At the Wide open Bike Show I got the chance to interview another legend in the motorcycle world. Donnie Smith has been building custom motorcycle for over 30 years and after talking to him I donít think he will be slowing down anytime soon. He is easygoing and cordial and takes his celebrity status with a grain of salt. You would never know that he has won lifetime achievement awards from Hot Bike and V-Twin magazines as well as being inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame in 1995. I truly enjoyed talking with Donnie and hope to get the chance to visit with him again in the future.
CC: What do you have new and exciting being built in your shop for 2006?
Donnie: Well, right now weíre doing a series of bikes that all three have 145 [cubic inch engines] from S&S which make 180-some horsepower and 180-some foot pounds of torque. Weíve got two rigids which is on Motorcycle Works frame Frank Pederson Good looking bikes, one is just about done. One is in paint. The other one is in fab that is a Softtail model from Upholstery Framework, so we are pretty excited about them. They are going to be some fun bikes.
CC: With the tires getting wider and wider with the 330 and 360, do you think itís going to get wider, or are we going back the other way?
Donnie : I think we are going to see it come back because it is getting out of proportion for the bike in a way. If thatís what you gotta do, thatís whatís you gotta do, but with the bobbers kind of coming in a little bit, I think you may see it kind of stop there. I know Metzeler went with a 280. They built a new tire and they didnít jump up to the next thing to try to outdo Avon. There seems to be a race between those two. Avon only went to the 330 which kind of means they werenít trying to play the 360 game, so I think itís maybe kind of met its match a little bit and it seems like the bikes almost look out of proportion with the big tires.
CC: What do you think about all the new EPA laws for all the manufacturers?
Donnie : Well, I think itís something they canít enforce. Itís been on the books since 1978 and they havenít done anything about it since, so I think itís something that once they figure out how much money itís going to cost and how little damage to the environment that weíre really doing; I think itís a joke.
CC: Do you think the Motor Company has screwed itself because when itís time to make the EPA numbers, theyíre going to have to revert to the V-Rod motor if they want to stay within guidelines?
Donnie : Yeah, I think thatís been their way to get people used to water-cooled engines and see if they can get people to accept that. I donít know how satisfied they are with the results of that bike. It has not been their best effort, I think. Theyíre hard to sell. Itís something coming down the road. Itís too hard to control and get the proper control on an air-cooled motor. You canít control the temperatures, especially in slow traffic and stuff like that. They gain too much heat.
CC: Every builder Iíve ever interviewed has their own favorite bike that is their personal ride. Whatís yours?
Donnie : Well, I just built a new 140-inch Twin Cam with a blower, and that was pretty fun, and then Iíve got the blue chopper which is sitting in my booth now that Iíve had for about three or four years, and I really enjoy riding that bike. It fits me good and rides good. Itís still a good lookiní bike after all these years. I kind of like that one.
CC: Itís beautiful bike. That girder just kicks ass. Itís got a little bit of the new and old together. A lot of the new builders are referred to as ďyoung guns.Ē Of this group, whose stuff excites you?
Donnie : Well, Roland Sands has made a good mark, and Jesse Rooke has done well. They are probably the latest of the new guys. Iíd say a guy that is probably kind of not quite the latest, you know, like Paul Yaffe and Eddie Trotta. Guys like me and Arlen and David Perewitz and Ron Simms, weíve been around for 30-some years and some of those guys who have been around about 10-15 years, and some have been around about 5. Theyíre doing well. Matt Hotch is probably the hottest name out there right now. He is doing real, real well. He has some good products, seems to build a very nice bike. He has a good eye for what he does. There are a lot of guys who probably donít have a name yet. Youíll go to shows like this and youíll see a bike from a guy who is just a guy off the block that does a good job, and those are the guys you have to appreciate, because they donít have stuff to work with. Iíve got a full-time machinist and a full-time fab guy and a full-time motor guy. These guys are in their garage either hacksawing or figuring it out somehow, but they get a pretty good job done working on a limited situation.
CC: After 30 years plus of building, do you ever get tired of it?
Donnie : Well... It is my chosen profession, but I still really do enjoy it. I enjoy the people and I enjoy building bikes. I probably could have got into manufacturing a lot of products that I have had on bikes that have probably gotten stolen from me, so thatís a whole other big headache. Iíve done that before, and I really do enjoy building bikes. I enjoy going to the rallies. Iíve got tons of friends. I really enjoy my friends. It isnít like when you first get into it. A very good friend of mine named Randy Smith who has passed away, he was the first guy to shoot bikes in the magazine for us, and we were talking about how it was cool that we had taken a hobby and made it a business, and he said, once you take a hobby and make it a business, itís no longer your hobby. And heís really right, because it isnít like when I get home I really want to go riding, because I just did 8 or 10 hours of motorcycles, but I do enjoy riding. The weekends are more my deal, to go riding on weekends rather than every night.
Interview and photos by Loney and