CC Double Feature: Inside RSD/Roland Sands 21: Interview


When I read his words several years ago, one admission on Roland Sands' old website told me everything I needed to know about this young master builder and '98 250GP champ. According to his bio, the one-time heir to the Performance Machine dynasty went to high school with Cameron Diaz. I happen to love motorcycle racing and high-dollar trim, so I've been a fan of the man since his star turn against Arlen Ness on Biker Build-Off. I can't remember whose machine won that made-for-TV docudrama, but I'd like to think it was the red-headed racer from Long Beach.

After building a name for himself on AMA podiums from coast to coast, Roland hung up his leathers in 2002 and focused his talents on the R&D department at PM in Cypress, California. Roland's custom bikes looked nothing like the iron pterodactyls coming out of OCC and other shops of the day. These speed machines featured high lean angles, aggressive steering geometry and slippery ergonomics. Ducatis and V-Stars make strange donor bikes, but Roland makes them work.

When a sport-bike magazine ran the cover line "Choppers are Dead" in association with an article on one of Roland's TV show bikes, The Horse magazine used the opportunity to take cheap shots at someone they considered a soft target. Roland explains:

"The Horse gave me two pages of hate slaying me for a bunch of (shit). My comment was aimed at the Iron Horses and OCC's of the scene. What most people had come to know as a 'chopper' had been hijacked by TV producers who quickly ass-fucked the cool right out it. To me a true chopper is something that's been stripped, made lightweight and built up by your own hands. It's not a bike you bought out of a catalog, nor is it something with a long front fork and a 300 rear tire that's covered with as many skulls and spiderwebs as you can throw at."

Roland's comment my have been taken out of context, but true motorcycle enthusiasts heard the man loud and clear. So too did a good number of Hollywood action heroes and at least one Middle Eastern prince. At any given time, there's at least one project at RSD getting the six-figure facelift from Roland's scalpel. On our visit, Sands and company were fabricating bodywork and installing a custom turbo on a 2012 V-Rod, because Harley's Porsche-powered street dragster just isn't fast enough. Tucked away in another work station was Mickey Rourke's Twin Cam project in gleaming gold and black ano.



Glamorous though it may seem, celebrity bike building isn't the cash cow many people think. Roland understands this, and that's why RSD has diversified into product design and consultation for the motorcycle industry at large. "I don’t consider myself to be a celebrity bike builder. Some of our company's biggest advocates have been the OEM's. We’ve worked with Yamaha, Triumph, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Aprilia, KTM, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Victory, Toyota and a few others. There’s also a large list of product manufacturers whom we've teamed up with, including Dunlop, PM, Vance and Hines, Spy, Bell and others." Motorcycle-industry leviathan MAG Group licenses the RSD name and commissions RSD to design products for a variety of manufacturers within their portfolio.

Early last year Roland's eponymous design studio hosted its grand opening in Los Alamitos, California. The RSD musuem, performance apparel boutique, design center and fab shop is Roland's crown jewel, and one that features his artistic touch everywhere you look. Inside you'll find everything: RSD apparel; vintage and high-tech motorcycle engines; a revolving showcase of bikes for friends, customers and vendors; lavish work spaces; and of course a vast array of Roland's personal street bikes and vintage motocross machines.

Haters may be quick to deride RSD as little more than the well-decorated tree fort of a poor little rich kid. How those people choose to express their jealousy is a personal matter. When Bill and I visited RSD on a workday, Roland dropped everything to shoot the shit for over an hour. You don't have to like turbocharged V-Rods, Cameron Diaz or Mickey Rourke to recognize Sands' talent, but you have to respect anyone who pours as much blood, sweat and treasure into a young business as Roland does.


21 Questions with Roland Sands

Name: Roland Wayne Sands 

Age: 35 if I round down

Business name: Roland Sands Design

Town: Born and raised in Long Beach, CA. My shop is in Los Alamitos

Coworkers: my sister Summer: products; Rodney: design and fab; Aaron: fab; Cameron: development; Kristina: store; Roger: general manager and apparel design; Ted: apparel development; Joe: film and graphics; Andy is our woodsman/music guy and Karl’s the artist

Riding buddies: Bell, Bondo, Rodney, Cam, Schmity, Cernicky, Hoover and my Dad. I tend to ride MX more then I ride on the street these days. Fewer cops

First time on two wheels: My dad says he rode me home from the hospital on a Harley, but I think he's full of shit. First time riding myself I was four on a Honda 70

First hand-built motorcycle: Ground up where I built everything was Whiskey Tango—an Evo with a neat Kosman frame. I finished it the same event I retired from racing: Laguna Seca, 2002. I finished second in the national and hung up my sliders and started building more bikes. Before that I did a pretty radical sporty flat track/road racer in ‘96 with an upside-down fork and 17-inch road race wheels. Andy (RIP) from HES did the heads. It was a really fun bike and it hauled ass. I sold it a few years later so I could buy a new TZ to go racing

Earliest two-wheeled adventure: Riding on my dad’s gas tank when I was like two. He used to take me for rides on his Moto bike at Canyon Lake. It wasn't too long before I was smashing his chin with my helmet, that's when he got me my own bike. I still remember him looping out with me on the bike. My first real ride on my own was at Saddleback Ranch. I ran into a telephone poll and I broke my arm. I was five

Most recent two-wheeled adventure: We just did a pretty cool little film project where we did some flat tracking at an oilfield in Long Beach. Riding side by side completely sideways on Harleys with your friends is pretty amazing. Before that Bell, Bond and I took a few friends who’ve never ridden before out to the desert. It was very cool to see three first-timers so stoked

Current stable of bikes and projects: I have a pretty stocked stable. Most recently I picked up some great old MX bikes: a ‘73 250 Husky in really nice shape and a ‘74 Honda Elsinore. I also got a ‘73 Montesa trials bike for 600 bucks that may turn into a project. We’re finishing up a 200-hp turbo V-Rod and we may be doing another Desmo tracker out of a wreck. I also have a crashed 999R that's ready for a new life. Sporty bodywork racer is being finished up as well. We stay busy

Tool I wish I had but don't: A good planishing hammer. A CNC mill would be nice, too

Tool I have but wish I didn't: A shitty loud air hammer you can hear from three blocks away

Heaven on Earth: Wheelies on the beach in Mexico, fast smooth roads with lots of corners and no cars or police, cold beer (I'm not brand specific) and my beautiful woman who has just prepared spinach lasagna even though she hates cheese

Proudest moment: Winning an AMA 250 GP championship and retiring with all my fingers and toes

Darkest secret: I need to have a few in me before I get into that

Deepest fear: Running out of ideas

Biggest regret: Can't think of one

Reason for being: Taking ideas from concept to reality is what gets me up every day. The creative process, working with a group of people, struggling, fighting, and coming up with a solution. It's all part of the game and it keeps things exciting. That and scaring the shit out of myself on a motorcycle or more recently a snowmobile. It's like snowboarding with a motor

If I lost my right arm: I'd use my left. I think it's called the stranger.

Thanks: My parents who gave me a rock-solid foundation and my crew at the shop who continue to do amazing work and make me look good while I'm fucking off


Roland Sands Design

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Comment with Chopcult (27)

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 07:58 am

Nice write up. Cool pics. Great talent. I like.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 08:02 am

As an avid horse reader (one that has def noticed the large amount of cool cafe racer's gracing the pages these days) I certainly do not share there hatred of Mr. sands. I think roland seems like a cool guy and any friend of Johnny Chop is ok by me. Roland's knowledge of racing would also lend for a fast and rideable bike my point if I ever had one to begin with is if I was Mickey Rourke I would have him build me a bike as well. Alos that indian motor is tits:)

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 08:33 am

If I was going to pay someone to build me a bike it would be him. I wish his bars did not cost that much damm.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 10:15 am

Truly one of the greatest design talents in motorcycling. I have tons of respect for this man and his crew.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 10:39 am

dude is legendary

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 10:49 am

The shop looks like a boutique..but real work gets done one real motorcycles.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 11:14 am

Much respect to RS for his accomplishments in racing as well as building a thriving business. Remember, he has built his entire business at RSD while the economy has steadily declined yet he found a way to produce and market innovative products while everyone else was closing their doors. He has always been ahead of the curve in his design work and deserves respect for his talent, regardless of whether you would buy his parts, in my opinion. Carry on, Roland.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 11:48 am

if your not a fan of Roland, then my opinion is that you don't like bikes you can actually ride and ride fast!
Roland is a ruler!

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 12:13 pm

guy has some awesome products. just too damn expensive.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 02:24 pm

RSD is good people, much respect.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 07:38 pm

I really like his designs, but I don't buy anything that has somebody's else name. If you want me to advertise for you give to me for free. I don't even keek the license plate frames they put on cars at the dealership. That's why I prefer Joker Machine. You decide.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 07:38 pm

I really like his designs, but I don't buy anything that has somebody's else name. If you want me to advertise for you give to me for free. I don't even keek the license plate frames they put on cars at the dealership. That's why I prefer Joker Machine. You decide.

Commented on 2-24-2012 At 08:12 pm

Love your commitment to stoicism and aversion to commerciality and branding, Loco. Thanks too for telling us what you prefer... twice. Did you grind Soichiro's surname off your Gold Wing?

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 01:39 am

Wait, even this dude is rocking long hair and a 'stache now? What next, a period correct bike?


Commented on 2-25-2012 At 01:41 am

And who the hell who would put an RSD sticker on a Desmosedici?

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 05:24 am

He built a custom Desmo for some crazy client. Thing was awesome. I think his stuff is a bit overpriced, however he does have some serious talent. His designs have a certain... something.


Commented on 2-25-2012 At 07:14 am

RSD has great products but will cost you! I gotta say, The guy builds some rad shit. Respect!

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 12:26 pm

He has a great approach to bike building and has great talent. His stuff is not priced for budget guys but his stuff is pretty cool.

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 12:49 pm

You have to respect a tallent that can be turned into product, Is'nt that what we all dream of, making a living from what we love to do? Thats sucess. Hes lucky to have the $$ & connections to produce his visions into reality. I dont know about most people but I wish I did.

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 05:16 pm

Top notch fabricator and builder. I love his work!!

Commented on 2-25-2012 At 07:33 pm

gotta agree with loco everything he builds has his name all over it(and a high price)! props for his racing career-dude can ride! with that being said I gotta say it must be nice to be born with that silver spoon in your mouth.If my father owned a huge successful shop like his id be well known for building cool shit too! its not real hard when you got millions of dollars and any fabrication machine you could possibly need. I'll stick to building my own shit in the garage or buying it from the dude thats had a 9 to 5 job all his life trying to make a living and not riding someone elses coattails. Its funny he said a chopper is not built out of a catalog yet flip through J&P and its full of his shit. gotta go with the horse on this one-!!

Commented on 2-26-2012 At 12:28 pm

People charge what they do for one reason: 'cause they can get it.
That said, I like to run a front brake, but hate those bulky stock H.D. master cylinders. I've lusted for one of those P.M. Low profile master cylinders ( a matching set of P.M. calipers would be cool too.) But, no f#@kin' way I'm spending $800.00 for brakes on a front end (with wheel and tire) that cost $250.00 at a swap meet.

When I hit the lottery I'll be giving Roland a call.

Commented on 2-26-2012 At 01:13 pm

good write up! as always i really appreciate you guys mixin it up with who you interview. very refreshing!

Commented on 2-28-2012 At 08:34 am

Roland RULES....fuck all the haters. His bikes are built to ride the shit out of many builders jump and slide their chops on MX tracks like Roland does?? Besides, I started out on a Honda 70 aswell. AND...VMX rules, if I ever get a real job I might be able to build my '74 400 CZ...FTW,Shooter

Commented on 2-28-2012 At 09:00 am

I just read the rest of the comments....I grew up with JimmieD and he's pretty well off month he's riding thru Poland, Austria,etc. and the next month he's in Moab...what's my point?? He grew up with his dad's business but he bought him out and built a multi-million dollar business out of it. Many people with money have worked their asses off to get where they are today, FUCK ALL YOU WHINERS!!!

Commented on 3-7-2012 At 11:06 pm

much respect to roland, he is an inspiration

Commented on 5-2-2012 At 01:58 am

all i have to say you can have all the cash in the world and still can't buy talent he's got it thats for sure

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