Palm Avenue is eerily quiet. Though the curbs of Alhambra's industrial section are lined with cars, the sidewalks are often empty, and the building fronts are unassuming, as if trying not to draw attention to themselves. It's easy to miss LA Speed Shop, which specializes in building and customizing vintage Harley Davidson motors. Owner Chris Richardson has won prizes in bike shows and been on the covers of auto magazines like Easy Riders and Iron Horse. He spoke with The Alhambra Source about what has inspired him and about the growing popularity of bike customization.
Why own a motorcycle shop in Alhambra?
I was in East LA, and I wanted to downsize. I was doing custom cars also — I've been doing custom cars for over 20 years, as in rebuilding the motors, chopping the ropes, doing body modification, things like that. And then I just got overwhelmed, and bikes were taking off for me, so I went into bikes.
When you say "customizing," do you mean taking an old bike and turning it into something else? Or do you start from scratch?
I do both. I'll find all the parts for the customer, or I'll just take their bike and modify it into something else — custom gas tanks, custom frames, custom oil tanks. I also do fenders and hubs. I'll machine those, modify them. Anything goes. I'm really well known for my springer front-ends, too.
It sounds like you've had some big names in your list of clients. Who are some of them?
Right now, the biggest name is Troy Duffy, who wrote and produced The Boondock Saints. Joris Jarsky, he acted in the second Boondock Saints movie. His bike is here.
You said on your website that your dad inspired you to do all this.
Yeah. My dad used to do all the motor stuff. He had hot rods and things like that. My grandfather used to fabricate things, he used to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad for a long time. So I picked it up a little bit here, and a little bit there, the old traditional ways of making things and hammering them out.
In the last several years, the popularity of customizing cars and bikes seems to have taken off because of TV. Have you seen a spike in your business because of that?
It kinda did, about maybe three years ago. But it died out, because people were holding onto their money after the recession. People are starting to let loose a little bit more now. You tried to aim yourself with a client who is able to afford it. You work with them on deals. It's kind of jumping up higher now. These smaller bikes are coming into play now, where people are bolting things together themselves. But then they don't realize what they're getting themselves into, so they bring it to me afterwards.
So they just bring it in and you'll see what they need?
Yeah. I'll do anything. They say they want polka-dots, and I'll say "How big?"
Interview was edited and condensed.