When last we visited our friend Caleb Owens he gave ChopCult readers a peek inside his personal life and times. With this installment of Inside: Cro shares secrets and insight on his eponymously named bike-building and fabrication shop. Caleb's spacious barn in west LA is a bike builder's dream, and a sweet surprise in a neighborhood surrounded by monesteries, college campuses and film studios.
So what happens at your shop? Do you build complete bikes for strangers, tune and service for friends, work strictly on your own stuff or is it really just a tree fort for grown men?
All of that. I like to think my space is the best-kept secret on the west side of LA. Although my shop is a glorified garage, it is a legit business, so aside from fixing the neighbor’s dirt bike for beer, I do get a few commissioned builds throughout the year from clients that find me via the web, on a ride or word of mouth Do you consider it a hobby, art, work, lifestyle or what?
Labels? I've always said it's a serious hobby, but like most things you obsess about, it takes on a life of it's own. It's a hobby when it's fun; it's work when it's not. I owe my chopper problem to my brothers Buck and Chuck—yes, their names--so I guess in some ways it’s inherited. Lifestyle? I have a hard time with that word. I am from the school of thought that the things I do I hope don't define who I am or my "lifestyle". I had a friend that would say things like, " I am in the lifestyle" or, " I think that chick is in the "lifestyle". He was referring to swinging and wife swapping
How many hours in a typical week do you spend in your shop? Is this more or less lately compared to years past?
Not really sure. Of course I would rather have more hours on the road. It varies depending on the projects I have going on. As of late I am here every night ‘til midnight or so, and weekends if I have a deadline. The last two years were lots of hours in the shop--2010 will be more hours on the bike and fewer hours under it
What do you see happening in this space in five years? More of the same, or something completely different?
Five years is so long term for me. I love my shop, but I have always been a bit of a nomad so who knows if I'll even be here. My dreams for this space are to close off the back end and loft and turn it in to a really nice living space without sacrificing the shop
Has the Internet had a significant impact on your business in the last few years?
I think the ‘net has had some impact, but not as much as people think. At the end of the day building the kind of bikes I like to build is still an esoteric endeavor so no matter what your press outlets are the kind of clients I get are people that would have found me without the web. Most of the connections I've made over the years have been from meeting people on the road, or riding. I take pride in the fact that the bikes I build see more miles on the road than on some web site or parking lot at a show
Does your shop area break down into different areas, like clean work, assembly, et cetera, or does all work happen everywhere in your shop?
I have a little machine shop area with the mill, lathe and band saw. Next to that I have a sort of finishing area with a few sanders, chop saw etc. On the other side of the shop I have two lifts. One I try to keep as fab work, and the other as assembly and tuning. It works out, but I’m not anal about it. The sooner the bike is on the road, the better I feel
Any rituals for your shop like cleaning every night before shutting down, never work with music, no booze, lots of booze, etc?
No serious rituals. When JD and I are working on a project together the Jim Beam always seems to pop out. I try to keep the booze to a minimum, but it's nice to have a "snort" as my Dad would say, every now and then. I have a great sound system with two huge speakers hanging over the front roll-up door. When I get into a zone I usually put in what I like to call the "real" music, Coltrane, Miles, and other greats in the jazz vein, then there are those times I need to hear Waylon, George Jones and the other "outlaws" sing about drinking themselves blind over a woman. Sometimes, silence is good
Who else would we find in your shop on a typical Friday or Saturday night? What about late on a Tuesday night when you've got some deadline to meet and you are way behind with too much to do?
Ninety-eight percent of the time I am alone. JD and I have collaborated on a few projects together and he has been a great help, but generally, I am the lone soul in my shop. Of course my rock star old lady Kris comes in with food and some love. She is a keeper!
What do the neighbors think?
Generally I have zero problems. The neighbors behind me are a gay couple with two annoying yapping little dogs. I love animals but I swear I would tape these things to those dude’s faces! I digress… if they had anything to say to me, I would laugh my ass off because of those little fucking mutts! Then, across the street is a Jesuit monastery, very quiet place but I make sure no youngsters go near it
What's your favorite kind of work to do?
My initial inspiration for getting into bikes was to ride, period. My first few bikes I toyed with were to get them on the road, then your start tweaking this, then that, then next thing you know you have shop! So, I love all of it with the express reason of riding the piss out of the bike as part of the entire creative experience
There has to be something you don't like about your shop, what is it?
The neighbor’s fucking dogs!
Any tips for a novice just starting out working on his own machine in a small space?
Where there’s a will there’s a way. You don't need a huge space, or all the nifty tools to build a cool scoot to ride the shit out of. The first bike I ever built was in a one-room studio garage apartment. I slid all the furniture out of the way and built the damn thing in the middle of the room. If you love it or you are driven, you'll find a way
Anything else you'd like to share?
If you read this entire thing I would like to thank you. The fact that anyone is interested in what I do in my shop or even reading about it is always strange to me. There is a long history of chopper builders and I never lose site of that. Although my ultimate goal is to ride, I am greatly appreciative and humbled by all those who came before me and even more so by all the cats out there now who build some great bikes. To even be considered in that company is not lost on me. So, thanks to everyone for their support