One Question Interview: May Edition

In this months segment of the one question interview we asked all our favorite greasebags the following question:

When it comes to building or customizing bikes, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned:

Lot’s of great answers, tips and tricks to grab from all the answers, a great extended answer at the end by Ian Barry of Falcon, so make sure to get to that.

As always, I love to hear you guys (yes YOU) answer the question as well, so use the comments section to drop some knowledge/sarcasm/humor/wit/etc…With that said, onto the show. (Make sure to click read more to check out all the answers). Now, onto the show:

Wes • Four Aces Cycle Supply •
The most important esoteric lesson I have learned building bikes is that the bike will tell you what it needs and what it wants you to do if you listen to it. The perfect bike builds itself. If you offer up parts to the bike it will either accept or reject those parts based on your eye’s interpretation of the package. Forced bikes look forced.

The most important concrete lesson I have learned is that building a bike, for yourself or for someone else, costs money. At some point you are gonna have to spend some dough. If you grind your builder he is going to have to fudge the quality and that is going to bite both customer and builder down the road. Pick the right builder and pay him well. On your own build, don’t be afraid to buy quality materials and quality parts.

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Mark aka Duckman •
When you think a bike build is 90% done, you are about halfway there….

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Truth • Choppahead •
Measure twice, cut once. But its only metal, if you fuck it up you can fix it. And never let a sexy midget hang around while you’re working - it’s too distracting.

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Duane Ballard • Duane Ballard Leather •
The most important thing I’ve learned is I don’t know shit. Thank God I friends that do though.

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Fabricator Kevin •
F.F.F. - Form Follows Function. Modifications and custom parts have to work right and be reliable first and foremost, and then they need to look good.

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Kevin Baas • Baas Metal Craft •
The most important lesson I have learned building and customizing bikes is to do what you want to do and not what other people say of think is cool. Trends come and go and everyone is quick to jump on the band wagons with what seems to be the new cool thing to do..flat black, wrapped pipes, sparkly retro paint bobbers choppers, diggers all kinds of stuff making it’s way to what the majority of the new bikes being built use. In my opinion if something looks cool or fits the look of a certain build do it..don’t listen to the internet know it alls who say oh that is so last year or I am so sick of that over played look. Fuck that just because a bunch of similar bikes are being built and displayed on a forum does not mean it has necessarily flooded the entire world of bikes just like that. Half the cool shit I see on some of the forums you never see running around the streets of Minnesota. So my building creed is to build it like I want and fuck the rest. I wouldn’t let them ride it anyway!

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Caleb • Cro Customs •
You never stop learning. To me, building and riding is an organic, holistic process. Everything is related. I learn something new on every build. But, if I had to pin it down to ONE thing it may be… ” Is there gas in it?”

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Matt • Dice •
Get someone else to do all hard work for free while drinking their beer

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Zach • Chop Shop •
When it comes to building a bike the most important thing I have learned is lock tight. You see without lock tight your bike will fall apart every time you ride it. I remember the first bike I built from scratch I was not so good about using lock tight and proper torque specs so the first ride out a ton of shit fell off. Long story short lock tight everything!!!

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Jason McElroy •
Here it is:
The concepts are simple. The execution can take a little work.
If your proposed solution to a problem can’t be expressed to a guy on the corner in once sentence, it’s too complicated.
Design and plan everything you build with accessibility for later repairs and inspection in mind.
Sure is easier to do regular maintenance in your workshop than on the side of the road drunk in a strange town.
Use your carry-tools to do maintenance on your bike every time. Put the tools back on the bike when you’re done.
Use quality fasteners. Always.
Don’t lie to yourself… keeping old machines with style on regular road duty takes more work than talk.
Plan on hours in the shop for every hour on the road. Enjoy those hours on the road with confidence.

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Big Nick

Proportions! I don’t care how much “cool shit” you have on it, if it aint right it aint right!

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Lock Baker • E-Fab Motorcycles •
The most important thing I’ve learned is to never try to cover up a mistake or shortcoming with the next phase of assembly. In other words, never say to yourself “this weld doesn’t look so great but you wont see it once the bike is painted”. Or, “this part is a bit off center but you wont notice it when the tank is put on”, etc.

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Doc Benway

Have a clear plan, but don’t be inflexible.

I’m not a “builder”, I do this for my own satisfaction. Sometimes I’ll be heading down a path with a project with an idea in mind, but circumstances will often present an unexpected cool part like a front end or tank that will add a new dimension to the plan; and as long as it integrates well with the build, I’ll use it. The end result might stray a bit from what I intended, but I like that.

I wouldn’t want to build something that looked *exactly* like it did on the box. I like including those little variables that fate sometimes throws at you.

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Trent • Atomic Custom •
Well, I see lots of really nice bikes being built these days.. I think most people get caught up in building a SHOW bike. I build bike that are meant to be ridden. Its not as important to have the most bling or the baddest paint or the most crazy shit on your bike as it is to have a bike you can RIDE every day.

So, as far as what I have learned? Well, its what I have known and done all along. Build a bike that will last!

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Matt • Mad River •
Get Help From People Who Know More Than You - either advice, encouragement, a 2nd wrench, or a mechanic

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CJ • Guilty Customs •
Measure twice, cut once and double the time you give yourself to build your bike, cause you’ll definitely run into delays, wrong parts, changes in direction and stupid mistakes. Oh, wait a minute, builders never make mistakes, we only have “periods of inspiration that take us down a different road to completion”…ha, ha…

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Steve • Brew Cycles •
The most important lesson if your doing a bike for someone else is,, do they have the money! Also, if they mentioned they saw this on American Chopper and they want this on their bike. I then show them better options, which is easy. Lesson for my own bike is easy. I build what I want with no other influence.

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Ken • Biker Radio •
The short answer is making a decision on a part or a change and not taking it too far. It’s kind of like (in a very simple way of stating) how much chrome is too much? Not that chrome is a pre-requisite to a good look but it is an example of balance. Too much can be repulsive. It’s a difference between cosmetic surgery and Frankenstein. Defining what I want and then making it as understated as possible is what I have learned.

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Rich • Ryzart •
Two words: LOC -TITE!!!!! Never assemble a bike without it!! My bike isn’t even a V-Twin and I had bolts flying off of my bike. I really am an ass!!!!

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Blacksmith Billy

Being relatively new to building the most important lesson for me was gaining knowledge. Researching, reading, and asking for advice (or feedback) from the guys that have been there and done it.

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Scott • Choppertown •
From early on, back when I was restoring and rebuilding my dirt bikes I was taught and interesting tip that kind of stayed with me until now. Organization was key, especially when pulling a motor down to the crank, so I learned to snap a few photos along the way to use as a reference when I needed one. It’s amazing how many times I was happy to have something to fall back on. It could be as simple as did that washer go before or after that gear. When my parents bought a VHS camera I decided to film it instead of snap it. I filmed my whole Harley rebuild and to this day I still look for that tape every time I’m back visiting my them in NY.

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Vic • Sinners •
Start with a titled bike or some sort of paper. This is by far the biggest time consuming pain in the ass part of the bike, pisses me off just thinking about it! You are dealing with State employees, dealing with appointments at CHP then DMV then light and brake inspections then back to DMV… the paper work is not difficult, it’s just time consuming and your are dealing with people that just don’t get it and/or give a shit! I have learned if you start with a mostly complete bike with paper, you save yourself the title hassles and you can sell/trade everything (usually a rolling chassis) you don’t use, and make most and sometimes all of your money back. It’s more money up front, but it usually pays back in the end. My greatest thrill now is to see how little real money I put in a build and still have it come out bitchen!

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Ian Barry • Falcon Motorcycles •
When it comes to building and customizing bikes, the most important lesson I have learned recently, is that the time, work and ingenuity that I (or anyone) put into creating something truly special and unique deserves to be worth something.. that the real value of a custom bike should be assessed by this, instead of just the grand total of its parts, a current trend, or what name appears on a tank badge. This seems like a pretty elementary conclusion (especially now after just reading that last sentence again) but turns out it wasn’t always that simple for me..

It took me the past decade to learn, while I borrowed garage space and in recent years actually lived and wrenched in a tent in my friends back yard while working a second job to pay for the one thing I truly loved doing - building British motorcycles. I was letting a stale belief put shackles on my livelihood and my ability to devote time and energy into what I do, and on what I want to build or create: “Because it started off as a Triumph it could never be worth more than ten grand” even though I devoted 6 months or a year of my life turning that Triumph into a one of a kind piece? That doesn’t seem right but I kept hearing over and over: “Your wasting your time with those things man, you need to start building real bikes, building Harleys and big twins”.

I never believed those statements and I was too stubborn to give up something I loved to do just so I could get a better paycheck. Like all the other builders who dedicate their lives to building British bikes know (or anything other than a big twin for that matter), I knew that just as much time, effort and imagination goes into building a badass custom Triumph, as goes into building a badass custom Harley.

My stubbornness ending up being a good thing, the guy I just finished building a bike for totally got it from the start, and wanted me to go for it.. to really take the time and pay the attention to detail that we both felt the kind of bike he wanted deserved. It’s the first time I’ve built a bike without having to eat Top Ramen throughout the build or let the rest of my life go to shit while I was doing it, all because I wanted to spend a little more time, make an extra piece or two (or three), because I wanted to build the best bike I could possibly build.

In a way it has opened up the world of custom British bikes into a whole new realm, which hopefully means that I will be able to dedicate myself to new builds, and still be able to live my life/ look after my family without having to sell out in one way or another. Anyhow I guess what I’m trying to say with all this is that the most important recent lesson I learned is: To build the bikes I love and want to build, I can’t let anyone else’s ideas of what’s worth it (or worthless), attach a 0.00 dollar sign to my time, dedication, or my choice in motorcycles.

This is a seriously badass lesson, because it’s never been about the money for me. It’s about doing what I love and still being able to afford to put the tent on the back of my new 89′ Goldwing with the old lady, pop in the Michael Bolton/Kenny G mix tape, plug in our heated socks, and get in the wind!

8 Responses to “One Question Interview: May Edition”

  1. XsSpeed says:

    I’ve learned that once I begin to hate the bike, it’s almost done. When it’s done, I love it again.

  2. BadMonkeyMW says:

    I’ve learned that making it look like a motorcycle is easy. Making it run like a motorcycle takes real work.

    Also, the first time a bike you built fires up is about as good as it gets. Oh yeah, and running the wires thru the frame does NOT make the bike run any better.

  3. Stan66 says:

    After 50 years of building/riding/breaking/fixing the single most important lesson I have learned is:
    When you’re sure it’s done….it isn’t. Improvements can always be made.

  4. Hacksaw says:

    with all respect to Wes, i have been waiting 15 years for one of my bikes to put itself together. hasnt happened.
    maybe i need to get me one of those Boston sexy midgets Truth uses. do ya use red or blue loctite on sexy midgets?

    okay, in somewhat seriousness. the big problem for me is time. the only way i can hope to get a bike together is to use dependable vendors. i dont have the time to learn maching and leather work, tig welding, etc. for a garage rat asembler as be myself, you rely on the good pros in the industry. several off them right here on this blog. so support them.

  5. Spuddley says:

    Gotta make the bike roadworthy. By that I mean, it should be able to be ridden say a 100 mile distance between 50-100 MPH on all kinds of roads with no malfunctions of any consequence. Sweat the details, spec in the right materials strength requirements, the correct threaded fasteners, torque values. Use that machinist’s handbook or equivelent. It may take longer on the front end to do some of this stuff, but it’s definitely worth it down the road (literally). Take the time to dimension out (design, all fab and overall dimensions, etc) a part or weldment before ya start rather than wingin’ it. I use heavy chipboard for the design excercise.

    On the more creative side, I run an image through my head for a few days, then commit to paper and rough draft it a few times. Then run it through the design/fab stuff I mentioned above. But I always keep that first 2-D image right close by through the whole process. To keep the original image at hand.

    And - personally - I like to ride fast. So no matter how much I like a motor design or a creative effort - anyone’s creative effort - I am just not that interested if it cannot routinely be ridden at 100 MPH for 15 or 20 minutes at a time with no problem.

  6. f-stop says:

    The REAL enjoyment is in the build. Owning/riding is nice, but really kinda boring.

  7. sledmotorsrule says:

    i’ve noticed two things:
    1. staring time is nessesary. if i’m staring or puttering around in the garage its likely that a part is stuck or i’m unsure how to accomplish something. either way, when it comes to old machines, taking a step back is crucial. it saves the machine, your sanity, time spent recovering thrown tools, and slowing it down gives me time to grill the steak i got on sale.
    2. friends always mean well when they say they can help…

  8. Shock says:

    Great advice !!

    I’ve learned that the worst day of working on your bike is still better than the best day at work. Also, especially when you’re first starting out , swallow your pride and don’t be afraid to ask questions or get help from those who have been there. It’ll save you a hell of alot of grief in the long run and you’ll get over the ball bustin for your stupid questions.

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