Kevin Dunworth, Bike Builder Extraordinaire, Blurs the Line Between Vintage and State-of-the-Art in His Custom Builds
Kevin Dunworth, owner of Loaded Gun Customs, has quite a list of bike building accomplishments under his belt. Highlights include television appearances on the Esquire Network’s “Wrench Against the Machine” and Velocity’s “Naked Speed,” features in several motorcycle magazines such as Cycle Source, Iron and Air, and Bike Craft Magazine, and even a showcase in the “Wall Street Journal’s” Gear & Gadgets column. Dunworth is a master of his craft and a respected member of the bike builder community and for this we at Workshop Hero would like to add an additional notch in his belt as we bestow Dunworth with the official title of Workshop Hero Nation ACE.
Born for This
Dunworth’s start in the world of bike building reads like the stories of so many entrepreneurs—early in his childhood he had an experience that planted a seed, a seed that later grew to be an interest; a hobby; a passion; and ultimately a “calling” and it all started with a pile of old motorcycle magazines and an old, used Suzuki dirt bike.
“My dad gave me all of his old Cycle World Magazines, I would read them from cover to cover. I can still recite some of the old articles and road tests I read about more than 30 years ago!”
Kevin’s dad was a motorcyclist who rode all different types of bikes and those he didn’t ride, he had an appreciation for. “My dad always had guys over who knew a lot about motorcycles. They were always open to talk to me and to teach me,” Dunworth said.
At the age of 10, Dunworth’s best friend (the son of his dad’s best friend and business partner) was given a Suzuki RM80 dirt bike. The RM80 came with one set of “strings attached”– if you can start it, you can ride it! That was all Dunworth and his buddy had to hear—and the rest is bike-builder history.
Dunworth spent his teens and early 20s building and racing mountain bikes (at one point Dunworth was a nationally ranked racer); moonlighting at night as a hot rod builder; and trying his hand at car racing. “I didn’t have the money to have someone else build what I wanted, so I worked and learned to do it myself.”
With age and with continued work and exposure to different bikes, Dunworth became more interested in the café racer bike scene. He was inspired by the work of other café racer bike builders such as Brandon Holstein, Ken Boyle, Bryan Fuller and Richard Pollack and now considers several of them as friends and peers.
The Devil is in the Details
Dunworth’s distinctive approach to bike building is due, in part, to his “need for understanding;” his thirst for knowledge; what some call his downright obsession with mastering every aspect of the bike build. There is no generalist in this story, Dunworth is a specialist—a bike builder specialist—the Dr.-Love-of-Café-Racer-Customs kind of specialist and he makes no apologies for it.
“So many aspects of a bike build are interrelated. You have to have an understanding of each step to do the job right,” Dunworth explained. “Understanding processes such as welding, painting, fabricating, or at least learning enough about them that I can communicate with those who are truly the experts, has been invaluable. If I can learn enough to talk-the-talk with the bike builder industry “masters,” I can extract what I need to know from their experience and apply it to my builds to make them better.”
One lesson Dunworth learned early on was to go with his “gut” in his approach to customizing a bike. “In the beginning of the current custom culture, I think I was one of the first to put a lot of time and effort into geometry and high-end suspension components,” he explained, “you just didn’t see that being done.”
“In the late 1990s, a bike from the 70’s or earlier with custom-made rear suspension and an inverted front end was unheard of except maybe from Richard Pollock.” In the blink of an eye, this type of customization is now mainstream and has actually become the norm.
His first bike to gain notoriety and international clients was the Triton he built for Café Racer TV.
“In season one, professional motorcycle road racing brothers Ben and Eric Bostrom were featured and at the end of the episode Eric was quoted as saying my bike was the ‘vintage platform to shoot for,’” Dunworth said. After the airing of that episode, Loaded Gun Customs had a lot of calls for suspension and geometry work on vintage bikes, which is what Dunworth calls “the little ace up our sleeve.”
For Dunworth, following his intuition and going against the norm when tackling a bike build paid off and has offered Loaded Gun Customs a reputation for aggressive frame geometries, strong mechanics and “real world” handling.
Dunworth is a walking billboard to the old saying: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Once he made the decision to start his own shop, his “do it right” philosophy proved to be invaluable.
“When I first started the shop, I tried to be everything to everybody but that led to cutting corners and turning out work that wasn’t always my best. Now, I do what I do best, I do it right from the beginning, I don’t do it any other way.”
Don’t be fooled that it has always been easy, since opening its doors in 2005, Loaded Gun Customs has had its fair share of struggles and failures. “While I always strive to do my best work, I am the first to admit that I have made mistakes–many mistakes over the years. You don’t hear much talk about failures in the industry these days, but they are a valuable part of the learning process.”
Dunworth doesn’t hold back when he tallies some of the “less-successful” bike builds from his early days. “I have built bikes that had mechanical issues or welding issues and I have had customers who have been unhappy. To pretend those experiences didn’t happen is a disservice to those bike builders who are new and up-and-coming. Everyone makes mistakes along the way, you just have to be sure you learn from your problems or failures and use the lessons you learn to do things better the next time.”
It has been a long journey of twists and turns for Dunworth, but his personal code of ethics (Patience. I am a student not a master) and his Loaded Gun Customs mission to ‘take the merely bad and turn it into the simply bad ‘assed,’” keep him focused on the road ahead.