Article By: Pat Jansen
Originally Published In The March 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Bike builders are a bunch of prima donnas. Guys that buy a new Harley and bolt stuff on from the chrome wizard at the dealership are wanna be douche bags. If you fall into any one of these categories I want to tell you something, the statement about you might be right! But, by and large in the motorcycle community, I find most builders to be pretty cool, riders of new Harleys to be good hard working guys, and bike customizers to be great people. But over the last 30 years, I’ve heard a lot of derogatory talk in each of these three camps about the others. And honestly most of these statements arise out of ignorance born of insecurity. So, for our purposes here I want to begin a conversation about the role and validity of folks that are passionate about their motorcycles but provide the motorsickle world with rolling expressions of freedom in vastly different ways. I believe recognizing the differences and their place in our subculture could benefit all of us in the long haul. Who knows, we might even learn something from somebody else.
Let’s begin with the custom motorcycle builders. If you’ve ever been to a motorcycle show like the ones put on by Biker Pros’ Bob Kay and Jeff Najar the bikes entered by custom motorcycle builders are considered to be in the “Freestyle” class. It’s the anything goes, no holds barred show us your fab skills class. These guys build the frames, tanks, oil bags, handlebars, foot controls, pegs, covers, widgets and what nots. You’ll see oil bags out of glass, wheels with no valve stems, one off rocker boxes and a myriad of other handcrafted pieces. Very little, if anything on these bikes relates to a stock motorcycle except for the basic pieces that would define it as a motorcycle. They are usually visually stunning and often wonders of engineering. Yes, they are often not the most rideable motorcycles ever created. And sometimes the lines will be pushed so far that they begin to move into a genre of vehicle besides that of motorcycle. But, these creative, artistic, talented souls are essential to our community. By pushing the lines of design and engineering they allow for the evolution of style and functionality for the rest of us. All kinds of parts that we take for granted now were born here. Suspension, drive train, paint, coatings, tires, brakes and almost anything else you can imagine has been impacted by this group of custom bike builders. They are the innovators, dreamers and craftsman of our world. Remember these things the next time you run across their bikes. Find something new, ask them questions about their process and celebrate their moxie.
Next let’s take up the customizers. My shop, Sin Central Garage, falls into this category. Our tag line is “Resurrecting Hot Rods, Harleys and Hellions!” Customizers may or may not possess the ability to fabricate a motorcycle from the ground up. But what they choose to do instead is take an existing motorcycle and modify it in such a way that it is unique but retains much of its stock geometry or bones. The customizers have a great lineage of people that have gone on before them. When the first motorcycle was purchased, taken home and modified for a specific purpose or to provide it with certain look the world of the customizer was birthed. This group, perhaps spans the largest gap between bolt on guys and bike builders. Occasionally the end product of the customizer is outrageous and it begs to question with what did this project begin. Customizers can take a stock motorcycle and make it almost unrecognizable. But more often than not, these bikes simply take on greater character. They are massaged into artistic creations or purpose built vehicles that enhance the original design characteristics or correct some production engineering that made them unsuitable for a task. Like the bike builders, customizers are integral to our community because they do bridge the gap between bolt on parts and ground up builds. They make the personalization of one’s motorcycle accessible. They too, are skilled at their trade, provide innovations to both builders and bolt on folks and honor the age-old tradition of recycling and reusing perfectly functional bikes that might otherwise be forgotten. That process of resurrection is important. You might, in the future look closely at their work. To enhance the work of another and create a unique bike is a gift.
Lastly, we need to talk about the bolt on folks. The bolters make up the lion’s share of the motorcycle community. They are the ones that don’t tear their bikes down to the frame, cut stuff off, grind, beat, distress or cause any other misery to their rides. These are people who like their motorcycles and want to retain the character of the bike they bought. They bought a specific bike because they liked it, it met the needs they had for their preferred riding style and often times fell into the constraints of their budget. They walk parking lots and events crowded with motorcycles and take in the small details of the bikes. They read closely the motorcycle magazines looking at every picture, reading every tech article and browsing all the advertisements. They know they are not bike builders or customizers. And you know what, they don’t give a shit. They like their bike, they just want to personalize it. They do this in any number of ways. Sometimes they get help from the Chrome Consultant at the dealership when they buy it new. But most of the time they piece by piece assemble a bike’s accessories with great care and cost and get a chance to explore the use of basic tools as they install their carefully chosen personal touches. Often paint, pin stripping or powder coating is used to accentuate these modifications but the bike still remains functional, stock and most importantly for new bikes…under warranty! And just like with the other two groups sometimes bolters miss it. They, like the others, forget that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. But usually what is created is a clean, simple, subtle motorcycle just different enough from another to make it stand out. These bolters create the market for the motorcycle industry to continue to grow, for shops small and large to make money from parts so they can continue to innovate and create; and they remind us that at the end of the day motorcycles were intended to be ridden.
So, armed with this understanding the prima donna, tools and douche bags of the world might just discover something about each other and from each other. Gaudy can happen under anyone’s watch and beauty and art can be found on many canvases. Claim what you are. Take pride in your work. Celebrate the achievements of others.