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A love letter to the custom bike industry

Dear Custom Motorcycle Industry, I’m writing you today out of much love and respect.

I have owned my own custom motorcycle shop, Strokers Dallas, for many years, and I have seen the best of times and the worst of times.

I get up at 3 a.m., seven days a week, and I hit the floor running because I can’t wait to get to work. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and even Sunday, the days run together because my routine never changes. You would think that after all these years I would take some days off, but I don’t, I can’t, I won’t!

In 1996 the great Joe Teresi advised me against working seven days a week. He said that I would need at least one or two days a week away from work to recharge my battery and keep from burning myself out. Joe’s the man, I consider him to be the Hugh Hefner of the custom V-twin motorcycle industry and I love and respect Joe and his wife, Ellen, very much. But I could not take his advice on this one, and so far I’m still going strong.

Of course I may work myself to death before my next column is due, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take because I love my job that much. Actually, I don’t consider it to be a job…it’s my life!

One of the things we all fight about are the stereotypes that are associated with this industry. We all have wild parties, get drunk and do burnouts every day and then knock the headboard all night (I wish!). What’s worse is that some among us try to live up to those stereotypes. There’s an old Texas saying: “Ya don’t gotta show your ass to get attention!”

I think there is a difference between being eclectic and being an idiot. We need to conduct ourselves in a manner that makes young people want to emulate us and maybe choose this industry as their chosen path someday. Yes, I’ll admit that most of us in the custom motorcycle industry are maybe a little bit off-center, but I think that’s part of what makes us choose this unconventional career path.

Most of us are in this industry for the love of the custom motorcycle — ya know, that crazy machine that makes our heart race. But there are some that are only in it for the almighty dollar. The only good thing that I saw that came from the economy of the last five years (Isn’t that about how long it’s been since our Texas boy, Dubya, left D.C.?) is that it has wiped out many of these posers and buck chasers. And let me say “AMF” to those cats!

I believe that this industry is about passion and that’s why we do what we do. Most of us could probably go to work in a different industry and make more money, but we won’t! My wife told me a few years ago that I didn’t pay myself enough money to “feed a family of squirrels”. I told her, “That’s OK, I make enough money to feed you, me and a goofy dog, and we’re as happy as a tick on a pig!”

I love all kinds of custom motorcycles, not just Harleys. I am a proud Victory dealer, and we’re doing some really cool stuff to customize Vics. It’s wide open because not many customizers are paying attention to Victory yet and everything is new. But mark my word, Victory Motorcycles are fantastic machines, and more and more customizers are working hard to make some cool parts for the ever increasing Vic owners. Now that Indian is back you will also start seeing many customizers coming out with some innovative parts for them, too.

I have been lucky enough to meet and become friends with some of this industry’s icons who I truly respect and I look to for inspiration. Guys like Arlen Ness have blazed a path for the rest of us to follow. Every problem I encounter I figure Arlen has already faced and conquered many times over. Lots of the “new products” coming out of this industry today are eerily close to the parts that Arlen Ness created 40 years ago.

We are also very lucky to be able to look for inspiration from custom motorcycle legends like Dave Perewitz, Donnie Smith and Don Hotop. Dave, Donnie and Don are three of the guys that put this industry on the map — and the cool thing is, anybody can go up and talk to them.

They love talking about custom motorcycles as much as we all do. If you ever run across one of these custom motorcycle legends, please, shake their hand and say “Thank you,” because without these guys we might all be in the boat industry. And I hate boats.

Do you ever just stop and think for one measly second about how lucky we are to be in this crazy motorcycle industry? I do, I think about it a lot, and I thank God every day that I’m here, doing what I love to do.

When I was 7 years old, Dad took my brother, Randy, and me to the Polar Bear Ice Cream Parlor to get an ice cream cone. A chopper had just pulled up front and parked as we were leaving. I was trying to walk and eat my ice cream cone, all while staring at the chopper. Well, I ran smack dab into one of the support columns, it knocked me down and I dropped my ice cream cone. My Dad laughed really hard and said, “Boy, I told you motorcycles were gonna get you in trouble!”

Well, fast forward 50 years. I’m still getting in trouble with motorcycles and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure you wouldn’t, either!

How do you like me now?


Respectfully submitted,
Rick Fairless
Strokers Dallas

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