Custom Builder Richard Pollock and His Mules

Interviews -

By

IMG_2019-001

Adjustable offset triple clamps on the Russian build.
Adjustable offset triple clamps on the Russian build.

RA: Give us some advice. What would you tell someone who has a vision and wants to build custom motorcycles? And what would tell someone who just wants to make their bike better, bit by bit?

Richard Pollock: Start with a cheap bike and do a few things. Building custom motorcycles or furniture or houses or cars, bicycles, boats or whatever it may be is all about digging in and get your hands dirty. You have to start somewhere and then keep at it. Do another one. And another and on and on. Learn from your mistakes. That’s how it was in the old days when people had a much longer attention span. To get good, you have to chop away and sometimes for a very long time. Go to shows, races, swap meets, talk to people, hang around in motorcycle shops, look at pictures by the hundreds. Study what makes stuff you like look good and what you don’t like look bad. Search for clues. Best of all would be to get a job in a shop and learn a lot every day. I started in a Honda shop for $65.00 a week and had to drive 30 miles each way. It was what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world.

Want to make your bike better bit by bit? That can involve a lot of trial and error, but a good start is usually going for lighter weight. The bike will improve with everything you make lighter and it costs the least. To a point. Trying to keep up with your buddies by putting more trick parts on your bike is very expensive. Next thing you know, they’ll go out and get a newer model and then you have to start all over again.

IMAG4427
A creative mind must have organized tools.

RA: What do you absolutely love about motorcycles? What is that “thing” inside that keeps you out in the shop late at night?

Richard Pollock: Motorcycles are many things. Part transportation, part tool and part toy. They make nice sounds, they produce thrills, require lots of skill or sometimes require very little skill. They are entertaining to look at, watch and to work on. You can see and smell things on a motorcycle that you never will in a car. They are mechanical art. They are my life, not just a hobby or a passing interest.

IMG_1928
Richard explaining some of the finer points of Triumph front-end geometry.

RA: Do you ever think the day will come when you will modify an electric bike? (As they are getting more prevalent by the day.)

Richard Pollock: I hope so! I wanted to build one for flat track racing where it would have be the perfect application a couple years ago. I contacted every E-bike company but they all said they were already committed to a “sportbike” type program and showed almost zero interest. The cost of the motor, controller and batteries is too high for me to jump in without the electronics expertise of an engineering dept at one of these companies. If I did the “E” part wrong, the learning curve/failure would be costly. I have a lot of ideas on this but really need to partner with a manufacturer for it to succeed. And it would!

Note the slimmer clutch cover with hydraulic clutch fittings.
Note the slimmer clutch cover with hydraulic clutch fittings.

RA: If money were not a concern, what bike would you choose to modify and why?

Richard Pollock: I would like to build many, many bikes and although the project is a secret, I am currently building my very own “dream bike.” Also, I’d like to build a street tracker from a 650 Ninja twin. I like the new Yamaha FZ9, and the KTM RC8 sportbike would be a good one to go under the knife as well. I’m not a fan of the hard angle, stealth fighter plastic bodywork look. And in fact the worst thing about the Stealth fighter that these bikes try to emulate, is the aerodynamics. I haven’t done one in a stock frame but an earlier Buell could be made to look and go really good. When you get into the high-end stuff, I think the bikes like MV’s and Ducatis are a little too locked into their original packaging. Changing too much on those can have an adverse effect. Harleys have been done to death as have CB750 Hondas. I think there are a lot of nice 4-stroke singles that could evolve into something very interesting as well. The starting point or “The bike I’d like to modify” is every bike I see really. Carving up a Desmosidici or something like that would be fun but no more fun than a 1966 BMW Boxer twin. The one requirement to me is that the motor is not going to end up being fragile.

IMG_1965

RA: Final question: Whose work do you most admire at the moment?

Richard Pollock: There are a few guys. Clay Rathburn at Atom Bomb customs makes really clean, simple early Triumph bobbers and recently did a street tracker and a motocrosser that are super, super nice. Freddy Krugger in Belgium is in a class by himself. Every bike he builds is earth shattering! Roland Sands’ bikes have all sorts of combinations of finishes that end up really sweet and the Radical Ducati bikes are I think closest to what I would try to build given a Ducati clientele. Their bikes are all custom and all race track all the time. Kraus builds about the nicest bikes ever, but there are too few to look at. DP Customs in Arizona are developing a unique style that when refined will become a future trend, so says, “Mule, the prophet.” These are the guys that I keep an eye on. They aren’t copying each other or anybody else. They are all unique and making great bikes.

aakash-export4

IMG_2027

  • Charles Quinn

    Great read! And Richard’s bikes are beautiful, I just checked out the Mule Motorcycles site.

  • Reid

    If I ever get in a position where I can afford to have a $30k-ish custom bike, I will gladly hand over my Duke to this man. I love his work. His perspectives are spot-on.

  • Chris McKendry

    Always been a fan of this guys work. Proper/reliable function is at the root of every good bike. Great interview!

  • Sjef

    Great article, this is the kind of stuff that made me read HFL.
    Mule seems like one of the best in the custom world.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    He has some beautiful bikes on his site. #ButtJewelry

    • Mr.Paynter

      Voted up for your hashtag!

  • Chris Gillham

    on popular motorcycle blogs I scroll past all of the other comments and just read Richards. he is a smart guy with educated opinions. However he does have somewhat elitist views on custom builds, but with builds like his, he is allowed to.

    • http://www.bikeexif.com/ Chris Hunter

      I’ll second the ‘elitist’ bit!

      • http://www.mulemotorcycles.net/ Mule

        Thanks for the support Chris.

        • http://www.bikeexif.com/ Chris Hunter

          I jest … you know I’m one of your biggest fans.

          • http://www.mulemotorcycles.net/ Mule

            I prefer to be called a “Purist”. Elitist sounds like a snob of some sort. Maybe I come across like that by way of the written word. I’ll check with my publicist and see if he can’t get that straightened out..

  • http://www.faster-faster.com/ Marc Fenigstein

    “I wanted to build one for flat track racing… I contacted every E-bike company but they all said they were already committed to a “sportbike” type program and showed almost zero interest.”

    Richard, you skipped at least one: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=431030223641919&l=60a58ca9aa

    Love what you’re doing, love the aesthetic, and especially love this: “Simple… means fun. It means less frivolous junk and fancy, expensive plastic.” We’re cheering for you up here in NorCal.

    • Mugget

      Isn’t that a dirt bike?

      I know you can lower a dirt bike and do other mods for flat track use, but an actual flat track bike is completely different.

      • http://www.mulemotorcycles.net/ Mule

        A flattrack bike generally speaking, is a bike set-up for blasting around a smooth dirt oval. The key is to set the bike up to get maximum traction and to make the rear wheel very controllable with the throttle while sliding.There’s a bunch more to than that, but if you watch all short track races (Nationals and local stuff), almost all bikes are converted motocrossers.Some guys remove the MX front fender and some don’t. So, with the MX front fender intact, they can look a lot like the original bike they were built from.I know nothing about the bike in the picture, but would assume it’s an E-crosser set up for flattrack.

        Now, if you’re talking the 750 GNC bikes running on the halfmiles and miles, those are definitely NOT based or related to factory OEM motcrossers and in fact are purpose built from the ground up.

  • William Connor

    I really appreciated the fact that he talked about keeping what the manufacturer did right. Really nicely done bikes.

  • kent_skinner

    If I could justify a bike that cost that much, my money would be in Richard’s hands right now.

  • 200 Fathoms

    Great interview.

  • Hamish Lamont

    Interesting article with some very insightful comments about the custom bike world. Richard has really carved his place in the custom builder scene with instantly recognizable, impeccably high quality builds. His combination of skill and passion marks Mule as one of the very best custom motorcycle brands. If only I could afford a stable of them. It’s people like Richard who inspire me to keep going back to the shed every Saturday, modifying my bike and making parts over and over until it’s ‘perfect’!