Wow, 2016 was a rush of weirdness and I am kind of glad it is over. Since the madness of the United States Presidential Election is over (and madness it was) and the numerous deaths of our childhood idols, I have had a lot of time to reflect on all of the things that happened in the last twelve months. I even went as far as make some phone calls to see what other leaders of the custom bicycle market thought. Here is what I had come up with.
· Readers of Kustomized Bicycle Magazine have grown over 400%.
· Kustomized Bicycle Magazine’s content has increased 70%.
· One of our machinist friends has gone from 1-2 parts per run to 20-30.
· Our frame builder friend went from making frames to spec to offering five models ready for purchase.
· OBC entrants have increased in double digits.
So what does this mean to me and you? It means we are growing, the scene is growing and more people are attending rides and events. We will keep putting together the only custom bicycle magazine in existence and building bicycles.
My view of the future is:
· The top 10% of builders will get very busy trying to fill those orders.
· We will see the first custom bicycle hit mainstream television…probably in some lame commercial that has nothing to do with bicycles.
· More people will become involved in the “scene” which includes more bike clubs and builders in their garages.
· Big money foreign manufacturers will “borrow” designs from the top 10% builders and start putting out low cost low quality products.
· Custom fabricators will need to step up their designs to keep up with newcomers to the market.
What do you think will come with the new year? Let us know by emailing us at KustomizedBicycleMagazine@gmail or post it on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/KustomizedBicycleMagazine/
roth metalflake nail polish
Need something to smooth over the wonderful lady in your life after bike parts were delivered for the fourth day in a row? Didn’t make it home on time because you and the crew were on an epic all night bike ride? Has she been making hints your way about wanting something sparkly for her finger? Need to get your own toes done to match your bike?
Lil’ Daddy Roth Flake has got you covered. While you are buying the bass boat finish for your latest project you can order their 10-piece polish set or individual colors. They have all the flake laden colors you could want. The colors are:
Cherry Pie, Bombastik Blue, Sassy Pink, Voo Doo Bloo, Night Tripper, Ghetto Gold, Agent Orange, See Sic Blue, Pimpin’ Purple, Liquid Glass Clear Coat
Individual bottles are $6.99 or pick up the entire set for $59.00. How can you go wrong with anything metal flake.
Pick up a set at http://rothmetalflake.com
Michigan Built Sled
Michigan Built is teaming up with Chop Shop Customz with the production of their bolt on sled design. You may remember the unveiling in Kustomized Bicycle Magazine’s June 2016 issue. One of the features was Tim Sanders stretched 1954 Schwinn middleweight that was not only one of the coolest bicycles but also had the coolest wagon sidecar. The two companies decided to join forces and put the sidecar into production. The word on the street is that it will follow the original design except the dampening unit. The wagon will still be mounted in such a manner that gives the bike the ability to lean into the corners. Anyone that has ever ridden a trike knows that this will make for a much better turning and more comfortable ride.
If you don’t know either company where the hell have you been? Michigan Built is a top of the line machining outfit that has released the aluminum Grip Shift cover for the Shimano shifter and their latest weld on or clamp on custom kickstand. Chop Shop Customz is the leading supplier of bottom bracket shells and head tubes for builders as well as building some of the most badass custom bikes out there. Pairing these two together is definitely a route for success.
The team is keeping the production model undercover for now and pricing and lead time is still top secret but Kustomized Bicycle Magazine will let you know when we know.
no school chopper lens
Taste: These taste like absolutely nothing…but maybe the ghost pepper hot sauce from the tacos I ate while waiting for the mail man.
Smell: Like resin….A little fiberglass like but not overpowering like liquid resin.
Touch: 200 grit sand paperish.
Look: Not clear as glass but my lit up Storm Trooper looks very cool with the lights shining through him.
(PIC 1, 2, 3)
We stumbled across No School Choppers a few years ago from a friend of a friend. He told me that this crazy dude was pouring resin and making some really cool sculpted tail light lenses for choppers. Granted, I no longer own a “chopper”. My motorcycle days are far behind me at this point in life. But I do build my own custom bikes from scratch (more than most motorcycle builders do) and like very cool taillights so I tracked them down to check out what they were doing. Luckily they are located in my city so I tracked them down, was very impressed with their lenses and since then have purchased at least four different ones for various builds.
First off, these lenses only fit 1933-1936 Ford Tail light assemblies. If these tail lights aren’t the look you are going for then move along now. Next issue; you can search the bone yards from here to Maine looking for an OEM Ford housing without ever finding one. Luckily, Speedway Motors in Nebraska has you covered so this is a non-issue. You can buy both polished and painted assemblies in either incandescent or LED for a pretty good price. I have used several LED version in the last few years without issue. Shown is part number 91137028.
Back to the lenses…They are hand poured so they aren’t glass smooth or clear. But they are a very thick resin hand poured into molds. The resin is more than translucent enough to really let those lights shine. Both LED and incandescent bulbs shine through the lenses perfectly. They were designed for motorcycle use so visibility and safety is a key. These lenses are more than adequate for use on your pedal powered machine. They fit tightly in the repopped 33-36 assemblies and with the cork gasket that comes with the assemblies could be called water resistant. I even had one infuriating night where my bike was hit hard enough to put a nice dent in the side of the tail light housing enough that I had to pry the lens mounting ring off with a screwdriver. I am positive that no glass lens would have survived whereas my No School Choppers Praying Hands lens came out unscathed.
To get a custom tail light lens in some cool molds (unicorns, sugar skulls, praying hands, storm troopers and even Easy-E) then the price per lens is very reasonable. Even the LED tail light assembly from Speedway Motors is priced to sell at $44.99.
So if this is a style that will fit your ride then contact No School Choppers at www.noschoolchoppers.com and place your order. Don’t forget to tell them that Kustomized Bicycle Magazine sent you their way.
Be sure to read next month’s Tech feature where we use the No School Choppers tail light lens, Speedway Motors LED tail light and do some creative wiring to install the whole assembly on the rear of a custom bicycle.
Open Bearing Hub Overhaul and Adjustment
We have gotten several emails in the past month about the Tech Features in Kustomized Bicycle Magazine. It seems that a lot of newer people and getting into the custom bike craze but they don’t know the basics of bike maintenance. This is O.K. Everyone must start somewhere and really; the guy that is welding up his own frames probably knows more than the basic rebuild of a bicycle. We are going to bring some more basic Tech Features into the rotation to help the newer crowd get their machines up and running.
Bicycle hubs come in two styles. The older and relatively more inexpensive type is the Open Bearing style (also known as the cone and cup). Newer and relatively more expensive is the Sealed Bearing style. The major difference between the two is the open bearing style has a preload adjustment whereas the sealed bearing style does not. Adjustment may be necessary as the bearing surfaces can wear. With the sealed bearing system you simply pull the sealed bearing out and replace them.
The open bearing system is simple. The cup is usually pressed onto the axle. The ball bearings sit inside the cup and the cone is tightened by threading it the axle which holds the ball bearings in place. There are two styles of the open bearing system. One has free bearings that you can put into the cup while the other has the bearing locked into a bearing cage. Thankfully most bikes have caged bearings. A locknut is tightened against the cone to make sure it doesn’t loosen with rotation of the wheel. The whole assembly is then placed between the fork legs and held in place by tightening a set of axle nuts against the axle legs. The preload of the ball bearings is adjusted by tightening or loosening the cone. Though this is very old technology it is used to this day on new bicycles. Even the new freehubs still have the same system with the addition of a few seals to keep the ball bearings cleaner through different riding conditions.
Picture 1 is a sealed bearing system and picture 2 is an open bearing (caged).
Wrench (sized to fit axle nut)
Wrench (sized to fit lock nut)
Cone Wrench (sized to fit cone)
Bearing Grease (we prefer Park Tool PPL-2)
We are going to rebuild the hub of a 50-year-old vintage Schwinn that probably has never seen grease since being assembled at the factory. Who knows what we will find once we tear into the hub.
1. Using the proper wrench size remove the axle nuts and outer washers from the axle.
2. Remove wheel from bicycle.
3. Measure the length of axle from the end to the lock nut.
4. Pick which side you are going to start working on. Using the proper cone wrench size put the wrench onto the flats of the cone. Hold the cone wrench in place and put the properly sized wrench on the lock washer. Hold the cone wrench in place and loosen the lock nut with the lock nut sized wrench.
5. Keep pressure on the back side of the axle by laying the wheel on a flat surface. Remove the lock nut and slowly unthread the cone. If you don’t know what open bearing system you are about to find out. We were lucky enough to have a caged bearing. If you have open bearings be very careful and unscrew the cone and remove it from the axle.
6. Leaving the axle in the hub either remove the bearing cage or pick each bearing out of the bearing cup and place them in a container where you won’t lose any bearings.
7. Still holding the axle in place carefully turn the wheel over and place it on a flat surface.
8. Slowly pull the axle out of the hub and either remove the loose bearings or remove the bearing cage.
9. Clean all parts. We usually pour a cleaner like Simply Green into a small plastic container and let the parts soak in the cleaner. If your hub assembly has rubber seals, make sure the cleaner you are using is safe for rubber. Remove the parts from the cleaner and use a small bristle brush and clean each part. Once clean rinse the parts to remove all the cleaner then blow dry with compressed air.
10. Check the cleaned parts.
A. Check the axle to make sure the threads are not marred or stripped. Roll the axle on a flat area (we used a plate of glass) to make sure the axle isn’t bent.
B. Check the axle nuts, lock nuts and cones to insure the threads aren’t marred or stripped.
C. Inspect the bearings to see if the polished finish is still a fine luster. If it isn’t this shows wear on the bearings and they should probably be replaced.
D. Check the cup to insure the polished finish is still a fine luster and there is no damage to the cup. We do this by lightly scraping a sharp tool against the cupsurface and feeling for any gouges or roughness. The surface is in very poor condition after not being taken care of for over 40 years. We will continue the rebuild but be searching for a new hub soon.
11. Thread the cone on to the axle until it meets the measurement in Instruction 3.
12. Grease the bearings by placing a tbs. of grease in the palm of your hand and mashing the bearing repeatedly into the grease until the entire bearing cage is full of grease. Add some grease to one side of the cup.
13. Slide the bearing with the cage side out onto the axle and against the greased cup.
14. Grease the other bearing cage and cup and slide it over the axle cage side out over the axle and into the greased cup.
NOTE: If you have open bearings with no cage, pack the cup with grease and place the bearings one at a time into the cup. The bearings will be held in by the grease. Once done with one side slide the axle / cup assembly into the bearing side of the hub. Pack the other cup with grease and thread the second cone onto the axle until it is lightly against the bearings.
15. Thread the lock washer onto both sides of the axle. Tighten the cones hand tight then the lock washers against the cones also hand tight.
16. Holding a side of the axle in each hand spin the wheel making sure there is no binding within the bearing/axle assembly. If there is any binding, then back the cone and lock nut off the bearings 1/8 of a rotation and try again.
17. Once you are satisfied with the tightness of the cones to the bearings place the cone wrench on the cone flats and the lock nut wrench on the lock nut. Hold the cone wrench in place and tighten the lock nut against the cone. Do this for both sides of the hub.
18. Place the washer in each side of the axle then thread each axle nut on to each side of the axle. Place the wheel back on the bike and tighten the axle nuts.
You have just rebuilt an open bearing hub. Congratulations, go for a ride.
Tom Wilson's Winner
If you haven’t heard of the Rat Rod Bikes forum before you may want to check it out (www.RatRodBikes.com). Every year they put together the Muscle Bike Buildoff contest in which forum members build a muscle bike in three months then the entrees are voted on by the forum community. There are two classes builders can joint. Class 1 is the no frame modification class and Class 2 is pretty much a free for all.
Tom Wilson competed and won Class 2 this year with his Flashback GT. Sticking with the muscle bike theme Tom spent some serious time on the bender as he rolled out the frame. With the gracefully arched backbone doing a slow rise from the head tube to the seat mount the initial look of the bike is somewhat strange. Even stranger is the down tube that also does the same rise before arcing over down to the threaded bottom bracket.
Tying the top tube and down tube together is the rear tubing assembly which is actually five different tubes all rolled beautifully together. With smaller bracing tubes welded in it gives the whole frame a very alien and skeletal look. The longer tubes roll around and ride to form a housing for the seat while the middle tubes end up running under the seat to help support it. Tom used a set of chain stays from a 26” mountain bike to graft to the new frame.
The frame is the end of all things new. Tome entered salvage mode to complete the build. The head tube, bearings, cups and a majority of the fork parts are from a late 70’s 26” Schwinn. The fork itself is from a 26” three speed. Tom had to extend the steering tube but felt that the crown was better looking than the Schwinn model. The handle bars and stem are also from the 70’s 26” Schwinn.
The rear wheel is a 20” BMX with a 20 X 2.4 Odyssey Hawk while the front is a 20” Huffy model wrapped in a 20 X 1.5 Kenda Kwest.
The crank and chain ring have a story of their own. Originally they came from a Schwinn 10 speed before being repurposed for use on a four person, four wheeled, oversized pedal vehicle that used to hit the Burning Man festival. Tom decided to repurpose the parts yet again and after some love and polishing they were put back into use on the Flashback GT. The white waffle pedals fit the bike perfectly but were taken from a 1966 Sears Commuter.
Tom picked up a seat and the handle bars at a local swap meet. Of course the seat had to be cut apart and modified heavily to fit in the new tail section of the bicycle. He had the handle bar wrap from an earlier project so Tom found some matching vinyl an upholstered the seat.
The final parts like the handle bar stem and the rear reflector all came from a 70’s Schwinn 26”.
Clearly Tom has an eye for design and the skills to build a great bicycle. With the banana styled seat, high back design, steering rack, tires choices and the ape hanger handle bars this bike is truly the modern version of the now over 50 year old muscle bike designs that have become so famous. Though there were several amazing builds that all were capable of winning the Muscle Bike Build Off, Tom was able to pull off the win with his amazing rendition.
There are two things that separate the men from the boys in the custom bike world. They are Design and Finish. You can have awesome lines and wicked parts but if you top those off with a clapped out rattle can paint job then you just dropped in “cool points”. On the flip side, if you throw thirty-seven colors of House of Kolor paint in amazing panel jobs and all over a clapped out AMC Matador you have dropped just as many “cool points”.
Paul Simao must be a mathematician when it comes to racking up cool points. Here is the equation:
Rob Simao as the Designer + Gary Sheron of LowLife Bicycles as the fabricator + Unforgotten Customs for the finish + Ray Cruiser as the builder…then carry the one and multiply the square root of 1,119,721. The answer turns out to be one of the best looking and most well rounded quality builds of the year.
Paul stayed within the family and acquired the design experience of Rob Simao for this build. You may remember Rob from several past features in Kustomized Bicycle Magazine. His designs are always top quality and have been some of the most innovative and award winning build. Rob’s design was laid out as something long and low with chopper qualities and a set of wicked ape hanger handle bars. It had to have top shelf components, fit the rider for those super long rides in comfort and stand out to make people stop in their tracks. The frame design is somewhat simplistic against many new builds that have been popping up lately but the design is clean and flowing…Sometimes less is more. Just because you can roll tube doesn’t mean you need to just weld a bunch of rolled tube together.
Gary Sheron of LowLife Bikes (we seem to hear that name a lot now days, check July 2016’s orange service trike feature) Started with a large chunk of square tube and rolled out an intimidating sized top tube the gracefully sweeps from the head tube all the way to nearly the bottom of the bike tire. The down tube is rolled to match the radius of the front tire and stops with a daggers sharpness. The chain stays are a smaller square tube that are rolled with multiple compound curves and also end in a sharp point at the rear of the chassis. A mid-tube was welded into the frame then filled with steel plate which proved to be a perfect place for custom paint. A widened bottom bracket was welded onto a small stand on the bottom tube to make sure there was enough chain clearance to fir the wide back wheel.
Gary went over the top when building a set of custom forks. They are also square tube and have a slight radius rolled into the legs to give a little extra clearance for the front wheel. The handle bars are a custom set that cross in the middle before cutting downwards to the hand grip area.
Front Hoop is a 26X3” has a red and white pinstripe around each side as well as down the center.
Rear Hoops is a 26”x4”. Who knows how many hours were tied up into just this wheel but is has a Shimano Nexus SG Series rear hub which is mated to a custom shifter. The hub and hoop are tied together, like the front wheel, with polished heavy gauge spokes and polished nipples. Rory at Unforgotten Customs then went wild with the airbrush and hosed beautiful fire and ice dragons onto the rear hoop that could be compared to some of the best Boris Vallejo book covers. Even the shifter assembly was silver leafed and pinstriped to match the frame.
The drive train consists of a sealed bottom bracket with a three-piece crank that has been dipped in paint before being pinstriped. The crank set spins an aluminum 34 tooth sprocket that sends all the rotation to the rear with a half link chain by the way of a set of Origin pedals.
If you are ever in the need for a high end custom ride and have a genie in a bottle with a wish or two left you may want to beg Rob Simao to give you a few hints about building a show winner.
Here it is, the final episode in the John Brain Saga. This three part feature has brought information to the masses that we would have otherwise never known. Thanks to John's relentless digging, love of all things BIKE and his graciousness to put it all on paper. If you ever get a chance to meet John, you should shake his hand and tell him thank you for all things listed above.
KBM): What are a few things that have changed drastically and some others that have stayed the same since the muscle bike accessory years to today?
(John Brain): There are a number of distinct changes I think. And the first major difference is the age of those participating. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s the world of banana seat bikes - and bike kustomizing – was the domain of children and adolescents. North America had a very strong automotive culture then, and for those too young to get their drivers licenses the world of muscle-bikes, mini bikes and go-karts were a young people’s creative outlet.
It seemed like the societal expectations of that time forced you out of what was considered “childhood endeavors” and into the adult world of work and consumer pursuits - starting at the age of 16. When I turned 16 years old in 1976 a 1969 muscle car like a Dodge “Super Bee” or a Pontiac “GTO” was a 7 year old used car, and most young people saw a move to owning these cool (and cheap) used cars as their next step forward in growing up.
Today, things have turned completely upside down in relation to who is getting involved in kustom biking - as compared to 40 years ago. In 2016 it is no longer an activity that is child focused, in fact modern participants are often surprised when they see an adolescent taking part, because the shift to it being an adult dominated activity has become so widespread.
The decline of factory made banana seat bikes started in the early 1970’s. Corporate safety concerns had forced the mellowing of “high riser” bike style away from the wild designs seen in 1969 and 1970. However; for the few people involved in making full-on kustom bikes - the kind that competed at car and motorcycle shows - the early to mid 70’s was kind of a golden age.
The full kustom bikes of the early to mid 1970’s were invariably choppers. And a chopper meant that your bike had a long set of forks. As well, it was kind of universally understood by builders - of that time - that their bikes had to have 20 inch wheels and tires. 24 and 26 inch kustom cruiser type bikes (with stock length forks) like we have today were virtually unknown. Basic components - like the stock 20inch wheels - came from readily available banana seat bike stock - available at any bike store, and if you’re early 70’s kustom bike did not have a 20 inch slick on the rear it was kind of seen as a demerit. Unusual spoke patterns were also pretty much unheard of in the early 70s. True lowrider bikes (like we know today) with bent forks, crushed velvet seats, and murals were still virtually unknown on the national scene at that time. I did not hear the term “lowrider” bicycle until the mid to late 80’s when the style began its national breakout from California – where it had been already developing slowly in Southern California’s inner cities.
Special parts for early 70s kustom bikes had to be custom made. There were no specialty suppliers for chopper bicycle builders. If you wanted a set of springer forks you had to make them yourself, and few kids had the wherewithal to accomplish such a task at the time.
In 1976 I made a set of chopper fork legs for my bikes Schwinn “Krate” fork - in the metal shop at my old Jr. High. I bent them up using a forge and vise, and drilled the holes on a drill press. I then saved some money up and had them chrome plated. Later on in 1976 I made my first 4 spring chopper style “springer” as well. But these kinds of homemade components were really unusual, and almost never seen except on bikes at custom car and motorcycle shows. I saw a couple of choppers at a car show in the very early 70’s with triple tree’s, obviously homemade. And I was very envious.
Chrome plating seemed to be a lot less costly 40 years ago, and most of the serious show bikes had many (if not all) of their components done. Most of the paint jobs were not professional either; people did what they could with metal-flake in a spray can. But a few bikes (mine included) had custom lacquer paint jobs done. You could get a nice multi color paint job done at a chopper motorcycle shop for about $80-$100 at the time. I still remember the wonderful smell of the fresh lacquer when I finally got to bring the frame home.
Cool handlebars could be had if you knew where to go. Many of the chopper motorcycles shops had a variety of styles available in the 7/8s size. And for the region I lived in chopper “Z” bars were the preferred look. The problem came with mounting them; BMX clamping handlebar stems were not readily available yet - outside of California. So you had to take a standard forged steel stem and wrench it open with a small crow bar to get the “Z” bars to fit inside, as well you had to use a metal shim for clamping, as the handlebars did not have a center bulge like a regular bicycle handlebar.
Seats on the old bikes were invariably banana seats, sometimes reupholstered. On very rare occasion you might see a homemade seat at a show. Bike frames tended to be modified stock 20 inch muscle bike frames, and bottom brackets were seldom repositioned forward for better leg reach. Sometimes frames were modified to extend the neck out forward to a higher position in the front. Body filler was used liberally to clean up welded joints as well.
Modern bikes have gotten away from being stuck on the 20inch wheel size used in the early 70s thankfully. Although in the early 2000s we still saw a lot of people keep to this formula. When the modern Schwinn Stingray came out people gravitated towards the 20x4 rear wheel and tire combination for a time. Europe kind of showed the way forward to taller tires, with the popularity of the 24x3 tire size, used almost exclusively on Euro customs in the years 2006 to 2010.
Builders followed the lead of the tires. When the 24x4 tires first came out in small numbers in Europe - in about 2009 (on oversize Asian Stingray clones) people were extremely excited about the possibilities, even with the worry they would not become readily available. A situation that changed when Sam McKay of “Firebikes” was able to secure the first 24x4 tires for North American distribution, under the brand name of “Wanda King’’. They were as thick as motorcycle tires, and extremely hard to mount. But they became the desired size for progressive builders. And now, with the advent of the 26x4 wheels and tires - and even 29 and 36inch tire sizes - builders are exploring new visual territory in their builds.
For modern custom bike builders the sky is the limit. You can make a chopper, a custom cruiser, a lowrider or a 1960 style rat bike. There is more freedom now and more variety. Everything and every style has a place. And even more experimentation will be coming in the future that will surprise the hell out of everyone.
(KBM) You have spent some time with the European bike scene. Are there any major differences between their scene and the scene in the United States?
(John Brain): When I visited Europe back in 2008 and 2009 for the big FBI custom bikes meets in Amsterdam, it was my desire to get a better understanding of what was going on. The European kustom bike scene was more developed than the American scene at that time. One of the reasons for that was because of one dedicated biker with a vision - Rhalf Vanheusden of Holland – who put in place the foundations that allowed the scene to grow and develop all over in Europe. He set up what was really the first of the modern kustom bike shops anywhere –the “Chopperdome”, setting standards and making alternative bike parts available to a burgeoning audience of alternative riders. Rhalf really pushed forward the idea of kustom biking as an actual lifestyle, he travelled across Europe and brought people together – he took his vision very seriously. He was kind of Europe’s “Johnny Appleseed” of custom biking.
North American bikers were kind of in awe at how advanced and tight the European bike scene was in 2008. America at the time had a growing audience for kustom biking through Internet forums like “Kustom Cruisers” and “Chopperbicycle.net” and also from the Webzine “Bike Rod & Kustom” founded in 1998 by the late Jim Wilson of New York. What America did not have at that point was broad unity from all the diverse kustom bikers across America. Very few kustom oriented bike clubs existed in America in 2008 - outside of a few in California, and with some people in New York state and Detroit coming together, but it was nowhere near what was seen in Europe at the time.
Europe’s relationship with bicycles is different than North America’s relationship. In Europe bicycles have always been seen as a legitimate mode of transportation, while in America bicycles have a history of being seen as toys for young people, something to be put aside when you got old enough to drive a car. This attitude still lingers in North America to this day, where you will still find people saying “You still ride a bicycle”? Or “Where’s the engine”? European builders shrug off and laugh at such petty stupidity, but many American riders still cringe when they hear such things. Americans and Europeans grew up with very different attitudes on bicycle legitimacy. North American attitudes are coming along though, but at a painfully slow rate.
There are differences in style between Euro builders and North American builders. In America kustom biking has a long history that is bound up in the styling world of hot rods, chopper motorcycles, and kustom cars – all born in North America. North Americans of a certain age grew up in a nation dominated by these sensibilities. And to a large degree much of today’s kustom styling in America harkens back to a design sense that people were immersed in from birth. Europeans did get to see some of this North American styling momentum, but indirectly - through movies and print. The American muscle bike phenomenon eventually made its way to Europe, but it came aboutas an U.S. styling import, and was not related to home grown influences.
Not having a long (and rigid) history of styling “do’s and don’ts” can be a good thing though, it allows for more independent and non-derivative designing and thinking. And I think we have seen this in some of the modern designs of the Euro custom bike builders. Examples of European - and Russian - bike designs have explored sculptural concerns related to fine art sensibilities - as opposed to traditional automotive design influences. Their frames and forks often come together visually in ways that are not derivative of traditional two wheeled style. And while this can look quite foreign to a North American eye, it is nevertheless compelling from the standpoint of aesthetics. Many European custom bike builders have looked beyond the standard American styling influences to find a unique European sense of kustom design.
I would also have to say that long distance comfort and durability is also another major aspect of European custom bikes. Europeans love to ride, and they will ride very long distances as part of their biking celebrations. European bike infrastructure is more advanced than what we have in America as well, making longer trips easier and safer. North Americans tend to be slow cruisers, tending to more extreme bike styles, and local activities - rather than long “city to city” rides.
What we are exposed to - growing up in our home countries and communities - influences what we are attracted to. Whether it be food, music, or the styling on our bikes. The main thing to remember is that we have a lot more in common than we have differences; but, this small factor of difference keeps us on our toes – to continue the search for that vital sense of what turns us on!
(KBM) When not building, riding or hunting down information about bikes what do you spend your time doing?
(John Brain): This should be a rather short answer I think. I have been employed for the last 20 years as a “Child And Youth Worker” Something I had to spend 3 years at college to get accredited for. I work full time nights at a home for emotionally troubled adolescents. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, but satisfaction does not always pay the bills – if you know what I mean? I live like a vampire, I’m up all night 7 days a week, and I sleep during the day - every day. I get by, and get a lot joy from spending time with my family and friends whenever possible. I have also done a lot of volunteering over the years. As well, my mother is now 92, and I try to spend as much time as possible helping her to keep busy.
(KBM) what is your favorite tool in the shop and what is usually playing on the stereo.
(John Brain): The most wonderful tool I have in my shop is a 6”x48” belt sander, which sits in the middle of my work room on its stand. It has saved me from the drudgery of hand filing large steel objects in a vice, and it really makes a difference in cleaning up large band-saw cut plates –especially on the different fork parts I make. The machine I would most like in my shop is a vertical band-saw to - cut steel plate with. Presently I have to go to a friend’s shop to use one.
The music I listen to is varied, but my favorite is obscure psychedelic and garage band music of the mid to late 60s. I have a bit of a collection. I also listen to vintage blues and early Jazz.
(KBM) If a person hasn’t had access to the settings, tools, and skills like welding, fabrication, paint, etc. What is a good first step to take in learning what it takes to build a project bike.
(John Brain): Many people don’t have and possibly never will have the complete means to fully fabricate their own bike – in all its facets. And I think that very few people will ever have this luxury. People in big congested cities likely cannot afford a work space, and the amount of noise and fumes created by certain fabrication methods does not allow those in many residential settings to do much of their own work. This is a modern reality.
Nobody can expect to become an expert in every fabrication skill. For example, I can make a good seat pan, but I have little to no skill in how to upholster one properly. The smartest thing for me to do is go to someone who has spent years perfecting this particular skill, so I can have the best seat possible. This benefits both of us. Sometimes doing everything yourself only gets you a mediocre result. Look instead for ways to get the best final result, and if you need help to achieve it then that is what you should do – and always within your means - of course.
The point is you should do what you can in the way of fabrication on your project, under the circumstances you have to work under. But don’t feel you have to do everything. Think of yourself and the initiator of your build, the designer of the final vision, and the orchestrator of the project who will see it through to completion.
See yourself as the force that causes an idea to come into existence - that would not have otherwise. It is like being an architect, the man who initiates the idea, and designs the unique vision that eventually becomes a unique creation. Be the person whose vision it is, seeing the project through from its conception to the final realized statement. Being in control over how all the different aspects - you have designed - come together to make the project complete.
Most importantly, be the designer of your own vision – as you are able. Do what you are able to do with your own hands, and for what you can’t do well seek out assistance from those who can help you achieve the level of quality you desire. Try to make every aspect of your bike the best it can be - within your means, again this does not mean that you have to do everything yourself.
Begin with an idea. Think of the design aspects that turn you on. Think about what you can realistically do yourself, and gather together information about what you will need to finish the project properly. Think about how your design can be realized, or at least think about how you can transform an existing design into something that is more a statement about who you are.
Very few people can do every aspect of fabrication themselves, how many people do you know who make their own wheels, tires, sprockets, seats, or do their own chrome plating? We all need to rely on the help of others to see a project become the best it can be. The reason a custom bike comes into being is because an idea was first initiated by one man or woman. If no idea is initiated – then no bike gets made. Become the initiator. Like the architect who designs an award winning house – but needs a skilled mason to put the bricks up in the proper way.
Do what you can on your project, learn new fabrication skills if that is your desire, and work towards making the best result you can, using as many skilled hands as it takes to get the job done. And begin by seeking out local shops that do the kind of welding and fabrication work that may be unavailable to you at home. Seek them out if you need them, don’t wait. It’s all cool.
(KBM): What is next for you/ Upcoming projects?
(John Brain): I am currently engaged in kustom fork projects, specifically variations on the classic girder design. I have one ready for final assembly which means welding it up, but it may get chromed which means all the parts will need to be polished before the welding takes place. So I’m deciding what to do next on it. I have projects on the go for short girders, wide girders, a girder made with vintage parts, a full billet girder, and a wide springer. They aren’t being made to go on anything in particular – except for the billet girder – they are simply projects that I get a lot of joy in designing and working on. They are another challenge to conquer.
Bike wise I hope to get a very old project back on track, 12 years ago I designed a bike frame that Sam Mckay of “Firebikes” fabricated for me. I wanted to support what he was doing in the kustom bike world and we came to an agreement all those years ago. The frame needs updating in a few areas, and Sam wants to have a hand in it, so I hope we can work that out.
I’m also interested in throwing together a rear loader cargo bike, made from an early 70’s tandem frame I bought at a flea market. I’m also exploring the idea of making a supersized muscle bike - or a bike in that style anyways - with a 26x4 rear wheel and a 22” front wheel - to get the same visual ratio that an old 20x16 banana seat bike had. I want it to have a custom fork – maybe a short girder, a front drum brake, and a wild homemade seat held up by a big sissy bar. The handlebars will be a set of tall apes that I bought years ago from the late Don VanCleave, of “Al Petri and Sons” bike shop fame, in Detroit. They are similar to some of the very early monster “ape hangers” that were commercially sold before the California ban of 1963.
As well, I’m in the early stages of pulling together all the material I need to write a book on the first 20 years of kustom biking. I think it’s something that needs to be done - so people can have it for reference in the future.
I’ve always got something on the go, I just wish I had more time and bread to get everything done.
I spend a lot of time watching movies. With generally not much going on in my life I sit on the curb outside the Kustomized Bicycle Magazine offices, stealing their wifi and watch movies on Youtube. This is when I’m not going through their trash looking for parts to further customize my whip. Yup, life is pretty sweet. Being a bike rider, bike builder, bike customizer and bike nerd, my movie time is spent watching bike movies.
So what are the best bike movies? I am man enough to take on the struggle of finding the 5 greatest bike movies that aren’t Breaking Away (1979) or American Flyers (1985) though Dennis Quaid’s bitchin’ primered Cutlass and Kevin Costner’s mustache should have had their own character line in the movie’s credits. In fact I would argue that these ARE NOT the greatest bike movies of all time. They are just the most well-known bike movies of all time. Both are movies about leg shaving, granola eating, spandex wearing roadies anyways…how good can they really be?
So let’s sit back, eat some Funions, drink some Mountain Dew and pull the top bike movies from the IMDB of my mind. Note that these are my favorites and I don’t really care what you think. I’m not saying these are great movies when you put them up against Gone with the Wind. They may not be the most well shot, well written and well produced but they are the most enjoyable.
5. Blood Trails (2006) Rebecca Palmer’s character is an avid cyclist that make a bad mistake by doing a one night bump and grind session with a fellow rider. Turns out this rider is a serial killer and the blood begins to flow. Is this a “bike” movie? No, but is has a lot of bikes, babes and blood so it makes my list. I’m a simple minded person and this simply is a good flick.
4. Klunkerz (2006) Tag Line “They Re-Invented the Wheel”. This documentary showcases the origins of the mountain bike back in the day when they were called Klunkerz. Featuring the original northern California crew including Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey with a bunch of original footage and tons of interviews. The crew changed the world from Marin County and eventually meets another group doing the same thing in Crested Butte Colorado. Who made the first Klunker? Who knows, but with over 65% of bikes sold today being a mountain bike they made the biggest impact on the bicycling world.
3. BMX Bandits (1986) Tag Line “Get Ready for a wild ride”. With a very young Nicole Kidman as one of the leads it is really hard to go wrong with this Australian masterpiece. Sometimes it is a little hard to understand because of the hard accents and not the most well rounded plots in the world but it is a true B-movie classic. It is filled with bike vs. car chases as the cast gets involved with a bank robbery and a box of walkie talkies goes south. How Kidman every got mixed up and married to that super tool when she was this BMX cool it way beyond me.
2. Quicksilver (1986) Tag Line “For Jack Casey, playing the market was life in the fast lane... until he joined QUICKSILVER where the fast lane was a way of life”. You don’t need seven degrees to get to Kevin Bacon with this flick. He is front and center as a wiz kid in the stock exchange that loses everything and becomes a bike messenger in San Francisco. With Jamie Gertz, Paul Rodriguez, Laurence Fishburne and Louie Anderson making up the cast this flick is sure to please. With some bike trick scenes and guys riding “fixies” before fixed riders were clad with flannel shirts, waxed beards and girl jeans, this movie still holds up even though it is thirty years old.
1. Rad (1986) Tag Line “It's going to take a lot more than skill for Cru Jones to conquer the toughest BMX challenge in the world. It's going to take a miracle.”
This film is the closest we will ever get to a live action film starring BMX Plus Magazine’s longtime running and most badass character ever Radical Rick. Three things make this the greatest bike movie of all times. The first is sweet sweet stylings and acting abilities of the one and only Lori Loughlin. Yes, none other than Becky Donaldson from Full House doing sassy flatland tail whips and sexy bunny hops….Lord Have Mercy. Second, Mr. Hand from Fast Time at Ridgemont High (1982) plays the crotchety old man with a heart of gold while still reminding us that Mr. Hand was the teacher we loved to hate in high school. Three, Martin Aparijo, Eddie Fiola and RL Osborne performed all the flatland tricks for the movie…with Fiola donning female costuming to perform for Loughlin’s character. Special Note: Let us not forget that Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) plays Mrs. Jones i.e. Cru’s mom.