Suicide Lane Cycles
A look into the downtown Salt Lake City motorcycle shop
Posted By Gavin Sheehan
A great big thank you to our friend Gavin Sheehan and Salt Lake City Weekly for this terrific post
Davy Bartlett & Nik Garff
Gavin: Hey Davy and Nik, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Davy: Where do I start… I am not a Utah native, but it has been home for many years now. I’ve traveled and lived all over but grew up in Florida. Those who know about Florida know that says volumes about who I should be. I’ve tried my hand at many things art, music, engineering, drinking, but have never been happier since opening the doors of Suicide Lane Cycles, I guess because it’s the perfectly balanced combination of all those other things.
Nik: I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, I’ve been a welding since I was 14. I’ve always wanted to build stuff over buying it. Formally trained at Wyotech, and I always got an A in arts and crafts in school.
Gavin: How did the two of you get into mechanics, and what drew you to motorcycles?
Davy: I’ve just always been into taking stuff apart, I always helped dad work on cars and around the house. He (dad) had motorcycles when I was real young, not so much as I grew up, I’m sure he wanted to be a responsible father and keep me away from dangerous things. I was pretty obsessed with CHiP’s and Dukes of Hazard as a kid, I think my first five birthdays were all themed as such.
Nik: My grandpa was my hero, and could fix or build anything. At his house, I had a dirt bike and a shop, I spent every weekend with him and spent every week daydreaming about hanging out with “Gramps.”
Gavin: As you grew up, how did you build up your skills and learn everything you know today?
Davy: I always say it’s from being poor, or thrifty anyway, it always seemed more natural to me to fixed something old or used than buy a new one. I’ve also always had a thirst for information, one of my first jobs was at an auto parts store and I learned more than I would have expected from not only the company but also from the regular customers trying to keep their old stuff on the road. I learned a lot about the repair business when I fixed computers for Apple for a few years. Eventually, I solidified my motorcycle knowledge by completing a college program for motorcycles and power equipment.
Nik: Skills are what matter to me the most. With Gramps as my role model, he taught me as much as he could in his lifetime. I always made friends with people who were smarter than me and who were willing to teach. After high school, my parents told me I needed to go college full-time, I wasn’t interested in academics but lucky for me, there was a full-time welding class. I eventually dropped out of that and got a job welding. I graduated Wyotech in
Gavin: What was the first cycle you officially owned and what did you love most about it?
Davy: I bought a 1981 cb750k I saw for sale in the newspaper, I think it was listed for $800 and the guy sold it to me for $600. I had never driven a bike before, just bought it and drove around for like six hours until I felt like I could take it on the freeway to get home. I still have the scars from the first time I laid it down. I spent as much time on the side of the road sorting out electrical issues as I did riding it, but I loved every minute. I didn’t have anywhere to store it over the winter so I took it apart to get it in my third-floor apartment. I cleaned all the parts in the kitchen sink and painted it on the coffee table. I drove it all the next summer and sold it for $1200 in the fall.
Nik: I started my life on that dirt bike I talked about earlier. Your first motorcycle is like your first girlfriend, fun and exciting, but eventually you grow out of it—and move on to something better.
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet each other and become friends?
Davy: Nik’s wife to be is my stepchildren’s aunt. I can’t figure it out.
Nik: We’d been to extended family functions together for years and never had much to say to one another cause Davy was always so quiet. I was living in L.A. and future step-daughter called and told me Davy was building a motorcycle.
Davy: Same, she was over and said “why are you working on motorcycles, Nik does that.”
Nik: We soon figured out we were both really fucking funny and should hang out more.
Gavin: How did the idea of starting your own shop come about?
Nik: I was living in L.A. and had an old Sportster that Davy wanted. I overcharged him for it but agreed to help build the hardtail if he came to California to work on it.
Davy: I thought Nik was such a badass, I never thought twice about the price cause I wanted to hang with him so bad.
Gavin: When did you come across the location on 700 South and what made you choose it for the shop?
Davy: I’d been driving by the old Karl Winter building for years, and always wondered why it wasn’t for sale or lease. I thought it might have been a great location for another business idea I had, a bar, and when Nik told me our friend Chris thought he could get us some square footage at his old man’s building my jaw dropped.
Gavin: What was it like for you to both turn the place into a shop that you both could work in?
Davy: The location was a blessing and a curse. It’s an amazing historic automotive shop, and it was filled with 100 years of history—and junk. I really mean filled, we spent the better part of last summer scrapping and recycling. If any ones looking for new old stock car parts or chemicals from the ’60s.
Nik: It was magic, like creating a child with another man. I’m Danny DeVito, and Davy is Arnold.
Gavin: You opened up back in 2012, what was that first year of business like?
Davy: Obviously we haven’t been in our current locations since 2012, mostly we were working on our own bikes in Nik’s garage in L.A.
Gavin: Knowing what kind of shops already exist in Utah, what do you provide as far as custom parts and creations that others just don’t have?
Davy: I don’t think we are trying to reinvent the wheel, we certainly have our own styles and preferences but pushing them onto others isn’t what we are about. Utah has a fantastic and growing motorcycle community. We want to contribute to that community by providing high-quality work.
Nik: We are working on developing more hand-built parts. We have several handlebar designs we build to order and other small parts (ie: license plate brackets) we use on our projects that we plan to sell from our store front and online for at home builders.
Gavin: What have been some of the more creative cycles you’ve worked on or built parts for?
Nik: I made shift linkage from a couple of titanium surgical screws that the customer had recently had removed from his hip from a motorcycle accident, It went on the bike he laid down and broke his hip. I also build a custom exhaust on it. You can see it on Instagram.
Gavin: What’s the process for you to make a new bike from scratch, from design to final product?
Davy: I think it is important to let the bike take a natural direction, we are not set on building cafe or tracker or chopper or whatever. As you see more of our bikes you will see refinement or “tidiness” is important to us. I often describe what we do as custom restoration. Mostly I get excited when I can eliminate wires and hoses but add features to bikes.
Gavin: Do you find yourselves coming up with crazy designs or do you try to keep things practical?
Nik: We don’t discard any ideas out at the start. Our build process usually starts with both of us making any and all suggestions or possibilities. We’ve found sometimes what seems the craziest idea ends up being the best solution for a problem.
Davy: At the same time keeping a bike safe and reliable is always in the forefront. We wouldn’t compromise the bikes integrity for design, or vise versa, sometimes you just have to step back and come up with another solution.
Nik: No matter what, quality should not be compromised. Whether it is in materials, process or quality of workmanship.
Gavin: If someone want’s to have a custom build or something worked on by you, how do they contact you and what do they need to have ahead of time?
Nik: Give us a shout, stop by, or there is a custom part request option on the website. As far as what you need ahead of time, I’d say a starter bike, a picture of bikes you like, a CAD drawing, or a stack of cash are all good places to start, we can build from the ground up so the sky’s the limit. Get in touch with us and we can put together some ideas/timeline/budget for your build.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to expand the shop beyond what it is now?
Davy: Yes. Absolutely. We are growing as it feels natural, but the plan has always been for the shop to be kind of a hangout/meet up spot. When I was a kid my friends and I all met at the skate shop, decided where/what we were going to skate, “tuned up” our boards bought stickers or whatever. I want SLCycles to be the adult version of that. We are slowly expanding our retail offerings and will begin serving coffee beverages this summer. We just acquired an espresso machine, just trying to find time to get it all in order. One day, if Utah is okay with it, we’d like to have
Gavin: What can we expect Suicide Lane Cycles and both of you over the rest of 2015?
Nik: We have a pretty ambitious summer ahead of us, we have been invited to show bikes at The Salt City Revival bike show that is happening in August. We have each have a bike in progress we plan on finishing before then, along with the customer work we have going on, we aren’t taking much time off.