A lone figure and his faithful K9 arrive at his garage, in the morning before dawn around 4:30 am. His brain has already been churning and turning the possible ideas that will take a raw sheet of aluminum and hand shape it into a graceful, strong fender. The hammer weighs heavy but is soon forgotten as the at piece is methodically beaten into shape. His dog walks up, wagging its tail, ready to help anyway a faithful old friend can. He looks down at the furry fellow and smiles.
The aluminum heats up as it is run between the heavy rollers of an English wheel. The sun is barely coming up in hues of red and orange. Such a beautiful sight can be distracting, so the craftsman decides to take a coffee break with Buddy, his dog. Reflecting on the past while the “lights of day” begin to turn on, he leans down to Buddy and gives him a pat on his head. Buddy suddenly looks up in the direction of some muffled, excited voices, as someone is arguing with another in the street behind the back gate of the building. He looks out the rear open garage door and shrugs it off to some drunks still up from the night before. The lone figure goes back to work on the new, fantastic metallic creation. He is very content to be in THAT moment, the act of making... creating... perfecting! The crisp, refreshing, spring air rolls through the large, open door, but is short lived as the NEW sun is beginning to heat up the day.
Everything that has happened in Bill Dodge’s career has been a stepping stone to Daytona. Beginning in Compton, Ca was not an easy for a fella who NOW resembles an infamous gunslinger from the Wild West, rather than a krazy kid who walked the same streets as EasyE and NWA. What could draw an inner city youth from the wrong side of the tracks to become one of the best motorcycle builders in the world? We caught up with Bill and asked him the HARD questions about how he works, who he is, and what he thinks about life and motorcycles...
Spacey: What is your typical day?
Bill: Hours wise you mean? About 3 to 4 in the morning till about 8 or 9 at night.
S: Coffee while you work?
B: Coffee all day while I work. I come in early; Buddy and I spend some time chilling and have a cup of coffee. I then generally forget what time it is and I start hammering and making noise right away.
S: Do you shut the phone off?
B: I don’t shut it off, I just check it every once in a while. I can’t hear it anyways, I make too much of a noisy racket.
S: Do you stay away from social media?
B: Yes, I stay away from that stuff. My wife does a little Facebooking and some of my friends are trying to get me to do Instagram... but I don’t want all the opinions as much.
S: What places have you set up shop since you have moved from California?
B: New Jersey then Kentucky then here!
S: Why did you get out of the north?
B: I got tired of being cold, that is my best answer.
S: Growing up in Compton, did you every run upon any crazy gangland gun battles?
B: Oh yes, one time, we were at the bowling alley screwing around, a bunch of Asian kids called “the Ninjas” came in and shot the place up. I was like “holy crap!. That was more like in Long Beach. I was there through the riots as well; it was a crazy, crazy time.
S: Tell us about your parents and siblings
B: My father will be 80 this August and STILL rides motorcycles. My mother is just awesome. She comes to visit me all the time, she still lives in Linwood. She loves motorcycles. I have a step brother in Ventura who rides. My blood brother Shawn, died about 7 years ago. He was a great fella. His memory is a big inspiration to my bike building. I don’t know if you remember the Model 71 Bike I built for S&S? It was for him, he was born in 71. Everything I do that is 71 has a little of my brother in it. One of my best friends, Jim Root has a 71 build. Jim plays guitar and writes music with the band, Slipnot. My brother, Shawn loved road racing, so any kind of racing stuff I do has a little of him in it. He is here quite a bit with me.
S: You got to carry people you love with you every day that has passed on, even if it hurts some, that is how you keep them alive...
B: I sit here at night and look at the motorcycles I am building, and he is over my shoulder, just hanging out with me. I built another bike for another friend of mine, John Green, who also passed- he was here in spirit on that one... they both were here. God is a big influence on my life, so it makes it easy for me to connect with someone who has passed away, not to be upset, but to use it more as a positive driver inside me...
S: Where you ever into BMX ?
B: ALOT when I was a kid,not professionally, but I love them... street bikes and BMX both have an influence in the motorcycles I build.
S: I ask because I see alot of BMX freestyle influence in some of the bikes around your garage.
B: One of the first bikes I came out with that people noticed, was the Shovelhead I did that was brown and light blue. It had a dirt bike style frame. It was a nod to S.E.Racing.
S: OH YEAH, man I had one of those bikes, S.E. turned into CW Racing!
B: How about the red and black bike we were looking at earlier you liked? Check out the wheels... Skyway Tuff 2 mag replicas. They were strong and rugged back then, so I made them into modern day aluminum motorcycle rims as a tribute to such great wheels.
S: When did you make the jump into riding motorcycles and tell me about the people who were early influences?
B: Probably the early 90s, actually, 91 was my first visit to Sturgis. I rode a rigid that was painted by Larry Watson. My dad loved motorcycles, and passed it to me. Dad never made it to Sturgis, but he was one of those guys that would ride anywhere. He rode to Arizona from Long Beach on a strutted Sportster with his pals who all were on big twins. He showed me that it did not matter what I build, if I build it right, I can ride it anywhere.
Indian Larry was a great friend and influence later in life. He showed me that it did not matter if what I thought was the right way to anyone else, it just means they did not like what I liked. I have also looked to early Arlen Ness and early Dave Perewitz... those guys paved the way for us to go screw around and do whatever we want to new motorcycle designs.
S: Will you tell us a little more about your friendship with Indian Larry?
B: I first met him on a TV show with Jesse; we were on the cross country ride to Sturgis. Jesse’s bike broke down and the situation was tense and bleak. I rode into town and rounded up tools. I heli-coiled Jesse’s heads back together on the motor on the side of the road. It was a very hard situation. Larry was there with me the entire time. Somehow, we became the best of friends; he was like a dad to me. We just got along like that. He looked out for me on that trip and after that.
Larry told me, if I ever stopped working for Jesse, get to the east coast, where people will care more about what I was doing. He said, “You make things on your own.” Little things like covering a shitty tattoo, “Heck no don’t cover it... it is a piece of your life!” When he got hurt, Jesse and I were guests at a show in Alexandria, LA. I ended up driving the truck back to California, the next day. I was in shock, it was a hard trip, my friend and mentor was gone. He went out at the top of his game. I want to go that way.
S: What kind of education have you had that has made you into the Bill Dodge of today?
B: Oh to Become Who I am? Plenty of education, but it is all street education. Being a hang around with the right people. My father’s friends who were bike people, handmade people. Later in life, I met Jesse and others like him. Now don’t get me wrong, people say a lot of things about Jesse, but he probably taught me more than anyone. Good stuff and bad stuff. Again, it’s like Larry said, “it does not matter what anyone else says, it is what YOU want to do.” And that is one of the things I learned from Jesse, he did not tell me to do that, I just learned it by life lesson.
In the last ten years, I have really dived into the soul of the motorcycle. Making things by hand instead of buying them, taking old junk parts to be made into new stuff. This has evolved in me like crazy and I do not think I can do anything else. I just want to make things. I make lamps, I made a bar for a friend, Christmas ornaments, all out of steel or reclaimed parts. I will spend several days making an ornament out of raw aluminum, whereas you can just go buy one for $5, but it will never be as cool, that’s for sure.
S: It is really interesting you say that, a lot of people think that top builders like yourself sit around building $80K motorcycles, but you really just love being a craftsman...
B: No, it is not just for the money. I had a fella during bike week come in here and offer me $100K for the Blue Pan, even though it was promised to another. I was offended! Don’t get me wrong, we can ALL use a hundred grand, but to tell my friend that I made the bike for that I could not give it to him and instead, give it to the guy with the big money. Well, it is just NOT gonna happen.
If I made a 100K motorcycle, my customers who love me and want me to build them bikes would be afraid to call me. They would think that is how much I cost! I build bikes from $3000 to $4000 fixups, on up. The sky CAN be the limit, but it is not always that way. Some of my work IS expensive but it is because of the parts and the amount of time I put into them. I spend 6 to 8 weeks on a gas tank. Just because you buy an old Panhead does not mean you may not have 10Gs in the motor before you are done.
S: Which do you favor more, steel sheet metal or aluminum?
B: Steel is really cool, but at this point in my life, I am in love with aluminum. I am having so much fun with it. I love the way stainless looks, I love the way steel works, but right now I like aluminum the best.
A couple of times when I have moved, I have had to make do because I did not have all of my equipment there yet, the mill or the lathe, or other missing tools. Sometimes it becomes the best bike you ever did at that point, just doing it by hand with alternate methods. I have made a lot of gas tanks, but not a lot of aluminum gas tanks, always from scratch.
S: Did you use a buck?
B: I made a buck out of a Sportster tank. I cut it down the center and took a couple of inches out and welded it up with no bottom in it. I filled it full of rocks and bondo. I hammered out the aluminum tank around it, and you know what? All of the stuff I learned from Jesse, I did not use there... I used my hammer and a tiny bit of English wheel and it came out pretty good!
S: What about frames and frame alterations on other parts you offer?
B: I make several different parts that are all available on my website: risers, triple trees, custom stuff. I do frame modi cations and prototypes here in my garage. Chassis Designs out of California make all of my frames. I love doing modi cations. I do a lot of hard tails that I make myself from scratch. I sell hard tails, I don’t get to do them as much as I want. I could just make frames and be fine, but I would not have time to do the other work I do, such as building and designing motorcycles... so I chose the lesser of two evils.
I offer several different frames, the first is the “chopper killer” any rake, any stretch, any tire size. Then there is the Randy Jr. which is smaller diameter tubing. I only allow it to go up to a 150 tire size. I don’t want it to be a silly thing with a big wide tire. We modify our frames a lot for different, custom configurations; take a Randy Jr. and put early dropouts on it for a drum brake and an adjustable 4 speed tranny plate. Maybe one of my Ripple style necks. Replace the straight legs with a wishbone style and you have a new different style frame! I actually have a swing arm version and a special order Sportster frame that my good friend, Paul Wideman of Bare Knuckle Choppers makes for me.
S: Bill, thank you for opening up yourself and your garage to me and our readers. We appreciate the insight, the wisdom, and the hospitality!
B: You are very welcome, thank you for coming to my garage and please come back anytime...
Written by: SPaceY
Pictures by: Kristal Blue