Some of the world's most special customised classics originate from a large lock-up next to a trailer park in a shabby Austin suburb in Texas, USA. As the coolest bike shop in Texas, Revival Cycles is a serious operation, utilising all the 21st century technology they can get to keep loads of (mostly) 20th century iron plodding along.
"While I think aesthetically, Stefan thinks mechanically"
Austin / Texas / USA
In a shabby Austin suburb, right next to a trailer park, stands a row of tatty industrial units, in one of which, I’m told, resides Revival Cycles. I see only one door open, so I knock and ask where I might find the coolest bike shop in Texas. Right next door, says the man. Finally at the fifth or sixth unit the door swings open and I walk into an Aladdin’s cave of sparkling old machinery and ancient artefacts.
There’s a 1930s Raleigh, a Velocette Venom, a 1950s slot machine, a late-model CB450, a scraped-up TZ750 fairing hanging on the wall and a 1960s BMW R69S that belongs to 1993 500 World Champion Kevin Schwantz.
Revival started in 2010 and have been expanding ever since, one unit at a time, until they now inhabit five consecutive units, with 14 staff, twice the number they employed only a year ago.
Founder Alan Stulberg invites me into his upstairs office. Among books, artworks and various mid-20th century flotsam and jetsam sit a 1916 Royal Enfield, a cutaway Ducati 250 engine and a dusty old eight-track stereo system, with a multitude of tapes neatly stacked in shelves. Apparently, this man has no great desire to join the rest of us in the 21st century.
Then you spot the two giant Apple Mac computer monitors on his desk. So he isn’t some atavistic weirdo, desperately trying to pretend the modern world doesn’t actually exist. It’s the same story downstairs. Hiding behind the ageing machinery are several machine shops and a couple of CNC machines. Next up is a forge, so they can do their own casting. Revival Cycles is a serious operation, utilising all the 21st century technology they can get to keep loads of (mostly) 20th century iron plodding along.
Revival’s fame has spread far and wide in the recent years as the classic boom and cafe-racer renaissance have gone global. Their aesthetic is pure and unfussy; form following function; as it should, but often doesn’t.
We certainly couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to come knocking at their door. This is Revival’s busiest week of the year, when it’s all hands on deck as they set up the huge Handbuilt Motorcycle Show that runs downtown during Austin’s MotoGP weekend. The show features bikes from all over the US, live bands and a wall of death. It has a wonderfully oily, arty, indie feel to it, just like the company’s HQ.
“The start was my dad – he had a 1960s Triumph with blue glitter paint. I remember sitting on the gas tank, at diapers age, revving the throttle and feeling the bike shake on its stand. The feel and the smell struck me; I had to have a Triumph.”
Years later his first road bike was indeed a Triumph, though his current weakness is Guzzis.
Stulberg runs the business with Stefan Hertel, a former bio-mechanical engineer. “I met Stefan because I’ve got an E-Type Jag and he wanted to check it out,” he adds. “While I think aesthetically, Stefan thinks mechanically.”
Hertel’s previous job was designing hip and shoulder replacements. He also had a go at injection moulding. “We were doing stuff like shower valves, making 150,000 a day. It was terrible. So I took a bike trip down south, down to Guatemala. On the way I met Alan. This is what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
Stulberg, who previously worked in tech-software sales and financial services, was also seeking a better life when a visit to Britain and a chat with Sam Lovegrove [of Brough Superior fame] inspired him to establish the company.
“I got fired from my boring cubicle day job, so I kitted out my most reliable motorcycle and headed for Europe. I met Sam at a Beaulieu moto jumble in 2008. We ate BBQ chicken he had cooked in a car wheel in a field, we discussed the pursuit of happiness and it changed the course of my life.”
There are various projects underway. Most, but not all, are classics. On one workbench is a 1932 overhead valve Raleigh 500. Hertel points at the rocker cover. “We didn’t even have the original cover to go by, so I looked at photos, worked it out for myself, cut it on the CNC machine and hand finished it to give it that cast look.”
The piece has been created so thoughtfully that you’d never know it hadn’t been born with the rest of the bike.
The Raleigh glows beneath one of those huge domed lights you find in operating theatres; which I presume came along with Hertel’s medical background. “No,” he says quietly. “We got it from a meth den...”
Two benches away sits a 1928 Alcyon, made by a little-known French manufacturer based in Paris. Between the wars Alcyon won success in national racing and contested many Isle of Man TTs. Unlike the Raleigh, this little 250cc two-stroke shows every year of its age, like a gnarled old tree trunk.
“It’s preservation versus restoration,” adds Hertel. “My preference is for preservation. Anyone can take an old bike, spend some money and make it look like new. I think the genuine distress of an old bike is an amazing thing. We’re only doing a mechanical restoration on this one: engine, transmission, magneto, cables and so on.”
Next door is Schwantz’s R69S, also undergoing a minor fettle. It’s hard to picture, isn’t it: one of Grand Prix racing’s most famous maniacs pottering around town on a Bee Em twin? Revival are also looking after Schwantz’s Suzuki RG500 road bike, sadly not in Pepsi colours.
And then there’s a sweet Velocette Venom in a Rickman frame, having a new seat made. Revival’s chief fabricator is Andy James, a former prop maker in the film business, who lists his skills as panel beater, coach builder, welder, machinist and sculptor. He’s currently sculpting the Venom’s aluminium seat, which will replace a nasty-looking fibreglass unit.
“Everything we do here is a joint venture,” says James. “We all work together to make a part. And we find that if you need, say, a shift fork for a Velocette, it’s probably easier to make it, rather than trying to find one and buying it.”
Hertel adds: “Also, things break for a reason, so if you get an old part to replace a broken old part, it’s probably going to break for the same reason. So we analyse and re-engineer parts to eliminate mistakes. We try to work out the most efficient way to get something done properly, but there’s so many processes, so you always have to keep the bill in mind.”
Now he’s got 13 people working for him, so Stulberg is now working on product lines that will work across a whole range of bikes, from reg plate brackets to a universal wiring harness.
“We’ve got a plan to open a store/cafe in downtown Austin where people can hang out. We get so many people visiting us that sometimes we can’t work on the bikes. The idea is that we’ll do final assemblies on big builds at the place in town.”
In this day and age, it is compulsory to ask ‘The Celebrity Question’. But no, Revivals haven’t done any renovations for celebrities. Phew. “Ewan McGregor visits now and again, but only because he’s into Guzzis and he knows I am too. Plus Lyall Lovett, he comes by sometimes.”
That’s all right by us, because Lovett is a local country musician with a lifelong love of motorcycles, not a Hollywood hipster following fashion. From a young age the Texan singer-songwriter raced motocross and worked in his local bike shop. But that’s another story...