James Epperson assesses his work load for the day in order to see how much time he can devote to working on his custom choppers.
Tucked away in the hills of Southern Oregon the Rogue River carves its way through a luscious landscape, unbeknownst to the majority of the outside world. Even though the Rogue Valley has its spot on the map, it hasn’t yet made its deep impact on the motorcycle community. However, with several custom builders making a name for themselves the Ess-Oh may one day be synonymous with bad-ass bikes. One of the hottest prospects in the area goes by the name EZ Customs.
Hundreds of miles from where he grew up in Vellejo Calif., James Epperson is putting his 20 years of motorcycle building experience to use as he introduces himself to the custom chopper world under the EZ Customs moniker.
Epperson entered into the motorcycle business as a kid eager to learn anything and everything about industry. He started at the bottom of the food chain by sweeping floors at his local bike shop, picking up any knowledge that was thrown his way. As the years and experience piled up in the recesses of his mind he gradually began learning the custom builder ropes. In 2000, Epperson decided to leave the rat race of California and ended up at Indian Motorcycles in Southern Oregon. Once again, Epperson started at the ground floor, this time as a motorcycle technician, but it wasn’t too long before his talents shined through. In a short period of time he worked his way up to general manager and then a year later, he bought the store.
Unfortunately, the financial turmoil of the Indian Motorcycle Company made its way to Epperson’s shop. But even though Indian Motorcycles closed down, Epperson kept his doors open.
“I’ve sold 100 bikes,” says the California native. “And if this place closed down, they would have no place to get them worked on.”
Of course, Epperson embraced his new-found freedom and took the opportunity to immerse himself into his inner passion; building custom bikes. And the modest Indian Motorcycle dealership tucked away in the small town of Phoenix, Ore. became EZ Customs.
Epperson’s growing popularity has a familiar tune. He started out designing a bike for himself, and after it received so much attention he decided to sell it. When try number two yielded the same results, he decided to start taking orders.
“I haven’t actually got to build one for myself yet,” Epperson explains, “but I see other people riding them around and that’s good enough for me.”
Epperson’s motivation in designing his one-off customs revolves around being original and standing out in the chopper realm. But he’s not trying to set himself apart from the crowd like you may think. Many custom builders design for the look. They want to get noticed at the shows, on the road, and in the magazines. After all, radical styles drive many of the emerging custom choppers. And even though Epperson wants his bikes to look good, he’s more concerned with how they ride.
“I’ve ridden probably all of the top-brand bikes and none of them really ride very well,” the small-town builder points out. “They care more about what they look like instead of what they ride like. So what we did is design bikes to ride good first and to look good afterwards.”
Epperson gives other builders credit where credit is due. A gnarly bike is great to look at, but he also knows that custom choppers are supposed to be more than just eye candy. A person has to be able to ride them as well.
“A motorcycle isn’t a work of art,” the mechanic turned builder describes. “They can be artistic, but a work of art belongs in a museum, on a shelf somewhere. You don’t drive a painting around. You don’t drive a sculpture around. It’s really a motorcycle. It’s a vehicle. And a custom motorcycle is a representation of the person riding it.”
In order to make his bikes as rideable as possible, Epperson focuses on a couple of things; the amount of trail and the overall balance of the bike. The definition of trail states that it’s a linear measurement. If you draw a vertical line down through the center of the front wheel of the bike and mark the difference to where a line along the front fork or steering axis through the wheel to where it also hits the ground, you’ve calculated the trail. A bike with more trail has greater stability and the more it wants to go straight.
Epperson says that an important part of making his bikes balanced is mounting the V-Twin engine along the bike’s centerline.
“A lot of people use a lot of offset in their rigs to get around a wide tire,” the custom builder says. “So what they’ll do is move the engine and transmission over to accommodate for a wide tire. Then if you let go of the bike it wants to lean over. That’s kind of a backwards way of doing it.”
Besides creating a bike that rides true, Epperson also wants to keep the prices down. In an industry that sees $100,000 bikes sold everyday, EZ Customs tries to keep a cap on their prices. At the low end of the price scale, EZ Customs offers an entry-level custom that runs from $17,000-$20,000, not much more than a loaded Civic. A mid-priced entry in the $35,000 range offers a step up in the bling factor. Epperson’s latest wild creation, which uses best of the best parts, retails for around $70,000.
EZ Custom’s goal is to make their bikes affordable by adjusting the price structure. Instead of making a six-month salary on one sale, they hope to make their money with repetition. Every time Epperson sells a bike, someone new will see it and hopefully stop by to get one of their own.
“We think we have a lot more value in our bikes,” Epperson reiterates. “If you see someone that is selling their bikes for 100 grand, you’re not paying for the bike – you’re paying for something else.”
Epperson is not only confident his bikes will ride well, but he also knows they’ll last a lifetime. EZ Motorcycles orders all of their frames from Chopper Guys where some chassis parts are made from CNC-machined forged steel. They’re so confident in the craftsmanship and quality of the welds that they offer a lifetime guarantee on the work.
Epperson also boasts about his front-end design, which has no pinch bolts and no attachment points on the top of the fork, adding to the bike’s seamless look. His motors come from TP Engineering and can cost up to eight grand. Of course, this $8,000 engine isn’t just a shiny chrome centerpiece and all for show. The TP 124 powerplant produces 130 horsepower at the rear wheel and enough torque to jerk your arms out of their sockets. Plainly put by Epperson, “this thing will go faster than you want it to go.”
No matter how much you may think that size doesn’t matter, don’t try to convince Epperson of that. His high-end customs laugh at the mere presence of a 250-section rear wheel. Instead, he calls on the burly machismo of a 300 back tire. This chunk of rubber screams “my dad can kick your dad’s ass,” and you better believe it will.
Of course, if you want to ease your way into the booming custom craze, you can start off with one of EZ’s latest bikes; the low and long hard tail Rogue for $35,000 or the $50,000 Phoenix chopper – you choose the motor.
One thing is for sure. The world is embracing custom choppers, and with more and more builders getting involved in the industry, the prices are dropping more competition enters the market.
“I don’t think customs are a flash in the pan,” Epperson says. “I think they’re evolving. There’s some new ideas out there that have yet to be seen, and I’ve seen some pretty good ones that aren’t even out yet. I think people are going to be surprised with where this is going.”
No matter how much customs change and evolve Epperson will remain constant on one thing; his bikes will always be rideable, even if Webster has yet do define the word. As for what Epperson’s work will look like in the future, well, that’s still to be determined. The exact name and appearance of his fourth design haven’t been fully realized yet, but it will all come together in good time. Until then, he will continue to crank up the Christian rock music and let his inspiration guide the way.