Biltwell. A name that, in this community, needs no introduction. You or someone you know has a set of bars, grips, a helmet, t-shirt, etc... And for good reason. They are a bunch of guys and girls that really care about what they do. Nothing is an afterthought or half-assed. Nothing but quality and service all around. It's super easy to back people like that. Bill was nice enough to take some time and tell us a little more about Biltwell and Chop Cult last week. Hope you enjoy!
When was Biltwell/Chop Cult born?
My friend and business partner Harold "McGoo" McGruther and I came up with the name, logo, business plan and first few product designs over email while I was deployed in Iraq in 2004. I got back in spring of 2005 and the brand was launched in 2006. Chop Cult was launched in August of 2009.
I was also under the impression that Biltwell is a family business. Is that true?
Well, kinda. We've all been working together so long it feels like family. My wife processes all online consumer direct sales and helps out with customer service and my son works part time in the warehouse doing assembly, packaging and odd jobs. My teenage daughter is my personal social media consultant. McGoo's dog Willis is here every day that his owner is, so between kids and dogs running around it is a bit of a zoo around here.
Biltwell has had a significant impact on the motorcycle community. How has your life changed since all of this happened?
I don't know how much of an impact we've had on anything, so I wouldn't overstate that claim. The thing that has changed for me personally is the amount of really good people I can count on as friends. I've met some of the most creative, generous and sincere people through our two wheeled adventures that I couldn't possibly have met any other way. I've always had a very small but religiously tight group of friends and family but that network has expanded and I'm really grateful for that.
You can do a lot with a bike out of the Biltwell catalog. What's next in the line of Biltwell products?
We've got a few goodies in the pipeline; tail lights, more investment-cast pegs, and seats for late model Dynas and Sportsters. For 2012 we're focusing on dialing in the existing products more than rapid development of new stuff. We've improved the chromoly seat hinge by making the head a one-piece cast 4130 chromoly unit so it is ridiculously strong and more efficient to manufacture, while adding a few design details to it that are only possible through casting. Part of the dialing-in process is doing better packaging, resulting in less wasted space and easier to display parts for independent motorcycle shops. We're also working on more how-to's and descriptive videos to help customers figure out what they need and how to install it properly.
What was the motivation behind starting ChopCult?
Online media is the future. McGoo and I are both avid magazine readers and he's been an editor and I've been an art director at both BMX and Motocross titles. We love the art of publishing. That being said, we both recognized the value in the online experience and we wanted Chop Cult to be the full meal; a hub where bike riders could find the information needed to help them build things themselves, unique editorial to inspire, along with access to the culture through events and real-life interaction with like-minded kooks. Chop Cult isn't meant to replace print, but enhance it, as illustrated by the magazines who advertise with us.
How much has ChopCult changed from day one to now?
Not much. It's obviously grown, but it is a very scalable community. We try to keep it light and open-minded, but it's really shaped by the members, not us. We are simply the enablers. We provide the framework and the riders who care enough to participate grow it organically. We're working on a mild redesign, but it's mostly a pruning process, reducing clutter and making it simpler, more refined and easier to use.
Have motorcycles always been a part of your life?
No. There were none in my house as a kid. We didn't have the money for that sort of thing and while I was always interested in the idea, it was out of reach and I grew up with skateboarding and surfing being a much larger influence in my life. I got a shitty dirt bike about 20 years ago and the love of two wheels grew from there. I was the first guy in our group of friends to get a street legal dual sport, mostly out of practicality. I could commute on it during the week and then bomb trails on the weekend. Eventually that evolved into riding tracks on good MX bikes and buying my first CB550, then a Sporty. I had always been into hot rods, and off road racing (cars) so customizing a motorcycle just seemed obvious. I think those influences are reflected a little bit in our brand — we want throttles to be snappy and bikes well-tuned and modifications to be designed, not just decorated and the surfer in me desperately wants some soul. Normal people think all "bikers" are a bunch of blow-hard, mid-life crisis goons, (and they mostly are!) but the experience can be much richer than that and that's what I personally try to chase.
What bike are you currently riding?
My '92 FXR is what I'd call my daily. It is sorted and fits me, and I know it and trust it. This is the bike I ride when I need to get work done. But, last year we bought a shovel from our friend Walter back east. Originally built by Jay Roche at Special '79. I've done a couple small changes to it and have more in store. It's a blast to ride and I've been hammering it around so much since August that I think the FXR is getting jealous. I need to break the shovel down so the FXR gets some love.
Any project bikes or cars?
I currently have a long-term project unit 650 Triumph and a '99 Sportster that is going to be what I call a "modder". It's going to be a lightly modified, practical bike that will go up for sale after I put a few thousand miles on it. My son and I have a mothballed 1970 Ford van that we worked on for about two years. Right as we were finishing up, it spun a main bearing. As soon as the sporty and his XL 250 are wrapped up, the engine is coming out and that project gets the attention. There are only so many hours in the day and so many dollars in a pay check, so I just do the best I can.
And of course, what's your Lost Highway?
I've been so fortunate to have ridden in some places I consider memorable—Gold Country in Northern California and Manhattan in New York City, I love 'em both and dig the contrast between the two, one is zen and the other combat, and I enjoy them equally. If I had to pick one place, I'd say Baja. I've lived a lot of places and done a lot of things, but Mexico has been a constant and I love riding there. My son Flynn and I have a trip planned to Costa Rica in January 2014. He will have graduated by then and have enough saddle time to know if he really wants to do it. I don't care if I have to put a couple used KLR's on a credit card, if he's still down, we're going one way or another. Then there's the AlCan highway...
Lastly, anyone you would like to thank?
Who not to thank? My family is most important, my wife Carrie of twenty years is my moral compass but gives me space to do my thing. My kids Hannah and Flynn for putting up with a dad who's not like their friend's dads, and loving me anyway. McGoo for sticking it out with me through the good and the desperate times but always having faith. Sherry, Mike D., Kenzie, David, Joyce and Erik who do so much of the heavy lifting at Biltwell but rarely get credit. I'm surrounded by smart, hard working people and that makes the difference. Of course all my bros who will wrestle around the fire pit and not hold it against me the next day!
Many thanks to Bill for his service to our country and the motorcycle community, and many thanks as well to the whole Biltwell team! Biltwell has grown to become a truly reputable brand in motorcycling. Keep up the great work guys, we can't wait to see what lies ahead!