Turning an Acorn Shooter into a Custom Metric Bike for Peanuts
Words and Photos: John Gunnell
Most bikers have one or two projects sitting around. We have seven two-wheeled projects and one of them is an ‘81 Yamaha XS650 Special. That’s why we perked up when we saw a bunch of custom metrics in front of a big white trailer at the Vintage Torquefest in Dubuque, Iowa. We perked up even more when Brett Williamson and John Kovhac of Wisconsin Customs (www.wisconsincustoms.com) said that they built a custom XS650 for $2,500.
This duo told us that they will repair just about any motorcycle. They restore bikes, fix wiring, make custom parts, offer custom painting and handle machine work, too. “Our team can do anything possibly needed on a motorcycle,” said Kovhac. “My father and my grandfather both had old Harleys, so we were always tinkering on one bike or another out in the garage.”
Wisconsin Customs began when Brett was helping John with some home repairs and wandered into the garage where his project bikes were stored. He told John to pick out a bike, gather some parts and create a budget so they could put a bike together. “We started looking around on the Internet for things we liked,” Kovhac explained. “Then we built a custom bike. That’s how we started.”
From that point on, Brett and John started buying bikes they wanted to customize. They found a lot of old bikes in barns and even a few sitting outside. Today, they have a dozen or so custom bikes built and about 40 waiting to be finished. Even, if you have a small budget they’ll help build your dream bike.
Williamson said business has been very good. “We have people stopping by all the time and we’ve only been in business officially for 6 months,” he pointed out. “Everybody under the sun wants to look at our bikes and check them out.” He said that his business plan is based on the reality that not everyone can afford a Harley and not everyone can afford a Triumph. “So, we like the metric stuff,” said Kovhac. “That XS650 was fun for us to build and so was a Honda.”
Williamson thinks that a biker can have a really small budget and still get a cool bike that people will see at shows and love. “You don’t have to have a ton of money to get involved in your motorcycle,” said Kovhac. “You can just put into it what you want to put into it. I’ll tell you what—if you come home and tell Momma ‘I bought a Harley and it was $10,000’ she’s going to toss a pillow at you and tell you to go sleep on the bike, but if you say ‘I got a nice custom XS650 and it was $2,500 or $3,500’ she’ll probably let you stay another week or so.”
Williamson pointed to a purple bike and said, “We got that one for free and we have less than $2,000 in it. We just want to do a little bit of everything and show people they can have a bike that’s not necessarily rare like a Knucklehead or Flathead, but is still a really cool machine that didn’t eat up all their money.”
As far as getting ideas for designs, the two young men put their heads together and come up with concepts. “I can take a stock bike and look at it and say ‘you can change those handlebars and use this gas tank and bolt on this front end and it will really work,’” said John. “All’s it takes is one look at the stock bike and I’ll have 45 different bikes in my head and then it’s just a matter of swapping different parts, switching things around and cutting here and there.”
The one thing that Brett and John try to avoid is building cookie cutter bikes that look like they came right out of a box. “We have a reputation for knowing this stuff and coming up with good ideas,” said John. “A lot of guys bring their projects to us because they’ve seen out bikes at shows and they ask our advice. The word gets around and this kind of thing brings in new business.”
The two entrepreneurs can re-gasket engines or rebuild them. John’s father does custom painting. A brother does all the machining. John and Brett fabricate everything from battery boxes to sissy bars. “We have more or less four people who can cover everything between the four of us,” Brett noted. “And that way we also have four people kicking in ideas.”
Wisconsin Customs has done bikes for customers in Wisconsin, as well as in California, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio and Texas. The company’s Website and Facebook page bring in some inquiries but more happens when potential customers see the bikes they’ve built at shows. One bike was built for a customer who was into boats and after he took it to a couple of boat shows three more orders came in from boating fans. “The more we get out into the world the more the business will advertise itself,” said Williamson. ”People love it when we tell them that we started up a crusty bike that sat outside and it shot acorns into the garage door, but then we turned it into a metric custom for peanuts.”