JOHN RY­LAND

Cycle World - - Makers - Story and Pho­tog­ra­phy by ZACH BOW­MAN

JJohn Ry­land wasn’t born to mo­tor­cy­cles. He found them late when a friend from work in­sisted he throw a leg over a Suzuki DR650. It was Fe­bru­ary in Vir­ginia, long, cold weeks from spring’s warm days. He had a wife and kids and a 9-to-5 at an ad­ver­tis­ing agency. He got his li­cense, bought a pile of projects, and started his first build. He was 40 years old.

“That was eight years ago,” he says. “The first one was a Yamaha XS850 Triple, and I wanted to put the gold fork on it.”

He laughs when he says it, his sharp eyes nar­row­ing be­hind his glasses. Of ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened since—get­ting laid off at the height of the re­ces­sion, start­ing a cus­tom-mo­tor­cy­cle shop on a whim, build­ing bikes for ac­tors and tele­vi­sion shows, and now pro­duc­ing his own videos in-house—ev­ery­thing started with that gold fork. That bike and Ry­land’s sub­se­quent builds helped usher in an age of Öh­lins-equipped cus­toms, ma­chines in­spired by the de­tail-obsessed work of builders such as Wrench­mon­kees and Deus. Work Ry­land shyly calls “alt-moto.”

“Those guys were just do­ing their own thing,” he says. “They were choos­ing to be sub­tle where other peo­ple were choos­ing to be out­ra­geous. You had to take a close look. That was alt-moto to me. It wasn’t just stock stuff, it wasn’t just ad­ven­ture rid­ers or sport-bike guys who just want to go as fast or far as pos­si­ble. It was this kind of thought­ful, cool lit­tle al­ter­na­tive to the rest of the thing.”

Ry­land and Clas­si­fied have traded in an al­ter­na­tive view of what a cus­tom mo­tor­cy­cle should be, a view that has tra­di­tion­ally in­cluded fat tires, bare metal tanks, and, of course, that gold fork. The bikes, built across some 17 dif­fer­ent plat­forms, are all strik­ing and unique de­spite a co­he­sive aes­thetic, si­mul­ta­ne­ously modern and nos­tal­gic. In 2015, Clas­si­fied caught ac­tor Nor­man Ree­dus’ eye, which even­tu­ally led the shop to build a trio of bikes for the ac­tor’s char­ac­ter, Daryl, on The Walk­ing Dead.

It put the com­pany’s work in front of mil­lions of eyes, in­clud­ing peo­ple who never thought twice about a mo­tor­cy­cle.

“I re­al­ized one day that we’re ba­si­cally en­ter­tain­ers,” he says. “We build bikes and have some cus­tomers, but peo­ple treat what we do like en­ter­tain­ment. They re­view it. There are venues for it. Ev­ery­body goes and checks it out and gives their opin­ion as if they bought a ticket for a movie.”

Ry­land also re­al­ized that most of the suc­cess­ful shops from which he drew in­spi­ra­tion in the early days do more than shill cus­tom bikes. They sell ap­parel or sling cof­fee. They rely on an al­ter­na­tive rev­enue stream to keep the lights on. That’s part of the rea­son why the old brick sta­ble that Clas­si­fied calls home now serves triple duty, with the bike shop down­stairs and a full video and sound stu­dio up­stairs, all geared to­ward pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity videos on the bikes and the skele­ton crew that mans the shop. And, like the mo­tor­cy­cles them­selves, the short films are good-hearted and quirky, deftly de­fy­ing cat­e­go­riza­tion, but widely ap­peal­ing.

“With the show, we’re look­ing at that as a way to do some­thing we’re proud of that has to do with mo­tor­cy­cles and high­lights what we do.”

In some ways, it’s Ry­land re­turn­ing to a skill set he left be­hind eight years ago—sto­ry­board­ing, writ­ing, and cre­at­ing a visual con­cept from start to fin­ish. But he couldn’t have leaped straight from his of­fice at the ad agency to his work on the Clas­si­fied Moto video se­ries. He and the rest of his crew had to spend the years scrap­ing and dig­ging, build­ing bikes, and putting their stamp on the rid­ing world.

“I’m so used to work­ing on in­stinct. I’m al­ways re­ly­ing on ‘it feels like we should do this’ or ‘stop this; this isn’t go­ing to go any­where.’ I feel like what hap­pens is, when you’re in that po­si­tion where ev­ery­body’s look­ing to you, and they know you’re just kind of wing­ing it a lot of the time, you feel this crazy pres­sure to per­form. I end up feel­ing a lot of weird pres­sure in this busi­ness that’s sup­posed to be fun and

soul nur­tur­ing and things like that. I’m stress­ing so hard be­cause peo­ple are giv­ing me lee­way to do what I want to do. The weird stuff that we do around here or the weird projects we take on, none of it makes any sense, but it all kind of makes sense in the big scheme.”

Clas­si­fied’s most re­cent ef­fort, Ju­nior, is a per­fect ex­am­ple. A tweaked Honda CT70 with a pen­chant for loft­ing the front wheel, it’s a bike most hard­core builders would sim­ply leave in a shed to rust to death. But there’s a joy in it, one that makes you want to go out and wrench or ride your­self. Ry­land says that above the gold fork and bare metal, that’s Clas­si­fied’s ethos: re­mind­ing the world that bikes are fun, and de­spite all the rea­sons to the con­trary, they’re worth the ante.

“I feel like we’ve sort of al­ways proudly said we don’t know what the hell we’re do­ing, and part of that is dis­arm­ing. I don’t know which way you’re sup­posed to do it. I just re­ally like the way this looks or I like the con­cept of mix­ing these things to­gether.”

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