Motorcycles handmade with artistic flair in Greensboro

by Lee Adams

Last year when 25-year-old Will Combs decided to buy a motorcycle he went to a local dealer ready to spend some cash. But after browsing around the store for more than 20 minutes he was frustrated and left. No one even bothered to ask if he needed help or if they could show him around, and that mistake helped spawn what could be the biggest rival yet for cycle shops in Greensboro.

When Will left the shop that day he decided to take matters into his own hands and build his own bike. After all, his father had been building them in Ocean City, Md. since Will was five, so he had some foreknowledge on how the work was done. Every summer throughout his childhood Will traveled to Maryland from his hometown of Eden, NC to spend the season with his father. Half of his time he spent helping his father in the bike shop and the other half riding customized go-carts that his father’s metalworker built.

Will called his father, who put him in touch with the right dealers to get him the parts he needed for his own bike. While acquiring parts and beginning the work Will thought, why not start a custom bike shop? And before he knew it he had his first bike sold. Using money he’d saved working as a bartender at Much and the N Club, Will invested in the equipment to get started and opened up shop in a warehouse on High Point road at the beginning of the year. There he built the ‘“Blood Red Chopper,’” a dark red custom bike with a wide 240 rear tire and a gleaming chrome powerhouse with two glistening pipes that snake out from the engine and point toward the bottom of the frame. It’s a lean, mean, one-of-a-kind machine that’s intimidating to look at even on the NV Choppers web-site.

Six months later Will still doesn’t have a bike of his own. He’s currently building two more choppers for other customers and customizing a Harley Davidson Fat Boy for another. He works on his own bike whenever he can find the time. And time is hard to come by these days. On the weekends he doesn’t leave his bartending job until around four in the morning. During the week he heads in for the evening shift and drags himself out of bed to start working on bikes by 10 a.m., the passion for his craft keeping him alert and creative throughout the day.

Behind his desk Will cruises through the Web, looking at some of the bikes built by masters like Mike Pugliese, who builds some of the most expensive and innovative choppers in the world from his home garage.

‘“Some of the best bikes in the world are built out of people’s garages,’” Will says. ‘“A lot of people watch too much TV.’”

You don’t need all the fancy machining equipment seen on television bike-building shows, he says. Will works with a machinist who can make anything he needs; he orders his frames and engines, and customizes parts like the oil tank, battery box, fenders and other parts with torches, grinders and welders. When the metal is perfected it’s sent out for a paint job, then assembled and made into a complete piece of mobile art.

He makes it all sound simple, and the clean look of his finished bikes makes it seem like an easy task. But there’s so much more that goes into building a bike than people think, Will says. For example, Will likes to hide the cables on his bikes for a cleaner look. What looks like a 20-minute job of drilling holes into a frame can sometimes turn into hours of frustration using multiple cobalt drill bits. Then the bikes are mocked up with engine and wheels and other parts countless times until all the parts on the bike fit together like one seamless piece.

‘“You never get the money out of a bike for the hours you put into it,’” he says.

In the end each bike is it’s own, with no two alike. When you buy a manufactured motorcycle, Will says, it will always be that particular bike; no amount of customizing will ever change that. But a custom-built bike is like none owned by anyone else. A workbench painted with flames and skulls in the shop carries a phrase backing up Will’s claim: ‘“Custom doesn’t come in a box.’”

People are starting to realize that the same amount of money spent on a factory built motorcycle can buy them a custom bike tailored to fit, he says. Will can build a bike from scratch for as little as $15,000, and the price goes as high as you’re willing to spend for the amount of work you want done. And though the shop