Caleb Denton: Custom Bike Builder

Following the interview, you’re about to read, I (Anthony Crosby) was brought into a garage and shown an array of motorcycle bikes in the process of being worked on and restored. My host graciously explained to me the backstory of each ride and even gave me a mini-lesson into how he goes about bringing life to each vehicle. I know nothing about bikes. I couldn’t, off the top of my head, tell you the specifics of the conversation we had as he explained what each part was and how it worked. However, I still immensely enjoyed my dialogue with him because I could tell he had a real passion for what he was describing. He cared about his work, and that made me want to care about what he was saying. It’s always refreshing to speak with an individual who truly loves their craft or hobbies.

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This week, we ‘re talking with Caleb Denton. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Caleb is currently working as a mechanic for Newmont Mining while living in Spring Creek with his wife, Amanda, and their daughters. However, the reason why I was so excited to talk with Caleb was due to his work with custom bikes. As eluded to in the opening paragraph of this feature, it became apparent that he had a real love and skill for what he did, and I just had to check it out for myself!

Caleb, from where did your enjoyment of building/customizing bikes come? Take us on the hypothetical motorcycle ride of your life’s story! “I grew up on bikes. My dad rode bikes in the seventies; He still does. When I was around eleven or twelve, my dad had a friend that was a pretty good size; he was clearing out his attic, and he told me he would give me this old bike he had in the backyard if I would climb in and out of the hole in the attic, handing him boxes. It was just an old piece of junk; I got it running, but that was about as far as I could get because it just sat outside so long it had weather damage. Someone was driving by one day, saw it and offered to buy it because he wanted the motor to build a sand rail. I took the money from that and found an old Harley, which was pretty much a pile of parts someone had the title to. I pieced together that bike with used and homemade parts; it was very crude, and you didn’t want to ride it.”

“Around this time, my mom worked at an insurance company, and because of that, she was required to have a certain level of insurance. With California traffic, it was going to be a lot to pay for insurance, so in advance, my parents told me they weren’t going to be able to pay for me to drive the bike when I was sixteen. I thought maybe if I could provide the vehicle and get a job working at McDonalds or something, they’d at least split the cost with me. When I was in my freshman year of high school, I found out there was a chopper shop not far from my school. I went in to see if I could find some work or apprentice for them, but I didn’t know this shop was about to blow up big because it was West Coast Choppers (as seen on The Discovery Channel). They sent me to another shop and at this business they told me the typical thing most business owners would tell a fourteen-year-old looking to get into that industry. I told them I just wanted to learn and that I would work for free if they would teach me something. The owner agreed and told me to grab a broom and start sweeping. After about three days, they let me do an oil change, and after about a week the owner told me he had a test for me. They had a brand-new bike sitting out front that nobody had been able to get started; he told me to play with it so they could see what I could do. Someone wired the on/off switch backward, so I figured it out and started it up. The guys from the shop heard it running, came out, and handed me two-hundred bucks and told me I was employed. I was there for five years.”

“After that, I didn’t want to get out of building bikes, but the rent for an appartment was around twenty-five hundred dollars a month down in California, so I started looking for other things. I went to Ely to work at the mine over there, and since then, I’ve been in mining. I’ve worked for a few small shops, on the side, with the mining schedule being seven on/seven off or five on/five off. However, I didn’t plan on really getting back into bikes until one of my daughters began having seizures. We (Caleb and His wife Amanda) were going all over to see doctors, and we were not making ends meet. One day someone asked if I would do a side job on their bike. After that, word started getting around, and we were able to start knocking down hospital bills from the tips people would give me from bike work. The past year or so, I’ve picked things back up again and this Summer, we’re going to start hitting shows with original, one-off, hand-made bikes. Right now, our country is really into the idea of “American Made,” and what’s more American than a middle-class man, trying to make ends meet, working out of a two-car garage?”

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Caleb. So, now that we know how you got into the work, can you please explain why you still have a love for what you do in your garage? “I think we all have this desire in us to have something other people don’t have. If everybody had a Rolex than nobody would show one off.  I’ve never been in the financial situation where I could buy the best of the best, but I’ve been able to be creative and make something that nobody else has. There’s a lot of pride in going to Pacific Steel, picking up a piece of metal, molding and beating on it, until it looks like something special. Doing this work has also made it where I can help with my kids’ homework because I was never good at school; I barely made it through high school. There’s so much math that goes into how things properly work that it put into perspective things that school never did for me.”

Finally, Caleb, what would you say to the fourteen-year-old who came into your garage, looking to pursue a passion he/or she may have? ” It would be great to get into something you like, even if it doesn’t turn into a long-term career.  A lot of the things you learn in life come from the things that didn’t work, and you had to figure out how to make it work. I can read a book that tells me how to make the bikes run, but if I don’t go out, start working, and understand what all the components do, it doesn’t really make me that good.  You just have to take chances. Most of your success will come from gauging your failures.”

If you’re interested in checking out more of Caleb’s work, you can find him on Instagram

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See you around, Elko!

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