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interview with jon ard of ardcore choppers

The custom motorcycle industry is filled with characters. Strong personality quirks are inherent in the desire to build and ride on two wheels with as little as possible to interfere between you and the world. It wasn’t that Evel Knievel was cool, he was, but he was cool because he was death-defying. He was famous for being fearless. The best custom motorcycle builders are similar.

All the talent in the world will only get you so far as a bike builder. What sets the best apart is attitude. Death-defying, in-your-face ‘tude to spare. There is a reason the best-known builders are guys like Jesse James, Billy Lane and the immortal Indian Larry. They have attitude that is unlike any other.

Jon Ard of Ardcore Choppers is one of those guys.

bM: Hey Jon. Thanks for speaking with me. What got you into building mostly custom metric bikes, especialy Yamaha XS650 choppers, instead of American V-twins?

JA: Many folks out there assume since we do primarily metric bikes we are anti- American V-twin. Far from it. We’re just bike guys. We’ve seen and built just as many cool Triumphs, Hondas, BMWs and more over the years as Harleys and we like them all.

Our core business is custom frames. We started out building frames for big V-twins and just doing Metric stuff for ourselves. Once the bulls**t T.V. shows and bandwagon jumpers became overnight bike builders, we saw the H-D market get saturated. At about that same time we had a customer inquire about a rigid frame for a Honda Spirit 750, a water cooled V-twin. We told him “no problem” and began the R&D work to develop first a bolt-on hardtail and then the full frame. Once word got out we would touch Metric bikes, we haven’t looked back.

bM: I bet not. You guys are really the foundation of the metric custom movement. Clean, affordable, sturdy stuff. I think you’ve got to be more creative to build a metric bobber or chopper than an American V-twin.

JA: For us it’s more challenging building on the Metric side since we can’t pick up a catalog and order every nut and bolt to build one, not that we would if it was possible. We have to modify an existing part or come up with something from scratch. ****, our complete builds often incorporate parts from tractors to forklifts and everything in between.

bM: That’s what I love about the metric movement. Each bike is truly unique. It isn’t stacked with parts from a catalog any dumbass who can point can snag for a bill and glue on. Most of your bikes are very traditional and we like that at bikerMetric, but “Get Bent” is pretty radical. What is the story behind that bike?

JA: With the “Get Bent” bike we were looking to achieve a couple of things. First, we wanted to show folks you could economically build something unique using other than the normal V-twin power plant, and most importantly, showcase what the guys and I are capable of turning out the door. We knew when building “Get Bent” that guys were going to absolutely hate it or love it with no in between. Not to pat ourselves on the back but that bike was very well received all over the globe.

When we were building it we posted pics on the web of its progress and we had every arm chair engineer telling us how “this was going to break,” “how that wouldn’t work” and “how we would burn clutches up trying to pull a 22 tooth rear sprocket,” which personally gave me that much more inspiration. On the sprocket note, they weren’t smart enough to figure out that with the jackshaft and four sprockets we could gear this thing accordingly.

bM: Badass. Are you planning more radical bikes in the near future?

JA: Currently, we kind of see the trend going to the extreme to build a unique bike. Nothing wrong with that but many are so far over the top they lose the feel of a motorcycle. We tried to do something pretty radical but still have it look, feel and ride like a bike.

bM: You’ve raced bikes, from drag to speedway. Can you give us a memorable moment from those adventures?

JA: First I gotta say that the people and friends I have met over the years racing have been truly a gift. Most memorable moments would have to be running the speedway bikes. I can honestly say if you ever have a chance to watch these run, or better yet ride one, do it! There are no words to describe riding what is basically a 160lb bicycle with a 500cc alky motor (editor’s note: alky = alcohol fueled) on it with no friggin’ brakes. It’s a two-wheeled sprint car and takes a set of ***** the size of Texas to ride one correctly. The old guys words of wisdom were “right when you think your gonna crash it, gas it!”

bM: Sound advice for a madman. How did you start racing speedways?

JA: I was still learning to ride and entered my first race at Lawrenceburg Speedway just outside Cincinnati one Friday night. I had just bought a brand new one, with new gear so I looked the part anyway. Normally the riders are separated in divisions based on ability but that night there weren’t enough riders so they put us all out there together. They told me to start at the back of the pack, take it easy and stay out of the way as best I could. No problem. I pin the throttle, tapes go up and we’re off. Going into the first turn I wasn’t really comfortable sliding sideways yet so I kind of two-wheeled around the bottom of turns one and two. Coming out onto the back straightaway, I found myself in second and thought for a brief moment, “I got this *******!” I chased the guy in first down the back straightaway.

bM: Oh no…

JA: Well, here’s the scenario; one new rider, one extremely fast motorcycle, one super tacky track and one four foot wall with a chain link fence behind that to contain the ensuing chaos. I’m carrying entirely too much speed for my lack of ability into turn three. Remembering these things turn by spinning the rear tire and leaning it sideways while turning the wheel, and the words of wisdom from the veterans stating to gas it when in doubt, I proceeded to twist the b**ch for all she was worth expecting it to come around nice and easy. Well, it basically hooked, lifted the front wheel and I did the most beautiful sh*t-your-pants wheelie right into the wall in turn four!

Upon slamming into the wall, it threw me over the bars, into the chain link fence behind the wall, which acted like a big metal trampoline shooting me back into the middle of the track in front of seven other crazy bastards on these two wheeled death machines. These bikes have no brakes and all I could think was, “great, now I’m gonna get ran over.” I assumed the fetal position hoping to provide a smaller target while waiting for the second or third impact and fortunately it doesn’t come. They stop the race to clean up the sh*t that fell out of my leathers and I’m lying there doing the usual move this and that to see what’s broke or missing before the medics get to me. I’ll never forget when the guy asks me what hurts, I tell him, “my right arm and my nuts.” He says, “I’ll check your arm but you’re on your own with the other.” They diagnose that nothing is broken and help me to my feet as my wife helps me limp off the track to the cheers of the crowd. I am black and blue from the neck down and can’t undo my pants to ****. The wife has to pull my package out and hold it like I’m being potty trained but I am now officially a speedway junkie.

bM: Dude….

JA: It’s ironic that a year or two later we were down there again, this time with my two sons racing flat track when an older couple came down to the pits after the races to meet the little guy in the 50cc class that’s spanking the big kids *****. The old man proceeds to tell us they were once in town on vacation because there was a casino across the street at the time and he had never been to a speedway race. They saw an advertisement and came out to watch. With a gleam in his eye he described watching some superhuman, crazy ******* hit the wall at full throttle, telling me both he and his wife were convinced this guy was dead. Then the guy got up and walked away! He told us he was hooked and ever since attends every race he can find. I told him that guy was me and we shared a few beers, some motorcycle stories and exchanged email info. We still stay in contact to this day.

bM: What a great story. Do you have plans to race anything in the future? Maybe a Bonneville speed bike? Would Ardcore be interested in helping sponsor a WERA race team?

JA: My racing days are about done. My youngest boy is fifteen now and we have spent the last couple years playing with dirt bikes with the wife riding ATVs on weekends. He’s convinced he wants to try some enduro-type woods racing so we are currently gearing up for that this year and I’ll be perfectly happy, I guess, being his pit crew. I did check and they do have a senior class just in case I get the bug again. ****, who ever thought I would be considered a senior at 42.

It’s funny you mentioned a Bonneville venture as I have a chassis and body designed for a pretty cool streamliner that will use a turbo charged GSXR 750 power plant. Of course, logically the plan is to put my “no fear” kid in it but I will be sure and build the seat wide enough to get my fat *** in if I feel the need. It’s just tough to find the time with all the customer builds and other projects going on.

Would we be interested in helping a WERA team? Sure if they would be willing to help an Ardcore off road team.

bM: Hm. I’ll have to make some inquiries. Is there something Ardcore would like to do or build that you haven’t yet?

JA: First thought, as would be anybody’s…. I’d like to make a million bucks (laughs). But honestly, we obviously don’t do this just for the money, as those guys that are in it for that reason are either out or on their way out of the game. We do have a new build we are getting ready to start that we are pretty excited about. We also got an invitation to the World Championship of Bike Building this year at Sturgis. The bike will have some really interesting and new applications from different vehicles that we hope everyone will dig. If not, we’ll be happy with it anyway and that’s all that really matters.

Of course I have notebooks full of new ideas and bikes but again there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

bM: If you were to write a book about world domination, what would be the title of the first chapter?

JA: First chapter would probably be “IT’S MY TURN NOW MOTHERF***ERS!”

bM: Exactly! I think I know what to do now. If you were to blow in any direction, what would you say?

JA: Couple of things, but first things first. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHOP! F**K EBAY!

Let me clarify. There are some good dudes out there that sell quality parts, but there are way too many Hillbilly Henrys selling sh*t from their kitchen table that are happy making 50 cents on a sale as they have no overhead, no insurance or even a dedicated phone line. Don’t get me wrong, I understand guys building on a budget as we all are in today’s s**tty economy but keep in mind a couple of things. First, here’s a scenario we see all too often: A guy stops in his local chop shop to check on some tire (or whatever) prices as his are basically shot. The owner shoots him a quote and tells him he can have them in one or two days. The guy tells him he can get the same tires $20 cheaper off the internet so he passes on the purchase and orders the tires on his computer. Five days later his tires show up. Normally the right ones would come but this time the rear is the wrong size. The guy double checks himself; he ordered the correct size but they screwed the order up. Sh*t! He calls and hopes he can get a hold of someone. Great, they answer and apologize for the mix up. They tell him to return the tire with some NASA return authorization code they give him. The guy tells them he has a ride coming up and really needs the tire and asks if they can go ahead and get the new tire coming. Again they apologize as they tell him they can’t ship the new tire until the old one is received as they have been stiffed by crooked customers. Now he wraps it up with the NASA code, ships it back and waits. Three days to get there, one day to process the order and three days back.

In all, it takes 12 days to get his tires (counting the first five-day wait) and he missed his ride and at this point he’s just fed up. Finally, he’s ready to put them on, but he’s in a hurry and doesn’t really have the patience to wrestle the old ones off and mount the new ones. So he runs back up to the local chop shop to ask them to mount ‘em up. If this guy is lucky, the shop owner says he can squeeze him in but tells the guy the normal charge for mounting tires purchased from him is $20 a tire, but since they were purchased somewhere else it’s $30 a tire. At this point the guy thinks, “man, this guy is ******** me,” and he pays to have them done.

The moral of the story is that HE DIDN’T SAVE A DIME! You can substitute just about any part and we all know guys, if not ourselves, who have been in similar. Throw your local small shop some business and you might be surprised how willing he might be to stay open a little later on a Saturday afternoon so you can get there to get a clutch cable for Sunday’s ride.

I also have difficulty with copycats. First, let me say we do not claim to be innovative nor the first to do anything. Every time I think I have some new idea I open up a 1976 issue of Street Chopper and there it is. We all have influences that we like or a builder’s style and that’s natural. But to just blatantly copy somebody else’s sh*t and then claim it as your own is just B.S. We have all seen it time and time again. I personally have seen a frame builder in Europe copy our XS bobber frame to a “T” and even used pictures of our completed bikes to market them. Of course we were fortunate enough to have that stopped but again we see this kind of sh*t every day with ours and other shops and their bikes being copied. Or the a**hole who orders a part you designed only to copy it and sell it himself. Like they say “someone copying your stuff is the greatest form of flattery,” yeah well, F**K YOU and the flattery. Think for yourself and come up with something of your own. Okay, now my blood pressure is up and I’m ready to choke somebody. This concludes my vent session.

bM: Looking around uneasily…. smirks and winks….

I know what you mean, man. I’ve had my ideas and creations stolen, too; as a writer, as a graphic designer, as a parts manufacturer…. That kind of flattery won’t pay my bills. But who cares? It’s the metric revolution and it’s definitely our turn, man. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me so I can let the readers of bikerMetric know more about you and Ardcore, Jon. You’ve been great and it’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Please keep us posted about your new builds and your results at the World Championship in Sturgis. We’ll be rooting for you.

Now, let’s have a beer. I think we deserve it.


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One comment

  1. really like the builds, talented shop!

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