Business is actually going quite well right now. After the economy took a dump, it was touch and go there for a little while, but I’ve managed to hang in there and keep my head above water. It’s been tough, and I know a bunch of shops in the area that weren’t able to, or didn’t want to deal with the struggle. Things aren’t like they were 4 years ago, but I’ve noticed a definite increase in business over the past year, and customers seem to be more confident in buying bigger ticket items for their bike, like pipes and such.
Is the shop your full time gig or do you have a “day job” as well?
The shop is definitely a full time gig, and then some! I’m the owner, mechanic, accountant, web designer, and janitor, so I’m at the shop around 60 hours a week, and when I’m home I’m usually looking over the books, figuring out how to improve business, or working on the website or social networking pages.
What line of work were you doing before Medusa Cycles?
Oh man, I’ve done a bunch of different things before I started working on bikes as a full-time thing. I’ve been a landscaper, bartender, plumber, student, and worked in a beer store for a while, but bikes have always been lurking in the background.
Where did you learn how to work on bikes? School, self-taught, mentor?
I’ve worked on friend’s dirt bikes and fiddled around with my own bikes forever, but I actually went to the Motorcycle Mechanic’s Institute to get the fancy papers to say that I was certified! Of course, I’m certified for Harley, but I rarely work on them anymore.
Give us some info on the origins of Medusa Cycles, how it came to be, and when you opened the doors?
We’ve been open as Medusa Cycles since the end of 2006. My wife and I got married I 2003 and moved to Arizona because I was accepted into the Philosophy PhD program at Arizona State University. I was specializing in Ancient Greek Philosophy at the time, which also helped to contribute to the name, Medusa Cycles.
After about a year at school, I was fed up with academics, mainly the faculty and other students, and decided that I was going to look into other avenues. I came home from class and my wife, Janell, had all the information from MMI gathered on the living room table. I had worked on bikes for as long as I can remember, so I figured it was a logical step, to make it a career. After school, I worked at a custom Harley shop for a while, and decided that I really couldn’t stand the $60,000 glitter-biscuit bikes, and hated the dudes who rode them even more. I started Medusa Cycles to be the anti-“that.”
What is your opinion of MMI’s program?
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the program. I guess it’s good for someone who has never worked on a bike in their life and wants to get a job at a dealership, working on all the new stuff. If you really want to get anything out of the program, you have to actively work at it and constantly ask questions to the instructors. The school itself is a for-profit entity, so they’re mainly concerned about the bottom line and maximizing profits. I’ve seen plenty of people pushed through the doors and given the certifications that have no business working on anything, much less something as inherently dangerous as a motorcycle.
Where did you get the name, Medusa Cycles?
As I mentioned before, I was going to school for Ancient Greek Philosophy, and along with that, I was deeply interested in Greek and Roman Mythology. I’ve always been a fan of bikes that looked like they just got dragged out of the junkyard, but were able to be ridden hard anywhere you wanted to go. I used to joke that, like Medusa, if you looked at my bike you would be turned to stone, hence the name Medusa Cycles!
I know you work on any make of bike, and “no job is too small”. What do you find yourself doing mostly at the shop: oil changes or custom builds…or somewhere in between it all?
Right now, service work is what keeps the doors open and the bills paid. Custom builds require a ton of time and really don’t pay all that well. Another contributing factor is the stigma that a “Jap Bike” is somehow inferior to a Harley. People think nothing of seeing a custom one-off big twin with a price tag of $20,000 these days, but a SOHC 750 with just as much fabrication, design, and creativity put into it, usually sells for $3000. I don’t see the trend drastically changing any time soon, but I guess it really doesn’t matter much. It’s actually a good thing, I suppose. It allows me to take on a custom build that I want to do, and work with the customer much more closely than I would be able to if everyone and their brother wanted to have one built!
Is your CB750 chop your daily scoot?
Unfortunately my bike, “Yer Mother”, isn’t a daily rider. I usually take my Jeep into work in case I need to pick up parts, metal, or shop supplies during the day. The bike stays at the shop, and is usually ready to go whenever I want to take a ride and blow off some steam.
“Yer Mother” is the bike you’ve taken on the Stampede the past few years isn’t it?
What’s your strategy or plan of action during the Stampede?
There’s not really too much strategy involved when I’m riding. I try to make my fuel stops as quickly as possible, usually in the 5 to 10 minute range, and try to stay in the saddle for as long as possible. The closer you get to the end of the race, the harder it is to stay in the saddle for 200+ miles. I suppose just having a piece of leather over a metal seat pan doesn’t help out the cause any either!
Most of the strategy and planning occur in the months leading up to the race. I usually try to plot out some different gear ratios so I can maximize fuel efficiency at a cruising speed of 80-90MPH. I also run an auxiliary fuel tank so I can maximize my time in the saddle.
Being a 3 year veteran of the Stampede, do you have any words of advice for someone comtemplating the run?
There’s really not a lot of advice you can give someone thinking about running the Stampede, just show up to the line and have fun with it. There’s no amount of preparation that you can do to prepare for the race, things happen out on the road that you would have never imagined, and if you can deal with it and keep moving along, you’ll do just fine. We’ve had guys who build bullet-proof motors that have blow up in the first 100 miles, guys who have blown up transmissions the day before the start of the race, managed to get it fixed and ended up placing in the top ten, and a bike was even disassembled after blowing up the motor, stuffed into the back of a Pontiac rental car and made it to the Smokeout! Overcoming adversity is the name of the game!
I was actually at the Smokeout that year and actually remember seeing that, haha.
You met SugarBear awhile back, tell us about your encounter with him.
I met Sugarbear at the Smokeout West in 2009. There were a couple of 750's sitting next to each other, and he came over to check them out. My buddy, Heroin, had a beautiful Amen Savior with a set of CycleEx dual carbs and their dual row chain set-up on it, and I think that was what brought Sugarbear over to us. We started talking about the bikes, and he seemed pretty stoked that I was running mine on the Stampede, and that Heroin had rode all the way from Washington to attend the SOW. He was pointing to Heroin's bike and telling us how he had helped Amen design the frame and set up the oil tank and such. He told us about how when he first started in the industry, the 750 was how a lot of guys were able to gain a foothold, and how he's always liked those bikes. He actually spent quite a while talking with us and telling us stories about how things used to be. He was probably one of the nicest guys that I have met, and I look forward to meeting him again someday.
What other bikes do you own?
I have “Yer Mother”, which is a 1970 CB750 with a Cycle Shack girder and an ARD Magneto, and I’m building my wife a 1971 CB750 in an All Souls drag frame. I also have a 1978 CM400A Hondamatic that resides in the back of the shop. I have a ton of motors, frames, and pieces around the shop, but I guess those would count as projects, not actual bikes.
What was your first bike?
My first real, legal street bike was a 1979 Honda CX500; I guess I’ve always been a sucker for Hondas!
Did you cut it up?
I didn’t chop up that one; I was going to college at the time and was using it as a commuter bike, so I really couldn’t afford to have it in pieces!
What was your first “chopper”?
As for the first chopper, I guess I’m not really sure. I had a 1998 Honda Shadow that I made the struts, exhaust, handlebars, painted it flat black, and did a few other things here and there with it, but I’m not really sure that I‘d call it a chopper, though. Hell, I don’t even call my 750 a “chopper”. I usually just tell people that it’s a Honda that has been “slightly modified!”
Tell us about your sandcasting endeavor.
The sandcasting has been a great learning experience for me. Before I started the castings, I tried to get my hands on anything that I could read about it so I could get a grasp on what I was planning on getting myself into. Once I had the foundry up and running, I quickly realized that you could read everything under the sun about casting, and it doesn't necessarily translate into doing the process. It really is an art form, and takes a TON of practice to become skilled at it. There are so many variables involved, it really boggles the mind, I've learned more than I have ever wanted to about different alloys of aluminum and compositions of sand! I'm steadily working at it, and every casting that I do is better than the last on, so I feel like I'm really headed in the right direction with it.
Right now I'm working on making plaster casts of parts that I have, pouring the wax into the molds and working on the "lost wax" casting process. This should allow me to make some more complex parts than I was able to make with placing the original part in the greensand molds. I'm also working on the "lost foam" casting process, where I take a piece of foam and cut the part I want out of the foam, place it in the mold, and pour the molten metal into the mold. This will give me a little more creativity over a couple of parts that I have been working on.
Currently, I'm working on finned covers for the SOHCs, and setting up the housings for magnetos for the SOHC. I've also been working on some footpegs and Panhead rocker covers. Once I become a little more proficient in the aluminum casting, I'm going to be able to move onto brass and bronze castings, which will be able to open up a whole new realm of parts, from belt buckles to tattoo guns!
What influences you, both as an individual and as a bike shop owner/builder?
Good question, I guess I’m not really sure what influences me as an individual. I’m driven by my family to do the best that I can, and be the best that I can, but I guess that’s less of an influence and more of a motivation. The same could be said for the business, I’m not really influenced by anyone, but I’m motivated by my customers to keep them on the road, at an affordable price.
As a builder, I definitely have some influences! I’ve always loved the long, low bikes of the 60’s and 70’s. The lines just seemed to flow well and give a sense of speed. It looked like the bike was going 100mph when it was standing still! I built “Yer Mother” along those same lines, and came to realize that not only do those bikes look amazing, they handle really well! I’ve been on a bunch of “choppers” that were colossal pains in the ass to take around the block, let alone taking it across country! I try to make all the bikes that I build not only have a distinct look to them; I want them to be able to handle the rigors of constant riding under harsh conditions, and make their owner enjoy riding them even after a 1000 mile day!
What are some of your interests outside of motorcycles?
I’m a bit of a nerd, so I still like to read philosophy when I have a chance. I just finished up Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, for the umpteenth time. I like reading about motorcycle and chopper history, watching some of the shows on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, or the Learning Channel. I’m also a huge NFL fan and usually try to catch as many games as I can, either in person, or on TV.
Do you find it hard to juggle family life, social life and the business/shop?
Absolutely, between the shop and spending time with my family, my social life is virtually non-existent! It’s not that bad really, I’m not much of a people person! I do have a couple of events that I try to get to every year, the Stampede, the Slab City Riot in California, and the Choppertown Camparound in Phoenix. When we can find a baby sitter for the weekend, Janell and I gone to the So-Cal Cycle Swap Meet in Long Beach, CA, and have been to a few different places around AZ to hang out with some friends. Fortunately, Arizona is pretty close to a lot of things that are going on all the time, so when we do manage to find a weekend that we can split, we can always find something going on in AZ or CA!
What kind of tunes are playing in the shop?
My musical tastes are pretty wide ranging. When I put the IPod on, you’ll probably hear stuff from Slayer, Panterra, Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, Megadeth, Social D, all the way to Grand Master Flash, P-Funk, and the Sugar Hill Gang! Right now I’ve been kind of playing a lot more psychobilly stuff lately. I hadn’t listened to it much before, but at the Smokeout East, I saw a group named Rebel Son, and now I’m trying to load up some more stuff along those lines!
Are you working on any current projects?
Right now I’m working on a 1946 Harley WL for next years Stampede bike. I’m trying to keep the build under $2000, just to show that it can be done, and I decided to run the flathead 45” because everyone that I mentioned it to, told me I was nuts, and it wasn’t possible! I’m putting it together piece by piece, starting with a set of empty cases that a good friend of mine gave to me, since he wasn’t going to be doing anything with them in the foreseeable future. I keep gathering a larger and larger pile of this and that, and hopefully I’ll have everything together and running smoothly when the Stampede rolls around next year!
Your wife, Janell used to put out a magazine called "the Chop" that was changing to a yearly book format. From what I could tell the magazine was well received. Is the book format still a plan of action?
The Chop was a really well received publication, and she had support from a lot of great people. Unfortunately, Janell’s schedule is even more filled than mine! She works full time, we have a 3 year old little girl, and she’s very active in her church and community. She started a project at her church making dresses for little girls in Uganda! She realized that she wasn’t able to devote as much attention to The Chop as it deserved. Rather than put out a substandard product, she decided to rethink the whole thing and perhaps develop it into a yearly book. Right now plans for that are still up in the air, and I’m sure that she would love to restart the project, it’s just a matter of getting to a point where she can give it the attention that it deserves, while not feeling like she’s neglecting her family or one of her other projects.
What is your opinion of the motorcycle tech/social networking sites like Chop Cult, Honda Chopper, Jockey Journal, etc.?
I’ve been on a couple of those sites, and they seem like good places to go and get some information if you need it, and talk to other people who are into the same stuff that you’re into. As with any information on the internet, you really have to take your time to sift through a lot of misinformation to find the answer that you’re looking for. I’ve seen a couple of posts from self-appointed “experts” that were either misleading or flat out wrong when it came to performing certain services or modifications to a bike. This can lead to a deadly situation for those who take that information as gospel truth.
Does Medusa Cycles benefit from these types of sites at all?
Or does it cause more of a hinderance in any way?
I’ve had a couple of customers come to me and say they heard about me from guys on Hondachopper.com, Chop Cult and other message boards, so it definitely does benefit me. I’m really not able to frequent the boards that much, so it’s kind of hard to self-promote there, but I’ve never really been a big self-promote guy. I actually find it more rewarding that another guy was so pleased with my work that he has gone out of his way to recommend me to another, especially on such a wide-reaching medium as a message board.
There is a certain punk rock/skateboarder/so cal influence that is portrayed in the print mags like Cycle Source and Street Chopper, as well as on a few of the above mentioned forums. What is your opinion on that style or scene?
I’ve never really given much thought to the different “scenes” that are around bikes, if a bike is able to draw my attention, it really doesn’t matter what the guy who built it is wearing or if he rides a skateboard. These types of fads come and go, and it doesn’t take too long to weed out the guys just going for the look and the guys who actually live it. Some of my friends ride skateboards, I don’t know why, that shit is dangerous! Of course, they say I’m not all that bright because I’m only running a rear drum brake on a 9’ chopper, so I guess we’re even!
The skater/punk image is hot now, and it’s helping to sell magazines and bring bikes to the attention of people who might otherwise pass them by. That’s ok with me, whatever helps to grow the industry, but you’re not going to find me wearing a pair of Vans and a flat-billed trucker hat anytime soon! Hell, hopefully the dirty, bearded biker fad starts to come into vogue, then I can finally be one of the cool guys!
What does the future hold for Medusa Cycles?
Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to grow the business and maybe even hire an employee or two! I’ve got a couple of projects in the works after the WL Stampede bike is wrapped up, and we’re working on developing our own line of parts. As mentioned, we’ve recently built a small foundry, so we’re trying to do a little sand casting of aluminum, brass and bronze parts.
Thanks for your time Mike.
Thanks for your interest.
Contact Mike at Medusa Cycles
9750 E. Apache Trail Suite C
Mesa, AZ 85207
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