Although Acme Choppers and Laconia Bike Week share a zip code, Wayne Ahlquist's young, progressive motorcycle factory and New England's 'do-rag scooterfest are as far apart as two peas in the same pod can get. The 5,000-square-foot fab shop, tune-and-service facility and bike-building juggernaut Wayne launched in 2003 is nothing less than Valhalla for modern chopper freaks.
After exposing ChopCult readers to the pristine rigid frames Wayne, his brother Jason and their team crafts in New Hampshire, I wanted to see Acme firsthand. After graciously agreeing to meet me on Memorial Day for a full tour of his business, I flew to New England. What Wayne spent the better part of a national holiday showing me confirmed my suspicions: namely, that Wayne Ahlquist is a talented cat, and that everyone who works at Acme takes the pleasure of doing business in today's chopper scene seriously.
By combining an artist's eye for style with an engineer's obsession for productivity and performance, Wayne Ahlquist—a self-taught manufacturing jack-of-all-trades in his mid-30's—has created a factory that can efficiently build custom components and accessories in volumes that make his products accessible for pro and garage builders alike.
Wayne accomplishes this by engineering jigs and fixtures that allow the crew in his shop to consistently replicate the complex bends, miters and sub-assemblies that embue Acme products with their function and style. The result is a line of parts that fit properly and look great.
A salty dog might ask how a dude with no formal training cultivated such a keen sense of performance and style. Like many of us, in his youth Wayne raised hell on BMX bikes. On a pro-level track near his home in the Boston suburbs, Wayne and his friends thrashed around on the best bikes available in the early '80s. "We were maniacs in those days. I could snap a Cook Bros. aluminum dog bone crank in a day. Frames like Skyway's Aero TA were my all-time favorite. The teardrop tubing and tapered stays looked wicked. I love the old BMX stuff, and I'm always collecting parts on the vintage BMX sites and building old bikes for inspiration."
"Inspiration" is putting it mildly. I've been in BMX since 1974, so I'm qualified to diagnose Wayne's world a clinical BMX obsession. During our visit I photographed eight finished Acme custom motorcycles and saw another half dozen projects in progress. In Acme's back room there are enough bike frames to build twice that many period-correct BMX time machines, and every part and accessory from Araya to Z-rims.
"I know some of this shit is repop," Wayne joked nonchalantly while I mauled his stash, "but most of it is original, and some is even NOS." Wayne Ahlquist's two-wheeled passion is real, and started at an early age. After he grew out of BMX, Wayne switched his discerning eye and insatiable appetite for all things fast from bicycles to cars and motorcycles.
After drooling over Wayne's BMX booty, we headed into the belly of the beast. Acme's fabricating and assembly area covers nearly 3,000 feet on one level, and includes lifts for custom builds, a tune-and-service station, and all the welders, mills, lathes and fixtures any anal-retentive builder could dream of. A storage container off-site houses "dozens of XS650's and other shit" Wayne plans to revive as soon as all models of Acme rigid frames for Big Twins, late-model Sporties, Hinkley and unit Triumphs are in production.
Acme's other big-ticket innovation is their wishbone springer fork. Like Acme's frames, Wayne designed and constructs his front ends in-house, using a battery of milling fixtures and precision parts to assemble each one. Acme forks are available in three widths—super narrow, Narrowglide and Wideglide—and a multitude of lengths from 4" under to 18" over in two-inch increments. In an inspired feat of mass-production planning, Wayne figured out what three common leg and springer-arm lengths were required to cover the complete range of models without sacrificing more than four inches of material to create any given size. This allows Acme to stock raw sub-assemblies for speedier production and delivery. If you prefer the look and performance of telescopic forks, Acme's billet steel Narrowglide trees for 39mm and 41mm H-D legs are elegant and understated to the extreme.
Bike projects abound at Acme HQ, and demand the lion's share of Wayne's personal time. The project that has Wayne scrambling fastest is a rigid unit Triumph for this year's Loconia invitational biker build-off at the Lobster Pound restaurant on Weirs Beach. "I know we'll get our asses kicked by some raked-out bike that looks like a stingray, but I really wanted to build something cool and original to represent the shop. I love Triumphs, and my daily rider is a late-model Bonnie. We've done a bunch of stuff to the motor on this little 650, and I can't wait to ride it down Weirs Beach after the contest. A bunch of dudes on bikes that look like giant unicorns are probably gonna flip!"
To satiate the chopper proletariat at next week's Laconia hoedown, Acme will have plenty of Big-Twin iron on display, too. If you're in the area, Wayne and his crew encourage you to stop by.
Acme Choppers is located off highway 106 at 14 Lexington Drive in Laconia, NH.
For more information, visit Acme's ChopCult profile or check out their website.