Stories: Workshop

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Workshop: Loaded Gun Customs

by guest blogger Aaron Heinrich

In the first of four blogs for FTR, Aaron reveals the inspiration behind one of the States’ custom motorcycle’s shooting stars.

Loaded Gun Customs – Blame It On Kevin’s Mother

Kevin Dunworth’s mother made him do it. Call his shop Loaded Gun Customs, that is. It seems that when Kevin was growing up, most anything that was dangerous had the capacity in his mom’s mind to conjure images of running around with a loaded gun. That included hot rods, fast bikes and anything resembling either one. Sound familiar?

“When we were kids, every time we’d get close to doing something that would hurt us, my mom would say, ‘that’s like carrying a loaded gun’. So when I opened my own shop and I was thinking of what to call it, ‘loaded gun’ came to mind and it stuck.”

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Raw! But slightly tamed

Today, and some 25 custom builds later, Kevin and his band of merry builders in Delaware (US) kick out righteous-looking bikes that you can ride without worry. Great geometry, mechanics that work consistently well, and a level of fit and finish that screams ‘Raw! But slightly tamed!’.

As a result, he and Loaded Gun Customs have been featured in some of the most high-profile media in the motorcycle and even business world, including Velocity’s Cafe Racer (now titled Naked Speed), Silodrome, Bike EXIF and the Wall Street Journal. (Yes, the WSJ writes, occasionally, about motorcycles.)

I was able to work with and learn from some people I really respected very early on in my career

Kevin Dunworth

Kevin admits his first builds may not have had the same level of finish as other customs, but those earlier bikes ran. That’s because he comes at every build with a history of having been influenced by people who had that same kind of ethos, and a dad who plied him with back issues of motorcycle magazines from the time Kevin was barely into grade school (that’s senior school for our non US readers.)

“I was able to work with and learn from some people I really respected very early on in my career. Larry Mohan, for instance, who built some of the best flat track racers around for Triumph. And my dad, who mostly rode Harleys, but appreciated anyone who rode, and was always having guys over who knew a lot about different kinds of bikes and were willing to teach me.”

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His dad, who still critiques Kevin’s builds, started Kevin off with a badly used Suzuki RM80 when Kevin was 10 and told him if he could get it to work, it was his. And, thus, a custom builder was born.

As Kevin got older and continued his interest in custom builds, he got more involved in the cafe racer scene. Builders such as Brandon Holstein, Bryan Fuller, Ken Boyle and Richard Pollock became his inspiration and a few are now his friends. He admits that Holstein’s Brawny Built mono-shock Harley inspires his own mono-shock builds today.

‘The Great Connector’

What also sets Kevin apart from many other builders in particular is his obsession with learning about every element of building a bike. He said he wants to be able to tell a welder how to make a particular weld to make sure the paint job is right and vice versa. Consequently, he admitted that’s earned him the title of ‘the great connector’.

“I’ve never been afraid of asking guys who may not talk to one another ‘how do you do that?’ The custom bike world is pretty small, so when you get to a certain level, you have friends everywhere.”

With so many older bikes to use as a platform, Kevin could have gone in any number of directions. But he says his favourites have always been air-cooled twins – Triumphs, Beemers, even KZ1000s.

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“I like older bikes because they force you to work at riding them. Modern bikes don’t do that. They’re doing most of the work for you.”

Shoot for the top

After more than 11 years in business and having worked himself into that tight-knit group of builders previously mentioned, Kevin has had the time to learn more than his share of what it takes to be successful, and he has some advice for aspiring builders.

“Do it right from the beginning. When I first started the shop, I tried to be everything to everybody. When we tried to do a favour for someone we didn’t know, we cut corners and didn’t do our best work. I had older guys tell me this earlier, but I didn’t pay attention. Now I don’t do it any other way.”

As for advice from Kevin’s mom, she’d no doubt still add something about running around with a loaded gun. But today, Kevin’s doing so metaphorically as he continues to shoot for the next best build.

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