Martin Gonzales, better known as Chubs, has evolved into an icon in the Hispanic biker scene. As owner and operator of American Cycle Works in Pico Rivera, California, Chubs has been building custom motorcycles since the late ’60s. Raised in the Lowrider culture, Chubs took those influences from four wheels and molded them into two. Over the years as a shop owner and rider he has witnessed and participated in the ups and downs of the Hispanic rider in the greater motorcycle culture. With one foot in the past and one if the future, Revolucion’s John Zamora took a minute to sit down with this icon in the industry for a glimpse into his story.
When did you start riding?
I started riding motorcycles in 1968. I began fooling around with bikes because I had a Lowrider car and didn’t want to drive it to work so I bought myself a little Honda 90. My friends at the time all started getting Sportsters. But I never liked the Sportser. So I decided to go the police auctions and bought myself a ’69 Shovel. I started to put that together little by little and started building bikes. How did Lowridering influence your motorcycle? When I started riding the big thing was primer bikes. I didn’t like that. I liked custom paint jobs more. Molding wasn’t in, so I started doing that as well. I also used to add way more chrome than they used to do. I was building bikes a lot fancier than they were back then, ‘ya know, the Lowrider way. From then on people started asking for my help. At that time I was building more cars than bikes. I went into the service until ’71. After I got back I purchased a ’52 Pan. I took it apart and started fixing it up. Other people started noticing and liking my work. At first I was getting help because I didn’t know that much. I worked with a guy named Hugo and another named Al Bundy. They helped me out with working on the motors and stuff like that. Harley George taught me quite a bit about motors as well. All of the work we were doing was in a garage part of the time. For example, a guy called Manual Luna created the first cross over pipes in a garage. God rest his soul he passed away already. Over the years I have manufactured my own parts. I started marking custom brackets and other accessories. Some of the stuff we still make and some of the stuff is coming back again.
How did you start American Cycle Works?
In 1993 I decided to open up my own business. We finally opened American Cycle Works in 1994 in Temecula, California. It was pretty deserted, but there were a lot of bikes. Things didn’t work out in Temecula so I opened up a shop in Pico Rivera and that’s where I’ve been for the past 17 years. It’s been successful but the market took a toll the last few years. Thankfully I have a lot of repeat customers. People seem to like my style of work.
What is your style of motorcycle building?
I build Lowrider style bikes. I can build any style motorcycle, but I have a certain way in which I build them. They have my signature on them in a way. Now that I’m getting up in age my son is taking over. He’s just as good if not better than I am. He has a good eye and he’ll continue building bikes in the same style as me or even better. I have a great crew that build the bikes the way I want them built. I’ve seen a lot of people come and I’ve seen a lot people go. I’ve seen people hit it big and now they are no longer around. The biggest difference is the bikes I have built are riders. They aren’t only for looks. They see what I see.
How has the scene changed since you first started?
The people are very different than the people that used to ride back then. Back in the day the people that rode were bikers. They breathed bikes. Back then when you went to a bike run it was all bikes. There wasn’t any cars or trailers. What you took on your bike is what you used for the entire run like a little tent or a serape. The runs used to be in parks and dirt lots. They were pretty hardcore back then. Now it’s all about comfort.
When did you first start to notice the change?
It all started changing in the late ’80s/early ’90s. They started making runs to Laughlin and Vegas and all these places with hotels. Back in the day we would go to campgrounds that were all dirt and maybe had portable restrooms. You slept in tents and ate the food you brought with you. It was more for the love of it and not the comfort. Back then you went to a run and if there were 150 people that was considered a big run. Now there are thousands of people. If you saw a guy on the side of the road, you would stop to help them. There was a lot of duct tape and wire used back then. (laughs). The bikes of today are made better. They come with a lot more equipment, are more reliable and break down less.
What about the change in the people?
There aren’t any real bikers anymore. The real bikers are a thing of the past. The bikers nowadays have a 40-hour job. They have beautiful bikes. Back when we were young we rolled up on a chopper with a serape and saddlebag. It was more of an outing. Things change with time. People change. I changed. Now I do the same thing everybody else does. I’m 62 years old and I still ride my bike to runs. But at a certain age you have to slow down because the bike beats you up. I’m lucky I can still do it. The people who love to ride now only like to ride certain distances. Certain people have boundaries. It’s nothing bad. I’m all for the change. It’s just a different style of riding and a different style of people.
When I started riding there were very few Hispanics. I grew up in South Central, Los Angeles and the majority of people who rode were white with a few black clubs. White people owned all the shops I went to and they were all clubbers. I went to a shop called Billy’s Harley. He was the only guy I knew on that side of town that worked on Harley Davidson. In East LA you had a very few shops that were Hispanic owned. There were only a few black bike shops and the majority were Honda shops. The black guys rode Hondas back in the days. The Hispanics were one out of 20 maybe one out of 30. In our group there was maybe six. Now I ride in a group of 60 or more and there’s all types of different shops and owners.
What type of bikes were the Hispanics riding?
In the ’70s we started running Sporsters with rigid frames. We ran the Sportsters because we could fix them up pretty nice. In the ’80s we switched over to the FLHS and old police bikes and started chopping them down. We would go to the auctions and pick up a bike and take off all the stuff that today you pay a lot of money for. Back then it was how much stuff you could take off a bike. It was worthless to us then but now it’s worth a lot of money. We also used to call it chopper wiring. That would include a headlight, brake light, and a starter button, if you had one. The majority of the bikes you had to kick-start. We were going for more of a bad boy look. Put it this way, the rowdier you looked the badder the bike looked. It wasn’t about comfort back then.
What was the reaction of the public when you rolled up into town?
A lot of people were friendly but a lot people were not. We intimated them by how we looked. You have to realize you didn’t see bikers every day like you do now. Back then the majority of people who owned bikes weren’t businessmen. A lot of them didn’t have professions.
So is that old school rider dead or just in hiding?
Biker clubs have a tendency to want to keep that old image. It’s just an image sometimes. They go to work and put their pants on the same way we do. But when they are riding with their fellow comrades they have to portray and keep that image. Today a regular guy or an independent rider doesn’t worry about that. If you are in a club you have to keep a certain image and act a certain way. When you’re independent you tell yourself and you do what you want to do. The clubs go back to the old rules. The independent riders make their own rules. Anybody that rides has to understand that. I’m not saying it’s bad but that’s the way it is. There were a lot of clubs back in the day but those guys kept to themselves. They didn’t come out in the public that much. You knew they were around, but they would go to runs and keep to themselves. The clubs of today are around everybody. They have to have a certain respect when they are around everybody. They are a different culture. When you’re independent you are just watching out for yourself. It’s nothing bad. It’s just two different worlds.
Back in the late ’80s and ’90s there were a lot of problems. Now everybody seems to want to get along now. I wouldn’t say they try and turn the other cheek but they try and understand each other. Nowadays it’s not about how many numbers you are or who you are. It’s about ‘let’s get along, let’s have fun, let’s ride.’ This whole thing is about ‘let’s ride’. It’s not about, ‘I’m not riding with him’. It’s changing. Times are changing. People are changing. And it’s for the best. It’s going back to rider and less about what you got on your back and who you are. It’s about having fun and not who you are and what your wearing as far as I’m concerned.
Has it made a full circle?
Yes. It’s back to the love of the ride. There’s no more of the old style. Back in the day guys didn’t have a lot of things. The difference is that people today have homes. It’s never going to back the way it is. You don’t want it to go back the way it was. I’m a firm believer that it’s not about who you are or what you wear ; it’s all about the ride. That’s what you should respect out of everything. The rules of the game are you don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you. There’s no good or bad right now. If you want to go where the trouble is at, it’s still there. If you want to go and have a good time that’s there too.
What would you consider the modern Chicano style bikes?
Road Kings, Street Glides, Heritage Softails, Deluxes. The style is fishtails, ape hangers, 21-inch front end, white walls, air ride etc. We have our own look. We all have always had our own look. We wear Pendletons, Levies, and spit shined shoes. We dress color coordinated. White guys? They like to dress crazy. They wear a lot of Harley Davidson stuff. We don’t. Yeah we will wear a Harley Davidson shirt, but they wear everything. We all have our own style. Jessie James has a certain way he builds a bike. I look at it as the Mexican way of Jessie James built bikes, but I don’t build choppers, I build Lowriders