It was mid-week, and Ben and I were knee deep into planning the issue you hold in your hands. I could see something was bothering him as I listed out the candidates for our next “Riding Shotgun” section. “How about the Alpha Landspeeder?” I said. “Too Popular Mechanics,” Ben replied immediately without lifting his head. He had a good point, so I moved on down the list. “Well, what about the American Chopper guys?” Ben didn’t even flinch. “Umm, maybe we can visit the Keanu Reeves’ motorcycle garage?” Still no feedback from my assistant editor.
“Well shit, Ben, I give up!” I exclaimed. “Obviously, there is something on your mind. Quit acting like my ex-wife and just say it.” He cracked a smile, stood up and got ready to give his pitch. “You remember back in Issue 1 when we featured the rat rod builder?” Of course, I remembered. Ben continued, “That guy wasn’t popular. That guy didn’t have a TV show. In fact, I doubt anybody knew his name outside his personal circle. But he did have one thing that resonated with me. He was as real as it gets — a bona fide American gearhead. Let’s quit going for famous and go for old-fashioned instead.”
Damn, leave it to Ben to bring us back to reality. This is what Skillset was originally all about. I’ve really enjoyed all the people we’ve featured in this section, but its time to switch gears. (And yes, I totally meant to use that pun. Been saving that line for over a year now. Moving on …)
We started the search for a real bike shop, and within days, we had a list of possibilities. My criteria were simple. I wanted a small shop with a staff of under 10 people and a workplace where guys could still be guys. In other words, if they had a HR department, we were gonna have to pass.
Out of the dozens of garages that were on the table, one really stood out from the rest. FTD (For the Dream) Cycles checked all the boxes and then some. Located in central Phoenix, this shop specializes in the service and repair of American V-twins and metric cruisers. They are well known for overhauling engines and transmissions for Harley-Davidsons from 1903 to the present, as well as classic British twins such as Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons.
The shop is owned by Ken Schmoldt and Dan Parent. These two wrench turners have over 31 years of combined motorcycle mechanic experience and are especially knowledgeable on early model bikes. Evos, Shovelheads, Ironheads, Sportsters … you name it. This is the place you take your bike to get serviced when it’s not covered by the dealerships.
Their facility is exactly what I imagined. As I walk in, five guys are elbow deep in their customers’ bikes. The shop is hovering around 90 degrees, and the smell of grease, oil and sweat fill the air. Lining the walls are a mixture of classic biker movie posters and the occasional Iron Horse centerfold. Towering above everything is a sight that would make any red-blooded American proud. Even though the space they have is very limited, they found a spot to fly Old Glory. It’s a guarantee that no one is taking a knee in this shop.
As the guys eventually realize Ben and I aren’t your typical paparazzi, they let their guards down a bit. Navy veteran John Castlegrant finds out I’m a retired Marine and within seconds the shit-talking commences. “You know,” he says, “I was taking a piss the other day next to a few Marines. When I finished, I zipped up and walked out. One of the Marines stopped me and said, ‘In the Marines, they teach us to wash our hands after going to the bathroom.’” I look at FTD’s wrenches and slowly shake my head. John finishes, “I told them, ‘Yeah, well in the Navy they teach us not to piss on our hands.’” The shop erupts in laughter and the ice has been broken.
As the day goes on, I eventually grab Ken off his workbench and ask him what sets FTD Cycles apart from other garages in the Valley of the Sun. He takes a second and looks around at his employees. “These guys. These guys right here set us apart,” he proudly says. “I wanted a personalized, family-oriented, old-fashioned feel to our service shop, and it all starts with the badasses doing the work.” I know his boys hear him, but no one lifts his head out of his project. I instantly sense that the feeling is shared.
“We are known for having a knack for upgrades. Our goal is to provide real-world performance in streetable horsepower, rideability, longevity and most importantly, reliability. Every customer is special to us. They are entrusting us with their bikes, and if you know this culture, that’s a big deal.” He nods his head and then goes back to work.
I move my way around the shop for the next hour, trying to appreciate what most of us take for granted. You see, I never grew up working on cars or motorcycles. I had the opportunity to do so any time I might have wanted from my dad, but I never took advantage of it. This was a regrettable mistake on my part. Not only did I miss a bonding moment with my old man, I missed the chance to experience a big part of pure Americana.
So, the next time you are fixing your motorcycle’s issues with the swipe of a credit card, keep in mind that there are hardworking men and women who are busting their asses to keep our country wheels down and moving at breakneck speeds. As I am leaving the garage, Ken slaps me on the back and leaves me with one last bit of biker wisdom: “Remember my friend, four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul.”
Thanks for all that you do, fellas.
At Skillset Magazine, we spotlight men and women with undeniable talents and abilities! If you want to read more about guys like FTD Cycles, check out our back issues at OutdoorGroupStore.com and listen to our podcast, Skillset Live!