Famous Motorcycle Builders: Past & Present


There have been many individuals in the last 100 years that have shaped motorcycle culture as we know it by their contributions to the industry.  Many of these great builders have passed on and many new young people are picking up the torch to carry it on further.

Some of the most famous motorcycle builders to have ever lived include:

  • 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 below for a more comprehensive list of the famous builders of the past and the 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 1932 and was always tinkering and building things since he was young.

Roth began building wild hot rod cars and custom motorcycles and being featured on dozens of magazines and was a cofounder of the Kustom Kulture company.  The Revell toy company even manufactured scale models of all his motorcycles and hot rods to sell as children’s toys.

When Ed was 20 years old he began holding parties at his motorcycle shop and got involved with many of the 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.

In his later years he joined a Christian church and moved to a small town in Utah to have a more simple lifestyle.  He continued to do custom builds until he died.

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 was born in 1949 in New York and became known as Indian Larry in 1980 while riding a chopped Indian motorcycle.  Indian Larry was not very well known until his last few years of life after competing in motorcycle building competitions and performing at motorcycle rallies.

When Larry was young, his scoutmaster raced Indian motorcycles which had a large impact on the path he followed in life.  Larry’s first build was adding a lawn mower engine to his sister’s tricycle.  His sister was not as enthused about it as Larry was.

His first motorcycle was a 1939 Harley Knucklehead.  He took it completely apart and over the next year he built it back to what he wanted.  

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.  He spiraled into drug addiction and his sister was murdered, which sent him further into addiction.

He was shot by police and arrested in 1972 after robbing a bank and spent several years in prison.  He earned his GED and decided to become a master welder and mechanic.  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 when he was 55 while performing motorcycle stunts in North Carolina.  His motorcycles and his rough and tumble lifestyle have only gained traction since his death.

Arlen Ness

Arlen Ness was born in 1939 in Minnesota and moved to San Lorenzo, California when he was still young.  When Arlen was young he worked at a bowling alley and bowled semi-professionally later in life.  He used earnings from bowling to buy his first motorcycle, a 1947 Harley Knucklehead.

Arlen grew in popularity in the California motorcycle scene after a few of his builds and he grew even more popular after he started making custom parts for Harleys and Indians.  As time went on he started being featured in more and more magazines.

After 30 years at his motorcycle shop, he moved to a larger shop in Dublin, California where he housed over 40 of hs custom builds for people to come look at.One of his most famous motorcycles is the Mach Ness, a jet powered motorcycle with the powerplant from a helicopter.

His son Cory has taken over the family business and continues to build beautiful bikes and custom parts for the automotive industry.

George M. Hendee

George Hendee was born in 1866 and became famous by being the USA national bicycle champion and setting several world records.  He started his own bicycle company in 1895 in Springfield Massachusetts and was bankrupt 3 years later.

After his first failed business he started a manufacturing company that would make his name infamous forever, the Indian Hendee Manufacturing Company.  He built and sold bicycles for several years and then created his first motorized bicycle in 1901.  

By 1912 Indian Hendee Manufacturing was the largest motorcycle company in the world and they were producing over 32,000 units per year.  They changed the business name to Indian Motorcycle Company in 1923 but Hendee had already retired by that point.

After retiring from the motorcycle industry, Hendee bred cattle and chickens on his 500 acre farm.  He died in 1943 at the age of 76.

Oscar Hedstrom

Oscar was born in Sweden in 1871 and he immigrated to the United States with his family when he was just 9 years old.  They settled in Brooklyn, New York City and he spent much of his childhood riding bicycles and rebuilding them to learn how they worked.

When he was 16 he got a job as an engineering apprentice at a watch shop where he learned to cast and build parts for custom watches.  He also began building carburetors and mounting gasoline engines on bicycles, and this is when he met George Hendee.

Hendee was impressed with the work of Hedstrom and asked him to build a design for a mass produced motorized bicycle.  The two men worked well together over the next several years as the Indian motorcycle business grew rapidly.  But both men left the company due to problems they had with the board of directors misleading investors.

Hedstrom retired and lived on his estate on the banks of the Connecticut river until his death in 1960.

William Harley

William Harley was born in 1880 in Wisconsin and got his first job at the age of 15 at the Meiselbach bicycle factory.  In 1901 William started drawing up plans to mount a small gasoline engine to a bicycle with his childhood friend Arthur Davidson.  

Harley and Davidson founded their company in 1903 and Harley received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1907.  Harley married his lifelong partner in 1910 and stayed with her until his death in 1943.

Harley worked at Harley Davidson until the day he died, he loved his job and seeing his company grow.

Arthur Davidson

Arthur was born in 1881 in Wisconsin after both of his parents and grandparents immigrated from Europe.  In 1903 he went into business with lifelong friend William Harley building motorcycles in a family shed.

During World Wars I and II Harley Davidson sold thousands of motorcycles at highly discounted prices to the US military in hopes to secure the government contract for military motorcycles.  That way when the servicemen got home from the war they would already know how to work on Harleys and would want to buy one.

Arthur was killed in a car accident along with his wife and two of his children in 1950.

Wayne Moulton

Wayne Moulton was born in 1932 in Heber City, Utah.  Wayne was a motorcycle designer and is referred to as “the father of the Japanese cruiser”.  Wayne gave a lot of designs to the Japanese motorcycle companies as they were trying to emerge in the US market.

While working at Kawasaki,Moulton served as the manager of technical operations and released his design for the LTD series motorcycles which became hugely successful in the US and the other Japanese manufacturers followed his styling cues.

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 introduced several changes that the manufacturer needed to make in order to survive in the US market but it seemed that it was already too late for the British company.

Moulton said his favorite motorcycle he ever designed was the Triumph T140 TSX.

Roy Suarez Garcia

Garcia was known throughout his life as “Chicano Roy” and was born in 1945.  He is credited with inventing a lot of custom parts for motorcycles that many manufacturers still use today.

Chicano Roy was one of the first hispabic custom motorcycle builders to make the cover of all the biggest motorcycle magazines, which was not an easy thing for minority groups to do back then.

One of Roy’s most famous inventions was the molded frame.  It was a design that made the frame and the tank look like it was all one continuous piece, but the tank could be unbolted if it was damaged.

Brian Jones

Brian was a motorcycle designer and engineer and was born in the UK in 1928.  Brian began by working for Douglas Motorcycles and then soon moved to BSA for several years.  BSA at the time was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.  He decided to move jobs again and worked for Norton Motorcycle for several years until finally settling down with Triumph.

Brian was instrumental in bringing change to the Triumph brand, but Japanese motorcycle companies were so far ahead that it was hard to catch up and compete with such 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 in 1921 in Lincoln County Georgia and later moved to Los Angeles to follow his passion for motorcycles.

Ben created two of the most iconic motorcycles ever made, the Captain America and Billy choppers from the famous classic movie Easy Rider.  For many years other people took the credit for creating the motorcycles, even Peter Fonda said that he built Captain America himself.

As time has gone one, people were able to connect the dots more and more, and finally Ben Hardy has received the recognition he deserves for building those iconic masterpieces,

Hardy passed away in 1994 but was able to pass on his customization skills to hundreds of local riders in LA.

Present Builders

Jesse James

Jesse was born in 1969 and gained a fondness for cars and motorcycles at a young age.  He opened his famous business West Coast Choppers in his garage in 1992 and steadily grew the business into what it is today.

Jesse has starred in quite a few shows on TV including; Jesse James: Outlaw Garage, Jesse James Is A Dead Man, Monster Garage, Sons of Guns, Celebrity Apprentice, and Motorcycle Mania. He went on to start his own production company and produce shows like History of the Chopper, Green Scream, and Iraq Confidential.

James has been married four times, most notably to the actress Sandra Bullock from 2005-2010. 

Jesse currently lives in Austin, Texas and manages West Coast Choppers and Jesse James Firearms Unlimited.

Dustin Kott

Dustin Kott is a motorcycle builder who lives in the Los Angeles area.  His website states that he can remember sitting on a motorcycle with his dad when he was 2 years old and he never wanted to do anything else with his life besides build motorcycles.

He and his beautiful motorcycles have been featured in scores of magazines and articles.  He builds mostly cafe racers out of the classic Honda CB series but he also builds cafe racers from other models like Harley and Triumph.

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 1974 in California, and owns Roland Sands Design there today.  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 gained a lot of attention from the annual Biker Build-Off on the Discovery Channel and used that momentum to start designing custom motorcycles and parts.

Some sources online say his basic motorcycle builds start around $25,000 USD.

Roland is also a professional street racer, with 10 wins under his belt.

Revival Cycles

Revival Cycles is based in Austin, Texas and is owned by Alan Stulberg. Alan started riding motorcycles at age 5 and fell in love.  He founded Revival Cycles in 2008 and it has grown into a world renowned motorcycle shop.

They do custom one-off builds, complete restorations and everything between.  They also have a leather working shop where they craft their own leather accessories.

Revival Cycles hosts one of the largest motorcycle shows in the United States every April in Austin, Texas.  It draws up to 25,000 people a year that come to see custom motorcycles.

Paul Teutel Sr.

Paul John Teutel Sr. was born in 1949 in Yonkers, New York.  Paul Sr. spent several years as a Marine in the Vietnam War and then came home and opened Orange County Ironworks, mostly building industrial projects.

He started building motorcycles on the side as a hobby and then in 1999 he left Orange County Ironworks to his son Dan and started up Orange County Choppers.  He hired his son Paul Teutel Jr. t o come work with 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 is a quickly growing motorcycle shop based on Porto, Portugal and was started in 2010 by Pedro Oliveira and Daniel Cabral.

Pedro and Daniel take orders from customers all over the world that ship their motorcycle to Portugal, have them rebuild it into whatever the customer wants, and then ship it back across the world.

They also have quite a few finished projects on their website that are currently for sale if you want to buy something that is already complete. 

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

ICON 1000

Icon 1000 is an interesting company.  Generally larger scale manufacturers who make riding clothing and helmets just stick to manufacturing and selling those products.  But ICON also builds one of a kind custom motorcycles for clients all over the world.

ICON has stores all over the US selling their products for them.  They really have quite an interesting business model but they seem to be doing well!

Auto Fabrica

Auto Fabrica was started in 2013 near London, England by brothers Bujar and Gazmend Muharremi.  The brothers started building together in their garage in 2011 and wanted to focus on building motorcycles that were both one of a kind and absolutely meticulous and flawless in detail.

Both studied Industrial and Automotive Design at University, so they were able to transfer that knowledge and skillset into a passion that they shared.

Their first big investment was renting a workshop and purchasing an English wheel, which is the key to their beautifully crafted motorcycle tanks.

They have gained a lot of attention worldwide and will continue to do very well in the future.

Paul Teutel Jr.

Paul Teutel Jr. was born in 1974 and has had a lot more TV screen time than most of the other builders on this list due to his fired-up appearances in American Chopper with his dad Paul Teutel Sr.  There are an unlimited amount of memes and GIFs of those 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. currently owns Paul Jr. designs where he still builds custom motorcycles for customers, but not only motorcycles.  He has designed lots of things including a new Coleman grill, a dog park in New York, and a line 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 SSpirit 

Cafe Racer SSpirit is based in the beautiful 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 has 4 full time builders and they continue to put out amazing builds every year.  They like to leave the original patina on motorcycle tanks in place and then build something beautiful around that.

Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina is an extremely famous motorcycle brand/builders which build custom bikes and gear for riders all over the world.  They have built many custom motorcycles for celebrities including Ryan Reynolds, Billie Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Orlando Bloom and Jason Mraz.

Deus Ex is especially famous in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.  Their motorcycles start around $40,000 to $60,000 according to some sources online.  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 based in Bangkok, Thailand.  They are also one of the largest aftermarket motorcycle parts suppliers in Thailand. They’ve become one of the most famous motorcycle shops in all of Asia.

Honda Thailand even commissioned K-Speed to build a one-off custom Honda Cub for the release of the new model in order to spark some interest from consumers.

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

Like several of the other custom motorcycle builders on this list, Rick Fairless got his big break on the Discovery Channel Show Biker Build-Off.  His two most famous builds are named Coors and Bettie and have been showcased in a large number of magazines and articles.

He now produces the Texas Hardtails Scooter Show and podcast from his shop in Dallas, Texas.

Hageman Cycles

Greg Hageman grew up in a small town in Iowa and has had a love for mechanical things since as long as he can remember.  The first motorcycle he ever rode was his families 1972 Honda CB100.  

Greg currently works at a Harley Davidson dealership and builds his own custom motorcycles on the side.  He has had several of his motorcycles featured in magazines, TV shows, and articles.

Greg likes to do all the work himself on his bikes.  He likes to design and build from the ground up and take old rusted out projects and bring them back to their former glory, with a bit of added reliability from modern parts.

Clockwork Motorcycles

Clockwork Motorcycles is a small custom shop located near Montreal, Canada.  It was started by Samuel Guertin, an amatuer flat track racer and native Canadian.

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 build a lot of flat tracker/scrambler type bikes and vintage choppers.

They seem to do great work and I look forward to more builds from them in the future.

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