Roland Sands Design | Motorcycle Artisan

Motorcycle Racer, Custom Builder 

In the custom motorcycle realm-renowned for heated verbal jousts and inflated egos-Roland Sands (the 33-year old former roadracing champion) quietly goes about his business, detouring from conventional thinking and cross-breeding contrasting genres of motorcycling in one wonderfully strange metallurgical two-wheel marriage after another. Anyone who would squeeze a 200hp+ MotoGP Proton V5 motor into a gorgeous looking custom chassis that pays homage to the un-sprung glory of the boardtrackers of yesteryear, is most assuredly coming from a very unique perspective.

Roland Sands Design (RSD) is a top tier operation, sharing more in common with a race team’s workspace than the typical custom build shops. It stands to reason; Sands’ first foray into two-wheel notoriety came in 1998 when he ascended to the AMA 250cc Grand Prix National Championship. This impressive background in professional roadracing drastically separates Sands from his peers, influencing every aspect of what emerges from the mind and hands of the likable Southern Californian. It is, in fact, this proven history of pavement experience that lends credibility to Sands’ designs among motorcycle enthusiasts previously uninterested in the custom world.

When asked what drew him into the custom realm, Sands is quick to respond with a statement that politely broadens the accepted definition of custom. "I’ve always loved interesting, well put together two-wheel machines; concept bikes, prototype bikes," he said, adding "and I’ve always naturally looked at motorcycles and wanted to change everything about them. I’d look at a motorcycle and I’d think, ‘Wow, that bike would be so bitchin’ if only we could do… this." Sands’ demeanor is one of a racer, not easily shaken, always listening and observing with great intensity. He slides back and forth between consummate builder, astute businessman, and, ultimately, Southern Californian, repeatedly breaking from his serious tone into a broad smile and laugh, eyes revealing a youthful mischief still very much alive and well.

Sands’ machines all bear a distinctive signature style; an amalgam of traditional custom flair with reasonable, functional geometry, wrapped up in streamlined aesthetics; no doubt influenced from his ingrained racing perspective. At their core, Sands’ custom creations are alluring works of art that flex their metallurgical muscle in imposing displays of inspiration. The young builder has had his share of superlatives thrown at his machines, mostly praise in awe of the flow and distinct character that manages to emerge from each machine. Each is radically different, yet at the same time, embodies the unmistakable touch of its creator. "I’ve been building the same basic style of bike since I first started," Sands offers up, adding, "I don’t want people to look at my bikes and go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s wild looking.’ I want people to look at my bikes and go, ‘Damn, that’s cool, I want to ride that.’"

The mandate is paying off. Over the last few years Sands and his team have presented a string of impressive custom-built, bespoke machines that defy traditional custom thinking and design. Even Sands himself will tell you he never envisioned anything like this. In fact, only in the past few years has he grasped the impact of what he’s doing. In a field notoriously pockmarked with erroneously inflated egos and dubious attitude and temperaments, Sands politely trespasses into the arena, a refreshingly affable, approachable man. When asked about his growing celebrity Sands grins and responds, "It’s a trip, dude."

Although many of the RSD machines are laden with big V-twin powerplants, they are casting the custom net far beyond the established boundaries of the custom world. The Race Rod is a good example of unexplored territory, transforming a relatively sedate Harley-Davidson V-Rod into a sexy, aggressive motorcycle. Likewise the exquisite Ducati Hypermotard recently commissioned by Ducati North America an example of Sands’ outside-the-box thinking. Before I saw this machine I would have thought there wasn’t much you could do to a stock one to change it. Clearly I was woefully wrong.

Driving the process is Sands’ unabated passion for motorcycles, combined with his love of the artistic endeavor. "Motorcycles are the most pure form of design in the world, apart from architecture," he says with deep conviction. "What could be closer to embodying so many different styles and pieces of industrial design-in that you have to create a piece of rolling architectural work that actually functions-creating geometry, combining horsepower, and then you have to link it all together in a drive and transmission. The thing’s got to roll right and sit up straight, and it has to be balanced too. Then on top of that you’re adding a whole other flowing form which is all just basically sculpture."

What is charmingly apparent is that Sands, either immune to the inevitable critics, or hiding it in his unexpected gentlemanly demeanor, is that he seems to be sublimely unaffected by any negativity. He just motors ahead, moving onto to the next build that has found its seed in his broad and learned imagination. Sands is a man in love with the process. Pull him away from the pressing concerns of business the rapidly expanding company is experiencing, let him dream and talk and think about the next drawing that is on the cusp of being rendered from cold bars of steel and raw slabs of billet aluminum, and he eases into that whimsical smile, considering the possibilities. Catering to his artistic leanings, Sands makes sure that each day, after dealing with the requisite stumbling blocks of business, he spends a few hours sketching, doing the thing he loves most, to guarantee that "I go home happy every night."

Photos courtesy of Roland Sands Designs