Q: Jay, you recently parted from Firebikes, just when it was really getting up to speed. How did you and Sam hook up in the first place? And why did you split up at what seems like an odd time?
A: We have been hanging out for over 10 years because of our similar
interests , mainly cars and custom rides. Last year we decided to build
a couple of bikes for ourselves......then some friends, and before any
thought, we were deep in partnership. An odd time to split? Sometimes
people do odd things.
Q: It's amazing that Firebikes has only been around for a year! It seems a lot longer. I guess that means that a lot was happening in a short time. Was that a factor, maybe?
A: No, that wasn't a factor in my decision.
Q: Since we have the photos as evidence, it's a safe assumption that you're not sick of making bikes. If you're going to do them commercially, what sort of bikes will you be offering?
A: My main focus is on one-off customs, but definitely not limited to that.
I will soon be operating a CNC milling machine, which will enable me to
manufacture custom billet accessories
Q: Woahh! A tubing roller and a CNC mill? Dude, you can rule the world! You also do some pretty fine automotive composite work. Have you considered joining that capability to your bike activities? You may have noticed that we're pretty big on that particular combination, around here. A mill is at the top of our wish list, too.
A: Thanks, and yes I have totally considered adding my composite abilities to the bikes. My original idea for the orange chopper was to fully enclose it in carbon fiber, but as it progressed, I felt the skeleton of the frame had to be shown. After smoothing out all the welds and spraying it with a crazy pearl orange base coat and multiple coats of clear, I am glad that was the way I went. Fiberglass and carbon fiber allow a person to be very creative, so it is definitely near the top of my list for the next project. The possibilities for full-on custom bikes are pretty much endless with a rolling machine and CNC mill. The mill will arrive in March, so everyone can expect some radical pieces in early spring.
Q: There's a lot to be said for a nicely-painted bare frame. Although it takes a bit of time to end up with a perfect one, that's nothing compared to the time required to end up with a nice composite shell. We've been working on composite parts for Kandiru for weeks now, and I'm sooo ready to start work on another frame, just for a change of pace. Unfortunately, we don't have enough shop space to do frame-building and composite work at the same time. It would be nice to switch back and forth every couple of days or so.
How about you, do you like to have multiple projects going, so you can skip around from one to another?
A: I always have multiple projects going, it keeps the creative blood alive and I think it is reflected in my work. Since the split in October, I've had the opportunity to fabricate a complete Lotus Europa race car chassis for a customer, and during that time, was able to come up with the ideas for the three wild customs pictured.
Q: I guess it's safe to say that you don't work out of a one-car garage. We have to pirouette around the movable tools like ballet dancers. It seems unusual that you work on both car and bike projects simultaneously I'm an old hot rodder, and sort of got into bikes as a way to take up the activity again in a place (NYC) where it wasn't practical to build cars. I would think, that sort of consideration aside, that motorcycles would be a more natural sideline for a car freak to take up. Do you do that kind of bikes also?
A: I haven't had much to do with custom motorcycles yet, but lately it has been something I desperately want to start on. A friend of mine who has been watching the whole custom bicycle business grow out of my shop recently asked if I'd be interested in doing some custom mods to his Harley, so I hope to get going on that soon.
Q: I hope it doesn't take as long as Kandiru, our current composite kustom. We've put two solid months in on it, with two guys working 8-14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can't imagine how long it would take if Dave and I weren't both doing it. Since composite work is mostly pretty tedious activity, do you think you'll miss not having someone else involved in the project?
A: As nice as it may be to have some help, its very difficult to create something when the people involved have different ideas on what the finished product should look like. The latest custom bikes indicate that my best work is done when I'm working on my own. These bikes are built as if they are for myself, taking no shortcuts. When you work on your own you seem to push your limits because the end result is a reflection of your talents and abilities alone.
Q: I suppose it's just a matter of individual preference, but I'm happiest in the shop when I'm working with a shop buddy, either a paid assistant or a team mate. Of course, I prefer it when we're working on my design; but collaboration is fine by me. The current project is my concept, but Dave's had a lot of useful input on it. The next one will be basically Dave's project, but I'll have input on it, as well. We take turns being the quality-control dork, so neither of us has to be it all the time. And, best of all, Dave likes sanding.
How about some hardcore tech info for our readership? Like, what sort of tubing do you use for your frames, and what type of welder do you use for joining the tubing together?.
A: The bikes are built from .065" ERW pipe and tubing ranging from 3/4" to 1 1/2" (round, and square). The most interesting, and most difficult, being the square tubing rolled on edge as seen in the old school chopper and the blood red cruiser I've named the 'Scythe'. For the most part all of my frames are mig welded, except for the aluminum stays on the orange bike (the 'WTF') which are tig welded. In the future I'd like to offer some tig welded frames built from DOM pipe, but to keep it affordable the majority will be built from ERW and mig welded.
Q: What's the weight of the frame of the orange bike?
Due to the weight (12.5 pounds) of Kandiru's frame fairing, we did the frame in brazed .030 4130 CrMo, to keep the overall weight as reasonable as possible. I also left out the middle tube from it, since the frame wouldn't show anyway, and that tube was there just for style, no matter what tubing we'd use. I almost fell over when the frame came in at only a bit over 6 pounds. 4130 is a pain to work in the hydraulic bender we use, but the weight control, in this case, was worth it. Have you considered using CrMo on your composite faired frames? I imagine your composite fairings would weigh about as much as ours.
A: The completed orange bike tips the scales around 40 lbs I've thought about using CrMo, but the expense vs. weight ratio keeps me building in steel. These bikes are meant to be shown off cruising the blvd. not for racing, so to me weight isn't a major factor.
Q: We feel pretty much the same, as far as speed goes, but after you hang 20 pounds of fiberglass on something, you become pretty conscious of weight as a factor. We've got a 19-tooth cog on the rear of Kandiru, and I'd like to have a 22T back there. Speaking of fiberglass, we're always getting people asking if we'll sell them a set of skirted fenders. We always turn them down, because we're only set up to do one-offs, due to space (1-car garage) and location (residential neighborhood). Have you considered going into production on that sort of thing? There's definitely a market for them out there
A My main focus thus far has been on the frames, but with the CNC mill coming, parts and accessories are definitely the next step. I have built numerous Harley fenders and fairings for shops over the years and it would be great to start building some custom parts for these cruisers. If anyone wants a custom fiberglass fender or whatever, I'd be glad to look at their ideas and go from there whether it be a one off or multiples. I'm working on a new website so people will be able to check up on my progress in that area.
Q: I'll share another marketing tip with you: An optional body shell designed around a fairly simple, lightweight "stretched" frame. Full-frame fairings are really great if you're into kustom painting, because you have much more surface area to decorate. I thought of it when we were halfway through Kandiru's shell. But, of course, we're not set up to do production composite forms. But somebody who was could do very well with such an offering, in my opinion.
We just started another frame, and began with the hardest part- the dropouts. What a bitch those things are to make! And we're fairly well set up for carving things out of steel. Any tips to share on fabricating those things, or do you have a CNC plasma cutter?
A: For 6 years I worked in the fabrication department for a steel company, they have a CNC plasma and do all my cutting. The odd time I'll cut my own out with the equipment in my shop, and you're right it is a royal pain.
Q: You lucky dawg! We'll get one of those as soon as Harbor Freight starts importing them from China for $39.95. Actually, that wouldn't surprise me much. Most of our recent crop of tools have come from there. They're pretty marginal quality, and the chopsaw we got there is painfully difficult to set up at different angles; but for the most part they're adequate for a one-off, one at a time bike operation. And the stuff sure is cheap. We've had our eye on a cheapo milling machine they have there, for a while. I suppose you pretty much have to go with professional-grade tools. Now that you've got the mill, is there anything else on your tool wish list? Something that would let you really kick ass?
A: At this point I'm mainly using a tubing roller for all the pipe, it would be nice to get a CNC bender as well; and a chroming system would be
Q: Chrome plating equipment isn't really expensive, especially if you make it yourself. The problem is the hassles of dealing with the chemistry. Those environmental busybodies won't let us dump acid and metallic salts down the drain anymore, when we're through with it. Killjoys!
I presume that you use polyester resin in your composite pieces. About ten years ago, at a composite trade show, someone in the business told me that within ten years, open to the atmosphere molds for polyesters would be outlawed, for air-quality reasons. Did that ever happen, or are open molds still permissible?
A: I mainly use polyester resin, and I've been through other shops in town and they all use open moulds as well.
Q: I mostly use epoxy resin in my composite work. It's probably just as toxic, but it doesn't smell so intense. I discovered years ago that my wife breaks out in hives if she even smells polyester on my clothing. Epoxy is twice as expensive as polyester, and usually takes a lot longer to cure, but that's better than seeing my wife with hives, and hearing about it. Do you get into carbon fiber much? Or any of the other "exotics"?. Ever thought about doing an all-composite bike frame? Our recumbent dragster project will be our first use of carbon cloth over foam for the frame, purely for the weight savings.
A: I have worked with carbon fiber in the past, body panels for cars etc, but I have found it to be a lot harder to work with then fiberglass. I haven't really thought much about an all-composite bike frame, I like the lines of the tubing, and to me the weight isn't really an issue for this kind of bike. (within reason, no one wants to pedal a tank)
Q: So, it seems that you're basically a tube-frame guy. Do you think that your new orange bike is as wild as you're likely to get, or do you have something even more crazy in the works?
A There are a few crazy designs in the works, but I am currently working on more of an entry level (for lack of a better term) JAKZ bike. I want to be able to offer a wild custom cruiser that is competitively priced. The orange bike is just the beginning of how wild I'm going to get.
Q: Thanks very much for the update and information, Jay. We're looking forward to seeing the future developments in the JAKZ line.