Recent success stories about independent motorcycle repair shops are hard to come by. Many a small shop has fallen victim to a flailing economy, fickle customers, over-regulation and increased competition. One shop we've enjoyed watching rise to the top in these hard times is Classic Cycles Inc. of Orange, California.
Tony and Andy Dunn are the father-and-son owners of Classic Cycles, and since teaming up to repair vintage motorcycles in 2007 they haven't looked back. The quality of bikes on the floor and on the lifts in their tidy shop on any given day are testimony to the dynamic duo's attention to detail, years of combined experience and dedication to customer satisfaction.
This installment of "Inside" takes you behind the scenes with Andy and Tony and the entire Classic Cycles crew.
Who is Classic Cycles Inc? Tony and Andy Dunn, and Ryan 'Norton" Mullion, with help from the Legendary "Flat track" Bob and "Bad news" Tim
So what happens at your shop? Do you build complete bikes for strangers, tune and service for friends, work strictly on your own stuff or is it really just a tree fort for grown men? We specialize in service, tuning, engine and transmission rebuilds, frame/wheel building and repair, and occasionaly a full build or two. We stick mostly to the vintage british bikes, but we dabble in vintage Japanese and European bikes, too
How long ago did it start? What did Classic Cycles evolve from and into? I think Tony started building bikes when they still had square wheels! Seriously, this was a hobbie for my dad and me for a long time. I jumped into it around my late teens and when I moved out, we had a pretty good business out of our personal garages. I had a two-car garage that was pretty much staked all the time. I actually made enough money to pay my rent every month from that! My dad also had a garage and a side yard that was full of Triumphs and Hondas. There was always someone over there, bench racing, bullshitting, and tuning a bike
Since I was doing pretty good and we were starting to pick up a decent reputation, we decided we would get a shop and combine the two houses and have a better place to work. In 2007 we officially opened up our doors and named it Classic Cycles Inc. About a year later, my dad was pushed into "forced retirement" and we started evolving from a hobby to a real shop. We are now well on our way to becoming a full-blown service/repair and custom shop, with more employees, more lifts, and more tools. With a full house of usually 20 to 30 bikes we still strive to keep to a one-week turnaround for the "rider" repairs and hot jobs
How many hours in a typical week do you spend in your shop? Tony and Ryan are pretty much here 6 or 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. I try to spend 3 hours at night and two full shifts on weekends. I still personally work another full-time job. The rest of the help comes in throughout the week. Saturday is always our busiest day
We get busier every day, so naturally everyone has to spend more time in the shop. When we're not here, we're usually at a show, picking up a bike. Believe it or not, sometimes we actually get to go out on a ride!
The Dunns and Co. have probably spun a wrench on half the old British iron in Southern California. Once in a while, Andy gets a chance to work on his personal bike
What do you see happening in this space in five years? More of the same, or something completely different? I see more of the same happening in five years, except much bigger. I want to be doing some retail, get a bigger warehouse, and hire some more employees. We want to branch out into vintage Japanese and European including BMW's to make Classic Cycles more of an all-around shop. When you get right down to it, we want to service everything vintage, except Harleys of course!
You can tell a lot about a mechanic by how he organizes his tools and work area. Andy's engine area is a primo example
Does the workflow break down into different areas, like clean, fabrication and assembly, or is each machanic's work space defined? We have a motor/trans building area that houses six motors at a time and nothing else is really allowed over there. This is where we keep our clean work. The service lifts on one side are where we do our engine-in-bike service and tuning. The other side houses a couple of lifts usually reserved for full builds and fab work. They are in the dirty area, with the welders/grinders and machinery. We also have a pretty good storage area in front for bikes, so we always have room to take a bike in
Any rituals or hard/fast rules for your shop like cleaning every night before shutting down, never work with music, no booze, lots of booze, etc? Naw, we have Ryan's brother come in and clean on Saturdays for us, but other than that we try to keep a tidy shop 24/7. Shit talking is pretty much a ritual around here, so if you've got thin skin don't even bother trying to hang around here! I'm kidding. Everyone's cool with people and each other
Who else would we find in your shop on a typical Friday or Saturday night? You'll usually find us here on a weekend night, maybe with a couple of friends having a beer. That's about the only time we can work on our own stuff, or catch up on anything we are doing for a friend. We get the standard ramblers and neighbors that will come over at night, too. If someone is here late on a Tuesday, it's my dad or Ryan. They are known to close up and get some serious late-night work done
What do the neighbors think? We are luckily in a great stretch of shops. With a paint shop, two hot rod shops and two Harley shops, who's going to complain? Seriously though, everyone gets along well and hangs out in each other's shops all the time. There is a good amount of work getting passed between the shops, too
What's each guy's favorite kind of work?
Tony: Probably tuning/electronics and some fab work
Ryan: Norton repair and Triumph engine repair; fab and welding
Andy: I like engine bulds the best, but I am also a fan of the ass-kicking service problems
"Flat track" Bob: Triumph race motors
When was the last time you saw work orders hanging off the bars in a shop that specializes in vintage bikes?
There has to be something you don't like about your shop, what is it? We outgrew our space way too fast. Also, the bathroom smells
Just a bit of the upstairs stash
What's your favorite thing about your shop? The upstairs loft and closet. If we didn't have that, the floor area would look like crap with parts and dead storage bikes taking up valuable room
Any tips for a novice just starting out working on his own machine in a small space? Stay clean and organized. It's never good to buy parts twice or not have any room to break something down and leave it. That way you don't have to move your stuff every day and forget where you were. Also, buy some manuals. The factories didn't just write that stuff for fun
What would you tell a seasoned builder if he asked for advice on setting up a small shop? Try to get a client base first. That way you'll have something to work on and pay the rent when you first open up. Also, remember that warranties are your best friend and your worst enemy. Everyone screws up, it's how you deal with it that keeps customer's coming back
Classic Cycles ChopCult profile