WINSTED, CT – Sometimes moving forward in life requires a leap of faith, a belief in one’s abilities, and the guts to take a chance. And there’s no better time to move ahead than the start of a new year.
Eric Pleil recently gave his employer two weeks’ notice with the goal of turning his side business, Northside Welding & Machine LLC, into a full-time operation. A visible part of it will include customizing motorcycles, which he has already been doing for four years.
RIDE-CT & RIDE-NewEngland became aware of Pleil’s work through a Craigslist ad offering a 1980 Yahama XS650 for sale for $5,500. Pictures of the squat bike showed a bobber rear end, a scrambler stance and a gorgeous root beer paint scheme. So attractive was the bike that it warranted checking out, so an appointment was made to visit Pleil’s shop.
The XS650 was acquired from an owner in New Hampshire early last year. “It was stock. I stripped it completely down to the frame,” explained the 30-year-old Pleil, who’d earlier turned another XS650 into a chopper. “I wanted to try a different style with the same platform.”
The frame and various parts got powder-coated black, the top end of the motor got rebuilt, and the tail section bobbed. The bike was also lowered two inches and a hand-fabricated seat affixed. A stubby aftermarket rear fender was attached (the front fender was discarded), the rear brake was converted from drum to disc, and dual sport-type tires added.
Pleil said he “pretty much cleaned up and minimized everything.” Friend Jim Hayes of Torrington suggested the color and did the paint work on the tins. “It definitely popped,” Pleil said.
The result is a machine that looks spartan and sporty yet muscular; one-off yet familiar and rider friendly. It will be on display next weekend at the Springfield Motorcycle Show at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass.
Pleil’s aim now is “to keep building bikes and get my name out there and do it full time.” He currently has two other motorcycles that need attention – a 1985 Honda CB450 from an owner in Enfield and a 1998 Harley-Davidson Sportster owned by his father, Chris Pleil of West Hartland. Both bikes sit on lifts in his spacious, uncluttered shop.
The CB450 has already had the rear ended trimmed, new handmade side panels and highway foot pegs added, and a seat pan fabricated.
The Sportster, meanwhile, has had its frame cut and the rear suspension removed, turning it into a hard tail. “He wants an early ‘40s Flathead-style motorcycle,” said Pleil of his father’s wishes. The unpainted Sportster already looks old school thanks to valenced fenders.
Pleil’s enjoyment of motorcycles dates back to his youth. He began riding dirt bikes at age 5 and began working on them since he was 14 years old. Ironically, he doesn’t have a daily rider these days having just sold a 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide. The disappearance of the Road Glide has freed up space in his well-stocked shop, which has all the necessary equipment to do custom work – a frame jig, milling machine, pipe bender, and planishing hammer as well as welding tools.
Pleil has already had some success. Another Sportster, a 1989 model, that he turned into a bright red chopper was exhibited in the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in New York in December 2015. It also featured knurled foot pegs of his design.
His reason for going all-in on a business now is because “it’s starting to take off,” he said. “No one is really doing this style of work around here as far as the fabrication.” And he won’t be limiting himself to just motorcycle work, although if orders start coming in that might change.
It’s the vintage bikes that he especially enjoys working on. “I like working on any kind of bike. The year doesn’t matter, but they are easier to work on,” he said.
Pleil reports that turning a classic bike into a personal statement doesn’t have to expensive, either – “anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on how crazy.” Considering that an old bike, such as a running XS650 , can be picked up for $750 to $1,500, it’s certainly possible to have a bike that stands out for not a lot of money.