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TPJ Customs

By “LoDown” Dan Parker

A long jump from the trailer park

Keeping it simple, clean and convergent

Lodi, Calif.—One could safely bet next week’s allowance that the big brains in the motorsport corporate stratosphere spend more than a few minutes each week pondering what lies ahead for them, particularly for the ever-graying American V-twin market, in terms of new products and added customers. We want to help and, with apologies to the great American muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, humbly offer this observation: We’ve seen the future of motorcycling and it works. Only maybe not just the way they’re thinking in the executive suite over on Juneau Avenue.

However, down at the northern tip of California’s great Central Valley, in an industrial park just off Stockton Boulevard in the smallish working class town of Lodi, the answers—well, some of them, anyway—seem pretty clear. This is where budding custom bike builder Bryan Schimke plies his trade at TPJ Customs, Inc. And, judging from the impressive list of awards—like placing in the top 10 of the 2008 AMD World Bike Buildoff—and the effusive praise he receives from his peers, Schimke plies that trade very well indeed.

But there are lots of good and even great builders out there. What sets the 30-something-year-old Schimke apart from most of the crowd are those things that inspire and are reflected in his builds. In fact, some of his influences, like BMX bicycles, snowboards, and customized big-wheel pick-up trucks, don’t have a direct connection to custom motorcycle building. (OK, the bicycles have two wheels and handlebars.)

Other factors—Schimke is a former motocross competitor who has a list of career-ending injuries to prove it—make the DNA of his builds much clearer. Nor has Schimke eschewed altogether the last 100 years of American V-twin tradition. His builds tend to favor features like spoke wheels, sprung seat pans and even hardtail frames. And the power plant of choice is often the standard H-D engine right out of the packing case. In other contexts this nexus—a merging of style, technological form and function, and cultural reference points—would be called convergence. That works here too: Old can successfully meet new.

But, make no mistake: TPJ bike builds give off the distinct vibe associated with the 20- to 35-year-old crowd. Granddad’s chopper says Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird, while the soundtrack behind Bryan’s builds is more likely to contain cuts from Dead Barbie and Ghost by the Goons of Doom.

Maybe the suits get TPJ Customs, maybe they don’t. Why is this important in the larger world of bike making and marketing? It’s a badly kept secret that custom builders’ shops are often unofficial skunk works, providing styling cues and marking trends that later show up in mass produced rides. And, in this case, it opens a window into what that coveted younger male marketing demographic might be thinking.

Comfort zone
Although he has built other show pieces and customer bikes, Schimke’s latest work is perhaps the best illustration of what he brings to the custom build party. Measuring 7 feet 2 inches long overall, the bike has a mere five feet between axles (it’s no coincidence that this is just the same as a motocross bike). Weighing in at a petite 300 pounds (maybe a little less), with a gas tank that holds a minuscule 1.75 gallons, Bryan has affectionately dubbed this bike Consuela.

In Spanish, that name means solace or comfort giving. But looking at the hardtail frame Schimke has fabricated and then at the single spring under the leather-covered seat pan on the old girl, the term “comfort” does not come to mind. What is apparent is that the 80-inch H-D Evo engine in this lightweight package makes it one screamin’ momma that’s likely to shred the road, at least until it’s done gulping the thimble full of fuel.

It is also clear looking at this build that Schimke is at ease operating way outside of the standard motorcycle maker’s comfort zone. If less is more, then Consuela is way more. But she is also much more than the sum of her minimal parts list. Firstly, there is the bike’s overall stance and attitude: It looks a bit like a board tracker on steroids, but in a good way. Propped on its take-away center stand, it just seems to say, “Take me down and race me, baby.” Then there are touches like the cork gas tank bung (repeated on the oil bag and elsewhere), a la legendary motorcycle speedster Burt Munro.

The bike’s other features bring the whole package together. Black motocross-style 19.25-inch rims carry a 100 Metzler up front and a 110 behind. Not one to get hung up on the metric vs. standard issue, the front lowers were sourced from a 1972 Honda FL 125 and the hubs from a 2004 CRF 450. Dragging hard parts in the corners, however, shouldn’t be a problem as Consuela has a full nine inches of clearance. Stopping is provided only in the rear by a two-piston Jay Brake set up. And it better not be raining or even damp on the road because Consuela don’t need no stinking fenders.

It should be noted that TPJ bikes done for customers and intended for more real-world riding conditions sport features like more conventionally-sized fuel tanks and increased stopping power. But all retain the TPJ attitude and clear, unencumbered lines.

Borrowing a term from motocross racing (and snowboarding, for that matter), it’s clear that Bryan has “found his own line” when it comes to custom building. Consuela’s mixture of flat aluminum hand-fabricated parts meld perfectly with the flat black powder coating of many parts, including the frame. A golden-green and charcoal paint scheme laid down by Kirk Taylor of Custom Design Studios looks right on the gas tank and oil bag. The throttle/brake set up from Kraus Motorworks cleans up the handlebars Bryan fabbed.

Entered in this year’s Artistry in Iron bike show at Las Vegas Bike Fest, Consuela didn’t take the top prize but, according to Schimke, it garnered lots of praise from other builders and folks taking in the show. Nor is 2009 Vegas likely to be her last appearance at a bike show.

Trailer Park Jumping
The somewhat winding road Bryan has taken to arrive at this bike-building juncture is instructive as well. The aforementioned stint at racing, wrenching and crashing motocross cycles didn’t start until he was 18. Schimke’s father, a paramedic who often saw the dirty end of the motorcycle-riding stick, made his son wait until his late teens to get aboard a motorized two-wheeler.

In the interim, young Bryan kept busy with his BMX bike and snowboard, activities that have their own crash-and-burn elements. Once his competitive motocrossing days were behind him, Schimke began working part time on other people’s bikes. Three years ago he took the plunge and went into the business full time.

When casting around for an appropriate name for his venture, Bryan looked back to his short-lived stretch at a community college near Lake Tahoe. Some out-of-town students there lived in the portable housing provided by the college. As snow fell on the local ski runs, Bryan and his pals forgot all about attending classes and took to the mountains on their snowboards instead. This band of frosty pranksters called themselves the Trailer Park Jumpers. Fast forward and it’s now TPJ Customs. More convergence.

Black Hills siren song
An early experience in the form of a family summer vacation drive through South Dakota during the annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally had a rather dramatic and long-lasting influence. According to Bryan, this was pure coincidence and his father was appalled. Bryan’s reaction was altogether different.

“The headphones came off and I was glued to the window watching the bikes on the highway,” Schimke reports. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

He couldn’t possibly have imagined then that, some two decades later, he would return not only to ride the Black Hills himself but score a 10th place finish with a build he entered in the prestigious 2008 American Motorcycle Dealer magazine bike show. This year he was back as an AMD judge and to deliver one of his custom bike builds to a happy customer. In between, he picked up a few more awards, including finishing second in the bike show at 2008 Las Vegas Bike Fest, and taking Best of Show at the Easyriders show at Pomona, California, in 2009.

Returning this year from Sturgis, Bryan and some friends stopped to take in the action at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Like so many others before him, Schimke now has “salt fever” and, if all goes well, he’ll be back at Bonneville with his own saltshaker and an eye on a speed record or two.

TPJ Customs can do a one-off ground-up build or customize an existing ride. As a rule, he doesn’t do oil changes or other routine maintenance chores. Schimke does all the fabrication in-house using high quality steel or aluminum. He also fabricates and sells air cleaner set-ups, LED taillights, foot controls and belt guards. He even has a line of clothing. Go to www.tpjcustoms.com for complete information.

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