David Perewitz | Bike Builder Interview
King of Bike Builds
You may well know Dave Perewitz from his numerous appearances on Biker Build-off shows, countless features in motorcycle magazines or simply because he’s been crafting custom motorcycle creations since the 1970’s. The guy is a legend plain and simple. Leaving his new, state-of-the-art facility in Massachusetts where Perewitz Cycle Fabrications has built bikes for many celebrities and sporting icons, Dave has embarked on a mission of motorcycle safety having become the spokesperson for Allstate Insurance.
Traveling from bike event to bike event this summer, Dave and Allstate will be promoting safe riding to help make the season a safe for everyone. Allstate is donating Motorcycle Safety Foundation training videos and materials to local driver education classes, independent driving schools and libraries to help raise awareness and prevent all-too-common situations in motorcycling – accidents at intersections.
Additionally, Allstate will be distributing tip cards for both riders and motorists to help them share the road safely. A recent survey commissioned by Allstate found 82 percent of motorcyclists are concerned about other drivers of cars more than anything else on the road. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dave about the role he plays in this new position, motorcycles and life in general.
Here is what Dave had to say…
Q: First of all I just want to start off by saying that as an MSF RiderCoach I think it is fantastic that someone as high profile as yourself is out there promoting safe motorcycling. How did you come to partner with Allstate Insurance to spread the message of motorcycle safety?
A: Well actually Allstate just called me. They said that they were looking at half a dozen different people and they chose me and they called me and said, "Would you like to be the spokesperson for Allstate?" and I said, "Sure, no problem" and we kind of just hooked up from there!
Q: And this will be going on for how long?
A: Well, I have a year contract with an option to renew for another year. But, we’ve had a great relationship and everything has worked out really well! I think I’m doing the job that they need done so I would hope that we’ll have a really long relationship.
Q: You have been building bikes since before it became fashionable a few years back. Having come a long way since your days wrenching and fabricating in your father’s backyard shed, could you say there was a tipping point for you when you knew that building bikes would become your actual profession and become profitable?
A: Well you know I started in 1970 and you know, when I started I really had no idea what I was doing. You know-what I wanted to do. I knew I loved working on motorcycles and I loved working on cars so as long as I could make a few bucks I was gonna keep on doin it. I opened my first store in 1975 so I would say it was shortly after that when I realized, "Hey, I can actually make a living here!"
Q: Since a large segment of moto-fatalities over the past few years have been among the baby boomer generation, do you have a special message for that group (many who are/were returning to riding after raising families) or is your focus on safety more general and broader in scope?
A: Well, my focus on safety is pretty generalized but of course being in the business and going to all of these motorcycle events I see people from all walks of life and all ages and unfortunately I see a lot of people that are not as experienced as they should be in a lot of different areas and to give ‘em some easy tips is gonna do nothing but help. The fact that 80% of motorcycle accidents occur at intersections and 80% of those are caused by automobiles tells quite a story. Our biggest focus on safety is awareness. You know, look twice at intersections. Spend a couple of extra seconds looking both ways you know, look twice then three times. Maybe you did not see that car behind the truck turning left or that motorcycle that was behind the car. All it takes is a few seconds to prevent an accident. Just today-just today!.. I was crossing the street in front of my store on a very busy road. A guy was gonna take a left and he stopped in the middle of the road to let me cross and this young girl came whippin’ around the corner and passed him on the right and let me tell ya-if I didn’t look right real quick for the second time she would have hit me. I mean she didn’t even slow down!
Q: And you were just walking!
A: And I was just walking! Ya know?! (laughs) But the safety thing is more about paying attention in places like at motorcycle events. You know-I see more rookie riders or maybe they’re not rookies-maybe they’re experienced riders that forget what they’re doin’ at motorcycle events. You know-guys ridin’ down the street and they’re gawkin’ at chicks or looking at bikes parked on the side of the road. Not paying attention. They’ll take a turn in front of ya because they were not lookin’. You know-stuff like that… It’s all just thinkin’. It’s thinkin’ about what you’re doin’. It’s paying attention, and awareness. That’s what Allstate is trying to promote and when we’re at events and I’m in the Allstate booth I’m tryin’ to give little tips to people about ridin’ and what to do and look for… but my main focus is what we just talked about.
Q: Have you ever seen the British Public Service Ad for their THINK campaign "Take longer to look for bikes"?
A: No I don’t think I have seen that one.
Q: Well, it’s about a car looking three times before pulling out to the left at a T. It shows in dramatic fashion how fast something like a bike t-boning that car can happen.
A: Well, not to bore you with stories but that happened about twenty years ago. My wife was sitting in the middle of a busy road where we live in my town making a left turn onto a side street. There was a car to her left that was gonna pull out in front of her and there were a bunch of kids in a gas station across the street on sportbikes. Well this woman in the other car decided to pull out but in the amount of time it took for her to look from right to left, a kid showing his friends how fast his new bike was came over the rise in the road at between 100 and 120 miles an hour and hit her. The kid hit her car and he flew over it and hit my wife’s car. The body just went right down the whole side of the car. All my kids were in the car (they were little) but it happened so fast they didn’t even know what happened. They said the kid was dead before he even left the bike. There’s a perfect example. He had just gotten the bike and was showing off to his friends how fast it was.
Q: This new blue Allstate Springer gem you’ve created is real sweet. Just like all of the bikes I’ve seen you build on shows like Biker Build-off, it bears your signature, authentic old-school style. However, I can’t help but notice a lack of mirrors. Your bikes either have no rear view mirrors or very small, I would say fairly useless mirrors. I rely super-heavily on my mirrors when I am riding. What is your take on that?
A: Um, I am a very, very big, big supporter of mirrors. I don’t ever ride a bike without a mirror. The Allstate bike doesn’t have a mirror on it only because we haven’t gotten around to puttin’ the right mirror on it. And the bike hasn’t been ridden’ yet. But you can better believe that if I was ridin’ that bike it would definitely have a mirror on it of some sort! You know it’s funny cause we’re doin’ a lot of sportbike stuff now and none of them want mirrors. I can’t ride a bike without a mirror. I’d feel totally uncomfortable riding a bike without a mirror.
Q: I would too. I would feel very vulnerable.
A: Yeah, exactly.
Q: I’ve asked other custom builders about mirrors and usually just get the "Mirrors don’t look good" answer and/or, "I just look over my shoulder."
A: Yeah, well unfortunately I’m getting old and my neck doesn’t bend that good anymore! (laughs) I really would rather rely on a mirror. There are a hundred reasons why I want to have a mirror, ya know?
Q: Have you yourself taken any MSF courses?
A: No, actually I haven’t. But before my kids got their licenses I made them all take driving and riding courses. And I have a lot of people that come into my store; especially women who want to learn how to ride. I tell them all that the very first thing they should do is go take the MSF course.
Q: Yeah, that gets back to what you were saying earlier about giving tips. Tips are cool if they can sink in but when you get right down to it, it’s really all about building muscle memory. The MSF courses in my opinion don’t so much give tips, but rather they reinforce actions and reactions that you use when actually on the road in traffic. Things like starting, stopping, cornering, swerving, etc… so that when you have to implement them in the real world your muscle memory will kick in and accomplish the task naturally.
A: Yeah, and you know when you take a course you are learning the right way of doing things right from the start. And that makes a big difference.
Q: I think it is great that you are also focusing on making other road users aware of motorcyclists. What has the reaction from car and truck drivers been to your message?
A: Well everybody that I have talked to has given me a very positive reaction. Drivers I have brought it up to have said, "Yeah, you’re right-there’s been many times when I didn’t see that motorcycle at first." That comes from both car and truck drivers. So ya know, it’s spreading the message equally to drivers of motorcycles and cars.
Q: Do you think there is still a huge stigma with regard to motorcyclists among the general public?
A: No, I think that the stigma is still there without a doubt but I grew up around all this stuff and believe me if you had tattoos back 25 or 30 years ago people would stare at you and if you pulled up on a bike they would not want to let you in. But no, it’s a lot different now. It’s very well accepted but I have to tell you that when I was in NYC last week I brought a friend with me to help move the Allstate bike around and everything. He looks pretty much like a typical biker and several times when we got in the elevator at the hotel, people got in with us and you could tell they were nervous. It was pretty obvious too because we both kind of laughed about it afterwards.
Q: Of all your high profile clients who do you think rides the most as opposed to just having a unique custom Perewitz moto to admire or display?
A: Well, I would say a couple of the guys like Ruben Brown who played for the Chicago Bears and the Buffalo Bills. I’ve built Ruben six different bikes and Ruben is a real rider who rides as often as he can. He is retired now so he has made it his mission to do all the motorcycle events with us and he is a ridin’ fool by far.
Q: I have seen a number of custom chopper or high-end chopper shops go out of business here in the NY/NJ area over the past couple of years. Do you find that with the current economic climate it is only high profile or at least high earning people that can afford custom bikes?
A: Well I’m kind of a special exception to all the rules because you know, I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve got such a great clientele. There’s very few builders in the country that have a clientele like I do. And so I’m fortunate with that but I definitely see a huge, huge change in the last eight months to a year… I mean, in the last ten years I have never had less than a year backlog on bikes. Then we kinda ate up that backlog this last year and then we had a rough winter. We had a REAL rough winter. We had work but boy, it was tough getting’ through it. But once March 1st came, Jeez… the doors just completely opened up again. Since then we’ve been bombed with work. Our service department has been packed every day. I’ve taken in six complete bike builds since March which is really rare. In 2008 I think I only booked like two bike builds the whole year.
Q: What does one of your complete bike builds go for?
A: Well, if it were last year… usually they start at like $60,000. But now we’ve become very versatile! (laughs) We’re doin’ a lot of bobbers, we’re doin’ a lot of old styles-we’re doin’ a lot of pans… We can do those for a lot less money. All the stuff we’re doin’ now is anywhere from $30,000 and up.
Q: We have one of the biggest motorcycling days of the year coming up-July 4th. Where will Dave Perewitz be on Independence Day?
A: I’m gonna be relaxing up in New Hampshire!
Q: Have a great holiday Dave and thanks for your time.
A: You too and you’re welcome.