Fix-it man

Steve Shoeman

Photo By David Robert

Shoeman’s Custom Cycle, 275 E. Fourth St., specializes in Harley-Davidson repair, restoration and custom fabrication. The showroom is filled with pretty much anything a motorcycle rider needs, with a bunch of extra stuff thrown into the mix. The labyrinth only gets more cluttered with motorcycles and parts on the way up to owner Steve Shoeman’s inner sanctum on the second floor above the shop. “It’s our own Winchester Castle,” he says.

How’d you get started in motorcycles?

I started playing with motorcycles fresh out of high school. I bought a Harley-Davidson at 18. Couldn’t afford to pay someone to fix it so I started learning on my own. I came out here on my motorcycle in 1981. [I’m from] New Jersey originally. We’ve been open 15 years, 16 years in November.

I remember your shop being over closer to the hospital.

I was there from ‘88 until last year. That’s when we came over here, bought this building, a friend and I.

Is that an indication of your success?

I would say so, yeah.

It’s huge.

It’s my attempt to keep up with the dealerships, the popularity of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in general.

What do you think of this trend toward custom bikes?

It’s great. Anytime you have sparked real interest in motorcycles, it does nothing but good things for business.

Are people sticking mainly with the Harleys?

Harleys and some of the aftermarket, the Big Dogs, the Victorys have been real popular. Indian, obviously, didn’t make it. I bought a bunch of their stuff at auction when they went on the auction block.

Are you integrating that into your bikes, or keeping it pure?

The Indian, the modern-day Indian, the one that just went out of business, was a copy of a Harley-Davidson anyway, made with different sheet metal. There is no real purity or anything like that. A lot of the parts cross over, and I’m using them the best way possible because I stole the stuff, pricewise.

What is the biggest misconception the public has toward motorcycle riders?

The motorcycle riders of today are mostly either retired or doctors, lawyers—professionals. You’ve got to remember, you’ve got a $20,000-plus motorcycle, and it’s not something that anyone needs. It’s a pleasure craft as opposed to a necessity. So anybody that owns one, it’s disposable money. Most of the people who own them today are successful businessmen or family men or professionals that have extra money, extra cash.

It’s not those bikers like from …

Like from the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose. It’s totally different nowadays. I have doctors, lawyers, judges, dentists, TV advertising guys.

What do you think fuels the trend toward custom bikes? Harleys especially, are customized right out of the factory. But everybody seems to be …

Gravitating toward the chopper look?

Chopper look, yeah.

The Discovery Channel has a lot to do with it. It’s great. Those two shows, American Chopper and Monster Garage do nothing but spark more interest and enthusiasm to the sport, which is all it needs. Once somebody gets on a motorcycle, it speaks for itself. The TV is generating that interest.

Do you have people come in and ask you for things you can’t do—antigravity machines or something?

[Laughs] There’s very little we can’t do here. We do everything in house except bore cylinders. I could do them here, but it’s cheaper and easier to have somebody else do it. Everything but painting and boring we can do here.

Every time there’s a sudden enthusiasm for motorcycles, I always feel like, “OK, here it is. Next, interest will drop off, and I’ll be able to afford one,” but it seems to keep going up.

I, personally, thought ‘03 was going to be the start of the decline. That was Harleys’ 100th anniversary. After that, I thought it would be harder to get everybody geared up for something. That was the big crescendo. But so far, it hasn’t seemed to drop off much. Interest is still high, but production is high also. There’s no waiting list, backlog, like there used to be. The price has come down on used bikes. Everybody’s asking a lot of money, but that was five years ago that they were getting it. Now they’re not getting it.

What question should I ask that I haven’t?

There’s not really much you haven’t hit on. We have more experience, and we’re better equipped to do anything that relates to Harley-Davidson than anybody else in town. We have a full-service machine shop, custom fabrication. We have a bar right next door. It’s part of the deal—our own beautiful custom waiting room.

Is there a reason to come here instead of going to a dealership?

One reason is that the dealership won’t work on anything more than 10 years old—90 percent of them. There are a few that still do, but most of them don’t find it profitable. We, on the other hand, do anything back to the ‘20s and ‘30s up to present-day motorcycles. We’re more mechanics and technicians rather than parts exchangers and installers, which is what the new dealerships have—guys who just exchange parts, they don’t troubleshoot and fix motorcycles. They don’t understand the theory behind it.

What’s your favorite motorcycle?

I’m a panhead fanatic. They were made from ‘48-'65. I have a stock 1948 that a friend of mine’s granddad bought right off the showroom floor. I’m the second owner of that bike. It’s damned near like it was when it was on the showroom floor.