Mr. Greene, in the shop, with a wrench
The G-force behind Paramount Cycles
He’s cool. He’s hot. He’s famous. And those who haven’t already heard of him are about to.
With a waist-long ponytail, an enigmatic number of tattoos and a guest spot on the Discovery Channel’s The Billy Lane Project, Reno’s Aaron Greene was custom when custom wasn’t cool. He set the bar for what’s badass—and what’s considered cutting-edge—in the custom motorcycle arena.
His innovative bikes have garnered Greene attention, praise—hell, even envy from the industry’s old-school builders. Dudes like Arlen Ness and Dave Perewitz, both of whom, along with Greene and several others, were inducted into the International Master Bike Builders Hall of Fame last October at the Daytona Speedway during Florida’s popular Biketoberfest.
“It was really cool,” says Greene, unanimously nominated and one of the youngest inductees at 31. “That’s your industry, your peers recognizing you and your talents, saying that you’re equal with them. Very cool, to come from here and put something on-the-map.”
Minnesota-based builder Donnie Smith, 64, acknowledges Greene’s contribution to the industry, which is just one of the IMBBA’s criteria for Hall of Fame qualification, along with “charitable acts … generosity … and training others.”
“Aaron’s one of the newest young guns, and some of us are the old guys,” says Smith, who’ll be inducted this spring. “He’s quite creative, has a great product and comes out with some creative bikes that keep the sport alive. He does a real good job of representing the custom bike industry as we would like to see it. He’s an asset. Aaron is gaining some of the respect he’s earned in the years he’s been building.”
A seemingly typical boy on a dirt bike 20 years ago, Greene is atypical in that he was “a full-service auto mechanic” at 14. His earliest memories of his destiny were fueled by opportunities to tinker on his grandfather’s ranch in Idaho, where Greene was born.
“I started wrenching on anything I could get my hands on at a very young age,” he says. “I was 4 or 5 years old, messing around with little go-karts and a Kudu, a six-wheeled vehicle with a snowmobile-style engine. I was always playing with that, swapping motors around. We had a big shop, so I could create, fix things or turn something into something else.”
With grandpa challenging the boy to harness his full potential, Greene got plenty of grease under his fingernails.
“They definitely recognized it in me and encouraged it,” Greene says. “My grandfather encouraged me to figure things out. He’d find broken motorcycles and bring ’em home—stuff outta the junkyard. If I got it running, cool. If I didn’t, no big deal.”
Cutting his teeth on the treasure of other people’s junk, Greene would hit the wall when a motor wouldn’t start, then go after the carburetor like a bad potato.
“At that age, you don’t even realize it’s a carburetor,” he says. “You’re just trying to figure things out, understand how to pull things apart and put ’em back together in a certain sequence. I liked solving those problems.”
As Greene’s vocation emerged, he embarked, briefly, down the road toward college. In a thrive-or-drive move after the usual academics and athletics of high school, he attended junior college in Arizona, but he remained uncertain about what he really wanted to do.
“I knew if I took business classes, at least that was safe,” says Greene. “The first place I got a job was at a bike shop. I loved Harleys and always wanted to buy one.”
He broke a sweat at Scottsdale’s Surgical Steeds for John Covington, a builder whom Greene says “was pushing the envelope. I went in there sweepin’ the floors. The first time someone started fabricating something, I begged, ‘Hey, let me weld that.’ As soon as I got to start wrenching on stuff, I was meticulous. I made sure everything went together correctly, didn’t scratch or damage the product. That’s a big deal when you’re working on a very expensive motorcycle. I climbed the ladder. There was no money in it, never was. You were just kind of a grease-monkey Harley mechanic, and that was cool with me.”
Inevitably, Greene encountered the proverbial turning point—the road home.
Back in Reno by 1995, he went confidently in his intended direction but still met resistance. Although he wanted to start his own business, a bike-building stint at Easyriders helped Greene realize that, as a 21-year-old rookie, he would be competing against the big guns. After 18 months, the 6-foot-1-inch Greene longed to flex his creative muscle. A gut instinct and “a tremendous customer base” inspired him to take that big leap of faith.
“I wanted to expand, paint bikes, fabricate my own sheet metal,” he says. “[I said], ‘I want to build cooler bikes. I think we can push this industry.’”
To say Greene has pushed the industry is like saying his custom built, five-figure “White Knuckles” is merely a motorcycle. His successful enterprise has more than a dozen employees, including his parents and younger brother. A true factory, PCC cranks out production bikes and made-to-order motorcycles to fulfill even a Hell’s Angel’s wildest dreams.
Fast-forward to his newest horizon, as Greene—the first builder to slap a fat 280-millimeter rear tire on a chopper—gears up for the Heritage Million Dollar Bike Build-Off in Charleston, S.C., slated for live broadcast on ESPN 2 beginning April 10.
“Even Arlen Ness came up to me in Daytona and said, ‘How hard you gonna push us?’” says Greene. “I’m the guy that’s known not to slack off, to create something they’ve never seen, meaning the rest of them gotta come up with something new!”
If the producers can guarantee the cool million, Greene says he’ll play—though the often-emulated builder with three U.S. patents is savvy enough to keep his designs close-to-the-vest.
“Ideas I thought were so big that I didn’t want people to know were ideas I patented and didn’t even show to people until I was secure with my patents. There’s a lot of design aspects used across-the-board now that I’ll argue came from me. I did a tank—when I first put it out—that some people hated, some didn’t know how to take, some loved. That Hard-Core Highneck tank has influenced almost any bike magazine you pick up—80 percent of the people building anything at the moment.”
At the top of the ranks, Greene flings mud into skeptical eyes.
“What I always battled most was people not really believing that I did everything because I was so young. Here I am, 23 years old, at shows with my own bikes and people going, ‘You’re saying you pounded out all that sheet metal? You painted that bike?’ They’d just shrug me off. Over time, core people started recognizing the knowledge I had.”
While Greene’s got a bit of fame, he has yet to conquer the financial component of the rich-and-famous cliché.
“It’s never been about bringing home a bunch of money at the end of the week,” he says. “It’s still never been about that. This industry isn’t easy. It takes a lot of capital. My production bikes are $20,000-$35,000. That’s a lot of money, but it’s amazing what it costs to produce them. It’s a passion.”