Flashy motorcycles entice at custom bikes shop

Friday, March 15, 2002

By Jim Obert

Business Today

Softtails, Fat Boys, Bad Boys, Wide Glides, Shovelheads, Knuckelheads -- these are not insults to hurl at groups in a dank bar. They are, of course, models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Pre-owned Harleys, custom-made motorcycles, and accessories from racing pistons to black leather saddlebags pepper the newly expanded showroom at Ford's Custom Bikes & Auto Service in Cape Girardeau.

Purple gas tanks, burgundy fenders, parts of motorcycles painted red and cream, black, yellow, silver -- the showroom is a kind of visual assault. The flooring is checkered black and white tiles. Not a drip of oil anywhere.

"I've got a dozen bikes in the showroom at all times," said Joe Ford, who started working on motorcycles about 15 years ago.

Ford emphasizes he's not a dealer for Harley-Davidson motorcycles or accessories. His business is a custom shop that sells pre-owned Harleys and custom-made motorcycles. He built one custom-made cycle -- a 2000 Boar -- that sold for $38,000.

Ford said custom-made cycles often resemble Harleys, because that's what many people want them to look like.

"People like custom-made bikes because they already have all the special, custom parts. They already have all the extra chrome and special paint jobs," said Ford, adding that a person could buy a Harley for $20,000 then spend another $10,000 customizing it -- changing the wheels, the seat, adding chrome and various accessories.

Ford, who was born in Jackson, is self-taught on motorcycle and auto customizing and repairs. After high school, he worked at Florsheim Shoes and dabbled in car repairs at his house. In 1975, he rented a shop on Kingsway Drive in Cape and did car and truck repairs to include fleet service for Bluff City Beer and a potato chips company.

Ford had mini-bikes as a youth and bought his first Harley at age 18. It cost $4,500 brand new. About 15 years ago he added motorcycle repairs to his business and branched into customizing cycles.

He moved to his current location on Boulder Crest Drive, off of North Kingshighway, about five years ago. Last year he added 4,000 square feet to the showroom, bringing it to 7,000 square feet. He plans to triple the size of his 2,000-square-foot workshop.

When it comes to pre-owned Harleys, Ford said he gets them in all conditions.

"I'll fix them up or sell them like they are. I get all years of Harleys but I try to keep the newer models in the showroom," he said. "People want Softtails, Fat Boys, Sportsters. We have scouts out looking for bikes."

People who own Harleys will often send Ford a photo to study. He often goes out of state to buy a bike and bring it back. He insists on documented background history and maintenance records.

Potential customers at his business can test ride motorcycles. Ford rides along beside them.

"People who go for a test ride are usually serious people who are ready to buy," said Ford, standing near a restored 1993 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softtail. "Sometimes we'll put the bike on the Dyno and show them how well it's set-up to run."

The Dyno, or Dynojet, is an engine diagnostics machine that fine-tunes horsepower and torque. Ford said it's a $20,000 investment, and it's the only one of its kind between St. Louis and Memphis.

Ford said he sells a lot of Harley-brand items to people who don't own Harleys. Items include belts, billfolds, jewelry and T-shirts.

He also sells cycle boots and shoes made locally at Cape Shoe Co. Helmets, gloves, decals, windshields, pipes, tires and high-performance parts are available.

Ford is a dealer for several companies to include S&S Motors, Merck's Motors and Sturgis Wheels. He recently entered a new venture -- tractors. He plans to do onsite repairs of Terex Tractors, which are backhoes made in Manchester, England.

"This business is family-oriented and we want all types of people to stop by, whether they have a motorcycle or not," said Ford.

BIG -- Purple gas tanks, burgundy fenders, parts of motorcycles painted red and cream, black, yellow, silver -- the showroom is a kind of visual assault.

PICS -- Joe Ford, owner of Ford's Custom Bikes & Auto Service in Cape Girardeau, kneels beside a restored 1993 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softtail. BT/Jim Obert

-- A 105-horsepower motorcycle, custom built by Joe Ford, shares showroom space with a Bar Fly racing vehicle. The Bar Fly is a bar stool attached to a frame and powered by a 5-horsepower engine. The oddity can scoot along at 15 to 20 mph.

-- A Dynojet diagnostic machine fine-tunes motorcycle horsepower and torque at the pre-owned Harleys and custom bikes business.

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