Located in a remote village in the very heart of Lithuania is the custom workshop of Klaudijus ‘Klauda’ Stelmokas. He owns Harley customizing outfit, Killer Custom. A business that has earned itself an enviable reputation, not only for the stunning bikes they produce but also for the cleanliness of the workshop. We're talking doctor's surgery standard here, with not one oily rag or greasy mechanic in sight.
The 34-year-old former punk rocker had a promising career in the hospitality industry before the Harley bug bit deep. And Klauda’s dream of opening his own custom shop became too intense to ignore.
With a decade of tuning and customizing under his belt, Klauda eventually decided the time was right to kick up a gear and go for it. But he figured, if it was worth doing, it was worth doing right, and that meant purpose built premises.
A custom workshop from which to create custom Harleys just made perfect sense. Armed with an EEC regional funding business development grant, he bought a piece of land and set about creating a workshop, the likes of which had never been seen before in Lithuania.
The design of the new building stood out in its own right, but it was tales of the ground floor workshop that soon got people talking. Largely due to its wall full of windows, honeycombed design ceiling lights and designer brick columns. Inside, a row of gleaming Harleys patiently awaiting their turn on the hydraulic work benches, appearing as if parked in living space of a Manhattan loft apartment.
‘We just kept getting more and more visitors wanting to see if the rumors are true,’ laughs Klauda. Apparently, a custom bike shop with a great vibe, killer sounds and a workshop cleaner than a priest's joke book, just had to be seen to be believed.
Lithuania is not exactly known for its thriving custom scene. Therefore, building a center of excellence for Harley Davidson customizing was a bold move, but one that is paying off for the 34-year-old entrepreneur.
If you wondered what’s next for the creative Lithuanian who, over the years has built prestigious show winners amongst the top class, ground up, custom motorcycle projects.
Q. Where did it all start? Tell us about the projects you take on in your workshop.
A. To be honest, no. Sometimes customizing can be something as simple as a new paint job or a few parts, but we also build bikes entirely from scratch. At this very moment, for example, we have 12 full builds in the workshop. For one customer, we are replacing everything but the frame and front axle, and even fitting his engine with a supercharger. By the time we've finished this bike will be 90% new.
There is very little we can’t handle ourselves in the build process, including complex frame modifications. But we choose to send out any specialist welding work to engineers in Germany, who supply certificates and documentation to guarantee their work. In this way, we can stand behind everything we send out of this workshop; you cannot gamble with a person's life.Q. How long does it take for you to build a bike?
A. Our longest project took two years. But this was because it had so many special custom parts made for it, as well as a one-off paint job. There were lots of subcontractors with long queues and sometimes all you can do is be patient. It was worth the wait though.
Q. So who are your clients?
A. Down to earth bikers, just people who ride like you and me. All our bikes are designed and built to be ridden; we don't put so much time, effort and craft into them to become ornaments. I would say that currently, three out of every ten of our bikes stay here in Lithuania, with the rest going abroad. Usually, we buy a bike, customize it, then find a buyer. Germany is our biggest market, even though there's lots of competition from other custom bike builders, our bikes do very well. But I'm glad to see that things are changing here in Lithuania too. More and more people are beginning to appreciate the quality of our work and the fact that our bikes don't depreciate.
Q. I see there are trophies around the workshop; do you still compete in custom bike shows?
A. Sometimes we do. We've recently been to a show in Milan International Custom Lowerider Motorbike Expo where we took third place for our Bagger and lately in two first places at Custom Chrome Europe and Freestyle classes in Poland’s Poznan Motor Show. There is even an annual custom bike show here in Lithuania now too. But participating in shows abroad is very time consuming so this year we won't take part in any. We will concentrate instead on our customer’s bikes.
Q. So you not only customize bikes but also sell them as well?
A. We’re not a motorcycle showroom, but we do sell the bikes we customize. We are also a custom shop that sells our own range of bolt-on accessories and bodywork that we manufacture – plastic and metal parts too.
The parts we make ourselves are specifically for the custom Bagger market. This trend of fitting touring Harleys with30” wheels, extended and stretched saddlebags, and wide gas tanks is popular in the USA. It’s catching on in Europe now too, and we aim our gas tanks, panniers and body kits towards that market.Q. Do you follow the current trends in the motorcycle industry?
A. Trends are ever present and constantly changing. There’s always a new trend going viral somewhere in the world. Over the last ten years, there have been lots of changes with Bobbers, Baggers and Café Racers gaining in popularity. In the custom bike world, just like any other type of art, styles have started to mix and fuse with each other.
Now they put enduro wheels on choppers, or fit parts from one bike to another. The boundaries have disappeared. I have absolutely no idea who is responsible for these trends, I just do what I want, and if it looks good, others will probably start doing this too.Q. Of all the great custom bikes you have built, which is your favorite?
A. I love every one of bikes I build, and as yet cannot say I have created one that is perfect. And for this, I am grateful, because if I ever achieve this, I will probably have to end it all, because where else is there left to go?
Seriously though, I don’t think I will ever find myself in that situation. There is always another bike to build that will be better than the last as well as others out there who can do it better. Sometimes I tell myself that customizing bikes is all about art and not just nuts and bolts, but it is both. It takes a lot of hard work to create a work of art.Q. What bike do you currently ride?
A. It’s a Buell sports tourer, but I am not happy, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not the bike for me anymore. I’ll have to get something different. My dream bike would be a 1948 Harley Panhead, but they’re expensive. I prefer the so-called old school bikes. Although in truth I like all motorcycles, there’s no such thing as a bad bike.
Q. How do you stay safe when riding on the roads?
A. I like to be upfront when riding, not because I want to overtake everything on the road, but because I like to control the situation. When you’re in the lead, you can be calm that nobody is going to cut you up, the situation is more under your control.
Q. Would it be safe to say that motorcycles are your life?
A. I love motorcycles. Immediately after I complete a build project, I feel the urge to start another one. It is a never-ending process. Building custom bikes is my hobby as well my work, but it doesn't define or restrict me. I definitely don't want to be labeled because I love to do what gives me pleasure. And if the passion for custom bikes ever takes me in a different direction, it may be time to hang up my spanners.
Interview made by ERIKAS OVČARENKO