Custom Motorcycle Builders Made Television Cool. Not The Opposite.

I read a beautiful and very intelligent editorial written by Chris Callen from Cycle Source Magazine. Like him I am irritated by those who attribute the slow down of our industry to the disappearance of TV shows glorifying our work. Ok, OCC is still on our screens, but the majority of those watching their show are not bikers and don’t build a motorcycle in their garage. They follow the tribulations of the Teutuls for their entertaining value and because they can identify themselves with the struggles of a family making business happen. American Thunder on Speed Channel has more bike shows coverage and focuses on the end result, the customized bike. Custom Builder’s business life was pretty good before 2000 and the arrival of motorcycle TV shows. These shows were created because our industry was growing, more and more amazing custom bikes were seen in the streets and because there was opportunity for the networks to create audiences by showing the talented work of the men producing these machines. Because Motorcycle Mania with Jesse James became a hit, many more TV shows were created. The motorcycle industry was feeding the networks and the networks was feeding the industry by bringing to us even more attention & respect from the public at large, bikers and non bikers. It’s how we made TV look very cool. It’s true that TV helped us sell many more frames/rollers/parts…and tee-shirts. We all beneficiated but also attracted a lot of individuals who were buying the fad and thought it was easy and possible for them to build from the ground up a reliable bike in 2 weeks maximum and, why not, to resell it for a big profit . New shops & vendors with a name ending with the magic word “choppers” were created every week under the illusion that bikes were a very cool way to make millions in a few months. All veterans in this business (you are one if you were able to make a living in this business during at least 15 years in a row) knew that it was only illusion.

The motorcycle industry is not the new Eldorado the new comers thought it was. It is an industry fueled by love and passion for the craft, not by the pursuit of money. How many new bikers, dealers, vendors, manufacturers, bike show organizers already disappeared when we reached 2004, 1 or 2 years before almost all motorcycle TV shows were canceled? Networks look for audiences, and when the number of viewers goes down, shows are not renewed. Since 2005, it’s no picnic to be an American. National polls reveal a seemingly incurable malaise aggravated by insecurities about housing, health care, gas price, retirement and jobs. There is the knock-kneed dollar, there is the economy, there is Iraq, there is a new presidential election… To pay our bills half of us are tempted to raid our 401(k) s and the other half doesn’t have them. If you have difficulty to make ends meet after paying your mortgage a motorcycle TV show is not going to help you in any way or help us to sell more bikes and parts. Oh, I forgot to mention. The only ones that I heard suggesting that more TV shows will re launch our business are people who aren’t riding or weren’t part of our industry pre-2000. I tell you. "It’s the economy, stupid!". But the US economy will prevail, and like Chris Callen said, we are going again to make TV look very cool.  


Update: (Thursday Oct 25, 7 PM EST). I thank everybody for their nice comments regarding the post above. Reading them this evening, I learn that a motorcycle website states that Billy Lane, because of his accident, is responsible for the cancellation of the TV shows and the slow down of the industry. Like my readers (see comments), I find such a statement absolutely ridiculous and offending for my fellow builder Billy Lane. And to demonstrate that the statement made makes no sense at all, I want to advise all my readers that Billy Lane will be very soon on TV with Paul Cox to host the new show "The Next Great American Builder" that I announced this week in exclusivity in my Blog. The show is about 13 individuals, non professionals, competing to become my next fellow pro-builder.   


43 Responses to “Custom Motorcycle Builders Made Television Cool. Not The Opposite.”

  1. 1 JACK MCINTYRE Oct 25th, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Cyril,

    I agree that you are correct, the economy rules all. As folks can buy again in confidence, the bike shows will once again rule the Discovery channels. Until then, sites such as ours will keep feeding the public what they are missing and hopefully we will all rise above in the end. By the way, we met real quick at the Corbin party in Daytona, but I would have like to have talked some more. Maybe next time…


  2. 2 Patrick Dehmer Oct 25th, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Cyril, very good analysis, as always.

  3. 3 Way2Fast Oct 25th, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    A veteran custom builder like you knows better than all these jerks who bought/assembled a bike because of OCC on TV. A few discovered the sport through BBO and will remain. But very few. The others are not bikers. They just built/owned a bike and tried to resell it a.s.a.p.. You are right: builders made TV look cool. The only ones asking for more TV shows are just clowns. We don’t need them.

  4. 4 matthew willoughby Oct 25th, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    agreed. when something is embraced as a trend it also embraces a lifespan.i am glad that our industrie’s trendy stage is drawing to a close.

  5. 5 Bev Oct 25th, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Excellent post by Cyril.

  6. 6 Ron Oct 25th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I agree 100%, but you didn’t mention EPA scaring a lot of builders and buyers of custom bikes, especially in California.

  7. 7 Kathleen Covington Oct 25th, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Cyril, Loved your story about the television shows! What issue of Cycle Source is the article in?, I would like to check it out also.
    Thanks, Kathleen Covington

  8. 8 Gerald Oct 25th, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Cyril, that I met & Chris, that I would like to meet. You are both very intelligent people.

  9. 9 Richie Miller Oct 25th, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    I also heard some people say that the industry was down because there was no more tv shows. How stupid it is to say this. All people belonging to the industry know that the motorcycle industry was in better shape before the shows than now. Simply because the economy was good. The networks don’t give a shit about custom builders. They build audience to make money. They use what already exists. The economy is very bad and people are not in the mood/have no money to build bikes or buy parts. Networks didn’t create the builders and will not save the industry. They just created a fad and fad, by definition, never last. Only a good US economy will help. The good/true ones of the industry will still be there when the economy picks up. Probably not before 2010, the time necessary for the real estate excess inventory to be absorbed. The one already existing and the one coming from foreclosures dumped by banks. The fake bikers/bulders/manufacturers born from the tv shows era are disappearing. Excellent.

  10. 10 morgan Oct 25th, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I totally agree with you. I just read on another site all kinds of excuses including the tv shows which they claimed disappeared when Billy Lane got into trouble. They also blamed him for people not getting sponsorships.
    It was nice to read your intelligent article.

  11. 11 Dick Sparowsky Oct 25th, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Morgan. Don’t read other sites. Read from a pro-builder.

  12. 12 morgan Oct 25th, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I think I have learned my lesson.
    Reading that other junk just makes my blood pressure go up!!!!

  13. 13 Chris Thunder Oct 25th, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    The Discovery Channel made a lot of money because of the builders. OCC makes a lot of money because of TV, but by pure accident. Not because of their bikes but because they are entertaining for a lot of blue collars and middle-class. Their bikes are just a pretext to have a show. Jesse James uses his notoriety to try to make money outside the motorcycle industry. His wife helps. Billy Lane acquired notoriety but didn’t make any money. There are no rich custom builders, with or without TV. It doesn’t exist. Period.

  14. 14 Troy Johnson Oct 25th, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Has anybody considered that an S&S 124 now retails for over $10,000.00? I can tell you that there isn’t that much cash in machining the cases from billet and their cases are cast. Everybody has decided that anything to do with motorcycles has to be too expensive. When manufacturers of engines and parts decide to lower their prices to stay alive, then the public will come back. The average person can’t afford a custom chopper because the builders can’t make them affordable. Has anyone condidered how many big block V-8 engines you could buy with $10,000.00?
    Troy Johnson

  15. 15 Craig Lambert Oct 25th, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Cyril. You have the best online news. Even when it’s bad news. I love you man!

  16. 16 Craig Lambert Oct 25th, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Morgan don’t worry. These junk websites about custom building are also going to disappear.

  17. 17 Dave Blevins Oct 25th, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    It’s true that the industry has lost some its glitter in recent months, and I for one am OK with that. The glitter we have lost, (and will continue to lose), are not the genuine article. The true custom designer-builders are still around, and will remain, as long
    as their product is of high quality and is true to its core followers, ACTUAL RIDERS and BIKE SHOW FANS! As for the rest of the t-shirt hauking, bolt-on crap selling, dot com wanna-be-chopper shops, the sooner they move on to the next craze the better. I’ll still be here, along with many of my friends in the industry that share the real world of motorcycles… building bikes and friendships that last for years to come. Thanks Cyril, for an intelligent commentary on the subject.

  18. 18 Hank Brannan Oct 25th, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I totally agree with Cyril. I just read all the comments, and agree too. What Morgan? Somebody wrote that Billy Lane was responsible for the end of the motorcycle tv shows??? That they don’t want to run Billy during his trial, yes of course. But it has nothing to with Billy!!! It has to do with the economy. The guy who wrote this online is an idiot who will make puke all the motorcycle industry and make Billy laugh a lot. I am pretty sure this guy is watching OCC and dreams to clean the shop floor of the Teutuls. Ha, ha!

  19. 19 Danny Wedger Oct 25th, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    Good post. I guess some new motorcycle websites were created by questionable people who popped up in the industry only because they think it’s cool and hoping to make tons of money. It takes a long time to understand this industry which is like no others.

  20. 20 Cyril Oct 25th, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Update: (Thursday Oct 25, 7 PM EST). I thank everybody for their nice comments regarding the post above. Reading them this evening, I learn that a motorcycle website states that Billy Lane, because of his accident, is responsible for the cancellation of the TV shows and the slow down of the industry. Like my readers (see comments), I find such a statement absolutely ridiculous and offending for my fellow builder Billy Lane. And to demonstrate that the statement made makes no sense at all, I want to advise all my readers that Billy Lane will be very soon on TV with Paul Cox to host the new show “The Next Great American Builder” that I announced this week in exclusivity in my Blog. The show is about 13 individuals, non professionals, competing to become my next fellow pro-builder.

  21. 21 James Barodi Oct 25th, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Cyril, Billy & Paul are great.

  22. 22 morgan Oct 25th, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    I think the idea behind this show is great. Hopefully it will show how the industry really operates. They couldn’t have picked two better hosts.
    I started riding before the “big boom” and I plan to continue riding long after the posers and people that jumped in it for the money disappear.
    My hat’s off to you Cyril.

  23. 23 a 1 cycles Oct 25th, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    filming an episode of “pinks” for the speed channel tonight..and i am racing my custom chopper against another builder, it is only one half hour show but im doing my part…trying to keep us on t.v. show that pretty bikes can go fast and some of us builders actually ride and race our creations…im in this for the long hual..13 years so far. and i am not going to leave any time soon. thanks cyril

  24. 24 CJ "Warden" Hanlon Oct 25th, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Cyril, it’s great to see that your brining Chris’ insights and genuine passion for this industry to the masses. Having gotten to know chris over the past few years and watching his publications gain some much needed headway, i know there are many that need to hear what he has to say. Cyril, as a builder I want to thank you for bringing his magazine (Cycle Source) out into a broader network of people so they too can catch the passion of this industry. As a rider, I want to thank Chris for sticking to his passion and beliefs as a publisher.

  25. 25 J Oct 26th, 2007 at 2:29 am

    Hmm…. Still thinking about the previous topic of the $240 tail light (Hmm- wasn’t that just in JP a couple years ago for $40, including the glass? LOL… Oh, and tack on $15 for the license frame….)

    Mention was made about the tightening economic climate within the motorcycling industry. While there is a point to the weak dollar argument, currency fluctions over time are moot; In fact, the current weak dollar is orchestrated to enhance sales of domestically produced goods….

    (Well, along with screwing over the carry trades that we’ve promoted to the rest of the world for the past 10 yrs, but that’s another topic……)

    So these $240 tail lights should still be flying off the shelves- along with Harleys, and all American goods and services, to foreign buyers;

    They’re not.

    When people’s mortgage and PMI payments rise $4-500/mo, there is less money chasing $240 tail lights.

    What will make $240 tail lights (et al) a good idea again? Economic expansion. NOT some artificially expanded valuations on your homes, but true- raw- growth.

    Any fool can cut spending, drop interest rates, and pretend like everything is OK. The Fed is not going to be able to bail us out of this mess- they played their card already.

    The answer is to stimulate growth. How? Best way is to cut taxes. Reganomics works, and capital expansion WILL drive industrial expansion and GDP- works every time… Was working great until Greenspan peed all over himself in the late 90’s and started playing games with the Fed funds rate- God forbid, we should be PROSPEROUS!

    Sorry about the speech, but I want the $240 tail light to be a good idea again, too, because deflation is a MUCH uglier word that inflation…..

    Brace yourselves.

  26. 26 GARAGE GOON Oct 26th, 2007 at 6:40 am

    Ironically a new TV show called Tattoo Wars aired tonight on TLC. The minute I read the title I new it had to be Hugh(the chopper)King. The format was just like biker build off, and low and behold it was in fact Hugh(the tattoo)King’s production. We all know as the tattooers stated, that the people getting the tattoos were the real winners. I think the best bike builder show was the short lived, Biker Nation. That show was a compact half hour of quality footage. I heard there was going to be a second season Chica kicking it off. I guess it never aired. True bikers will always be doing kool stuff. F.T.W. C.F.L.

  27. 27 Scott Oct 26th, 2007 at 9:08 am

    I agree “It’s the economy, stupid!”

  28. 28 JACK MCINTYRE Oct 26th, 2007 at 9:12 am

    There is a lot of passion above this post. Many excellent points.
    The industry may have out priced it’s self, and hopefully (for the regular guy) that will change. TV or not, the bike builders are for the most part a great group to know & work with. I have been covering them for years and all but a selected few, are great men with really supportive families, two right off the bat being the Covington’s and Perewitz families. It doesn’t matter to me if the shows are on TV or not, I will always be at the rallies takin’ in the sounds of the pipes and shooting pics. Jack at BIKERPICS.ORG

  29. 29 Tim Hanlon Oct 26th, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Wow. This issue is getting a lot of play. It should, many good people are suffering. It is all about the economy. We are not the only industry taking a beating. I fear it will be an ugly winter, the real folks who are in this biz for the right reasons will prevail, although they will need to be creative to survive. When the dust settles the truely talented will rise. Tim

  30. 30 Mike Hodges Oct 26th, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Cyril is absolutely right. It’s only the economy. TV shows never created a market. Reality shows reflect only what was already popular. They will not change the economy and make people with money problems buy more bikes or parts. Network economics work such a way (the largest possible audience to chase advertising money)that they will not take any risk in producing shows which are not extremely profitable for them. They don’t care about us. Also, how many times the public is interested by seeing a guy banging a steel fender. Boring…TV exhausted the subject. A reader made the comment that nothing will get better before 2010. At least…Shows were cancelled because the audience was going down the tube. It’s the consequence of a slowing market and fading interest for motorcycles. It’s not the cause of the struggling motorcycle market. I agree that the guy who made such an assumption on an other website is retarded and must belong to the OCC bikers generation. I mean he is not a true biker.

  31. 31 Kurt smith Oct 26th, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Listen to Cyril who is an excellent builder, a veteran of his industry and who knows what’s going on. It’s the economy, stupid! Nothing else to add.

  32. 32 Gary Schlum Oct 26th, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    No discretionary money available for purchases means recession.

  33. 33 Nicker Oct 26th, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    “…disappearance of TV shows glorifying our work…”

    The business case for these show was based on a trend. TV followed that trend up. All trends reverse at some point.

    The “next generation builders” might not want to quit their day-time-jobs just yet.

    “…current weak dollar is orchestrated to enhance sales of domestically produced goods…”

    Yep, the $ is way down, Is OCC selling stuff in Europe?
    IS HD selling well in Europe?

    “…It’s the economy, stupid!…”

    Well…. Unemployment is way down, and new home sales were up over 4% last month.

    I can’t recall that TV ever instigated a national trend.
    Perhaps this industry is topped out because the trend is over….?

    I’m think-n the business case for customs will revert back to what it was in a more predictable/stable pre-trend era.

    IMHO any way.


  34. 34 Don Siropa Oct 26th, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    It’s the real estate, it’s the auto industry, it’s the motorcycle industry. All in the same bag to create a recession.

  35. 35 Chris Oct 26th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    And OCC thinks they are going to sell production bikes at $35,000? Wrong timing. They should cash out instead. Their big ego will burn all their saved money.

  36. 36 Mike Knuckelhead Oct 26th, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Never met a true biker who is watching Teutuls antics on TV.

  37. 37 Bill Stromberg Oct 26th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    The new young generation of custom builders (the children of reality tv) is already gone, or almost Only the vets like Ness, Smith, Huze, Perewitz, Kennedy, Yaffe, et a few others are going to survive. Who needs more…

  38. 38 Nicker Oct 26th, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Sorry Don…..

    I just don’t see a recession.
    (unless the liberals tax us into one)

    And $3 a gallon gas may not help sell fad-customs, it sure aught to help sell sound, road going twins.

    It sure did in the 70’s gass crunch.


  39. 39 John Oct 26th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    I thought that Easyriders was easy money.

  40. 40 Rick Oct 28th, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Cyril is sooooo right.

  41. 41 donnie dba music city cycle Nov 2nd, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    the industry is changing & i am glad my inventory consist mostly of stabils like tires/tubes/oils/filters/brake pads/a lil leather….not high dollar bling…….i will use that stuff if i can’t sell it….in ’91 when i started my shop it was for the love of the sport an still is,little did i know that harleys were gonna go hog wild an be a mainstream thing lucky for me because my business plan back then was that high gas prices will make folks ride motorcycles to save $$$$….i have seen very few of them bike t.v. shows over the last few years because i ain’t paying for t.v. an rabbit ears want pick ’em up LOL(really)….any way i agree that bikers male t.v. cool not viceaversa

  42. 42 Charlie King Jan 28th, 2008 at 9:38 am

    I’m one of the “New Builder’s” struggling to make a niche. I started by grafting a water pipe backbone and down tube to my Lambretta scooter frame, welding on a thrown out Triumph tank, and adding a dirtbike front end someone else had no use for; in my parents garage in 1968. In 1970 I cut my teeth on Harley building at a part time job at Chopper Specialties (that buzz word’s been around a long time). What kicked me out of my garage and into my business was the dificulty I had finding any custom anything to bolt-on when I was building a 2000 Roadstar into a full custom in a 5’x10′ rented storage space in 2004. Our “Customizing” industry has been so narrowly linked to HD that at no one in the USA had 43mm tubes extended more than 2″. I share your contempt for anyone looking for a fast buck, but some of us new kids paid our dues when most of the current crop of big name builders were still shittin’ in their knickers. Wish me luck

  43. 43 Kat Apr 13th, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I am tired that the only show about bikes are Orange County and I want the old motorcycle shows back. That were about the legends of motorcycles. That got down and dirty..were the old school bikers… showing off thier talent in an old garage setting…All we have now is motorcycle shows about commercials. Hurry and bring back the cool motorcycle shows… Please!

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