On the outside, it’s a plain gray garage. On the inside, it’s the ultimate man cave.
That is, if you’re Jeremy Valentine of Fort Wayne and you’ve been putting together motorcycles since you were a teenager.
In one corner, there’s a half-assembled custom bike for a repeat client up on a work table. On one wall, there’s the requisite James Dean poster, plus one of Marilyn Monroe.
And in the central place of honor, among a half dozen or so custom cycles, stands a purple bike with 24-karat-gold foil trim on its gas tank and curlicue handlebars that resemble giant chrome springs.
It’s the bike that won a place in the December 2013 issue of Easyriders magazine, a big-circulation nationwide publication that bills itself as the “Bikers Bible for over 40 years.”
Valentine, 37, says an editor saw the machine on display last spring at a big bike show in Columbus, Ohio, and arranged for the glossy spread. The builder considers it something of a badge of honor.
“I’ve won awards before, but I’d rather have this,” he says.
Valentine says the bike demonstrates what can be done with the custom parts he makes, as well as showing his affinity for “old-school bobbers stuff.”
A bobber, he says, is a stripped-down cycle with a big motor and is made for speed, not comfort.
“If it doesn’t have anything to do with making it go or making it stop, it’s not on it,” Valentine says. “It doesn’t have turn signals. It doesn’t have a speedometer. It’s kick-started. It’s not a bike you want to climb on and ride 300 miles.”
But the bikes appeal to people who like their head-turning, minimalist look, says Valentine, who is a maintenance manager at Novae Corp. trailer manufacturer in Markle.
He says he got started customizing motorcycles after he bought his first one at age 19.
“I was never happy with it exactly the way it looked, so I ended up selling it, buying another bike and selling it and started building the bike I wanted,” he says.
“I bought a frame and a motor, and when I couldn’t get the parts I wanted, I started making them.”
That led to a part-time business, which is now called Joker Cycle Works and is housed in the free-standing, sign-less garage. The name came, Valentine says, because the first bike he made for himself was green.
“People kept telling me, ‘That looks like the Joker’s bike, from the Batman movie. That’s got to be the name for your shop,’ ” he says.
The name aside, Valentine is totally serious about making one-of-a-kind bikes. Also on display is a customized Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle Valentine created.
“It’s about 10 different years in one,” he says. The frame came from a 2006 model, the rear fender came from a 2001 and the saddlebags from a 2011. The tail is from a 1999, and the rear wheel is off a 1996 Harley Fat Boy.
It takes a certain kind of enthusiast to appreciate the work, he acknowledges.
“Some people just go for all the shiny stuff they can buy out of a catalog,” Valentine says. “I think a lot of guys get so hung up on the Harley name, that’s all they want.
“You have to be an individual to have a bike like this one.”
But he says he has repeat customers, despite doing little advertising.
He says he has a small shop and wants it to stay that way. People find him, he says, through events he attends and from the motorcycles he sometimes parks outside the garage at 215 W. Ferguson Road.
Valentine doesn’t do motorcycle service – except occasionally for friends’ cycles.
“We don’t change tires. I’m not into changing oil,” he says.
Besides, he adds, most people who want the kind of bikes he builds like doing their maintenance work themselves, if sometimes with a little consulting.
Despite the popular custom motorcycle-building TV shows and their colorful cast members that glamorize the business, most custom builders are more like him, he says – small and gritty and working like he does, in a garage with a propane heater and metal shavings on the floor.
“We go by a motto here that we put on all of our work shirts – ‘Stock sucks.’ I mean, do you buy what you want or what everybody else has?
“To me, a motorcycle is an extension of your personality. It has to be.”