It seems like only yesterday that we interviewed CEO Alan Discount regarding the launch of Choppers U.S. then(2005) a new company devoted to selling frames and components for our kind of bikes. Since then, I've been continually impressed by the progress of the endeavor. The company, now called Cycles U.S.- reflecting a broader marketing base, has continued to grow its selection of excellent wares. Every time I've periodically visited their shop-site, I've been thrilled to see all the new kustom goodies available. Just today, I discovered that they now carry rubber fork bumpers, for only $5 a pair! This solves a problem which, in the past, I've had to solve by making something to mechanically limit the rotation of the fork, in an attractive way, of course. What a great idea! Not only that, but they look really good- like the rubber boots used on "oleo strut"-type fork legs. Needless to say, clever kustombike builders will find all sorts of other uses for them, because of their cool visual texture, usefulness, and low price. For a commercial job, I once needed something very similar, and spent hours and days designing and making a pattern and rotational-molding rig to produce a couple of them in black-pigmented silicone RTV rubber. The cost to the client for those puppies made those legendary $600 Air Force toilet seats look like chump change. And C.U.S. is selling virtually the identical things for $5 a pair. That's what's so great about quantity production. By on-line retailing of many more items like that, along with the original line of frames and components they initially offered, they've enabled a huge advancement in the possibilities available to practitioners of our art, at affordable prices.
Now, our game has changed again, with the announcement of a "brick-and-morter" Cycles U.S. retail store in Southern California. Why is this so great, you may ask? Principally, because it exposes the kustombike craft and culture to those who aren't already a part of it. For those of us who've been playing the game for quite a while, and are already in the market for kustom components, we're already able to find an on-line source for what we want, especially one as highly-regarded and web-visible as C.U.S. However, for someone made only dimly aware of our thing by the occasional glimpse of someone riding a very cool bike, walking into an actual store and seeing this stuff for sale is bound to be an eye-opening experience. Those who have been reading John Brain's ongoing series on the History of KustomBiking, or who were actually around at the dawn of the Golden Age of KustomBiking, beginning in the 1960s, will be aware that the game blew up when companies began making kustom-style parts and getting them stocked by local bike, toy and hardware stores. Then as now, kustom bike parts were incredibly cheap compared to kustom car parts, making them affordable for kids, who usually didn't have cars to mess with anyway.
As soon as I learned about the new store, I got in touch with Alan to suggest the next stage of what's needed to get North American (or World) youth and their fathers involved in bike kustomizing: pre-fabricated display units stocked with the most desirable, affordable and simple-to-install kustom bike parts from the C.U.S. line, to be sold by local stores everywhere. I remember when I walked into my hometown Western Auto store and first saw inexpensive apehanger handlebars, banana saddles and other kustom goodies on display. I was in college at that time, and already owned a car, of sorts. But seeing those wild bike parts reminded me that my younger bro Dave's old 20" cantilever-framed sidewalk bike was gathering dust, rust and bird crap in our barn, and just begging to be used for something interesting. So, I bought the kustom parts, as well as some fresh wheels and tires from Western Auto's normal bike parts inventory, and built a kustom muscle bike. At the time, my cars were always cheap old beaters, and I couldn't afford to kustomize or hot rod them; but I was able to build up a really cool bicycle. The same holds true now, actually, which is why I'm still at it, except now I don't bother with owning a bloody car.
Of course I and other O.G. bike kustomizers such as John Brain and many others whose work you see in our Gallery pretty much build from the ground up now; but back in the day we started with stock frames, bolt-on kustom parts and rattle-can paint, like any unskilled kid would today. But we gradually gained those skills because we kept at it, as it was a lot of creative fun, and deeply satisfying because we could ride our art/craft objects around the neighborhood to receive ego gratification from family, friends and neighbors for our efforts. And the gratification is still just as sweet! Especially now, as everyone in the neighborhood wants to buy the bike.
We should all encourage C.U.S. to expand their parts availability to stores everywhere, and make suggestions for merchandise to offer. Many local bike stores already carry Lowrider Bike parts, and I'm sure they sell lots of them to kids who are exposed to them at that level. But exposure and access to Kustom Bike parts would be even better for our society. Creativity is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, what with school budget cutbacks killing off "inessentials" from school curricula, kids are left to their own devices when it comes to developing creative thinking and craft skills. And with concentration on prep for testing rather than hands-on experimentation, even physics is suffering. There is absolutely no better personal laboratory for learning physics, math and allied ways of thinking than simply messing around with bicycles in a creative way. This also has an important side benefit of getting kids off their obese asses and putting them on a bike saddle to show off their work while gaining in physical fitness and having non-digital-non-passive fun.
The C.U.S. store is sure to become the SoCal Mecca of Kustom Bikers, in the same way that the original Frederick's of Hollywood store is the SoCal Mecca of naughty ladieswear fanciers, and the Dudley Do-right Emporium was for me, on my first stay in Hollywood, in 1981, at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, which later became the Mecca for celebrity drug overdose fanciers (John Belushi death site). In an eerie precursor, clay celebrity Mr.Bill was also killed by drugs there- crushed by a Tonka dumptruck-load of pills and capsules as part of a set of short films for an anti-drug TV special we shot while using the hotel as our headquarters. Jim Wilson