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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Biltwell Inc. - Bill Bryant's 1975 Shovelhead

Photo by Luis Aguirre

An ice cream connoisseur named Bill Bryant once told me "Ride motorcycles and have fun, that's all that really matters when it comes to bikes." Bill, co-founder of one of the most well-known companies in the chopper/motorcycle world, Biltwell Inc. is hands down one of the most down to earth and genuine guys you will ever meet. He is an extremely talented designer when it comes to websites and visual media but don't let those "nerd" skills fool you. He also is a pretty talented builder of motorcycles as well and let's not forget to mention he can ride the shit out of almost any bike you put in front of him. I first met bill at the Tail of the Dragon on a small adventure Biltwell had put together a few years ago called "Skyway To The Dangerzone." I've had the pleasure of working with Bill off and on with small projects over the past few years and I still learn new things about him all the time. I sat down with him the other day and asked him the really hard questions about his life, Biltwell, his favorite foods, and his favorite bikes. I can't wait for Bill to come out to Fuel Cleveland on May 28th with his '75 Shovelhead but until then check out this interview, enjoy!

-Mikey Revolt

Photo by Luis Aguirre

What bike do you plan on showing at Fuel Cleveland?

B: I’m brining my 1975 shovelhead. Same bike I’ve had for about five years. Jay Roche @jayroche79 originally built it, I bought it from Walter @kickstartcycles and have changed it up over the years so that the only thing left from the original bike is the front half of the frame, the pipes and the old 74” engine that barely breaks a sweat. It’s not a show bike, it’s a go bike.

What or who originally got you into motorcycles?

B: Back in the mid 90’s I was trying to talk some friends into going in partners on a shitty off road race car idea and my friend Simon said it was stupid and we should just buy dirt bikes instead. I bought a shit ass CR125 that was a blast. Not long after that I got a dual sport and started commuting to work, and it’s been downhill ever since.

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

What is your favorite part of the build and the ride?

B: My favorite time of the build is when something actually works and I’m satisfied with it the first time. It’s a pretty rare occasion because I either end up nitpicking it afterwards or redoing something several times until I’m stoked with it. The ride? I love the small roadside problem and fix. It doesn’t have to be me, in fact I haven’t come home in a truck in quite some time (jinx!) but I love diagnosing something on the side of the road and fixing it on the spot with whatever we’ve got. Generally it’s someone else which makes it more fun, haha.

What do you find the most challenging for you when you are building a bike?

B: The organization and planning is probably the most challenging. I can make shit. I have decent ideas. I just don’t always get it in the right order and that slows me down and pisses me off. I truly enjoy working on and building bikes but I’m very humbled by the amount of talent at shows like Fuel, Born Free, etc and I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near that level, but I’m stoked to have my bike on display anyway.

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

Who are some of your favorite people you work with when in need of some help on a project?

B: Man, I need people all the time. Otto has a good eye for style. McGoo can true a wheel like a ninja and has a great problem-solving mind. Rico gives me faith in humanity because he’s such a good hugger and has seen it all before. He can make anything mechanical work and has patience with me when others would probably dot my eye. Bob and Chris at Temecula Motorcycle Service because they are always there to answer my stupid questions and help sort something out. Walter for his undying love and tech support via texts. Painters like Matt Ross and Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan who are not only talented as hell but actually do what they promise in the time they estimated. Mike D. for leaning on me to actually spend money on stuff rather than just keep trying to “make it work”. The Haifley Bros. in Phoenix for being so ridiculously talented and humble at the same time. My buddy Joe for helping me on fab stuff but never rubbing in the fact that he’s certified by NASA to weld underwater spaceships or whatever. Duane Ballard for always answering a million stupid questions on my recent CB750 project, and of course for making kick ass seats and anything else you can imagine. @H8ter can lift real heavy stuff and is a pretty good whistler. I’m grateful for the friends I have and enjoy working together with them on stuff; theirs or mine.

Photo by Luis Aguirre

What is your all time favorite bike you have owned in your life?

B: It has to be my ’92 FXR. I got it in ’08 and it’s been through a few different transformations. I’ve been all over on this bike and it’s my one ‘keeper”. I’ve been lucky enough to have a chance to ride all kinds of bikes, old and new, and while there are some I’d still like to own, my FXR UPR is the one I can confidently say will get passed on to my kids.

What are some hobbies or things you enjoy to do that most wouldn’t know about you?

B: I’m a family man first and foremost and have been married to my awesome wife for 25 years this August. I’ve always put family first and while I’ve been called a workaholic, I have always carved out quality time with Carrie and my kids. I’ve done my best to lead by example and teach my kids to be thoughtful, honest and courageous about life. Now my son works for us as Biltwell’s one-man video production team and my daughter is kicking ass in her freshman year of college and I couldn’t be more proud of them both.

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

What’s your favorite event or events you get to go to or look forward to every year?

B: I love looking at bikes in shows and seeing old friends at events but my favorite thing is staying up late the night before a multi-day trip, packing and repacking my gear to go ride and camp with people that I consider true friends. About day three I start getting in the groove and that’s the sweet spot.

Where did the initial dream behind Biltwell come from?

B: Back when we started, it was full TV personality vibe in the motorcycle industry and companies were charging ridiculous prices for stupid looking parts and fame seemed more important than customers. We wanted to come up with stuff that a regular dude could afford and would be proud of. McGoo and I ran a little design agency that did work in the action sports industry and our personal goal was to be able to work for ourselves and not the MBA marketing director types that we’d grown weary of. We finally achieved that a couple years ago and we’re enjoying the autonomy.

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

What’s your favorite part or accessory at Biltwell?

B: Man, I just love our Gringo helmet. It’s comfortable and light, but made with modern materials and I think it looks appropriate on just about any rider or bike. I’ve got thousands of mile in mine and love it. The fact that we bucked the trend of ugly, over-styled, contemporary helmets and brought out something stylish and drop dead simple is rewarding. Designing the paint and graphics on these is one of the most fun parts of my job. We just finished launching the 2016 line and we already have the 2017 stuff worked out.

What big projects do you have in the works right now that you can share?

B: We are working on an all-new helmet that’ll be called the Lane Splitter. It’s more contemporary than anything we’ve done in the past, something more suitable for riders of modern bikes and will be certified for use in Europe which is a first for us.

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

Give us one of your favorite memories on the road with your bike?

B: Coming home from a trip to Atomic Trent’s GZ event in Albuquerque (2008 I think) on a strutted Sporty, my battery shit the bed. We’d been on the road for a week or so and were only like 150 miles from home, but in the absolute middle of the desert. I told my buddies I’d just call AAA and get a lift to the next town and sort it out, so they split. I called and then made camp on the side of the road with my poncho to stay out of the sun. I took a little nap and woke up to a gnarly rain and wind storm that just raised hell. For about an hour I just snuggled up in my poncho, held my backpack so it wouldn’t blow away and just sat it out. I was kind surprised by the number of bikes that jammed right by and not a single one stopped. Not that they could have done anything, but still seemed lame. I always stop for any bike on the side of the road, and this just cemented that habit. AAA guy showed up a couple hours later and man was I stoked. I always bring a poncho, you never know when you are gonna need that thing!

Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk

What is one of the craziest moments you have ever experienced on a motorcycle?

B: During the Biltwell 500 (2010) me and a half dozen friends were ripping down the beach in Baja on dirt bikes, we had just dropped in from the desert cliffs down onto the beach and we were all jamming flat-out, side by side and all of a sudden a small airplane, like a Cessna, flew over, maybe 50 feet above us and we just jammed harder. When we got to the other side of the beach and stopped, everyone was saying the exact same thing: “Holy shit, how about that plane?!” It was a perfect moment–we all felt like we were extras in On Any Sunday and it was totally by accident and awesome.

Photo By Geoff Kowalchuk

If you could jump on your bike right now and go anywhere where would it be and why?

B: First: Alcan Highway. I really want to ride to Alaska, especially on a chopper since it seems so inappropriate. Second: HWY 312 in China. I’d like to experience that country while it is still in transition. The idea of riding oil-leaking, fire-spewing vintage American choppers into villages where people have never experienced such power and freedom is thrilling to me.

Photo By Geoff Kowalchuk

What's your history with the BAJA?

B: I worked in a VW shop in Gardena, CA as a teenager, before I even had a driver's license. Next door was a small race shop run by a couple telecom guys. Ron Brant was one of the racers, and he let me do bullshit jobs like scrub skid plates and clean CV joints until I turned 16. At that point, I had my license, so I had value. All of a sudden, I could drive a chase truck and help him pre-run courses like the Baja 1000 and Mint 400. My buddy Matt Frick (@camp4lo) and I helped pit and chase for Brant through the 80’s and 90’s and even raced our own class 11 car with another friend Jim Pierce, and later Matt’s class 13 car. Ron taught us the ins and outs of Baja–some good, some questionable, and we fell in love with the freedom and self reliance required to navigate the peninsula. It’s been part of my life ever since. Ron now lives in Mulege, about 750 miles south of the border. We stop and spend some time with him every time we get down that way. Frick loves driving a chase truck and trailer on the EDR, helping chopper dorks when they run out of talent or mechanical ability along the way, and of course he drinks for free the whole time. We’ll be pitting for Ron again in this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000.

All time favorite food and have you had it in the last 5 days?

B: C’mon, Mikey! You know ice cream is our deal. I love to booze it up, but we don’t drink and ride, so while some like to hop from bar to bar, our crew likes to hop from ice cream joint to ice cream joint. My not-so-secret deal is when I’ve got to run errands in the afternoon at work, I swing through McDonalds and grab a cone. Best $1.08 ever. I usually send a text pic to Otto and @H8ter just so they know I got one and they didn’t. Last five days? Probably done it twice…

Anyone you would like to give a shout out to or thank?

B: We’ve got 19 full-time employees at Biltwell HQ in Temecula, counting McGoo and I. As they say, Team Work makes the Dream Work. Without these guy’s and girl’s dedication and hard work, none of this would be possible. I enjoy going to work with them every day and don’t take an ounce of it for granted.

Make sure to come see Bill's gnarly shovel on May 28th at Fuel Cleveland. To follow more of Bill and his "Ride Motorcycles, Have Fun" lifestyle swing on over to Biltwellinc.com or give them a follow on IG @Biltwell.

Check out a few more of Bill's bikes he's had over the years and built!

Bill helped his son Flynn build this amazing sportster! Photo by Sheldon Ivestor
Photo by Sheldon Ivestor

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