Famous Motorcycle Builders: Past and Present

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Many people have contributed to motorcycle culture over the past 100 years.  Many of these outstanding builders have died, and many younger people are taking up the torch to continue it.

The following are the most iconic motorcycle builders ever to live:

  • William Harley
  • Arthur Davidson
  • Oscar Hedstrom
  • Ed Roth
  • Indian Larry
  • Brian Jones
  • Jesse James
  • Paul Teutel Sr.
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Roland Sands Design

Continue reading to see a complete list of famous builders from the past and present.

Past Builders

Ed Roth

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth became famous in the 50’s and 60’s in southern California and was best known for his hot rod character of Rat Fink which he created.  He was born in 1934 and has been building and tinkering since childhood.

Roth was an early builder of wild hot rod vehicles and custom motorcycles. He was also a co-founder of Kustom Kulture.  The Revell toy company even manufactured scale models of all his motorcycles and hot rods to sell as children’s toys.

Ed began hosting parties at his motorcycle shop when he was 20 years old and became involved in many local motorcycle clubs.  He became deeply involved with Hell’s Angels and in his later years admitted to doing many things he was horribly ashamed of.

He joined a Christian church in his late years and moved to Utah to live a simpler lifestyle.  He completed custom builds until his passing.

The Henry Ford Auto Museum in Detroit houses several of Ed’s most wild builds, and there is a Rat Fink Reunion held in Manti, Utah every year in June to commemorate his work. 

Indian Larry

Lawrence Desmedt, a New Yorker born in 1949, became known as Indian Larry after he rode a chopped Indian motorcycle.  After competing in motorcycle building contests and performing at rallies, Indian Larry wasn’t very well-known until his final years of life.

Larry’s Scoutmaster was a racer on Indian motorcycles as a young boy. It had a huge impact on his future path.  Larry’s first build was adding a lawn mower engine to his sister’s tricycle.  Larry was more enthusiastic than his sister.

His first motorcycle was a 1939 Harley Knucklehead.  He disassembled it completely and rebuilt it to his specifications over the following year.  

A month before he was to graduate from high school, he left home and joined his sister in California to be part of the 1960’s outcast crowd.  His sister was killed, and he spiraled into drug dependency.

After robbery at a bank, he was shot by police. He spent many years in prison.  After earning his GED, he decided to become a mechanic and master welder.  After prison, Larry moved back to New York and got involved in the growing chopper scene of the 80’s, and was featured on several magazine covers.

Larry died in North Carolina at the age of 55, while performing stunt motorcycle riding.  His motorcycles and rough-and-tumble lifestyle have gained immense popularity since his death.

Arlen Ness

Arlen was born in Minnesota in 1939 and moved to San Lorenzo when he was young.  Arlen worked as a young man at a bowling alley. He became semi-professional bowler later in his life.  His earnings from bowling allowed him to buy his first motorcycle, the 1947 Harley Knucklehead.

After several of his builds, Arlen became a popular figure in California’s motorcycle scene. His popularity grew further when he began making custom parts to fit Harleys and Indians.  His name began to appear in more magazines.

After working for 30 years at his motorcycle shop in Dublin California, he relocated to a bigger shop in Dublin where he kept over 40 of his custom built motorcycles.

Cory, his son, has taken over the family company and continues to make beautiful bikes and parts for the automotive industry.

George M. Hendee

George Hendee, born in 1866, became famous as the USA National Bicycle Champion and several other world records holder.  He founded his bicycle company in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1895. However, he was forced to close the business three years later.

After the failure of his first business, he established Indian Hendee Manufacturing Company. This company would become his most famous name.  He sold and built bicycles for many more years before he invented his first motorized bicycle in 1901.  

Indian Hendee Manufacturing, the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, was producing more than 32,000 units annually in 1912.  In 1923, they changed the name of their business to Indian Motorcycle Company. Hendee was already dead by this time.

Hendee, who had retired from the motorcycle business, raised chickens and cattle on his 500-acre farm.  At 76, he died.

Oscar Hedstrom

Oscar was born in Sweden, 1871. He immigrated to America with his family at the age of nine.  They settled in Brooklyn and he spent much time riding his bicycles to learn how they worked.

He started working as an engineer apprentice in a watch shop when he was 16. This allowed him to learn how to make custom parts and cast watches.  George Hendee also helped him build carburetors, mount gasoline engines to bicycles, and that is where he met George.

Hendee was impressed at the work of Hedstrom, and asked him for a design to make a mass-produced motorized bike.  They worked well together for several years, and the Indian motorcycle industry grew quickly.  The board of directors misled investors and caused both men to leave the company.

Hedstrom, who died in 1960, retired to his Connecticut estate.

William Harley

William Harley was born in Wisconsin in 1880. He started his career at the Meiselbach bicycle manufacturing plant at the tender age of 15.  Arthur Davidson, William’s childhood friend, began plans to attach a small gasoline engine on a bicycle in 1901.  

Harley and Davidson established their company in 1903. Harley obtained a degree from the University of Michigan in mechanical engineering in 1907.  Harley married his long-term partner in 1910, and they remained together until his death in 1943.

Harley was a Harley Davidson employee until his passing. He loved his job, and the opportunity to see his company grow.

Arthur Davidson

Arthur was born in Wisconsin in 1881, after his grandparents and parents immigrated from Europe.  William Harley, his lifelong friend, helped him start a motorcycle business.

In order to secure the government contract for military bikes, Harley Davidson sold thousands upon thousands of motorcycles during World Wars I and II.  The servicemen would be familiar with Harleys by the time they returned from the war and would desire to buy them.

Arthur, his wife and two of their children were killed in a car accident in 1950.

Wayne Moulton

Wayne Moulton was a Utah motorcycle designer and was born in Heber City in 1932.  Wayne was a motorbike designer, and is known as “the father of the Japanese cruiser”.  Wayne provided many designs to Japanese motorcycle companies when they tried to make a name for themselves in the US.

As the manager of technical operation at Kawasaki, Moulton also designed the LTD series motorcycles. They were hugely popular in the US. Other Japanese manufacturers followed his style.

Moulton was offered a higher paid post for Triumph America in the mid 1970’s and was asked to try and save the company.  Moulton made several changes to the American market, but it seemed too late for the British manufacturer.

Moulton stated that the Triumph T140 TSX was his favorite motorcycle.

Roy Suarez Garcia

Garcia was known throughout his entire life as “Chicano Roy” Born in 1945, he was a father and a grandfather.  Many manufacturers still use his custom parts for their motorcycles.

Chicano Roy was among the first hispabic custom bike builders to appear on the cover of any of the largest motorcycle magazines. It was difficult for minority groups back then.

One of Roy’s most famous inventions was the molded frame.  This design made the tank and frame appear one piece. However, the tank could still be unbolted in the event of damage.

Brian Jones

Brian was an engineer and a designer on motorcycles. He was born in the UK in 1928.  Brian started his career at Douglas Motorcycles, and soon moved to BSA where he worked for many years.  BSA was then the largest motorcycle manufacturer in all of the world.  He decided to change jobs and worked at Norton Motorcycle for several more years, before finally joining Triumph.

Brian was instrumental in the transformation of Triumph’s brand. However, Japanese motorcycle companies were so advanced that it was difficult to catch up with them and be competitive with their innovation.  In the mid 70’s Brian starting adding things like electric start, anti-vibration balancers, and by keeping the engines compliant with the ever-stricter US government laws surrounding motor vehicles.

Despite Jones’s best efforts, Triumph went under in 1983.  Had they been able to release some of those ideas a few years earlier there’s no way of knowing what the fate of Triumph would have been.

Ben Hardy

Ben Hardy was born 1921 in Lincoln County Georgia. He later moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion for motorcycling.

Ben was responsible for two iconic motorcycles, the Captain America (and Billy choppers) from Easy Rider.  Over the years, other people claimed credit for the creation of the motorcycles. Peter Fonda even said that he created Captain America.

As the years have passed one, people became more able to see the connections and Ben Hardy finally received the recognition he deserved for his iconic works.

Hardy died in 1994, but he was able pass his customizing skills on to many local riders in LA.

Present Builders

Jesse James

Jesse was born 1969. He has a passion for motorcycles and cars since a young age.  In 1992, he opened West Coast Choppers from his garage and grew it into the success that it is today.

Jesse has been a star in several TV shows including Jesse James Outlaw Garage, Jesse James Is A Dead Man and Monster Garage. Sons of Guns, Celebrity Apprentice, Motorcycle Mania, and Sons of Guns. He then started his own production firm and produced shows such as History of the Chopper.

James has been married to four times, most notably to Sandra Bullock (2005-2010). 

Jesse lives in Austin, Texas. He manages West Coast Choppers as well Jesse James Firearms Unlimited.

Dustin Kott

Dustin Kott, a motorcycle builder, lives in Los Angeles.  His website states that he can still remember riding his father’s motorcycle at 2 years old. And that he has never wanted to do any other thing with his life than build motorcycles.

His beautiful motorcycles and him have been featured in numerous magazines and articles.  While he builds mainly cafe racers with the Honda CB series, but he also builds cafe racing bikes from other models like Triumph and Harley.

One of Dustin’s most famous motorcycles is an old Triumph he restored for actor Ryan Reynolds.  It’s a breathtaking motorcycle and I would love to be able to see it one day.  Ryan, if you’re reading this then please let me come take pictures!

Roland Sands Design

Roland Sands was born in California in 1974 and is the owner of Roland Sands Design.  He got his start in a motorcycle shop at a young age sweeping floors and worked his way up to becoming head of R&D, and then eventually opening his own shop.

Roland was a big hit at the Discovery Channel’s annual Biker Build-Off. He used that attention to design custom motorcycles and parts.

Sources online claim that his basic motorcycle builds cost around $25,000 USD.

Roland is also an experienced street racer with 10 wins.

Revival Cycles

Revival Cycles, which is owned by Alan Stulberg, is located in Austin. Alan first started riding motorcycles as a child and fell in love with the sport.  Revival Cycles was established by him in 2008 and has become a well-known motorcycle shop.

They can do one-off custom builds or complete restorations.  They also have a leather workshop where they can make their own leather accessories.

Revival Cycles holds one of the biggest motorcycle shows in America every April in Austin (Texas).  Each year, it attracts more than 25,000 people who come to view custom motorcycles.

Paul Teutel Sr.

Paul John Teutel Sr. was a Yonkers, New York native.  Paul Sr. was a Marine for several years during the Vietnam War. After that, he returned home to open Orange County Ironworks. The company is primarily involved in building industrial projects.

As a hobby, he started to build motorcycles. In 1999, he sold Orange County Ironworks and founded Orange County Choppers.  His son Paul Teutel Jr. was hired to work alongside him.

He and his son were the stars of the TV show American Chopper, which is best known for the fired-up arguments between Paul Sr and Paul Jr.  Paul Jr was fired in 2009 and started doing his own thing.

Ton-Up Garage

Ton-Up Garage, a rapidly growing motorcycle shop based in Porto (Portugal), was founded by Pedro Oliveira & Daniel Cabral in 2010.

Pedro and Daniel receive orders from customers all around the world. They send their motorcycles to Portugal, then have them rebuild it as they wish, and then return it across the globe.

If you are looking to purchase a completed project, they have a lot of them on their website. 

Be sure to keep following these guys, they’re going to be famous.

ICON 1000

Icon 1000 is a fascinating company.  Most helmet and riding clothing manufacturers are large-scale and only focus on manufacturing and selling their products.  ICON makes custom motorcycles that are unique for customers all over the world.

ICON has ICON shops all across the US, selling their products.  This is a very interesting business model, and they seem to be doing well.

Auto Fabrica

Auto Fabrica was founded in 2013 by brothers Gazmend and Bujar Muharremi near London, England.  In 2011, brothers Bujar and Gazmend Muharremi started to build together. They wanted to create motorcycles that were truly unique and meticulous in detail.

Both of them studied at University in Industrial and Automotive Design. This allowed them to transfer their knowledge and skills into a shared passion.

Their first major investment was to rent a workshop and purchase an English wheel. This is what gave rise to their beautiful motorcycle tanks.

They are gaining a lot of attention around the world and will continue to be successful in the future.

Paul Teutel Jr.

Paul Teutel Jr. was conceived in 1974. He has seen a lot more television than other builders due to his energized appearances in American Chopper alongside his father Paul Teutel Sr.  There are many memes and GIFs that show these two fighting.

Paul Jr. and Paul Sr. had a falling out over the TV show and fought a nasty lawsuit in which Paul Sr. ended up buying out Paul Jr’s 20% share in Orange County Choppers.

Paul Jr. owns Paul Jr. design, where he still builds custom bikes for customers.  He has designed many items, including a Coleman grill, a New York City dog park, and a range of dog toys.

Paul Jr has since hired a lot of his dad’s former employees and now competes head to head with his dad. 

Cafe Racer Spirit 

Cafe Racer SSpirit’s headquarters is in San Sebastian, Spain.  They build cafe racers, scramblers, bobbers, and other styles out of the 60’s to 80’s Japanese motorcycles and boxer style BMW’s.

Cafe Racer SSpirit employs four full-time builders, and they continue to produce amazing builds each year.  They love to preserve the patina from motorcycle tanks and build beautiful things around them.

Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina, a well-known motorcycle manufacturer/builder, builds custom bikes and gear for riders around the globe.  They have made custom motorcycles for many celebrities, including Ryan Reynolds and Billie Joel as well as Bruce Springsteen, Orlando Bloom, Jason Mraz, and Bruce Springsteen.

Deus Ex is very popular in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  Some sources claim that their motorcycles sell for between $40,000-$60,000.  According to builder Woolie, they lose money on every motorcycle they build, but I don’t see how that’s possible when they sell them for so much money.

K-Speed

K-Speed is a custom shop located in Bangkok, Thailand.  They are also the largest supplier of aftermarket motorcycle parts in Thailand. They’ve become one of the most famous motorcycle shops in all of Asia.

Honda Thailand even asked K Speed to make a custom Honda Cub in order to generate interest from customers.

The Asian motorcycle market is very different from the rest of the world’s, so K-Speed builds a lot more mopeds and smaller engine models than other builders.

Rick Fairless

Rick Fairless was a custom motorcycle builder like several others on this list. He got his big break from Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off.  His Coors and Bettie are his most famous builds, which have been featured in numerous magazines and articles.

He is now the host of Texas Hardtails Scooter Show, and podcast from his Dallas, Texas shop.

Hageman Cycles

Greg Hageman was raised in Iowa, and has had a passion since childhood for all things mechanical.  His family’s 1972 Honda CB100 was the first motorcycle that he rode.  

Greg works as a Harley Davidson dealer and also builds his own motorcycles.  His motorcycles have been featured in numerous magazines, TV shows, and articles.

Greg loves to do all of the work on his own bikes.  He loves to build and design from the ground up, and to take old projects that are rusty and restore them to their former glory with modern parts.

Clockwork motorcycles

Clockwork Motorcycles is an independent custom shop that can be found near Montreal, Canada.  Samuel Guertin was a native Canadian and amatuer flattrack racer.

Clockwork Motorcycles have produced 13 motorcycles since they started business and I’m sure have done dozens of other small builds for local customers.  They also build vintage choppers and flat tracker/scrambler bikes.

They do a great job and I look forward for more from them in the near future.

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