It started in a garden shed and has evolved into one of the biggest custom bike shops in Britain. This is the extraordinary story of Paul Beamish’s Krazy Horse
Krazy Horse is a custom bike shop with real presence. Walk into Empire House at Lamdin Road on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds and there’s an ambience that’s more art gallery than motorcycle showroom. The entrance corridor isn’t just a parade of great custom machines – the walls are adorned with tank art on one side and beautiful black and white photography on the other. And as the space opens out there are more bikes; KH-built customs, Zero choppers, a Zaeta tracker, Avinton and Paton cafe racers, new Nortons – and a highly polished Airstream caravan. Upstairs there’s a parts counter, clothing store, cafe and juke box. It’s petrolhead nirvana. But we’re not finished. A walk across the road to Deco House and you’re greeted by Guy Martin’s Wall of Death Indian in the gateway to another world of brand new cruisers from Indian and Victory – and Morgan cars. The owner is Paul Beamish, a 52 year-old, down-toearth, old-skool biker who still loves to ride the same Panhead chopper he built some 20 years ago. He started Krazy Horse back in 1996 along with a friend in a garden shed, selling Harley spares to help keep their mates’ bikes on the road. “Bikes are in my family,”
he says. “My grandfather and grandmother owned a garage in Norfolk in the 1920s and both rode motorcycles. In fact he met her when she arrived on a motorcycle to become the new school mistress. “My first bike was a 1979 Honda CB50J and I did the usual thing, got a 250, a 500 and then a 750. My Honda CB750-4 cost £300 at the time.” After university Paul ended up at Tesco in their design studio near Enfield. He was riding an old 1976 CB750 F1 and met a girl who was into bikes. “She hung out with the chopper club and that got me into Harleys. I bought an Evo Sporty, then in 1989 I tried a 1982 Shovel Glide and liked that a lot.” Paul rode the Shovel for a couple of years until it blew up and then rebuilt it, getting to know Zodiac UK founder Paul Timpson who supplied the parts.
The following year Paul and his mate Steve Stud rode to the Super Rally in Holland where Steve’s rigid 1976 Shovel blew a head gasket. Paul recalls: “That weekend Steve and I said to Paul (Timpson, Zodiac UK boss) that we’d like to run a part-time shop to help people like us who needed to get those kind of consumable spares off the shelf. “Paul encouraged us to do it, with Zodiac happy to supply the parts. So we converted Steve’s shed into a shop and in 1995 we placed out first order for parts. We aimed to focus on Shovels – stock the basic bits: rectifier/regulators, cables, gaskets, pads, etc.” Since WWII East Anglia has always had large concentration of Harleys thanks to the number of American air bases in the region. “We’ve always made our business work by selling custom parts. We increased our range to include W&W, Motorcycle Storehouse, Custom Chrome as well as Zodiac. The Harley world allows you to do that where other manufacturers don’t even have it. When we started we offered conversions to aftermarket brakes and wider rear tyres. We’ve always kept the custom parts side going and it keeps growing.
‘What’s changed is that the shop is now a destination’
“What’s changed is that this shop is now a destination. People come in with a list of parts and Chris Hindle, who joined us 12 or 13 years ago, can go out back and get everything on the list then bring the customer his box of parts. It’s that kind of personal touch people prefer. Plus they can ask for advice – you can’t do that online.” In the late 1990s KH were featured in Back Street Heroes magazine with a rigid Shovel. A subsequent Panhead went into the English version of Freeway magazine. Then came Tail Dragger, the Arlen Ness bike. KH picked up a lot of sales from the media coverage and, with business blossoming, moved to Looms Lane in Bury St Edmunds – a delightful old skool bike shop with wooden floors, bikes crammed into the tiny space and coffee on the go to welcome customers.
“From that point it stopped being a hobby and became a full-time business. I’d been working for a printing company and Steve ran a Land Rover and Jaguar body shop. He came into the business full-time.” This was the period when choppers were fashionable in the UK, a time when the Discovery channel TV shows like American Chopper were aired, inspiring a new breed of middle-aged men with the money to lash out on expensive customs. “We took on a lot of builds, sold lots more spares,” Paul recalls. “We built a Jesse James bike and took it to the AMD Championship in 2003. The style was relatively new then and the bike was tied in to Custom Chrome. We met more people and got a taste for overseas shows. At AMD we met people like Fred Bertrand of Krugger, Marcus Waltz…”
Ironically the Jesse James build backfired. “It was essentially built ‘off the shelf’ so back here, where I was in the local Harley club, I got a lot of flack for building a big money bike. That made us think a lot more about what we were doing so we decided to do something really different with our next build.” Enter Zeroesque, a mad-looking Ironhead Sportster with geeky-looking handlebars jutting at a weird angle to the peanut gas tank. “I’d got a copy of Shinya’s book (Shinya Kimura founded Zero choppers in 1992 and then left Japan to work Stateside). I had an old Sportster that became our show bike. We took it to the re-vitalised Doncaster Show in 2005. We had our own little stand to display Zeroesque and it won best in show with what was the cheapest bike we’d ever built. At the AMD Europe custom championship in 2006, with the same bike, we beat Krugger because no one in Europe had built in that style before. We went to Sturgis (for the AMD finals) with it too, but I think it was actually too far ahead of its time for the Americans.” The orders at KH we rolling in.
Paul bought Steve out in 2004 when he went to live in South Africa. In 2007 KH built a Waltz style, drop saddle, bike, which brought a flood of orders for similar machines. In 2008 came the Ekerslike Flyer with a Krugger frame. And the same year was also 50th anniversary of S&S. KH were among the 50 builders S&S invited to enter a build-off competition, though like all the entries, they had to purchase their own engine for the pleasure! They built Krazy Racer and Paul says: “There’s never going to be another event of that ilk with so many top builders all coming together.” “At that time custom bikes had become very expensive so when the recession hit, everything changed. But it wasn’t just the financial crash of 2008 that affected the custom business. It all started in 2003 with the advent of Type Approval in Europe. It wasn’t too bad here, because we had SVA (Single Vehicle Approval), but in Europe new rules made a massive difference to how custom bikes were built.
“Then, between 2003 to 2008, the internet changed all business. We started to get customers coming in, expecting a coffee, asking advice and taking up our time at the expense of other customers – and then never buying a thing. We’d see bikes with new parts outside in the parking area so we knew they were buying stuff from the States via the internet. It did affect our business to start with because spares have always been our core. “Then in 2008 came the recession. About that time I’d spotted the Japanese-made Zero bike in Europe. I couldn’t even build them for the price Zero were selling them so I did a deal to become the Zero distributor. “I saw the possibility of selling all over Europe. As a result we have outlets in France, Germany, Italy and a little bit in Spain. We sell about 20-30 Zeroes in Paris every year – and now we’re selling them in London too. The best we’ve done with Zero is 100 bikes in a year.
It insulated us from the recession and now we’ve got lots of fingers in lots of pies.” It led Paul to change his business plan. “We no longer do commissioned builds. The customers tend to change their minds, which is time consuming and expensive. Now we build a bike how we want to and then offer it for sale. It takes half the time to build one, using quality parts we like to use.” Paul began the search for other manufacturers to take on. He forged a link with Storz and tied up a deal with Hogtech to sell their Swedish choppers. By now Looms Lane had become too small to cope: “I knew we had to go big or call it a day,” says Paul, bastardising a Guy Martin slogan. Paul bought the industrial unit at Lamdin Road in 2011 but it took a full year of battling the planning department before the shop finally opened in December 2012. In the interim KH had built the Ace Cafe Racer and a Swedish-style chopper.
“Going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed got us a lot of exposure. We met Morgan, Polaris and Norton there. So when we opened this place the first brand we took on was Morgan. Soon after, KH added Zaeta (which came from their Zero Italy contacts in Milan), Avinton and Paton. “Then Norton came on board after I’d chased them for some time,” adds Paul. “I just like the look of the bike. It’s a niche market. I see them like Morgan – good points and bad points in both.” The trick appeared to be taking on small brands with cool machines, but then Paul pulled off what looks like a coup by nailing an Indian and Victory franchise. He says: “Polaris wanted us to be Indian and Victory dealers in 2013 but I didn’t want Victory. I’m a Harley guy and I felt the victory looked like an old Arlen Ness-styled bike. But I was wrong. Some of the Indian kudos has rubbed off on Victory. “Victory sales are getting better and better all the time.
The reason for their popularity is that sportsbike guys have had enough and want a cruiser but don’t want the whole Harley thing. My thoughts are that Victory has made some great changes and the Gunner is a great bike. “Their Chiefs are aimed at the top end [Harley] Heritage products and baggers, but the Scout is the one bike that’s really taken off – and I can see them rivalling the Sportster and Softail. The top end Scout is £8995 but has 85/95bhp compared to the Sportster. “The 1200 Scout fits right into the Dyna and Softail area and there’s loads you can do to them too – the Scout really is customising friendly. Plus it’s easier to ride than a Sportster because it’s lower.” By March 2015 KH needed yet more space and opened the Indian, Victory, Morgan shop across the road in the American-style Deco House. And at the end of last year they also opened their London shop – a condensed version of Lamdin Road without the cars. “We always had the idea of this place being a destination. Bikes, spares, servicing but also clothing and cafe. We’ve done the same with London. And it’s working,” he says.
“What works for a big business like this is to have multiple things going on. The one-man-band customiser format works for people like Freddy Bertrand of Krugger. He’s a clever guy, not only with building bikes, but also in business. But it’s very hard to get what the one-off builds are worth. “We can only do the things we want to do – like build nice bikes – because other elements of the business are making money. We have three shops and all 30 people we employ are into what we do. “We’re still in this to have fun. We’ve had 20 years in this business and we’ve only ever built one bike purely for show – and that’s the Krazy Racer for the S&S 50th. Everything else is ridden.” KH proved that by building a chopper for Guy Martin to ride at Dirt Quake this year. “We figured if he could make the start, he could block everyone into the first corner with the length of the bike! Bikes are meant to be fun.”
KH has done three years with Guy at Dirt Quake but don’t use his name to promote their business. Guy hates PR bullshit, which is probably why he and Paul get on so well. “The whole Guy Martin thing is good fun,” says Paul. “We built his Wall of Death Indians and we’re in the Transit feature, where he drove in the Nevada State Challenge.” You can tell Paul’s still as enthusiastic about bikes as ever. “I still ride my original Panhead that I built all that time ago,” he says. “We still do shows all over the place and have a series of open evenings at the shop. If you can’t do the things you love and enjoy life to the full, then it just becomes business and, thankfully, that’s never happened…”