pappy’s shack where so many of our bikes were built and maintained during my formidable years. There was a wood stove for heat, most of the equipment you would need to do everything from rebuilding a carb to replacing a truck motor and in total, I bet thirty guys at a time depended on this car-and-a-half space. It was little more than a shed in back of the house but it was also the center of the universe. I built my first custom bike in that place, learned how to use a lathe, MIG weld, and wire a bike, in short, it was where my lifelong obsession with bikes began. Most of the bikes we feature in this very magazine are from garage builders. Hell, most of the guys you see at the top of their game in the industry today started in spaces and shops just like this. Every year they roll out their latest creations and head to the Chopper Time show at Tropical Tattoo or to Main Street in Sturgis to show off their work, concerned with little more than the admiration of their peers. There’s no deadline imposed by television producers, no big check for the completion of their work, they have earned the true reward in the task itself.
Now maybe this bike building thing isn’t your bag. I find that hard to believe if you’re holding this magazine, but maybe it’s not. In that case, I ask you to put away your preconceived ideas on this subject and just take a look at the issue before us. Read some of the stories we have collected here and look at the creations from the garages across America. We have purposely put a garage builder on the cover, all the feature bikes are from them as well, there are a couple of shops that we have pulled out of our garage builder contest for this issue, and there are ten that have been selected as the best example across the board. We have done this not to put forth the proposition that these cats are the “real deal” and deserve mad props for how they rock it, but simply because the silent majority deserves some time under the spotlights as well, so sit back and enjoy.