Nestled in the bowels of an industrial area of Los Angeles is a small shop with an extra-large work load. Chris Richardson and his wife Fiona are LA Speed Shop. Talent, style and work ethic all collide in a place packed with projects, finished bikes, parts and old artifacts. We recently hijacked an afternoon at the shop and pestered Chris with questions about living the dream of the independent chopper builder.
How'd you get started building bikes?
Growing up, I was the kid always taking my toys apart so I could see how they worked, then I was forced to figure out how to put them back together. My dad is a hot rod guy so he taught me how to work on cars at a young age. My grandfather was a fabricator for Southern Pacific Railroad and he taught me how to weld and fabricate metal. I just always loved making and building things, especially things I could drive fast. I started off working on vintage cars, and bikes came naturally along with that. Building cars and bikes was a hobby I started in my parents' garage, then once I had my own house with a 3-car garage I kept the hobby going. Between myself and my friends I always had a ton of projects going at once.
When did you start LA Speed Shop?
I bit the bullet and opened my own business in 2006. I started off building vintage cars and bikes but quickly the bikes took over the shop. This was actually a good thing 'cause bikes take up less room so I was able to move to a smaller shop and cut my monthly bills in half.
Are you pretty much a one-man show?
Besides my wife helping me out in the office and filling as needed, yes I am. I find it hard to trust anyone to do work that I know I can do myself. At least if I screw it up I only have myself to blame. I do all the routine maintenance, fab work, and custom builds. The only things I don't do myself are motor machine work, big electrical jobs, upholstery and custom paint. Luckily I have a good network of guys who I can farm out that work to.
What kind of work do you do the most frequently?
I really have a pretty even mix of repairs, tune and service, miscellaneous fabrication, custom parts and full builds. This works for me because I like to change it up. I get burned out if I'm doing the same thing all the time.
What's you favorite part of the bike building process?
Getting paid, ha!. Honestly, getting all the parts back from plating and paint and doing final assembly. To finally see the finished product come together is the best.
What's your least favorite?
Deadlines. I usually end up practically living at the shop when I have a deadline. Every time I swear I'm not going to cut it so close again, but it always seems to work out that way.
How many bikes do you turn out in a typical year?
This past year has been pretty crazy for me. I've finished two complete builds and I have three more to finish before year-end.
Do you get to ride much or you cooped up in the shop all the time?
My friends give me crap all the time for not riding. My personal bike, a 1947 knuckle, is my all-time favorite bike. I wish I could ride it more but I'm definitely cooped up in the shop all the time. I try to get out as much as my old body can take at the end of a long work day.
What's your favorite piece of equipment?
I would have to say my TIG welder. I'd be useless without it.
Looking for an apprentice?
I'm in desperate need of some help around the shop. It would make life so much easier, but I can't afford it.
Do you have any tips for someone considering opening a new custom shop?
Honestly I would tell them not to do it. I know that may sound odd but owning your own business is insanely difficult and stressful. Don't get me wrong—I love what I do, but life was way easier and less stressful when I had a regular job.
Anyone you'd like to thank?
I'd like to thank my biggest supporters, my wife and kids and my parents. I love and appreciate them more than words can say. I also want to thank some of my good friends who help on every build: Casey of Headcase Kustom Art, Pascal of Riff Raff Leather and Berto of Mobile Custom Wiring.
Visit LA Speed Shop here