Interview Twisted Choppers

July 11, 2006
By Billy Bartels
Photos by Walter Portz
Kai has a bit of the Willie Nelson look to him. Kai s bike is named  Wiskey Business   one of Willie s signiture songs is  Whiskey River.  Coincidence
Kai Morrison, one of the four men who make up Twisted Choppers, draws inspiration from heavy metal music and trips to the gentlemen’s club to make custom machines like his own personal ride (above) dubbed “Whiskey Business.”

One visit to the Twisted Choppers website and you know what these guys are all about. After clicking past the rotating image on the intro page, you are greeted by gritty images of mechanical motorcycle components and provocatively posed models, contrasting sharply with a slick and well designed site. Then the speedmetal audio soundtrack kicks in. Twisted is not a shop, it’s a lifestyle.

With links to Jagermeister and Strhess Clothing on the homepage, these guys wear their colors on their sleeve. While some readers of this magazine may not appreciate the kind of riding you do on a Twisted chop, they insist these bikes are for pounding out the miles, not looking pretty on the show circuit. They are all thoroughly beaten on before (and after) delivery.

If you haven’t heard of Twisted Choppers, you just might in the near future. They go head to head with the Detroit Bros in an episode of Discovery’s Biker Build Off this year. They are truly on the cusp of the big time. And this bike should give some insight into that.

“Whiskey Business” is co-owner Kai Morrison’s personal ride. It’s a genuine Harley-Davidson Shovelhead motor with an SU carb, Denver’s springer front end, brakes by Hawg Halters, and seat by Stitch. Beyond that, the whole rest of the bike was manufactured by Twisted. Frame, sheetmetal, controls, and tanks were all fabricated in their Sioux City shop. The complex curves of its tank and special touches like the Ford hubcaps serving as the sides of the oil tank hint at the capabilities these guys have.

Twisted Choppers is an anomaly in the ego-driven cult of personality that is the custom bike market. Instead of one iconic visionary builder with a crowd of cronies doing his dirty work, Twisted is a true partnership of four talented individuals, who each contributes his own ideas and talents to the mix. Long time friends Kai and Jason “Jake” Kangas started Twisted six years ago, bringing a blend of fabrication, engineering and amateur bike building experience to the table to create their own brand of hand-built machinery.

A few years later Chad Petit and Jeff Ernst, creators of Spade Brand accessories, came on as partners to lend their marketing expertise. While business has taken off with talent meeting opportunity, a funny thing has happened along the way: now everybody’s a bike builder. While every one of the partners has their individual strengths, they collectively make all the company’s decisions and create their fine pieces of metal art without any one clear cut ‘leader.’ This is reflected in this interview: all four of the boys took turns answering questions.

MotorcycleUSA: How did you get into bikes?

Go ahead  admit it  you clicked on photo gallery because of this thumbnail.
If you want to hang with the fellas from Twisted, you better be packing a roll of singles because the boys’ routine involves frequent trips to the, ahem, gentlemen’s club.

Jake: A lot of older guys I worked with all rode Harleys, then some friends of mine bought them, and I sold my dirt bike and bought my first Harley. It didn’t take long before I tore it down and started making my own stuff because I couldn’t afford to buy it.

MCUSA: What inspires you? What are your influences?

Kai: Heavy metal music and hardcore women.

Chad: I am influenced by a lot of things. I pull a lot of inspiration from music. As much as I listen to, I am very narrow and selective. I will just give you a portion of my iTunes play list: ScissorFight, Sleep, Black Sabbath, The Black Dahlia Murder, Lamb of God, The Haunted, High on Fire, Cash, King Diamond, Life of Agony, Mastodon, Motorhead and Opeth. We all listen to a lot of hard stuff. We run Sirius radio in the shop. That sits on Hard Attack all damn day. I have been involved in music for almost 20 years and it is a cornerstone in my life. My art reflects it, my bikes reflect it, and my overall personality reflects it. Music is such a driving force and can teach you more about yourself than any other medium. As far as what influences me specifically in the motorcycle world, that is tough. Just like every other facet of my life, I am very picky on what I like. I like the rougher side of things. Bikes that reflect core personalities, bikes that are built as a reflection of the builder’s heart, not what a customer wants or what the public thinks they want. Building without limits, yet understanding when to draw the line. Not going overboard with ideas on one project. I hate it when a bike looks like a refrigerator with 100 magnets stuck to it.

MCUSA: Do you have a basic/central design philosophy? If so, what is it?

Jake: Keep it simple.

MCUSA: Is there a signature thing that you do to almost every bike you build?

Kai: A burnout

MCUSA: Conversely, is there an element of a bike that you try to differently on every single machine?

Kai: I try to get a feel of how creative the customer will let me be. It is very important to me not to duplicate or copy anything I have done, or anything that has been done.

MCUSA: What do you think of the TV Chopper thing?

Morrison s ride   Whiskey Business  utilizes some pre-existing components  but the frame  tanks  controls  and other unique touches were pieced together at Twisted s Sioux City  Iowa shop.
Morrison’s ride, “Whiskey Business” utilizes some pre-existing components, but the frame, tanks, controls, and other unique touches were pieced together at Twisted’s Sioux City, SD, shop.

Jeff: Depends on what TV Chopper thing you’re talking about. I think it’s great to bring our industry and our lifestyle to a larger audience. People can bitch about selling out or that it brings all these new people who just got into it because of TV. My answer to that is that, if something isn’t growing, it’s dying, so bringing more people in is a good thing. As far as the new people, as long as they’re riding, awesome. If they’re wearing a pink polo shirt and Birkenstocks riding their $35,000 production line custom, it’s America – they’ve got their rights. We’d rather have a cheap beer and talk to the guy sitting next to his ’48 Panhead rigid that he’s kept alive himself since he bought it as a basket case 30 years ago – the guys the pink polo-wearing guys avoid.

I think everybody knows “American Chopper” sucks and it’s purely corporate marketing and those guys figuring out what else they can stick their logo on. The question I get sick of hearing more than anything from people who don’t know motorcycles is, “Is your shop like that ‘Mercan Choppers where you throw stuff at each other. Man, I love those guys, they’re so crazy.” And generally the person keeps talking even after we’ve walked away. That isn’t TV Chopper – it’s a scripted sitcom and new-age corporate art. I think if you took away their acting, they probably aren’t bad guys, but that’s all it is. I can’t even think of the right words to describe the fact that you can buy a pink purse, earrings and cologne with their name on it. I don’t know of a mass-merchant store you can go into anymore without seeing their stuff. If you didn’t have to stand in line and pay to get an autograph, I might tell them that. If you come up with the word to describe it, let me know. If there was a motorcycle bible, there would be some Revelations about the apocalypse coming in the form a fu-manchu-wearing father and his sunglassed son.

MCUSA: What is the last thing you’ve done to a motorcycle?

Chad: I started working on all the finish welding for my new project. Pretty exciting.

MCUSA: Have you cut or grinded on metal today?

Kai: Are you serious? It’s like breathing for me.

MCUSA: Do you ride anything besides customs/choppers? (ATVs, dirt bikes, sport bikes, touring bikes, standards)

Jake: I used to ride four wheelers, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, jet skis, etc. I’ve never really owned a stock factory bike except my first Harley. It didn’t stay stock for long. Now I only have my choppers, I really don’t have time to enjoy any of the other stuff anymore. I rode a customer’s (Harley-Davidson Electra Glide) Ultra Classic once on a test ride. Maybe I’ll buy one when I’m 50.

MCUSA: What do you think of metric bikes? Have you ever done any?

Denver Springer front end.
The Denver springer front end betrays clues as to what music is playing in the Twisted shop when the work gets down. With music such a big influence on the Twisted boys, the machines reflect the hard and heavy sounds from their play list.

Jake: Metric bikes have their place in the world. They’re not for me but they will always be around and I think there is a big marketplace for them.

MCUSA: What’s more important: looks or the ride? If it’s a blend, what’s the percentage you’d compromise one for the other?

Jake: Both. It really depends on how much riding the bike is going to see. I think every bike is different. I really try to incorporate as much of both as I possibly can on each project.

MCUSA: What’s more important: trickness or longevity? If it’s a blend, what’s the percentage you’d compromise one for the other?

Kai: For the customer’s bikes it is important that everything is very secured and finished properly. My personal bikes are usually ground for new ideas that have been locked in my head, and if anything is going to break I want it to be on my bike. I do this because I know how I ride; sometimes it is the best proving grounds for new ideas. I will ride mine for a few months in bare metal and see what happens, take care of it if needed, rip down, paint and finish and fly.

MCUSA: A low ride or cornering clearance?

Jake: Low ride. My chopper lays frame around every corner.

MCUSA: Do you do high-performance? Is a 125-horsepower motor necessary for a custom bike with slow handling and only moderate brakes?

Jake: Yes, I believe in burnouts. I’m not into racing per se, but I definitely want my bikes to haul ass. I don’t think that a bike should be so high performance that it’s impractical though.

MCUSA: Strippers or hookers?

Jeff: I love strippers. No doubt about it. When we’re at home or on the road, if you look for us out at night, you’ve got a 99% chance we’ll be at a strip bar. The other 1% is when we’re leaving the strip bar. It’s comfortable, like a second home. That and we’re a small company, so I don’t know if antibiotics we’d need to kill the advanced diseases the hookers would give us would be covered under our insurance plan.

MCUSA: If you were a dog, what kind and why?

Kai: A Doberman. I had one and he was the most loyal and dedicated dog I ever had. Besides, he was very well known to let any lady walk up and pet or play with him out of the blue and not give a shit. Good luck with that if you’re a dude.

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