The Icon Garage – Livin’ the Lifestyle in Slabtown

March 4, 2011
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
Cruiser Editor |Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

The Death or Glory bike rips across the desert outside of Las Vegas.
Icon built the industrial-looking “Death or Glory” bike in-house then took it for a run in the desert outside of Vegas. Icon sets itself apart from other aftermarket gear and apparel suppliers because they build their own motorcycles with specific product lines and advertising campaigns in mind.

There’s a custom bike builder trapped within the psyche of Icon’s Kurt Walter lurking to get out. The alter ego of Icon’s design director surfaces in the garage of Icon Motosports after hours and on weekends. It materializes in the form of the end of days-styled motorcycle they call “Death or Glory” and the Wall of Death-defying supermoto, the “Speed Cretin.” It surfaces when Walter’s jumps on the widow-maker KTM 300 EXC called the Mangler for a dash down the streets of Northwest Portland. Since computer programs and 3-D modeling has taken over most of the design process, the Icon garage is Walter’s refuge, a place he can still go to channel his hands-on energy.

Icon’s design headquarters is situated in a light-industrial section of NW Portland called Slabtown. The area was named after the slabs of wood European immigrants working in the lumber mills would take home and burn to heat their houses and stoves. Back in the lumber milling days, the slabs of the rounded tree edges made good fuel and could be found all over the area. Local historians also claim that before the area was paved, loggers slid their cargo down the hills along rows of slabs to the waiting ships on the riverfront. Local Slabtown street names can reportedly be seen on the popular series “The Simpsons,” whose creator Matt Groening grew up in the area. It’s also the name of the Icon gang’s favorite dive bar a few blocks away on Franklin Street.

The district fits the personality of the blue-collar, industrious gang at Icon well. The company has come a long way from Walter’s small one-man show in a 600 square-foot studio that’s not far from their current headquarters. The rise of Icon is an American success story. Walter started out as a product designer for Thor. When Jeff Fox of Parts Unlimited

Another rat bike project in the collection of Slabtown Cycle Works.
Rat bikes are de rigueur in Slabtown.

requested that he design a street helmet, Walter had been tossing around an idea for a helmet with a streetfighter aesthetic in his head for some time along with the idea to support it with an accompanying apparel line. The Alliance Helmet, released to the public in the fall of 2002, was the result, and soon Kurt would convince Parts Unlimited to open up Icon Motosports. One of Walter’s first goals was to switch the brand identity away from the dirt focus of Thor. He believed the concept would be cool but didn’t believe it’d be too big. Little did he know how Icon would blow up after its introduction.

Almost every night after work and on weekends, there’s something getting cut up or wrenched on in the Icon garage. It’s a scene. Icon loyalists come in to hang out and work on bikes, refugees from local motorcycle shops and other general gearheads.

“There’s a lot of open pipes around this office. The neighbors hate us,” Walter confided.

Portland is establishing itself as one of the most vibrant motorcycling communities in the US, home to companies like Moto Corsa, America’s #1 Ducati dealer which supplies Portland’s large, devoted following of Ducatisti, e-motorcycle pioneers Moto Czysz and plenty of small garages like See See Motorcycles who recently coordinated The One Motorcycle Show featuring over 50 vintage and modern custom motorcycles. Walter believes that 20 years from now, people will look back and realize what a special thing is going on in the Portland motorcycling scene right now.
Icon’s garage is a menagerie of motorcycles. The menacing montage of metal known as the “Death or Glory” bike sits next to a stretched and slammed Honda Reflex 250 scooter splashed with Japanese anime graphics. A KTM supermotard sits ten feet away from a Frisco chopper built from a collection of leftover bike parts. A vintage 1986 Honda VF1000R sits on the lift, a bike Walter used to dream of owning while growing up. He tells me they are converting it into an endurance-style racer and how the mid- to late ‘80s Honda design aesthetic, for him personally as a designer, is his favorite stuff.

The eclectic collection of motorcycles range from a slammed and stretched scooter to an ultra-light homemade superbike. A 1986 Honda VF1000R sits on the lift as the crew is busy converting it into an endurance-style racer. Icon has future plans for the Hail Mary Full of Gas drag bike.
(L) The eclectic collection of motorcycles range from a slammed and stretched scooter to an ultra-light homemade superbike. (M) A 1986 Honda VF1000R sits on the lift as the crew is busy converting it into an endurance-style racer. (R) Icon has future plans for the Hail Mary Full of Gas drag bike.

Each of the motorcycles in the Icon garage has a story. There’s the 2002 Honda Reflex 250 Scooter called “Rockets Dead Glare” that was a result of Walter’s trip to Japan around 2001.
“They were doing these crazy mega-scooters, slammed, air suspension front and back, full-body kits, stretched swingarms. They were all over the place,” he said.

So Walter thought it’d be a fun project over here. Funky and cool, the scooter lowers and rises thanks to full air suspension, a giant whale-tail spoiler is mounted on the back of its custom bodywork, it’s got a monster one-off pipe, Ninja star spinners on the wheels and super colorful anime graphics front-to-back to complete the eye-popping design.
Then there’s the popular “Death or Glory” bike used in the Vegas Outlaw Cup campaign in the fall of 2009. It was purpose-built with the knowledge that they wanted to get one specific photo out of it. They ended up taking it out to Vegas and running it in the desert with a couple of helicopters overhead in a shoot with a James Bond theme to it. It

The Icon attitude can be found everywhere on its bikes  even on the side of oil tanks.
The Icon attitude can be found everywhere on its bikes, even on the side of oil tanks. (B)  Icon’s Kurt Walter claims he’s the design director but inside is a custom bike builder waiting to break out. Hangin out in the Icon garage with their Design Director and closet custom bike builder  Kurt Walter.

was a fun build for Kurt, his first Big Twin. He also learned a lot about fab work with the bike and took a metal-shaping class at the Detroit Bros shop while visiting his parents in Michigan. He ended up using what he learned to fab up the tank and seat. The bike combines a heavy-duty industrial look with the sportbike aesthetic. It’s got a burly Ultima engine and tranny spooned into a Detroit Bros frame, a Barnett Scorpion open belt drive and custom exhaust teamed with Kawasaki ZX-10 wheel sets and an Ohlins fork. Walter said he received a lot of grief for running an Ohlins front on a rigid bike, but being unconventional is the Icon way.

Next to it was the intriguing “TiFighter” a motorcycle featured in Icon’s 2011 Spring Collection catalog as “a superbike on paper, but a rat fighter in the flesh.” The bike was a repoed 2003 Ducati Supersport 1000DS that Walter stripped everything off. He sourced the services of Arc Fabrication out of New Hampshire to build a titanium frame and exhaust for it, switching it up from supersport geometry to superbike. It is exclusively a track weapon, as the ultra-light bike tips the scales at just over 300 pounds. This was accomplished by using a carbon Kevlar gas tank and tail unit, CFX carbon fiber bodywork and Galespeed forged magnesium wheels. High-end racing components like an Ohlins nitrogen superbike fork, Ohlins rear shocks and Brembo master cylinders complete its pedigree. A flat gray paint disguises its true nature as a lethal track weapon.

On the other end of the spectrum sits the “Speed Cretin.” The 1976 Yamaha TT500 once belonged to the dad of Icon’s senior print designer before Walter’s bought it for $500. It was intended to be a cheap and quick supermoto for his brother, but once he started building it Walter realized the bike was going to be too dangerous for him. In typical Icon fashion, the bike is a hodgepodge of parts that the crew was able to fashion into something unique. The “Speed Cretin’ has a flat track seat and handlebars salvaged off the 2002 Honda Reflex scooter, a move that was universally hated which made Walter want to keep them on even more. Behind the seat is a sissy bar from a Schwinn bicycle whose “D” cell-powered headlight was also used. The “Speed Cretin’s” taillight is just a reflector. The wild-looking supermoto has an inverted 1985 Yamaha YZ490 swingarm and the front end of a 1990 Suzuki Katana 600. A raspy vintage Supertrapp exhaust completes its obnoxious disposition.

“You have an idea when you start, but to me, the builds take on a life of their own. They’ll become what they want to be in the end. It was not supposed to be like this when we started but this is what it was meant to be.”

The “Speed Cretin” spawned its own product line and was actually ridden on the Wall of Death in the advertising campaign after they strutted the back of the bike.

Slabtown - its not only a neighborhood  its a way of life around Icon.
Slabtown. It’s not only a neighborhood in Northwest Portland, it’s an ideology for the crew at Icon Motosports. The crew at Icons favorite watering hole is just down the street.

Walter is a big fan of air-cooled Twins and Singles. In the garage sits one of the last street-legal two-strokes which he described as “smoky, obnoxious, and loud.” The bike has been crashed about five times and he said you really have to bring you’re A-game to ride this bike or else it will pitch you off in a heartbeat. There’s even an electric Brammo loaner bike with custom painted bodywork they recently used for the roller derby photo shoot in the spring catalog. The put a tow bar on it and pulled the girls around a rink, Rollerball-style.

There’s a lot of creative energy flowing through the building beyond the garage as well. Upstairs, the design and development team was busy working away while the graphic designers were dialing in a print campaign. Matt Sanders, head of video production and 3-D modeling and the man responsible for the viral Icon Drifter Video, worked on cutting and editing his latest project. Circling the office walls was the Hall of Fame/Hall of Shame with helmets that made it and others that didn’t. A peek inside the “War Room” downstairs demonstrated that Icon is always thinking ahead with pictures of current products hanging on the wall next to future product lines hidden behind black curtains. During breaks, several employees would wander down to the garage to tinker on project bikes or just to hang out. At the end of the day, the taps at Slabtown down the street would beckon with the promise of a pint of cold draft.

Icon sets itself apart from its competition by building custom bikes in-house to use for specific marketing campaigns and product lines. They don’t merely try to sell a lifestyle, they live it. Their “Ride Among Us” slogan is more than a jingle. It’s a mantra by which they abide.