Writer's Ramblings

An Interview with Kendall Johnson

Written by  May 31, 2005

When anybody in the custom motorcycle industry needs horsepower, Kendall Johnson is the man they call. Kendall’s ability to squeeze every bit of horsepower out of a V-Twin engine is legendary. Not only is he a renown engine magician, he is also a cutting edge master builder. Kendall took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Cycle Connections at the 2005 Easyriders V-Twin Bike Show.

CC: Kendall, is there anything new and exciting under construction at Kendall Johnson Customs this summer?
Kendall: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of new bikes, pretty high profile deals. I just finished one for Miller Brewing Company. We’re going to have it on tour for the next 18 months, and then we’ve got some really cool prototypes. I’ve got some new engine stuff I’m working on and some new chassis stuff. I’m hoping to have maybe 20 new parts out in the next 60-90 days.

CC: With Avon now making a 360 back tire, do you think tire width in the rear has got as wide as it’s going to go?
Kendall: No, I think they’ll keep pushing the envelope. I think it’s getting ridiculous now. The tires are getting so wide that the bikes, in my opinion, are starting to look deformed. I don’t know how much further we’re going to go with that, but right now I’m just going to stick to what we’re doing with some of the 280 and 300 stuff. I don’t know if I’m going to make that next step. I guess it’s just according to how persistent a customer is.

CC: What was it like working with Billy, Paul and Keino on the Larry tribute bike?
Kendall: It was phenomenal. Actually just getting to know Paul and Keino better was an experience in itself because Larry and I had been good friends for a while, and I knew those guys but had not really had a chance to really get to know them and hang out with them. I’ve been friends with Billy for ten years, so it was a challenge in the shop, because like Billy and I were talking about, you’re not accustomed to doing it the way they were accustomed to doing it with the tools that they had, and it was way different from being in your own environment, but it was actually a learning experience, I guess.

CC: You’ve already had a reputation for being easily accessible to your fans. How important is that to you?
Kendall: It means a lot to me. I think a lot of these guys forget where they come from and forget who put them here. It’s tough sometimes if you’re having a bad day to keep the smile on, but that’s the last thing that people remember when they walk away from you was that first impression, so I think it’s real important.

CC: Is the involvement of your family what helps keep your feet on the ground as far as your business is concerned?
Kendall: Yeah, I tell you between my family and the guys… most of my guys have been with me for a real long time, and at the level we’re at right now, I really don’t know what I would do…every person in my shop right now is very much a key person and if it wasn’t for them trying to keep everything going with all this traveling and all this stuff, I don’t know what I would do.

CC: The last time I went to Sturgis, I saw a bunch of you all, and one builder was charging $20 to sign autographs, but you signed something for me for free.
Kendall: I think that’s bullshit. I think they’ve sold out.

CC: The schedule you maintain would burn me out. How do you keep going?
Kendall: Just a love for the industry, I think. I’m learning now, I’m getting older, I’m going to turn 40 on Monday. I’m starting to feel the pain a little bit. For the most part, I’ve had one day off since Christmas, and I had 11 weekends off last year, so it’s kind of a tough schedule, but I really love what I do, and I think you owe it to the fans. I mean, they’re the ones who buy the parts and buy the apparel and keep us going, and you’ve got to pay back. At some point you’ve got to pay back some. I’m going to try to get me a little bit of time off this year. I’m going to take a break maybe about the summertime. That’s usually the slowest time, so I’m going to take a little break and get back at it.

CC: In all your years of custom building under your belt, out of the new young gun builders who are out there right now, who impresses you?
Kendall: There’s a lot of good talent out there now. Everybody’s kind of got their niche which is a really cool thing. I like Jesse Rooke a lot. I’ve heard different things, but Jesse’s a good kid. He’s a good customer. He spends a lot of money with me every year. He’s been really good to deal with. I guess I probably relate to Roland Sands as much as anybody cause he’s a speed freak too. So, I think Roland and I probably have matched up on that deal because I really appreciate some of the stuff he’s doing.

CC: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Kendall: The plan will be to work three 10-hour days a week with my son running the business and me going in and helping him three or four days a week and doing what I want to do the rest of the time.

Story and photos by Loney and
Stephanie Wilcoxson