Creating some wild rides
Sunday, April 9, 2005 - If you like the custom motorcycles on cable TV shows like "American Chopper," then Rob Moriconi has a bike for you.
It's a 100-horsepower supercharged machine that he rode to Sturgis, South Dakota, and back. The price tag: $35,000 or maybe more, since he's not really pushing it. It has sentimental value because he built it himself. And rebuilt it. A couple of times.
So far Moriconi, a 47-year-old rice farmer and longtime motorcycle tinkerer, hasn't had any takers for the custom choppers he plans to build out of his store, River Rat Customs, located on Bridge Street in Colusa.
He opened the store on March 26 with business partner and girlfriend Pamela Craig as part evolution of his bike-building hobby, part reaction to a stagnant rice industry. Though he still farms and runs trucks, Moriconi said he had so much motorcycle work out of his house he figured he might as well open up a shop.
"It kind of evolved from a hobby into a business," Moriconi said.
But given the interest in choppers created by "American Chopper" and other cable TV shows that feature exotic-looking motorcycles, there's every chance that someone might stop in, checkbook in hand, to buy one of the wild rides he wants to build. They will sell from $20,000 for a mild chopper to $70,000 for a wild machine. His past projects have won him trophies from the Sacramento Autorama.
"With every channel going on, everybody's crazy over the bike thing," Moriconi said. "Even a lot of the old guys from years ago are getting back into it."
While custom shops like Moriconi's usually start as "mom and pop" operations, some have grown to companies that make thousands of machines a year, said Tim Buche, president of the Motorcycle Industry Council, a Southern California-based trade organization.
"You just never know," Buche said.
His organization counts about 50 small manufacturers, with many more tiny shops that are off the radar. Some have formed a committee within the Motorcycle Industry Council that is studying the sound, style characteristics and frame geometry that go into making a good-handling, quality ride.
Moriconi may have his own niche within a niche, with a design derived from the bikes he likes to ride. He says the frame is long and low, without the big space between the engine and the forks. The engine and transmission are centered in the bike, making it more balanced.
He's going to sell the frame that he designed, along with a Harman-style front-end assembly built by Bill Holland of Roseville. The frame is welded by Boyce Pro Street in Sacramento. Moriconi worked with Boyce to come up with the frame he wanted.
"I wanted to make my own frame to fit the Harman front ends, a long, low frame," Moriconi said. "I like the long, low frame. This is something different than the majority of what people are making. I just wanted to make my own product."
Along with frames, he plans to sell chopper parts, and will customize other people's rides. He is also starting a motorcycle service business in his 2,000-square-foot shop.
The city's mayor is one of his first service customers.
Since Colusa is a small town, Moriconi sees the whole United States as his business market. He's placing in ads in motorcycle publications, putting in time at trades shows, including the Easy Rider show in Portland, Ore., and getting on the map for motorcycle rallies.
Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.