Josh Steele with his business partner Chris John owns a bike repairing, restoring and building shop in Brattleboro, Vermont. We've already featured several bikes built by Vintage Steele: BMW K100 Scrambler, Triumph Tiger, restored BMW R69S. The guys work with different bikes producing various styles and it's really great that one workshop enjoy working in such a broad demand range.
I was curious about VS and who was behind the scenes and decided to get in touch with Josh. So here is by far the most extensive talk published here.
Please, tell a little about yourself.
Hello, My name is Josh Steele, I am turning 34 this year. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in my earliest days in Marshalltown, Iowa. I currently live in a small town called Brattleboro Vermont, in the south-east corner of the State. I own a small house with my girlfriend Sarah Rice, and we have two awesome dogs (Stormy, a basset hound. And Jezebel, a beagle).
My shop Vintage Steele is one block away from where I live and I walk to work everyday. In the early days of V.S. we started out in the detached garage at my house. A little over four years ago we were able to start renting our current location and take our small motorcycle repair and build shop to the next level.
When was the first time you rode a motorcycle? What was it?
I started riding motorcycles later than most people. I began riding in 2009, 8 years ago. I had a bit of extra cash and bought a 1981 Suzuki gs250 from a craigslist add. If I remember correctly I paid $400.00 for it. And with all $400 dollar bikes, it needed tonnes of work. This is how I started wrenching on motorcycles. Although the long version of the story, I will keep short, is my whole life I have been working on bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and dirt bikes whenever I could get my hands on one. And over 9 years ago, in order to warm my girlfriend Sarah up to the concept of being "motorcyclists", we bought a few mopeds. We very quickly grew out of those and bought motorbikes. Her first bike was a 1974 Honda cb200t.
Why and how did you get into the bike-building business?
In 2010 Sarah and I bought a house with a garage. That is the day my tool collection and motorcycle inventory started growing exponentially. Before we lived in a small apartment and this is where I got the motorcycle repairing bug. I was very limited to working on our bikes in the driveway. Our house was a dream for me. The garage at the time was more than sufficient for me to work on a bike or two here and there while holding down a full time job at a local non-profit.
This is when I met Chris my now business partner. He came to me wanting to know how to work on bikes and I taught him everything I know. As the demand grew from just working on our friends' bikes to taking money from customers to fix their bikes, We learned quickly the demand for this service.
Being located in Southern Vermont we have very harsh winters, winters you CAN'T ride motorcycles. So we had to figure out how to make money when the repairs were almost nonexistent. This is when we started exploring how to modify, individualise, and make one-of-a-kind motorbikes. This bike in the early days are nothing we are proud of and I hope you never see pictures of them.
What bike style do you prefer to work on?
Although I dig all bikes and don't like or dis-like one bike from another. I really prefer BMW's, and older the better. BMW has it all figured out. And where they need improvement there is room for the improvement. I love their engineering and design.
(1969 BMW R69S Restored by VS)
What bike/bikes do you ride? Do you have a favourite brand?
I currently do not have a bike (although the shop owns upwards of 100 motorcycles at any given time). My goal right now with the business is to make money so we can keep the doors open. This means everything is for sale.
Like mentioned before, the winters here are so long. When the riding season is here everyone wants their bikes maintained and fixed immediately. This leaves me with no time to ride. Something I did not consider when starting this business. The last bike I owned was excited to ride was a 1980 BMW r80, I had to sell it last Spring to pay taxes.
Can you, as an American, spot the differences in rider tastes between the USA and the rest of the world?
Although I am not as worldly travelled as I dream of, I feel the American Harley culture is pretty apparent. But this is sort of dying out. Because of the incredible marketing companies like Triumph, and Royal Enfield are doing the culture is changing dramatically for the better. It's great because this is not a tough guy thing anymore. Riding motorcycles is for everyone and there are many great people proving this daily.
When it come to the rest of the world, we are learning how to do it right by not setting the example and learning with other people are doing and getting into those concepts. Like the cafe racer.
Why do you think custom built motorcycles are so popular? Will riders want something different 10-15 years from now?
Yes, the trends and desires of the market are always changing. Look at the chopper culture from the 90's. It's dead. Not many people want to spend $100k on a bike anymore. Also, people are getting more excited about functionality over looks. This is good. Don't get me wrong, chopper culture is making a comeback and great in its own way. I just hope rider can be more understanding and accepting of other style bikes if we want to see the industry thrive.
My shop hates putting labels on the bikes we build. We like to consider ourselves bike builders and don't just build one kind of bike. The reason custom motorcycle are so popular I feel is because of their accessibility, affordability, and the sense of freedom they give you. Nothing else does this for a person like a motorcycle does. Because cars are getting so expensive and normal people can't work on the theirselves, the car mod culture is going to struggle. So bring on the motorbike.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
I get most my inspiration from visual art, photography, and film. In order to not copy other builders, I don't pay much mind to their bikes. I admire them, scan past them, and try to forget about them. I want all our bikes to not be like other builders. I want the client, customer, and spectator to look at it and recognize it as a Vintage Steele build.
Running a business is very exciting for me these days. And as lame as I know it sounds, I am currently watching Chef's Table and taking away a tonne of interesting information for that show. But who knows what will inspire me next week..
What places would you recommend to the riders for visiting on a bike?
We are in New England. Anywhere in New England. This whole area is pretty amazing for riding a motorcycle, enjoying nice people, beautiful scenery, and twisty roads.
Thank you for your time! It was a really exciting and interesting Interview. I wish you best of luck with VS shop.
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