Ride to live, live to ride

George Powers

Photo By Josh Indar

George Powers, 60, started riding Harley-Davidson bikes as a teenager in Oakland. That was back in the late-'50s, an era when any biker worth his leathers knew not just how to ride his machine but also how to fix it when it broke. That experience started Powers on a 40-plus-year career as a master custom bike builder. After running a series of shops in different parts of Northern California, Powers settled in Chico a little more than five years ago. From his shop, Chico Custom Cycles on The Esplanade, Powers builds bikes from the frame up, repairs Harleys and also sells custom kits to people who want to chop their own rides.

What kind of bikes did you start out riding?

I started with a flathead 45 when I was 13. Then I went to a Knucklehead, then to a Panhead. Rode that for about 30 years. Then I went to Shovelheads and Evolutions. That’s about it.

What do you ride now?

I ride a 1991 FLHTC, completely customed out with a 100-inch motor in it. Totally custom.

Ever see those bumper stickers that say “I’d rather see my sister in a whorehouse than my brother on a Honda?”

Well, I wouldn’t want to see my sister in a whorehouse [laughs]. Of course, if that’s the way that guy feels…

Has the type of person who rides bikes like these changed over the years?

We get all types in here. Some of them just bought a full set of leathers and want to call themselves a biker. You know, they’re my age, their kids are grown up—guy’ll tell his wife, ‘Hey, I’ve wanted to do this all my life.’ So we get the yuppies, then we get hardcore bikers too, people who have been riding all their lives. All kinds. You know, you treat them right and they’ll come back.

Do you ever watch those custom builder shows on TV?

[Laughs] I don’t know about that, man. You see those guys banging on stuff with a hammer. I don’t allow no hammers in my shop. It’s supposed to fit on there—if it doesn’t fit, you’re doing something wrong.

What’s the biggest mechanical challenge you face in building a bike?

For me? Nothing. I’ve been doing this all my life. This is an old-school shop. You see the floors—I don’t care. You want to smoke a cigarette, smoke a cigarette. I’ve owned bike shops all my life, and this is the kind of place I always wanted to have.