Bike builder Rick Fairless has a personality as colorful as his custom creations. Fairless walked away from the security of a high-paying position with Glidden to open up his own bike shop, Strokers Dallas, which has grown into one of the most popular biker hangouts in the country. Thanks to his new show on truTV, Fairless is gaining new fans all the time.
when he told the paint company Glidden goodbye and set out to open his own bike shop against the wishes of his family who believed he should open his own paint store. But motorcycling has been in Fairless’ blood since he was a boy, starting back in the days when he and his brother Randy terrorized the neighborhoods of Irving, Texas around Rock Island on bikes like the Honda 100.
Fairless’ dream would become a reality when he opened Strokers Dallas Motorcycle Shop in 1996. His empire would continue to evolve when he opened Strokers Ice House two years later. The premise was simple but genius. Give bikers a place where they could kick back and relax, grab a beer and a burger and enjoy the ambience provided by bikini-clad babes. They could roll in and have somewhere to go while their bike got serviced or could check out the collection of new and custom motorcycles for sale in the shop. Bikers love ink, so Fairless expanded his business by adding Strokers Ink Tattoo & Piercing Parlor in 2007. Talk about your one-stop shopping emporium for bikers. Savvy businessman that he is, Fairless realized keeping his doors open on Sunday when most other people close up shop would drum up even more business. He was right, because now on any given Sunday you’ll find up to 1000 bikes parked out front of Strokers and if there’s a function scheduled for that weekend, you can’t even get near the place.
But there’s more to Fairless than strictly business sense. He’s also a talented custom bike builder. You don’t get an invite from S&S Cycle to be one of the 50 custom builders to build a one-off custom in honor of its 50th anniversary without having skills. The bike Fairless created, Pam, stands out in a crowd by its elaborate tie-dye paint job and dizzying display of graphics. The psychedelic build is full of nostalgia from the height of the hippie-era, from peace symbols and a Haight-Ashbury sign to a “Flower Power” slogan to caricatures of The Beatles painted on the primary cover. All those years at Glidden helped Fairless hone a masterful eye when it comes to paint. But Pam is much more than a psychedelic sideshow. The thick tubing of the backbone contains both oil and gas tanks. Screens have been used in place of sheet metal, from the rear fender to the swingarm to the frame. Internal wiring on the bars keeps the look clean and tidy. The S&S T-Series 124-cubic inch engine is like no other, with colorful paint splashed
Fairless built Pam for S&S Cycle’s 50th anniversary celebration. S&S invited 50 of today’s top custom bike builders to create a special bike in honor of the company’s milestone. Pam definitely stands out in a crowd.
between the machined fins and engraved cylinder heads. You’ve got to look close to notice the thick tube of the exhaust bending below the seat and exiting off the left side. Sure, Fairless could have gone with a monochromatic paint scheme on the bike, but that’s not his style. His signature paint catches your eyes while the artistry of the craftsmanship behind it slowly reveals itself.
Fairless’ Strokers Dallas was already a fixture of the Texas biker scene, but now his ice house is enjoying even more popularity thanks to the debut of Ma’s Roadhouse on truTV. Everyone adores his cantankerous 71-year-old mother, Sharon, who cooks a mean burger and can’t seem to stay out of the bar. She loves her booze and cigarettes and has a vocabulary that could make a sailor blush. The show is bringing in people to Strokers who never would have given a second thought to stopping in before. At the recent Lone Star Rally, there was a constant stream of people waiting in line to get a picture taken with Fairless or an autograph signed. Strokers is one-of-a-kind, so if you’re ever in the Dallas area, be sure to stop on by for a cold beer and one of Ma’s famous burgers. In the meantime, get to know the mind behind Strokers in our Motorcycle USA interview.
Motorcycle USA: Between running Strokers, filming a TV show, and traveling to rallies, how do you find time to still wrench on bikes?
Fairless: Well, I don’t do that as much as I used to mainly because I’ve got some great employees that are doing it full-time, so now I’m the design guy and the head coach and I’m the guy that goes back there and says “OK boys, here’s what we’re going to do – this, this and this.” And I may go back there ten times a day and check in on a project but when you own and run three companies with over 50 employees, I don’t have time to go back there and do that any more. Plus my guys, they’ve all been to MMI and they’re good guys and they’re good listeners, they listen when I’m telling ‘em what I want and it’s the best use of my time in doing it this way.
Motorcycle USA: For people who might not know, tell us a little about how you became a custom bike builder? When did you build your first custom bike?
Fairless realized early on that bikini babes, beer and bikes go hand-in-hand. Debbie is one of the most popular beer girls at Strokers Dallas, head of the Bikini Team and is also Miss April in the popular Strokers’ calendar.
Fairless: Started out just by customizing my little Honda 100 I had when I was a teenager. Back then, we used to ride to school every day as a freshman in high school and then on weekends we’d strip the bike down and I’d put on a Preston Petty tank which was a plastic gas tank and plastic fenders, get rid of the lights and all that Friday right after school. On Sunday night you’d put it all back on. It went from there to Suzuki 400s to Kawasaki 650s, to getting my first Harley. When I’d get my next paycheck, I’d think “I could save $100 out of it to get a new headlight or whatever” and it just carried on from there. From the time I got my first mini-bike at nine years old, my whole life centered around motorcycles and it still does today.
Motorcycle USA: At what point did you realize that’s what you wanted to do as a career?
Fairless: Well, that’s what I had wanted to do my whole life, but I had a good job working for Glidden Paint Company and never really thought about leaving that until I was coming up on 20 years. I wasn’t really happy with the management of the company and I had achieved everything I had hoped to achieve and I was restless and wanted more, so I decided this is the time. And I didn’t think it would happen, I thought, well I’ll do some homework and I’ll check into starting my own bike shop and I’m sure it won’t happen, but at least, and I remember telling my wife this, I want to at least say “Hey, I looked into it but it just wasn’t meant to be.” And I looked into it and it was meant to be.
Motorcycle USA: How hard was it to quit Glidden and the security it provided to venture out and start your own company?
Fairless: One of the hardest things I ever did. I remember telling my boss, who was a Harley enthusiast like I was and I told him “Hey, I’ve got my 20 years in and I’m going to
Fairless has built Strokers Dallas into one the most popular biker hangouts in the country by offering everything under one roof, from a full-service motorcycle shop to a burger joint to a tattoo parlor.
exercise my right to retirement and I’m going to open up a motorcycle shop” and he was very happy for me and said if things didn’t work out that I always had a job with Glidden.
Motorcycle USA: Do you think your position as a salesman with Glidden helped you hone the business skills necessary to make Strokers successful?
Fairless: Without a doubt. My paint buddies would come in the first few years and ask me how I was doing and I’d tell them the only difference between working at running the paint store and running Strokers is the product. Everything else is the same. The principles are exactly the same. Instead of selling paint, I’m selling motorcycles or motorcycle tires. Instead of selling paint brushes and roller covers and drop cloths I’m selling spark plugs and throttle cables. People don’t do business with companies, people do business with people. If they like you, they’ll give you a try and it’s up to you to keep them coming back. It’s up to you to give them a fair shake and sell them when you get them in there. And that’s why custom service is our number one thing because it’s been my number one thing.
Motorcycle USA: How’s the motorcycle end of Strokers been doing lately? What’s been keeping you afloat – bike sales, customs, service?
Fairless: It’s holding up fine. The economy’s not doing us any favors, but we’re diversified enough, we’re selling some bikes, selling some parts and some service and some beer and some hamburgers and some tattoos. We’ve been lucky enough to do some TV stuff that’s bringing in tourists that wouldn’t have normally come in and it’s doing good. It’s sad because the economy has knocked a lot of people out of the industry but it’s good in that it’s a cleansing and a lot of the people who have been knocked out of it are people who shouldn’t have been in it to begin with. But it’s also knocked out a lot of good people like my pal Kim Suter out there in Kansas City. (Former owner of KC Creations who closed shop in June of 2008 due to the economy). It’s tough out there.
Motorcycle USA: How’s Dolly, the bagger you’re working on coming along?
Fairless: Dolly’s coming along slowly but surely. I can’t and I won’t put my personal stuff ahead of money-making jobs, so right now it’s back in the fab shop and my fab guys are busy with a couple of other money-making projects. I’ve
Ma’s Roadhouse is shot on location at Strokers Dallas and features Rick’s fiesty 71-year-old mother as one of its stars.
looked into hiring another fab guy but going into winter, I don’t want to do that. And it will slow down over the next month or so and we’ll have a little more time that we can devote to Dolly. My goal is to have her done by my bike show in April.
* Dolly is a unique bagger with a 300mm back tire covered by a rear fender with a mesh panel, a Betty frame, forks that will run through the front fender, tail lights ripped from a classic car, a monstrous 152 cubic-inch Viper engine and a reworked Big Dog front fairing.
Motorcycle USA: Where do you find inspiration for your colorful designs?
Fairless: You know, that’s kind of just who I am and that’s kind of what I like. I’m a child of the ‘60s and it’s what I’ve always liked. My best friend, he likes single-color bikes and he likes pinstriping. Well, I wouldn’t give you two cents for pinstriping. Do I like the looks of pinstriping – yeah, but would I ever pinstripe one of my bikes with just old school pinstriping? No, because it’s not who I am. Who I am is bright colors and tie-dye and all the crazy ‘60s stuff. But do I want to do the same paint job over and over again? No. I believe a paint job gets your attention and people will sit there and look at a paint job and they’ll notice other things you’ve done on the bike.
Motorcycle USA: How do you approach a custom build? Draft, CAD, visions?
Fairless: We don’t have any CAD programs or any of that stuff. I generate the ideas and write down a bunch of notes on what I want and get with one of my builders, whichever builder I’m going to have do the bike and we go over a bunch of stuff and it just starts to take shape. Sometimes I’ll get a buddy of mine to draw something out, but I can see a bike in my head. It doesn’t have to be drawn out for me.
Motorcycle USA: Do you consider yourself a work-a-holic?
Fairless: Oh yeah, that’s one of my vices is that I work way too much. I go to work every day. I don’t ever take a day off. If I’m out of town, if I’m not at work, it’s at a motorcycle show. Do I do other things? Oh, every now and then. My wife drug me to Italy a couple of years ago for ten days or something and it about drove me crazy. They don’t have a chicken fried steak nowhere in that whole country, they never even heard of chicken fried steak. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Motorcycle USA: What do you think about the work ethic of the current generation?
Fairless: I think it’s shit. In a word, it’s shit. They don’t have a work ethic. Most of them do their eight hours so they can go home and smoke it up or drink it up or booze it up or party it up or whatever they do with it. At the end of the day, they
Coors commissioned Fairless to build the “Coors Original Bike.” Its fork is designed after cue sticks, pool balls included. Two giant Coors Original cans serve as a gas tank, complete with pull tabs. More beer cans mounted under the seat contain the ignition coils, battery and electronics.
don’t have money, they drive a piece of shit car and they can’t hardly get to work and they can’t hardly afford the gas but they’ve got plenty of cigarettes and booze.
Motorcycle USA: I know it’s not always easy working with a spouse or family. How do you pull it off?
Fairless: Hell, it’s hard to do. Working with your family is really good because you know they’re not gonna cheat you and they’ve got your best interest at heart but it’s hard because they’re the ones that, if you tell them to do something – if you tell an employee to do something and he doesn’t think that’s the right thing to do, whatever, they’re going to do it anyways. If you tell one of your family members to do something, they’re liable to argue with you. But the benefits outweigh all that, knowing your families there. My daughter’s working in the company now, and she’s doing good and I’m hoping that she can run this company one of these days.
Motorcycle USA: How was the Dallas IMS?
Fairless: Attendance seemed pretty steady and we shook a lot of hands and talked to a lot of people and we’re happy with it.
Motorcycle USA: Did you see any new bikes that really caught your attention?
Fairless: Nope, not really. To me, the coolest production bikes on the planet are Victory. And I am so glad I am a Victory dealer. We went to Galveston for the Lone Star Rally and I rode a Victory that I customized for Herschel Walker. Coming back, my best friend was on his Victory Vision, we’re doing about 95 going down Interstate 45 from Houston, I’ve got one hand on the throttle and one hand resting on my leg and I’m listening to my iPod, the mirrors are clear, no vibrations, you would have thought I was going 45 mph. When you’ve got guys like Arlen Ness and that’s what he rides every day and guys like Sonny Barger, who rides a Victory Vision and he says “Piss on Harley-Davidson ‘cuz Victory’s the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. That guy rides hard, too. He knows. When big boys like that tell you that’s the way something is, you kind of start to believe it.”
Motorcycle USA: Have you seen an increase in business at Strokers since the debut of the show?
Fairless: Yep. We’re getting a lot of people who are tourists that are either traveling through Dallas and they make it a special point to come see us. We had a lady in the other day who said she came down to see her son and the son said the only way to get my mother here was to tell here I would bring her by Strokers Dallas. So they came straight from the airport to here. We get that every day. We had people in here a couple of hours ago, two girls from Florida, and they were passing through close to Dallas who said they had to swing by and see Ma’s Roadhouse. Whenever somebody comes in, if I’m not up there they call me in back and say “Hey Rick, we’ve got some people who want to meet you” and I make sure to go up there and take pictures or whatever.
Motorcycle USA: How’d that all come about – did truTV contact you or did you already have a pilot in mind?
Fairless: I already had something in mind and I shared my vision with the production company and the production company shared their vision and my vision with truTV.
Motorcycle USA: How are you dealing with camera’s following you all the time? Is it invasive at times?
Fairless never turns down a chance to meet and greet his fans. His booth at the recent Lone Star Rally had a long line of people waiting for the opportunity to get an autograph or to snap a photo with him. He didn’t even mind taking a picture with a goofball like me.
Fairless: You know, it doesn’t bother me. At first, you get self-conscious about it when you’ve got to do something and you know there’s a bunch of people watching because they see all the cameras and all that, but it’s like giving a speech in front of a bunch of college kids. When I was in high school, I hated to stand up and read something in front of the class, but once you do it a 100 times you get used to it. You just kind of block it out and you’re just up there doing it and it’s the same thing with cameras. If people think you’re a dickhead, they think you’re a dickhead, you know.
Motorcycle USA: In the long list of accomplishments you’ve achieved in life so far, which one are you most proud of?
Fairless: Thirty-five years, never called in sick. Never in my life, I worked for Glidden 20 years and I’ve worked here for 15, have I picked up the phone once and said “You know, I’m not coming in today, I don’t feel good, I’m taking the day off.” Never have I done that.
Fairless would finish by saying it’s a mindset. He has been going to the gym five days a week for the last seven years, but he thinks it’s just a frame of mind.
“It doesn’t matter if you feel like shit sitting on the couch watching TV or if you’re doing it at work.”