Bikes & Customs: Workshop

Workshop: The Moto Chop Shop

A look inside one of the coolest custom garages

This LA-based workshop has been making waves. Since appearing on the scene in 2013, Moto Chop Shop has customised more than 100 bikes, and they all have a beautiful look and feel unique to the Chop Shop style. Our LA reporter, Reagan Alexander, goes to visit.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes had a habit of lighting a lantern in the daytime and pressing it to the faces of the citizens of Athens in search of an honest man. Imagine the lamp oil that would have been burned had Diogenes been in search of an honest builder in Los Angeles.

“I will tell them exactly how it is”

Moto Chop Shop’s owner and founder, Kevin Stanley, is one of the very few that could have stood up to such an illuminated and illuminating investigation of the self, where virtue is best revealed not in theory but in action.

Photos: Lauryn Myers

“Most of my customers are word of mouth referrals,” he tells me, moments into our conversation inside his packed but orderly Van Nuys garage before admitting, almost as a warning: “I will tell them exactly how it is. I may come across as a dick to the wrong person, but I say it as it is. I’m honest.”

Kevin, goateed, bespectacled, quick to laugh, quicker to grin, is the most welcome sort of ‘Richard’ that one might cross paths with in a world of custom builders that will gleefully lead you astray, leaving a trail of pink invoices that only serve as a method to emaciate your wallet as well as wipe away your tears.

I am more of a customiser, I customise the bikes, I don’t build them from the ground up

There are some shops that will throw a new set of bars, foot pegs and pipes on a bike and call it a ‘custom build’. Kevin, who now works exclusively on Triumphs after cutting his teeth for years on vintage Japanese motorcycles, chooses to reinvent perfection, but shies away from calling himself a custom builder. Even in the motorcycle world, humility is a virtue, albeit a rarely exercised one.

“I don’t consider myself a builder,” he says. “These bikes are already built. I am more of a customiser, I customise the bikes, I don’t build them from the ground up.”

For him, the distinction between creator and revisionist is simple, as he recognises that he is given something great that he can only make greater.

“I may have done a lot of work on the [project],” he says, speaking of the ‘builds’ that he has done. “But I had a lot of help from other people to make that happen.”

“No tassels”

Kevin will appreciate the motorcycle for what it is, and then see it for what it could be, much in the same manner that Michelangelo would see a block of marble and see the statue within, saying, ‘I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.’ In short: “No tassels,” Kevin says. “That is how I deal with the projects.”

A San Diego native, Kevin, grew up on wheels and started riding at the age when most of us start realising that Santa Claus is no longer a viable reality. He claimed mastery of a 2-stroke CR-80 but, under paternal tutelage, would ride anything that purred or roared and spit out petrol fumes.

“My dad, he was in construction,” he explains. “He taught me how to drive trucks, semis, whatever we had, so I was always learning how to drive, how to ride. There were a lot of 2-strokes, three wheelers, four wheelers.”

Ever the petrolhead

Kevin grew up but never grew out of his love for all things that hummed, and sometimes belched, with that intent and eagerness that wants so desperately to kick up dirt or eat asphalt. Soon he was customising bikes from his modest apartment, his focus on vintage models from the far east.

Fortunately for Kevin his friends stepped in. It was less an intervention and more a call to arms.

“I was used to buying bikes for two, three hundred bucks and flipping them,” he says. “Then I had a couple of friends get into the Triumphs and they kept twisting my arm.”

One of those friends brought his new Triumph in, beseeched Kevin to work on it, to give it a ‘go around’.  Begrudgingly, Kevin agreed to do a simple service.

Moto Chop Shop has been open for five years and Kevin modestly admits that in that time there have been more than 100 customs

Clean and jet the carbs, change the oil, wipe the grease from his hands and be done with it, then get back to the vintage Japanese bikes that had become his bread and butter.

When he went home that night he said to his wife, ‘I think my friends are on to something’. And as all great partners do when they see both hope and aching joy in the eyes of the ones that they adore, Kevin’s wife said to him, simply, ‘Go for it’.

Moto Chop Shop has been open for five years and Kevin modestly admits that in that time there have been more than 100 customs that have come and gone through the understated doors of his garage.

150 Triumphs and counting

There is an old saying: ‘You can’t swing a dead cat in Los Angeles without hitting some pretentious ass that embraces making a reference to an obscure Greek philosopher.’ There is a newer, more nuanced saying: ‘You can’t swing a dead cat around Los Angeles without hitting a Kevin Stanley Triumph custom.’

With more than 150 Triumph customers and two toddlers in tow, Kevin has little time for self-promotion, despite the fact that he is known, in circles that travel on two wheels and pick bugs from their teeth, as The Magician, as well as The Obi Wan Kenobi of Triumphs.

“I’m always tired,” he says, with a grin, eyeing the line of motorcycles in his garage. “I’ve got two kids that are at that age that is both wonderful and terrifying.”

Remember, the equation is simple: Honesty + Integrity – Tassels

So, when a customer crosses the threshold of his garage, the conversation is straightforward, only because it has to be honest.

“I rarely ask what the budget is because that is not important,” Kevin says. “If it does come up, I will say, ‘You know what, I will customise the bike for a hundred bucks, I don’t care. If you don’t have much, I will make your bike look cool some way or another. Remember, the equation is simple: Honesty + Integrity – Tassels.”

Yet again, it is the plain spoken, salt-of-the-earth customiser that puts it best: “The people that come here see the other work that I’ve put out there.” Then for the first time Kevin’s eyes stray to the pavement that is just outside the shop below us, pavement being burned by the California sun.

“And they know what to expect or they wouldn’t be at my garage door.”